Word is that books are on their way out, but the Saturday crowd at the Community College of Philadelphia would beg to differ! I warned about expecting crowds, and they did not disappoint. Even before opening its doors at 1 p.m., the 20th annual African-American Children’s Book Fair had people lined up all along 18th street and around the corner. The weather was decent, and those waiting in anticipation of the event were friendly and chatty.
We were lucky enough to be in line near a newly minted African-American children’s book author. Kimberly Wallace gave us a peek at her wonderful new book, Grandma’s Chocolate Cake. A beautifully illustrated true story about why you should never take decadent chocolate cake for granted!
With such pleasant company, the line moved at a decent pace, with children being treated to a brand new children’s book upon entry. There were also drummers helping to keep the mood light as the line snaked it’s way into the gym.
Once inside, half of the gym was dedicated to the amazing freebies this fair delivers year after year, officially known as “Literary Row.” We received a gorgeous array of posters, bookmarks, postcards, stickers, pencils, and much to the delight of a certain six year old, even tattoos. Educators were additionally treated to free books and other classroom materials.
But the main attraction centered around the famous authors and illustrators who lined the entire long wall of the auditorium. That alone is quite a feat. You walk past each person, each table, and feel truly awed, seeing all the beloved titles and talent swirling before your eyes.
Authors were more than happy to sign existing copies of their work, or there were many tables set up to purchase books at the event. I wish we’d done our purchasing first. By the time we got around to it with our armload full of books, the line to pay was long and we knew we couldn’t swing it. Thankfully, we had raided our own bookshelves at home and found 11 titles to bring with us. My children enjoyed meeting Walter Dean Myers, Bryan Collier, Floyd Cooper, Jerry Pinkney, E. B. Lewis, and Javaka Steptoe. Talk about a rock star lineup.
There was a well-attended cartooning workshop, led by Jerry Craft, author of the syndicated Mama’s Boyz comic strip. The kids really enjoyed his approachable fun style and detailed instruction. Attendees of all ages were also entertained by a juggling clown, the NBC peacock, and several giveaways and author talks throughout the event.
All in all, a whirlwind, but a wonderful one at that. My great wish for the fair is that the time for the event would be stretched longer. It was evident the inordinate planning and hard work that goes into running such a smooth event; surely having that much talent under one roof is worthy of a longer day!
For official event information, check out the African-American Children’s Book Project.