Twenty Years Strong

On Saturday, February 4, Philadelphia’s African American Children’s Book Fair turns 20. It’s a milestone that means a lot to founder Vanesse Lloyd-Sgambati.

“Twenty years of putting on this book fair has reinforced my belief that children will read if you put good books in front of them,” she said. “They will read if they have books they can relate to.”

Over the years, her fair has brought more than 500 African-American authors and illustrators to the area. Thousands of new books have been given away to children in need. With the illiteracy rate and closing of bookstores around the country, her work is even more important now, she said.

“When bookstores close, introducing children to the love of reading becomes more of a challenge,” said Lloyd-Sgambati, who is also a library consultant who helps assess their collections and incorporate new books. “Parents can’t go in and browse. It’s tough to select a book online too. The key to finding good books is knowing who the authors and illustrators are.”

That’s where the African American Children’s Book Fair comes in.

“The African American Children’s Book Fair highlights some of the best books of our generation,” she said. “These authors and illustrators cover every aspect of African American lives.  The books are well-written and beautifully illustrated.  These books will open the door to a love of reading and enlightened children of all ages.  We also stress the importance of having a home library. Our mantra is “TAKE A BOOK HOME.”  Every home should have an area that is the family reading center.  Also getting our children to read means everyone in the family should be reading.”

Nearly two decades ago, 250 people braved the cold to attend the first African-American Children’s Book Fair at John Wanamaker Department Store in Philadelphia. Today, the book fair, held in the gymnasium of the Community College of Philadelphia, attracts thousands. In fact, not only is it one of the oldest single-day events for African-American children’s books, it has grown to become one of the largest too.

For some children, the book fair will be the first time they meet a black children’s book author or illustrator, the first time they receive a personalized book.

“Every time a book is sold that means a story is told,” Lloyd-Sgambati said. “Telling those stories enables the African American book industry to grow. This growth will mean that our legacy, our history is preserved.”

Lloyd-Sgambati said securing sponsors for these non-profit efforts is always a challenge, but those who help support the effort to make sure children have books in the home.  This year’s sponsors include local NBC affiliate, NBC10, PECO, Comcast, Health Partners Foundation and McDonald’s.

“For some children this ownership and the opportunity to meet the person who wrote and illustrated the book make the pages comes to life,” she said.

Along with having authors and illustrators sign books and read excerpts, the fair will feature workshops including one on cartooning led by syndicated cartoonist and children’s book illustrator Jerry Craft. An area called Literary Row will offer free promotional materials and a parent’s book resource section.

“Twenty years is a great accomplishment for any effort, but the success of this event is the community who recognizes that books empower and enrich a child’s life,” Lloyd-Sgambati said. “I also created this platform to support the works of the African American publishing community. Many of the authors/illustrators get no press for their great works, so I use my skills as literary consultant to put them front and center.  The line-up this year has some of the best books of our time.  Talented is an understatement.”


20th Anniversary African American Children’s Book Fair

Saturday, February 4, 2012, 1-3 p.m.

Community College of Philadelphia (Gymnasium)

17th Spring Garden Street

Free and open to the public

For more information, please call 215-878-BOOK


Jabari Asim

Tonya Bolden

Regina Brooks

R. Gregory Christie

Bryan Collier

Kerri Conner

Floyd Cooper

Jerry Craft

Nancy Devard

L. Divine

Sharon Flake

Deborah Gregory

Al Hunter, Jr.

E.B. Lewis

Kelly Starling Lyons

David Miller

Walter Dean Myers

Marilyn Nelson

Vanessa Brantley Newton

Jerry Pinkney

Sean Qualls

Deborra Richardson

Amira Shiraz

Javaka Steptoe

Shadra Strickland

Linda Trice

Elizabeth Zunon


Contact Vanesse Lloyd-Sgambati at 215-877-2012 or

Visit The African-American Children’s Book Project (host of the book fair) at

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