Family Ties

Published 12:00 am Saturday, March 31, 2001


Book fair fun for mom, too Of the many creative donation opportunities offered by the school, none is closer to my heart than the annual book fair. The true depth of my generosity always surfaces at this event, which offers me the chance to spend money on the two things I find irresistible: my kids and books. Beyond money, I also give time. Lots of time. I like the book fair so much the school librarian practically has to make me go home. She might actually do it, if it weren’t for the fact that I’m always pulling out a new check for a book I missed the first 14 times around. But Scholastic, the sponsor of the book fair and amiable supplier of the merchandise, recognizes I am the exception rather than the norm. Most moms do not have the time to hang out at the book fair. They send checks with the dollar amount filled in, and it is the job of the book fair volunteer to help the customer make his or her selections. Like any other smart business, the big book fair manufacturer knows the buyer. Scholastic knows its real customer base (children) wants books. Especially if there is nothing else to buy. So, over the years, we volunteers have noticed the “else” section of the book fair to be growing exponentially. Plush Clifford key chains were among the first offerings in the “else” category. The big, red dog has been the unofficial mascot of book fair. Lately, though, Clifford has had to make room for the Blue dog, star of the Nickelodeon series. Blue has a whole section of merchandise of his own. The bigger kids need a pal, too. This year they had pod aliens, appropriately packaged in a hard plastic shell. A hot item. But not as hot as the creative offerings, which heavily favored girls. Scholastic knows girls like to keep busy. Other than the requisite bracelet kits, creativity projects centered on the body: henna and body art, nail art and fun and fancy lips. The activity my daughter chose was construction. The package had cutouts for building a teeny tiny house full of teeny tiny things that all had to be glued together. But closed up, the outer box at least looked like a book! She also bought a perennial favorite: the jump rope. This used to come with a book, but they needed to lower the price, so the book part was dropped. For boys, the “else” section was minimal.Scholastic doesn’t know too much about boys, apparently, because there were no matches or bomb bags for sale anywhere. There was only one item for boys. It was clever, though, it was a kit featuring a mini-scooter with changeable wheels, including tiny tools and hardware. The boys were so enthralled all scooter kits were confiscated by the teacher within minutes of arrival in the classroom. Before such interesting kits gave kids an alternative to books, posters were the hottest item at book fair. These fall into two categories: furry and sleek. The girls swoon over an adorable and very furry puppy or a pile of kitties making doe eyes at the camera. Guys choose between two versions of hard and shiny metal cars. And pencils have evolved into upholstered jobs with soft and fluffy tops for girls, and hard shiny plastic space jobs for boys. It would be wrong to assume that no one buys books. Boys, with only the mini-scooter available, had to resort to books. And Scholastic did not let them down. “How to win at Nintendo” was hot, followed in popularity by “Secret Codes for Playstation and Gameboy.” And there was “Oh Yuck! The Encyclopedia of Everything Nasty.” It covers more than you ever wanted to know on subjects like scabs, snot, body lint, and way too much more, like a recipe for shrunken heads. This was probably the most popular reference book offered. The least popular was a toss-up between “Study Skills That Stick” and “Writing, Math and Reading Homework.” I didn’t see either of those cross the check out even once. But volunteering moms and visiting moms were the biggest consumers of the reference section. I’ve bought dictionaries, biographies of those who shape our world, and almanacs, as well as books on presidents, quotes, and grammar. At $20 per, moms can turn a tidy profit. Besides, at a book fair, somebody has to buy books!