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The power of reading: Philadelphia children's fair has a long tradition and an eager audience.

WHEN VANESSE LLOYD-SGAMBATI was a girl, she read Langston Hughes and travel books, courtesy of a Bookmobile that visited her southwest Philadelphia neighborhood. "Reading," she explained, "allowed me to be transported to other worlds,' places like Europe and North Africa she visited and lived in as an adult.

Today, most black girls, says Lloyd-Sgambati, are "totally in" when engaged by the visiting authors at the children's book fair she founded.

"With boys ages five to ten, you see the promise in their eyes," she continued. "The boys are into the male comic-book illustrators. These are real men"

Lloyd-Sgambati promises to entertain many children at her 15th annual African American Children's Book Fair, Saturday, February 3, at the Community College of Philadelphia (CCP), from 1 to 3 P.M. The founder/organizer anticipates about 4,000 children, parents and educators coming from Philadelphia, eastern Pennsylvania suburbs and southern New Jersey.

"People wait for this event," says Lloyd-Sgambati, a publicist for authors and literary consultant. "The downside is people wait for a year. They want me to do more events."

Lynette Brown-Sow, vice president for marketing and government relations at CCP, confirms that thought. "Thousands of young people attend the event each year," she says. "People line up in the morning outside the gymnasium to attend, and many books are given out at the fair free of charge, compliments of local sponsors. It is a wonderful event."

The Philadelphia Fair could be the oldest functioning African American oriented children's book fair in the country. It is older than the Toni Trent Parker Multicultural Children's Book festivals that draw thousands of people to annual events in New York and Washington, D.C. Trent Parker died in 2005, but those fairs continue. [See "Keeping On," BIBR, May/June 2006.]

There's unanimity among sources that promoting literacy for children is wonderful. "The book fair," says Brown-Sow," is an opportunity to promote the importance of reading and education to youths, who may, at some point in the future, attend the college."

Lloyd-Sgambati wants to go a step further: "Many people emphasize literacy. Our message is to get people to buy books. These great authors will not survive if people don't buy. There's limited shelf space in bookstores. Yes, I'm trying to teach consumers new buying habits.

"Buy the Book"

"If parents say, 'I'll get the book in the library,' understand that the library has one or two copies of that book," she adds. "It's more empowering to buy the book."

At this year's event, the founder/organizer promises to have nationally recognized and award-winning authors and illustrators, including journalist Jabari Asim, Deborah Gregory, author of the Cheetah Girls series, and children's book author Carol Boston Weatherford. A few self-published authors who are talents deserving wider recognition will also be featured.

Children and adults will be able to engage the talent and hear readings or watch illustrators show or even perform their craft. Meanwhile, "Literary Row" is a boulevard at the book fair where publishers and corporate sponsors give away bookmarks, posters and catalogues.

Even though people come to buy books, there Hill be many opportunities for children to walk away with free books. NBC-TV10, one of the fair sponsors, has given away many books over the years.

The organizer says she has noticed changes in book content, more positive images of black men like Asim's Daddy Goes to Work [ages 4-8, Little, Brown Young Readers, May 2006] and Weatherford's book Jesse Owens: Fastest Man Alive, about the Olympic runner [ages 9-12, Walker Books for Young Readers, January 2007].

"Ten years ago," says Lloyd-Sgambati, "these books might not have been written." She says the fair at CCP is a great opportunity because many of the authors and illustrators don't get to Philadelphia often because there are no bookstores specializing in African American children's literature. Lloyd-Sgambati also points out that black bookstores cater mainly to an adult clientele. "Many of the authors and illustrators," she says, "will bring their talents and incredible knowledge and expertise."

Betty Jean, owner/manager of Ligorious Books, a black-owned Philadelphia store, dissented mildly: "My philosophy is kids first. If you put books in front of them, you can help them achieve."

Jean says she has been passing out flyers to promote the fair, "and once in a while," she adds, books viewed at Community College of Philadelphia drive customers into her store.

If You Go: Community College of Philadelphia is at 1700 Spring Garden Street.

For more information, call 215-877-2012.

Wayne Dawkins is editor of Black Voices in Commentary: The Trotter Group (August Press, 2006).
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Title Annotation:children's bookshelf
Author:Dawkins, Wayne
Publication:Black Issues Book Review
Date:Jan 1, 2007
Words:762
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