Selling Books to Children. Those Devils.

My first interaction with Scholastic books was when flyers came home in our first year of preschool. The preschool gets books for free! the Scholastic parent rep crowed. Buy books for your kid(s)!

I wasn’t sold. I buy a lot of books anyway, and also we are given a lot of books, plus we use several libraries heavily yes, we are heavy library users, and we were already giving to the school with our fees and fundraising attempts. Oh chocolate almonds, how I loathe you.

Oh, all right. I just plain resented being asked to buy books from a particular retailer. I don’t know why. The Scholastic flyer’s tendency to describe books the way Columbia House described its tapes and CDs didn’t help. New book from author of More Pies! You’ll love it!

I don’t hate the company. I think they distribute books and help organizations get more books and I love books and it’s fine. I just don’t particularly want to support them. I think it’s because I either never got Scholastic flyers when I was a kid or my mother hid/burned them. I don’t have any nostalgic connection to them at all. Whatever. Books come from all kinds of places.

Last year was our first year of elementary school, and there was a Scholastic book fair. The books come to town for TWO DAYS ONLY! and you can BUY THEM IN PERSON in the LIBRARY! It’s like the kid-equivalent of U2 coming to town. My then-kindergartener was very excited about a FAIR of BOOKS, and we went and looked at the books, all displayed beautifully in the library, and I bought him and his brother each a book because how could I not. How. Seriously. The prices are not terrible and they’re right there, in person, in the library.

A year passed.

I had actually forgotten all about the book fair; if it wasn’t for my internet friends who live in cities further East than me talking about volunteering for and running the Scholastic book fair I would have totally let it pass me by — but wait, no I wouldn’t have because the book fair is a very smooth machine. I have to say, if schools ever started selling Avon or crack or things not as morally superior as books, they would be able to pay for millions in improvements and playground equipment.

I imagine the Scholastic Training for Schools goes like this:

Two weeks before book fair: Put up posters. Talk about book fair at weekly school library visit.

One week before book fair: Send home catalogue (flyer!) of books available at book fair. Remind children of book fair. Send home notice to parents telling them about book fair. Send email to parents reminding them to check the backpack for the notice telling them about the book fair.

Two days before book fair: Reminder notice about book fair. (I am imagining) Announcements over the PA system on the hour talking up the book fair.

Day before book fair: Take children to library for regular weekly visit. Do not allow them to take out books because all the books are blocked off by the book fair display. Do allow them to make a “wish list” on a piece of paper and tell them to show their parents later. Mention in passing that certain books are “already sold out!” – this creates more demand.

Day of book fair: Kids line up outside the library to get in and freak out about books. I have been told.

I know. On the surface, there is nothing wrong with it. Books! Kids + books! It’s not a NINTENDO fair. It’s not a sloppy pants and ugly tuques fair. What is my problem.

But when I mentioned to another parent the so-very-businesslike propaganda of the book fair, she nodded (her child is in 2nd grade) and said, yes, it’s weird. The “write stuff on your wish list and take it to your parents” thing is weird. Very smart. But weird. So it’s not just me.

(I remember reading four hundred blog posts by smart parents about Scholastic when my kids were babies. I don’t remember what they said. They probably said something like this post but smarter.)

My kid is so excited about the book fair that he can’t even talk properly. He’s counting down to book fair day. (It’s tomorrow. FYI.) He’s vibrating. All this, of course, depends on me agreeing to buy him a book.

We bargained down to one book. Originally he wanted five.

That’s the part I don’t like. I don’t like being manipulated. Who doesn’t buy their kid a book! “Don’t you LIKE books, Mommy?” *tears*

I resent the implication that this is my Big Opportunity to buy books. And what about those families with less money, who really can’t participate. How do those kids feel. How do their parents feel? Annoyed, probably.

But I can’t muster a really good froth of rage about this. I like books too much. I’m stuck at sort-of-annoyed. However, I will be reminding my kids to save their allowance for next year’s fair.

8 thoughts on “Selling Books to Children. Those Devils.

  1. Arwen

    Yes. We’re at: “Scholastic is a fine place for your allowance, but not your mother’s money” place.

  2. elswhere

    What you are imagining is pretty much exactly how it is. I ran the Scholastic book fair at my old school for 9 years and it is slick, slick, slick. There’s actually even more than you’re imagining: one year they sent someone to help us set up and merchandise the books (and assorted other crap) in the most effective way. (But she was irritating so the parent volunteers, who’d been setting up the book fair for years and had their own ideas, just ignored her). And there are costumes you can request that they’ll send with all the book fair stuff so you can dress up as Clifford or Amelia Bedelia or whoever and get all boosterish for the book fair. And they used to send a videocassette that was sort of an informercial, too, with interviews with Scholastic-featured authors interspersed with little ads for the books and the fair in general. Also they would send like 20 gift certificates for $5.00 each– you were supposed to give those to volunteers but sometimes I tried to arrange for them to go to kids who I thought wouldn’t have the $.

    Sometimes I miss that job, but not the book fair. I never miss the book fair.

  3. Nicole Boyhouse

    Hey, that’s me! I’m the internet friend.

    Every year I think it’s my last of running the book fair, but then I get sucked back in. I did have a huge problem with some of it – most of the kids at our school are in solid upper-middle class ground. My own kids buy the books with their own allowance, which is a good use of their allowance, I think. Anyway. But there are some kids in the school who can’t afford to participate. So I implemented a program, taking the school credits, and gave the teachers who requested them “Golden Tickets” that they could give to the kids at their discretion. Each ticket is worth $10 and that made me feel better about the whole thing.

    Yes, it is a slick machine, but since I’ve been running the fairs – I’m in my fourth year – we’ve raised $21,000 for the library. Yes, they have to use Scholastic credits, but that’s still a whole bunch of $ for the library.

    1. elswhere

      Oh, for sure– I hated organizing the fair but I LOVED going to the Scholastic warehouse to spend the book credit.

    2. branch Post author

      Yes, I could have linked to you but I was just too lazy.
      Love the Golden Ticket idea. That’s awesome.

  4. Nicole Boyhouse

    And just as an aside, I don’t even put up posters anymore. I just send out a notice and flyers, and that’s it. I’m probably the least-motivated book fair organizer. My Scholastic rep calls me all excited about my goals and I’m all, I dunno, I’m going to set the books up and see what happens. I’m a disappointment to her, I think.

  5. Amber

    The thing that irks me about Scholastic is the number of non-book items they carry. My kid has been to two book fairs, and mostly brought home non-books. Think diaries with locks and invisible ink that comes with a special light to reveal what you wrote, or ads for Barbie that come with a necklace and masquerade as a book. And, of course, my kid doesn’t want any of the actual books, she wants the licensed stuff and the stuffed animals and GAH.

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