Our First High School Book Fair

Every fall, when we do our big middle school book fair, my high school students tell me fondly of how much they loved the book fair and ask me why we don’t have one in the high school. The reason for that, of course, is that none of the big book fair companies offer a high school option and I was worried that working with an indie bookstore would require a lot more work on my end (let’s face it – Scholastic makes it pretty easy). When our on-campus bookstore decided it wasn’t going to purchase summer reading books for students, I decided it was the perfect time to try it out. My friend at our local indie was totally game, and it turned out she had just attended a bookseller conference session about how to do book fairs with schools! We did 3 days in the middle school at the beginning of the week then finished the week in the high school. My goal was to get students excited about books and reading before school ended in May and also have a convenient option for families to buy summer reading books.

Prep and set up was really easy. We made a list of titles that we knew students would like or listed genre-type things like “realistic fiction graphic novels,” “Karen McManus-style mysteries,” “romances like Caraval or The Selection.” Over a few days, we went back and forth with the store adding things to the list and changing up titles as needed, and we ended up with a list of 35-40 different titles for each division. I opted for a variety of titles with a few copies of each, rather than tons of copies of just a few books, to give our students lots of options. I also knew that we could easily order anything we ran out of and just deliver to students later. The bookstore ordered the books and set up a Square that we would use for checkouts during the fair. They also ordered some “treasures,” as Nicole so aptly described them a few weeks ago. I made a joke at one point about how we’d have fun pencils and bookmarks but nothing that smelled like chocolate, only for chocolate-scented erasers to show up – needless to say they were a hit. Once everything arrived, the bookstore rep brought everything to campus and we set up the books on a few tables, making levels with some display stands.

In addition to taking cash and card, we allow students to charge book fair purchases to their student accounts, which means a lot less handling of cash for all involved. In order to do this, we require students to have a form signed by a parent that gives them a budget they’re allowed to spend. All middle school students got a paper form to take home, high school students could grab a paper form in the library, and all parents in both divisions got an email with a link to an online form. We then keep a spreadsheet of purchases that we can turn into our business office and can pay the bookstore in one lump sum. The Square app that the bookstore set up allowed us to put students’ names in the purchase notes, so we could easily keep track of who purchased what, and the Square also made it really easy to pull a quick report and make sure our spreadsheet matched actual sales.

So how did it all work out? Our middle school fair was pretty par for the course – lots of traffic from 6th grade, less from 8th – but I did have one kid come back in the afternoon to say how much he was enjoying the book he bought that morning! For me, the high school was the really fun part. See, my fiction and narrative nonfiction books are in a “Reading Room” on the opposite side of the building from the Research Library where I spend most of my day, so I don’t often get a chance to have impromptu conversations about just-for-fun books with students. I loved being able to have these readers advisory conversations, and both students and teachers were excited to come shop for books. I had conveniently read most of the books on offer, so I was able to make lots of recommendations, and I had several students who would just sit and talk to me about what they’d been reading lately. We have a lot of discussions about how our students aren’t reading, and there are plenty that aren’t, but a lot still love it and just lack the time to read during the busy academic year. This was a nice reminder of that.

The only thing I would change is scheduling the fair during the high school field day. Our Research Library, where the fair was set up, is right off the football field, and my plan had been to be open during the field day powderpuff game as a nice break from being outdoors. However, it rained all day, the powederpuff game was postponed, and students were dismissed early, so I had very few visits that day. In a perfect world, I’d also move the fair to May, but that’s up to my business office and not me.

I loved working with our indie store, and we plan to make this an annual fair. It was so much easier than I was anticipating, and I left with all the warm fuzzy feelings, plus a few new books for the library. Have you worked with an indie bookstore for a book fair? How did it work for you, and what else would you recommend to those looking to try it out?

2 thoughts on “Our First High School Book Fair

  1. Oooohhh, what a lovely post, Kate! Thank you for explaining the purchasing process and set-up process. Good luck with your next fair!

  2. We’ve considered something like this. Thank you for sharing so many details! It sounds like the logistics went well and students found books to read. Win-Win!!

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