How a Political Operative Turned Into an Advocate for Childhood Literacy

JN Ball For Blog Post

Jake Ball and his family

Children’s Bookstore is a financial sponsor of National PTA, and has been invited to submit a blog post as part of their engagement with PTA. National PTA does not endorse any commercial entity, product, or service, and no endorsement is implied by this content.

Children’s Bookstore has been a proud sponsor of National PTA for two years—we love our partnership.

Being a bit of a newcomer to the PTA universe, many have asked why Children’s Bookstore supports the PTA. The answer to that question is the subject of this blog.

My background is not in books or education advocacy, it is in politics.  I began my career on Capitol Hill and worked in many roles within the Senate and House of Representatives.

One of my jobs was a regional director for a senator in my home state of Idaho. It was there that I had my first experience with the power of books.

The office had a partnership with an organization that provides free books to low-income families. In 2006, I was sent to distribute books at a Dia De Los Ninos event in a little town with a large Hispanic population.

I was highly skeptical that we’d get rid of the books. I was wrong.

Every one of those books was gone before the event was half-over. I was amazed to see children running past free cotton candy to get a new book. The experience changed me forever. I instantly became an advocate for childhood literacy and books.

I quickly joined local literacy groups. They all had great ideas, but very little funding.

To help out, I bought the domain name with the goal to build an online community and store that supports local and national literacy efforts.

Over time, we found that the most successful pathway to raise funds that promote literacy is online book fairs. We’ve held online book fairs from Rhode Island to Saipan with hundreds of organizations of all kinds. If a PTA follows our prescribed program, they earn $1,000 to $2,000 with one person doing about four hours of work over a five week period.

My goal is not to be another discount bookseller on the internet. I am building Children’s Bookstore to be a powerful advocate for literacy and reading.

I want Children’s Bookstore to become an enduring partner with the PTA. Why? Because I know what you know: PTA parents are the greatest force on earth for improving the education of our children.

I am asking that you give online book fairs a try. Our book fairs work for any size PTA organization—state, district, council and individual units.

The online book fair allows a PTA or school to promote reading and raise funds without the labor-intensive routine of a conventional book fair. You can give your local librarian and volunteers a much needed break with an online book fair.

Now that you know a little more about our company, I hope you will consider an online book fair for your PTA organization, no matter the size.

Jake Ball is the founder of Children’s Bookstore.

Awesome Family Engagement with Books and Reading


Jake with his two school-age sons, and the book that created memories

My wife and I have four great kids who keep us busier than we care to admit. As any busy parent knows, it’s difficult to plan and carry out activities that are positive, memorable and affordable.

About two years ago, I stumbled into a book that became a high-quality family memory.

I gave my boys a child’s book of poetry, Laugh-eteria by Doug Florian.  My older son quickly found a poem called “Stupid Stew”; it made all of us laugh to tears.  Over the next few months, the three of us read every poem in the book together.

Reading the poems together provided hours of quality time where we laughed and talked together. The experience showed me that books can have a strong role in my quest to have positive interactions with my kids.

Just because we live with an unprecedented level of distraction doesn’t mean that books and reading are no longer effective tools for family engagement. You can create awesome experiences for your family through books.  Here are a few simple and cheap activities that work in any situation and any budget:

  1. Read Together.  Before radios, TVs and Netflix, families read together.  If this seems corny and old-timey, that’s because it is.  Find a book of poetry or any piece of literature that is interesting to you.  Sit down with your kids and read it together.  Pass the book around and have each person read in turn.  You will be thrilled at the experience and discussion that ensue.  Tip: put all cell phones completely out of reach as you read together.
  2. Make a reading wish list. Sit down and have everyone, parents included, make a list of all the books each person wants to read.  Post the list on the fridge and check up on who’s reading what books regularly.  Tip:  this is not a “to do” list to badger each other about.  It’s a fun list without a time limit.
  3. Schedule a family outing to a used book store.  Used book stores are just as interesting and fun to visit in 2014 as they were in 1990. Let the kids explore and choose their own books.  Everyone will be excited to read their new-found treasures.
  4. Books before movies.  If a child wants to see a book-based movie, make reading the book a contingency of seeing the move—for both adults and children.  Go see the movie as a family and discuss the merits of both.

All these have one indispensable ingredient: the adult.  You must do these activities with the kids.  As you do any or all the above, you demonstrate that reading and learning are important to your family culture while you create high-quality memories.

I’m not alone in my quest to find meaningful activities that don’t cost a fortune or involve stressful planning. Reading is an achievable daily activity you can within your busy schedule.  Try one or more of the above and I promise that good experiences and memories will flow from your efforts.

Jake Ball founded Children’s Bookstore to create a truly independent bookstore that is 100% dedicated to juvenile literature. Children’s Bookstore provides online book fairs to schools, libraries all over the U.S. Jake and his wife have 4 children and reside in Meridian, Idaho between their school and a large corn field.

Children’s Bookstore is a financial sponsor of National PTA, and has been invited to submit a blog post as part of their engagement with PTA. National PTA does not endorse any commercial entity, product, or service, and no endorsement is implied by this content.

Re-Imagining the Book Fair

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PTA dad and Children’s Bookstore Owner, Jake Ball, helps his toddler avoid petty theft while overhauling the book fair experience for the modern parent (and  PTAs, too).

True story: This spring, I was at our school’s book fair with the whole family. It all started well enough.

Not-So-Optimal Book Fair Outcome

Not-So-Optimal Book Fair Outcome

Unfortunately, the trip ended with me hauling my screaming 4 year-old out of the library because they had no copies of the Frozen book she wanted. My toddler managed to push about 40 books off a table that was also crammed with novelty erasers, key chains, and other junk. (Upon returning home, we found one such key chain in my daughter’s still-clenched fist that we had not paid for.)

Meanwhile my wife had to stay behind at the fair for a quite a while after I left, waiting in a long line to check out and pay for the books my older kids had chosen.

Fun times.

Why does a book fair sell key chains, erasers, etc.?  Isn’t a book fair intended to find great books and encourage reading? All the non-book stuff distracts kids, and redirects Mom and Dad’s money to trinkets that don’t promote reading.

As a “PTA dad” to four kids (ranging from a toddler to a fifth-grader) with an unshakeable love of books, I support school book fairs— with the tears, inadvertently stolen merchandise, and long volunteer hours—because it puts critical dollars into the school and my kids get more books for their ever-growing stockpile. (I own Children’s Bookstore, you can imagine that we have a silly number of books all over the house.)

But, isn’t it high time that the traditional book fair be re-imagined for the modern age?

Why not “attend” the book fair when you want, even if it’s at home in your jammies?  What if the book fair offered only top-notch books and none of the junky stuff?

If that sounds like a borderline sales pitch, that’s because it is. Children’s Bookstore has launched 100% online book fairs (real books, virtual fair). PTAs are signing up for these online book fairs because:

  • Schools and PTAs earn 30% of every book purchase. At the end of the fair, we send a check. Not “credits.” Real money. Use it for whatever your school or PTA needs. (If you want to buy books with it, we’d love to help.)
  • There are more than 200,000 excellent, titles available. Reluctant reader? Advanced reader? Only likes truck books? We have great books for every kind of reader, for all ages of kids. And yes – we carry Scholastic** books, too.
  • Anyone in the U.S. can buy books at your online book fair. Aunt Sarah in Phoenix can support little Johnny’s book fair in Atlanta with a few clicks.
  • An online book fair can be held any time. For example, you can capture the holiday book buying season with a book fair between Thanksgiving and Christmas.
  • There are no minimum buy requirements and no hidden fees. Really.
  • An online book fair can be set up in less than ten minutes.
Far-More-Optimal Book Fair Outcome

Far-More-Optimal Book Fair Outcome

One volunteer can manage the entire book fair with about 3 hours of their time over a 3-5 week period. We have taken all the time-consuming tasks out of the conventional book fair and, hopefully, made life easier for schools and PTAs. We ship books straight to the buyer’s home—there’s no need to sort book orders or handle inventory.

There might be reluctance to change years of habits for book fairs. If that’s the case, you can try doing one online book fair in addition to your conventional book fair.

Schools typically reach an entirely new audience through online book fairs and raise funds that would have otherwise been missed.

My goal as a father is to create meaningful literacy experiences for my own children. My goal with Children’s Bookstore is to connect kids with books they will read and cherish.  By offering the best in juvenile literature—without the distractions of key chains and the like, I hope to reach both goals for my family and yours.

If you aren’t the volunteer parent who runs your book fair, consider scheduling an intervention with the person who does. Please share this post with your fellow PTA parents – let’s start a movement here.

Meanwhile, if you find yourself at a book fair hastily picking up an entire box of SpongeBob erasers that your three year old knocked over while calmly explaining to your tearful eight year old that they seem to be out of the most recent Origami Yoda book, you have my sympathies.

Click here to learn more about online book fairs, or to start your own online book fair today.

** Scholastic is trademark of Scholastic Corp. is not in any way affiliated with or endorsed by Scholastic.


Guest Blogger Jake Ball is the founder of Children’s Bookstore. He started Children’s Bookstore as a truly independent bookstore that is 100% dedicated to juvenile literature. provides online book fairs to schools, libraries and youth groups of all kinds. Jake and his wife have four children and reside in Meridian, Idaho, between their school and a large corn field.

Children’s Bookstore is a financial sponsor of National PTA and has been invited to submit a series of blog posts as part of their engagement with PTA.

Want a Boy to Read This Summer? Listen First

BoyReadingAs a bookseller and the father of three boys, I am often asked this question:  Which books are best for boys?  I appreciate that parents want to buy good books.  However, I like to redirect the question to this:  What can I do today to encourage the boy in my life to read?

Below are four techniques you can employ today to answer this question:

1.    Listen
Before you place a book in the hands of a boy, you need to listen to what he is interested in.  Pay attention to what he talks about and what hobbies and topics he enjoys.

Take him to a library or bookstore and see where he ends up.  It might be in a topic area that you have not considered.  I couldn’t care less about professional football.  But, my boys love to read books about the NFL.  Who knew?

When you acknowledge his interests and preferences, he will feel validated and want to demonstrate his knowledge on the chosen subject through reading.

2.    Schedule time for reading
If you want to get something done, you put it on your calendar.  Schedule time each day that is for reading only.  In our house, the 30 minutes before bed is reading time.  While you’re at it why not make a schedule for electronics?

3.    What are you reading this summer? 
Children model their parents’ behavior.  The best piece of parenting advice I’ve ever heard is this: You can’t give your child something you do not possess.  If you do not have a habit of reading, it’s unreasonable to expect your children to become consistent readers.  Turn off the TV, pick up a book and conspicuously read it–starting today.

4.    On his level
Boys want to succeed at reading.  A boy in second or third grade may not have the skills to take on dense chapter books and they probably think that picture books are “for babies.”  Enter the graphic novel.

Graphic novels are an excellent bridge between picture books and chapter books.  A good graphic novel contains illustration that tells the story along with the words.  We have a great list graphic novels you can browse here.

Pay attention to how he’s reading and steer him to books that are within his reading ability.

I always say that the most powerful educational tool a parent has is his or her ears.  There is no lack of high-quality reading materials.  It just takes effort on behalf of a parent or teacher and the boy to find the right books.

Put some effort into finding the right books now and you will be pleasantly surprised at the reading experience your boy has this summer.

Even if it is books about the NFL.

Jake Ball is the founder of Children’s Bookstore. He started as a truly independent bookstore that is 100% dedicated to juvenile literature. provides online book fairs to schools, libraries and youth groups of all kinds. 

Jake and his wife have 4 children and reside in Meridian, Idaho between their school and a large corn field.