Tales from the Scholastic Book Fair

Elizabeth Bastos

Staff Writer

Elizabeth Bastos has written for The New York Times, The Washington Post, and The Boston Globe, and writes at her blog 19th-Century Lady Naturalist. Follow her on Twitter: @elizabethbastos

It is Scholastic Book Fair week at my kids’ school and I volunteered to work with the kindergarteners. I got there early to browse, to acquaint myself with the selection so I could help the crumb-grabbers choose literature. (Say it with a dry, posh English accent, as if impersonating T.S. Eliot. I always do.)

My heart sank as I entered the room. The drivel factor was high, does the world need more Skippy Jon Jones the Siamese cat who thinks he is a chihuahua? The high-brow factor was low. There was little if any literature. Okay, there was Stuart Little. But, if you choose Stuart Little over Charlotte’s Web in E.B. White’s oeuvre, something is wrong with you. And nobody considers the Pinkalicious series anything but a cash cow. When I read that out loud I want to stick a ball-point pen in my eye.

I know we say “Get them reading!” and “all literacy is good literacy,” but it makes me sad that we get them hooked on reading Barbie Princesses and Pokemon pulp. It makes me sad the fair (a word that should mean bazaar and eclectic) selection is curated to the nth for pablum (princesses for girls, helmeted heros for boys) and the latest Pixar and/or Dreamworks entertainment. There are loads of tie-ins with Lego, and other collectibles. What happened to just plain books being good enough at a book fair? Does the world need another pair of throwaway 3-D glasses with which to look at a pony?

It makes me sad to think that all these suburban kids know of a bookstore — of that great bookstore smell of my childhood, of danger, and mold, and novels — is the Junie B. Jones series. Not that there’s anything wrong with being safe. Being safe is what all parents want for their kids; but books are supposed to open doors to other worlds, not just hold up a mirror to a clean scrubbed suburban lawn and patio set.