One of the oldest African-American children’s book fairs returns to Philly

One of the country’s oldest book fairs devoted to African-American children’s literature returned to Philadelphia Saturday for its 26th year.

“At the library, you just grab books. You don’t really look whether it’s black or white,” said New Jersey resident Gerda Augustin, who came to the fair at the Community College of Philadelphia to stock up on books for her family. “But I didn’t realize there were that many black authors. Today I realized there’s a lot. I’m looking through and am like, ‘Oo, oo!’”

The African-American Children’s Book Fair draws an average of 3,500 attendees each year, including more than a dozen authors and illustrators who offer book signings and readings.

Ellis McGruder brought his four-year-old son Ellis Jr. to meet Ilyasah Shabazz, the author of “Malcolm Little: The Boy Who Grew Up to be Malcolm X.” The book is about her father, the late civil rights and religious leader as a young boy.

“We just read it a couple days ago. It talked about the ambitions and the things he went through,” said McGruder.

Ellis Jr. prefers books about trucks, but said he was ready to tell Shabazz his favorite part of the story.

“I liked when he changed his name to Malcolm X,” he said.

Among the goals of the book fair is to improve Philadelphia’s literacy rate. An estimated 245,000 adults in the city lack basic prose literacy skills, according to the most recent data from the National Center for Education Statistics.

Learning to read wasn’t a problem for 14-year-old Saniyah Copeland whose mother said she “reads everything.”

But with Black History Month underway at her school, Saniyah said she came to the fair to look for books that reflect the variety of the African-American experience.

“Every single book that’s assigned to me in school is about racism. So I want to find something different,” said Copeland. In the end, she stuck with fiction, buying three young adult novels.

Seven-year-old Semaj Scott showed off his new book about the life of former President Barack Obama, and a chapter book he got for his cousin.

“He’s spoiled with books,” his great-grandmother Juanita Scott said, smiling as she carried a stack.

Semaj usually wants to read about sports, which isn’t really her thing.  But “I let him get whatever he wants, and we’ll discuss it. He’s been reading since he was two. We read every day, right?” she said and Semaj nodded.

“Because grandma don’t play around,” Scott said.

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