12 April 2011

Book Fair Maybe Not So Fair

It is book fair week at my school. I simultaneously look forward to and dread the coming of this week. It is a break from a class schedule and routine that by mid-April has become draining. Book Fair week gives me a chance to see the students at different times and in a different environment. But it is also the week I dread the most each year and threaten to never do again when I am in the middle of it. My school is a Title I school, and most of our students are from impoverished homes. We do not have a functioning PTA and parent involvement is very low, so book fair falls to me to plan and pull off. I like to think I have streamlined the process to the point that I have it down to a science and I try my best not to stress about it too much before hand. But it is still exhausting, and I wonder if I make enough money during the week to make it worth while.

The students, for the most part, love Book Fair, but times are hard for our families. They are always hard, it is not the recession that has caused their poverty. This year, only a day into the week, I have already heard many students comment that their moms don't have money to give them for books or their moms will be mad if they ask for money. I am really questioning if it is fair to have an event like this when so many students are left out.

When I read this blog post that is circulating among educators and librarians, it hit me harder than it may have at another time in the school year. I am already feeling vulnerable and unsure about what my job really is, and just plain tired of the political wrangling that threatens our students as politicians debate what is best for education. The blogger makes points that I whole-heartedly agree with. We are doing our children, especially the students at my school and others in similar situations, an injustice by focusing on testing to the extreme that we do. There is so much that affects their achievement and most of it happens outside the classroom.

We have a well-stocked library at home and we visit our public library regularly. Isaac brings home books from his school library to read each week and he and his daddy make semi-regular visits to the comic store and the used book store. Isaac is not one of the children that the blogger is referring to. He is healthy, well-fed, taken care of and read to. He will succeed in school because he has the support of his parents and his family and his church. But I see so many students everyday that do not have those advantages, that have experienced or are experiencing just about every scenario the blogger mentioned. It becomes overwhelming, especially when teachers are told, through actions if not words, that everything we try to do isn't good enough.

Right now, in the middle of Book Fair, I am again feeling that maybe this should be the last one for a while. Not because I don't make enough money to make it worthwhile, because as one of my colleagues said yesterday, even the little bit I get helps. But because I don't like the pressure it puts on the children who already carry enough burdens around with them. Of course, there is the argument that some children do get books from Book Fair who wouldn't otherwise be taken to a book store or even the public library and any effort we make to get books in children's hands is worthwhile. It's not a decision I will make now, I am too emotionally caught up to be practical about it. And, to be perfectly honest, I am probably kidding myself that I will seriously consider not holding the event next year. But I have some thinking to do.

Now to make it through the rest of the week.


  1. I bet folks at church would sponsor a kid a "gift card" to your fair...I'm sure it would be incredibly difficult to pick which kid to give the card to, though. Just a thought. If you ever do it, put us on the list.

  2. I've struggled with this too. My last few fairs, I have used whatever Scholastic $ and donations I can round up, and I ask teachers for names of kids who can't afford books. So far, we've been able to get books in the hands of most of these kids! (We tell them they won!) That's one advantage to Scholastic anyway...

  3. I have done that before Joanna. I have also used the posters as prizes, anything that I can give away. I am actually thinking about going back to Scholastic after using another company for a few years because I can scrounge up a few more freebies from them.

    And Lauren, that is a good idea, but it would be hard to choose one and we do so much for Peck it is hard to ask for more. But I will keep it in mind.