Open Up!: All About School Book Fairs


Is there any more exciting time of the school year than book fair season? Anyone who went to school in the ‘80s, ‘90s, or 2000s remembers the excitement of receiving book fair forms, crowding around the lunch table with friends to circle wish lists in the catalog, and leaving the fair with a bounty of pencil grips, Lisa Frank calendars, and the latest paperback featuring their favorite characters.

In a post-pandemic and increasingly digital world, book fairs offer tables and shelves overflowing with books, bookmarks, knick-knacks, and so much more!

We can’t wait to share the details of our book fair this fall. But first let’s talk about the origin story of book fairs and why they’re beloved by kids, parents, and educators alike.

When did book fairs become so popular?

At least 75,000 schools across the country participate in book fairs every year—and that’s just Scholastic’s numbers. There are smaller book fairs as well run by state-level, regional, or local organizations. “Scholastic” is often synonymous with “book fair,” though, ever since the first one was held in the early 1980s. In fact, Scholastic purchased California School Book Fairs in 1981, and their grip on the market only tightened from there.

School book fairs officially date back as early as 1952, when a Denver Post picture shows an author autographing books at such an event.  More school book fair events were noted in various tidbits of history from the ‘60s and ‘70s, but documentation is scarce. This can be explained by the lack of yet-to-be-invented internet and technology, and the more localized reach, smaller publicity budgets, and absence of corporate backing that regional book fair companies had.

Much of the school book fair’s history—including the first-ever book fair—may be lost to the sands of time. Since then, the Scholastic Book Fair has held an average of 160,000 fairs worldwide each year—with the exception of the pandemic.

Book fairs support curious, capable readers

Elementary school teachers foster literacy every day (sometimes at every opportunity) in their classrooms. They must develop students that are not only skilled and competent readers but are inquisitive and habitual learners. The excitement and wonder that surrounds book fairs is an excellent tool for reinforcing this.

When students are given the autonomy to make decisions in what they’re reading—what fictional universes they can travel to, what make-believe storylines they subscribe to, who their favorite characters are—reading feels less like an assignment or a chore and more like an opportunity.

The power of choice, after all, plays an important role in forging hungry readers. The University of Rochester found that elementary-age students, given the choice of what they brought home to read over the break, had less of a summer learning slide than those who did not.

As Rutgers University Center for Literacy Development director Lesley Morrow explains, “choice is tremendously important, always has been. It can promote independence—that motivation of, ‘I can read this, I can choose what I want to read,’ is there.”

Children who fall in love with school book fairs develop healthy reading habits and may begin their own little library as a permanent fixture at home with their book fair finds. As they explore the many worlds that books offer, their vocabularies, comprehension and communication skills, and speech capabilities blossom.

Book fairs offer community-wide benefits

Voracious young readers aren’t the only ones impacted by book fairs. Educators see a revitalized passion for learning in their students during book fair season! They also may have the opportunity to expand their classroom book stashes, thanks to generous community members. A classroom library whose shelves are filled with donated book fair fodder provides reading opportunities to disadvantaged students who can’t afford their own purchases.

Book fairs may also foster collaboration among key educational stakeholders. They often require the help of volunteers that typically include parents, teachers, librarians, and other community members. Parents can also utilize the event as a place to get to know educators and administrators in an environment where the discussion is not focused on their own child.

Book fairs can also provide an amazing opportunity for local authors to showcase their work! It’s the perfect place for an author to set up a stand and share about their work with excited young readers.

Laurel Springs School’s 2022 Book Fair

Our Laurel Springs 2022 Book Fair is November 28 to December 5. Keep an eye out as students will receive a voucher and/or online code for Barnes & Noble stores, and be sure to mention Laurel Springs’ Book Fair at the Barnes & Noble register during this time.