My six-year-old son was in uncontrollable tears and it was only 7:00 AM. Our mornings don’t usually start like this, especially the morning before our family heads to the annual school book fair.
But the book fair was causing all of this chaos.
“One. You can pick one. It’s always been that way.” My husband and I are trying to stay calm. Our coffee hasn’t even gotten a chance to kick in yet. We aren’t quite ready to have to discipline this early.
“But she said we could pick out three!” Suddenly my husband and I stop and look at each other.
“Who’s ‘she’?” If our coffee had kicked in, we would have hollered “Jinx!” at each other. But not this morning. My mind was in serious mode.
Who was this ‘she’ that was telling children how many books their parents would be buying?
My son gave me the name of a woman or girl that I had never heard of before. My husband, Andy, and I were lost. Where was this all coming from? Then it came to me. It had to be a school friend who had told my son that she was allowed to pick out three books. That made the most sense.
It was then that we had to have the talk that most parents eventually have to have. We told our son that our family chooses to only buy one book per child at the book fair each year and if he wanted to get more he would have to buy the other ones from his allowance. We also told him that he needed to be happy that he was getting one book, as we were sure that there would be children whose families couldn’t even afford that.
He calmed down and Andy and I hoped that the lesson had sunk in and we hadn’t gotten too far into lecture mode. (We probably had. His eyes were more glazed than a donut by the end).
We went to the book fair, both kids picked out a book they loved, and we went home. For a few days, that was the end of it.
Then my son’s Friday folder came home. I opened it and suddenly that early morning eruption began to make complete sense.
Inside the folder was a, “My child’s book fair wish list” sponsored by the publisher of the children’s books that would be sold at the fair. Underneath the header were the words, “These are books I found awesome at the book fair.” Someone had written three titles that my son had wanted underneath. They had taken school time to browse at the book fair and someone had helped each child to fill out this form and send it home with us.
We had gotten it a little too late.
I’m not someone who gets irritated very easily. I have loved the school that my children attend. But I have to say this was the first time I was genuinely angered by school policy.
Okay, I’ll admit it, and some of you will roll your eyes at me, I don’t like advertising that prays on children.
The last place I figured I would have to battle over manipulative advertising would be the school book fair. Now, I fully understand that the school gets a portion of the money and that schools always can use more money. But where did the concept go of simply putting a flyer in the folder that announces the book fair and having parents choose whether or not their family can go… or if they can afford the book fair?
When I was a kid, we had a wonderful program that came to our school called R.I.F., short for Reading is Fundamental. One glorious day of the school year, we were brought to the library and for that one glorious day, new books were stretched out across the library table and we were allowed to pick out one. FOR. FREE. Can you believe it? The program believed so much in the sanctity and wonderfulness of reading that each child was given a free book to start their personal library at home.
What a great way to take kids out of class for a half hour and to encourage reading.
Taking my child out of class for a half hour to browse the book fair and be manipulated into wanting me to purchase books isn’t right. I don’t feel like it’s right to bring every child through the process of writing down a wish list and bringing it home when the school doesn’t even know if that child’s parents can afford to buy one book, let alone three or four.
Please don’t get me wrong. Book fairs are wonderful. They allow you to buy books at a reduced rate, to get books for your child’s classroom if you’re so inclined, and to see what kinds of things your child is into as you shop together. And, yes, you can have that conversation about money management at the book fair, if you choose to go.
But let’s leave the kids out of advertising altogether. Let’s allow parents to choose what we spend money on. Don’t parents have enough to feel guilty about and enough to buy without having school conning kids into demanding that we buy more?
The conversation that we had with my son that morning was a very valuable one. I look at that conversation as the lemonade we made out of the lemons we were handed. But the very conversation we were having with him that morning is the entire reason the book fair wish list bothers me. Our family lives in a very wealthy community. We don’t fit into that demographic. We can afford to buy at least one book at the book fair, but we aren’t the only ones who would rather not be guilted or pressured into buying books at the book fair.
The book publisher and our school need to know that all students, financially speaking, are not created equal.
Obviously, I think book fairs should continue and should be attended.
But I also feel like we need more free programs like R.I.F. to fill in the gaps and leave the commercialism crisis for holidays.