Each year, the African American Children’s Book Fair in Philadelphia celebrates the beauty of literature by black children’s book creators. Founded by literary publicist and advocate Vanesse Lloyd-Sgambati, it is known as “one of the oldest and largest single-day events for children’s books in the country.” Thousands of parents, children, teachers, librarians and book lovers come to see an all-star line-up of award-winning black authors and illustrators. It’s a moving testament to the power of affirming images and good books. We welcome Vanesse back to The Brown Bookshelf and thank her for her vision, commitment and incredible work:
Congratulations on the 24th anniversary of the African American Children’s Book Fair! Please share how the annual event has grown over the years and why it has staying power.
The event started as a Black History Month event at a major department store with 10 authors/illustrators. EB Lewis, Tonya Bolden and Jacqueline Woodson participated in that first event. Over 250 people attended. Today, on average, over 3,500 people pass through our doors for the book fair. People don’t come to browse — they come to buy. We sell more books on the first Saturday in February than any other African-American retailer in the country.
Our Literary Row is legendary. This is a great promotional tool to get them in the door. Once I’ve got them in the door, they buy. Seeing a long line of consumers buying books is such a beautiful sight. I set up the room in the same manner as traditional retailers.
Yet, even with all of our success every year, I still have to convince some in the publishing industry what we are doing is valid.
Why does the event have staying power? THE NEED.
The best and the brightest. It sounds a like a cliché, but it is truly a talented group of African-American authors and illustrators who have produced some of the best books of our generation.
To participate is highly competitive. From September to the closing date of December 31, I got over 150 requests. When I preview the books, I look to find the right mix for the book fair. I’m like a child in a toy store. The added value is the participants are really nice people who share my passion about books and know how to interact with their fans. Yes, these are the book stars of the industry.
We’ve got the best group of illustrators on the planet — Eric Velasquez, Shadra Strickland, Floyd Cooper, Nancy Devard, James Ransome, Theodore Taylor and EB. Lewis — who all just so happen to be American Library Association (ALA) past winners of various awards from Caldecott Honors to The Coretta Scott King.
The 2016 ALA Coretta Scott King best book winner, Rita Williams-Garcia, author of Gone Crazy In Alabama, will showcase the third book in her winning series. Ekua Holmes, who won the ALA John Steptoe New Talent Illustrator award, will be in the house. Ekua’s bold and vivid strokes in Voices of Freedom: Fannie Lou Hamer Spirit of The Civil Rights Movement shines with Carole Boston Weatherford prose, which won a Randolph Caldecott book honor. The book also won The Robert Sibert Informational Book.
Representing non-fiction are two of the best children’s historians from the literary community — Tonya Bolden and Carole Boston Weatherford — who both have won awards up and the down the literary landscape.
When describing these groups, I didn’t use the word African American because these books have African-American themes or protagonists but are designed to include all readers.
Rounding out the group are my fiction divas — Crystal Allen, Sundee Frazier, Renée Watson, and Denise Lewis Patrick.
In the African-American publishing community, it is a family affair. James Ransome, Lesa Cline-Ransome, Wade and Cheryl Hudson, G. Todd Taylor and his wife Tiffany who owns the imprint are bring it strong in the fiction lane.
Picture books always take center stage at this event — Pamela Tuck never disappoints her audience with her storytelling skills.
Linda Trice, Tiffany D. Taylor and Veronica Chambers remind us in their picture books that in every problem there is a solution that brings happiness.
David Miller, whose first chapter book was about bullying, takes a spin in the picture book lane.
One of the hallmarks of this event is the support of corporate America. They show up in a big way at the event.
NBC10-TELEMUNDO62 is the sponsor of the Reading Circle. Our Educators Book-Give is sponsored by Wells Fargo, Tierney, Always Best Care Senior Service, Health Partners Plans, Health Partners Foundation and Universal Companies. PECO, which is the local electric company, sponsors a Literary Salon, which features our workshops.
All of these things set the stage to opening up the doors to a life-long love of reading.
What do you want people to take away from the experience of attending?
That a “BOOK OPENS UP A WORLD OF OPPORTUNITES.”
We are selling the joy of reading. People who read for pleasure use it as a coping skill. I have heard over and over again of people who read to relax. I believe the love of reading starts early. Every time I read, I learn something more about the past, present and future of who I am.
We have signs posted around the room that say, “PRESERVE A LEGACY, BUY A BOOK.”
What’s next for the book fair? What’s your dream?
The book fair will continue to grow here in Philadelphia (tristate region). I have adults who attended as children bringing their children. My son just had a daughter Giuliana Isabella Sgambati so I’ve got to make sure she never says these words “There Are No African American Books In My Community.”
Also to expand nationally. I’m developing plans to take the book fair on a nationwide tour. I’m in conversation with national corporate partners. So if anyone in this radar has an interest please reach us at http://www.africanamericanchildrensbookproject.org.
We are a resource center – use us.
I’m also planning the children’s platform at BookExpo.
As always, my dream is to have the President of The United States host African American authors/illustrators in the White House. Having the president acknowledge the talent from the African American Children’s Book Community would be the icing on the cake. He knows best that “A Book Opens Up A World Of Opportunities.”
ABOUT THE FAIR:
Saturday, February 6, 2015, 1-3 p.m.
Community College of Philadelphia (Gymnasium)
17th & Spring Garden Streets
Free and open to the public.
Details here: http://theafricanamericanchildrensbookproject.org/
FEATURED AUTHORS AND ILLUSTRATORS:
VERONICA N. CHAPMAN
CHERYL WILLIS HUDSON
DENISE LEWIS PATRICK
THEODORE TAYLOR 111
G. TODD TAYLOR
FOR MORE INFORMATION:
Contact Vanesse Lloyd-Sgambati at email@example.com or call (215) 878-BOOK.