The African American Children’s Book is back and in-person | Lifestyle

What started as a small book fair held on the Community College of Philadelphia’s campus over 30 years ago has matured into one of the most notable literary events to take up residence at the Pennsylvania Convention Center. On Feb. 26., The African American Children’s Book Project is inviting students and readers both new and old to their 30th annual book fair happening from 1 — 4 p.m.

The African American Children’s Book Project continues to host the fair in hopes of promoting children’s literature written and illustrated by Black artists and creatives, as well as advocating for more literature centered on the lives of Black Americans.

“It’s a book fair for all children, [or] for any kid who loves to read or parent who wants their child to have a diverse library. Because at the end of the day that’s our priority — creating books that will open an opportunity for these kids to see themselves beyond the communities that they live in,” says The African American Children’s Book Project founder and literary consultant Vanesse Lloyd-Sgambati.

This Saturday, the Pennsylvania Convention Center will resemble a children’s library with a plethora of books depicting the lives of Black boys and girls, men and women lining the room from wall to wall, or literary row as Lloyd-Sgambati calls it. There will be over 30 different authors and illustrators attending to lead readings, sign books, distribute posters and bookmarks, and answer questions about their work. The objective of this fair isn’t solely about promoting reading — but the importance of diversifying literature and being intentional about the stories we choose to tell and how we tell them.

“To center Blackness on a page has brought a lot of joy and pride to my life, I want to continue to do that in my books,” says “Daddy Speaks Love” author Leah Henderson. Some of this year’s attendees will include Henderson, Paula Chase, Jason Reynolds, and former “Fresh Prince of Bel-Air” actress Karyn Parsons.

With last year’s festivities taking place online due to COVID-19, the book fair managed to garner over 3,000 attendees — safe to say that the first digital iteration of the fair was a success. But sensing the hunger and need from the community to be back in person, The African American Children’s Book Project decided to bring it back in-person.

“To be able to go this book fair, where you see this long row of Black authors and illustrators, and all of these amazing books they created — I mean that level of engagement is amazing. I don’t think that any kid, whether they recognize it or not at that time, I don’t think they forget.” says Henderson.

The free book fair also stands to tackle the growing literacy dilemma facing the Black community.

According to the Nations Report Card from the National Assessment of Education Progress, in 2019 only 18% of Black 4th-graders were reading above or at the minimum proficiency level while their white counterparts scored a higher 45%. This book fair gives young readers a chance to expand their vocabulary, mind, and imagination by seeing themselves as the leading character or reflected in their favorite writer or illustrator.

“When I’m writing I’m always thinking about what possibilities my characters have on the page, and how I can showcase this world is open to you. You just need to step into it and try. I think when I’m writing or speaking to kids on school visits or book tours it’s always about you have possibilities in this world. I think when we do that it changes the conversation, it changes the dynamic of the structure of power and privilege when we all come to this place of recognizing, ‘wait, I can do that too.’ So whether it’s a Black kid having an adventure or is doing something that we don’t often see, I think to see possibilities is really powerful.” says Henderson.

You can attend the in-person and free book fair this Saturday from 1 — 4 PM at the Pennsylvania Convention Center.






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