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.


  1. DC says:

    Great idea!!!!

  2. April Johnson-Shults says:

    What about families with no internet access at home? A not insignificant portion of our school’s population is not online. Some are also not native English speakers. I love the idea but how could one do it without being exclusionary/classist?

  3. While I agree that the “cha-chees” are unnecessary and books should be more the theme.. I don’t agree in having an all online book fair.

    In our district, particularly at Duffield Elementary, I volunteered for the book fair ( many years ago) and I ALWAYS had a rule.. no junk without a book. As a working parent who sent in money for years I absolutely hated my when my children came home with junk instead of a book. So when the kids came in .. our first rule was a book must be purchased THEN they could look at the junk table. This way kids and parents got what they wanted… And of course we did it in a funny crazy way so that the kids enjoyed grabbing a great book… and got a little junk item for themselves.

    As for a total online book fair.. we are a community oriented district and the children LOVE bringing their parent to school to buy a book. So while online would be a great addition, I think it would ruin the community-slash-family portion of the book fair. Not to mention the teachers enjoy going in to pick out their favorite books as well.. (We give the teachers a “wish list board” and parents donate to that classroom… )

  4. Susan says:

    As the Chairperson of our elementary school’s Bookfair, I too am bothered by the “junky” stuff that comes with the Bookfair. My solution has been NOT to put out everything that is sent with the Bookfair in regards to the junk. And I only put it out on our Family activity night and on the last day of the Bookfair. I only put out pencils, bookmarks and erasers. The reason I STILL put some of this stuff out is two-fold: (1) We have children in our school that can only afford to buy a $.50 eraser and this allows them to feel like they are part of the Bookfair experience and (2) When children come in with allowance $ or their OWN $ to spend, they feel as though they are making the decision on what to spend their money. I have to say that during the rest of the week when I do not put the junk out, the children come in and spend their $ on BOOKS. It has worked VERY well. We also have some families that do not have a computer, so what do you do for those families with your online-only bookfair. Our children LOVE the bookfair, the decorations, the fun activities. And the company we work with makes it very easy for us to get replacements on books that sell-out so most of the time the children can come back the next day and get the book.

  5. Sandra West says:

    The local unit that hosted the “junk” at the book fair had the option of not selling it. Just because the company sends you the junk doesn’t mean you have to put it out at the fair. I’ve kept the junk locked away before and saw no difference in the gross receipts.

  6. J.A. Lewis says:

    I love the idea of the online book fair. However, I also have very fond memories of the “little prizes” I used to get with my books when I was a child. Sure there may have been tears when I didn’t get what I wanted or maybe a little jealousy over what other kids bought, but these experiences are teaching moments. I know the whole book fair experience can be a nightmare for the volunteer parents, but I hope we can find a compromise. As a parent, I couldn’t wait for my kids to experience their first book fair and it would break my heart to think that my future grandkids would not have the same opportunity. Maybe we could do both. Have a smaller ‘on site’ book fair to kick off the reading event, and then an online book fair available throughout the rest of the year.

  7. Lisa Ross says:

    I agree with you that book fairs sell a lot of “stuff,” and it can deter kids from choosing a book. Which is really why they are there. I am the Library Media Specialist for a Title 1 school. I run the book fair, along with the PTA, and see this all the time. The kids buy the erasers and toys because they are cheap. Sometimes my students come in with just $2.00. Seriously. I don’t know what parents are thinking but this may be all the money they have available for their child. At least if we offer the trinkets, they get to buy something and don’t feel left out.

    Our school uses our Scholastic credit to buy books for the students themselves and often for the teacher’s classrooms. In the library, I receive maybe 1/3 of the money. This frustrated me at first, since I wanted the money to go straight to the library to buy books for all. But, now I understand. I hope this helps.

    BTW, my biggest pet peeve with Scholastic is that they have so many books in softcover. These are impossible in a school library. They will last a year at most, even with all the laminating film I use to protect them. Softcover is fine for kids to buy. I haven’t looked at your website yet but offering the same title in hardcover for the library is huge. Every librarian/tech I talk to feels the same. We can’t use softcover books!

  8. Janet Cavanaugh says:

    I run the Scholastic book fairs at my children’s schools (elementary and middle) so I was very interested in read this promotion and visit your site. Sadly, scrolling through several pages of books, I saw very few softcover books. While some parents at our elementary school can afford hardcover prices, many cannot or just want more books for their money. And at my middle school, where we have recently come down to only 62% poverty rate, there’s no way that your book fair would make sense for us.

    If I missed the “value” section of your website, please redirect me. Otherwise, although I don’t love Scholastic, we’ll probably stick with what we are currently doing. And…by the way…Scholastic can send as much non-book junk as they wish. I get to choose what goes on the tables.


    Janet Cavanaugh
    PTA Parent and Book Fair Chair

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