By Danielle Nelson
* This article is posted on The Spirit of Penn’s Garden website.
Books, books and more books, but it wasn’t in a library.
Instead, the gymnasium at the Community College of Philadelphia hosted the 24th Annual African American Children’s Book Fair, where thousands of people gathered to look, read and purchase some of their favorite books that focus mainly on African American characters and illustrations.
Some of the books that were displayed on the tables were about African American public figures, like Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Barack and Michelle Obama.
“There is a need,” Vanesse Lloyd-Sgambati, the organizer of the book fair said. “Children need to see books that reflect their images, and I know all around the city you just don’t have that.”
From parents to children, individuals of all ages walked in different lines to look through hundreds of books and taking a few in hopes of purchasing them. Many books were given away for free by different sponsors at the event.
Renee Donaldson, a mother of two girls, admitted that she has a library membership but she rarely uses it. Instead, she purchase books online and at the Barnes and Nobles book store for her daughters. But after attending the Book Fair two years ago she made it a priority to attend this year. Her daughters happily sat on the ground, flipping through the pages of various literary materials.
“I want my girls to be a part of it,” Donaldson said. “They like to read and I would like them to know their history. I thought these books would give them more than what the average book store has to offer.”
“They like chapter books, mystery books, anything regarding science. And a lot of art books because my oldest likes to draw,” Donaldson added “And anything with an interesting plot, really.”
Syeree Johnson, 29, came to the book fair for the first time with her 8 year old daughter. Johnson said she was excited to attend the book fair. She and her daughter will be going to Egypt in the summer so, she thought it would be good for her daughter to learn about her history and another country.
The Book Fair also allowed the parents, children, teachers and others to meet some authors and publishers of the books. Llyoyd-Sgambati said many of the authors were local, while others were from Delaware, New York, Seattle and New Jersey, including Wade Hudson, a publisher and author from East Orange, New Jersey.
Hudson said, he alongside his wife went to several publishing companies with their books but were rejected. He believed it was because they were about African American characters. So, they started their own publishing company called “Just Us Books,” and have published their works, such as “Book of Black Heroes” and “Jamal’s Busy Day.”
Hudson stresses the importance of reading books.
“As you read books that you can relate to, particularly for kids, who can look at characters who look like them,” Hudson said. “I encourage families to make reading a family endeavor and sit down with their kids and establish a reading time and that means the parents have to lead by example.”
With the gymnasium packed, government officials were spotted at the book fair, including Councilman Kenyatta Johnson of District 2, who spoke to the children gathered and finished his speech with a chant the children cheerfully repeated after him.
“Peace not Guns, Books not Guns, Education not Guns!” Johnson chanted.
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