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Weird Things That Save My Life During The Book Fair

Ashlie Swicker


Ashlie (she/her) is an educator, librarian, and writer. She is committed to diversifying the reading lives of her students and supporting fat acceptance as it intersects with other women’s issues. She's also perpetually striving to learn more about how she can use her many privileges to support marginalized groups. Interests include learning how to roller skate with her local roller derby team, buying more books than she'll ever read, hiking with her husband and sons, and making lists to avoid real work. You can find her on Instagram (@ashlieelizabeth), Twitter (@mygirlsimple) or at her website,

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I am an elementary school librarian, and my profits from the Scholastic Book Fair fully fund my budget. This is problematic for a few reasons. It’s true that profit-raising events within the school can be stressful for low-income families, and I run an average of three book fairs a year. It’s also true that the burden of fully funding a school program should not lie on the shoulders of a parent-teacher organization, and certainly not on a single employee. There are things I do to mitigate the stress of these truths for myself and my community; however, at the end of the day, I rely heavily on book fairs to make sure I can purchase the books my students deserve.

As a full-time teacher and the person who develops, maintains, and circulates our library collection, I have to be highly efficient with my time. Planning, advertising, and pulling off a huge event three times a year could completely drain me if I let it. I do not let it. Over the past five years, I’ve accumulated tips and tricks that help me smoothly prepare for book fairs and survive the hectic week of switching from teacher to bookseller, then back again. Below are some of the more unusual habits I’ve picked up along the way.

Fifth Graders

To be honest, there are times when it feels like 5th graders are actually the bane of my existence. (I mean nothing by this. I have one at home.) But they actually save my life when it comes to helping kindergarten students shop at the book fair. With most grades, some volunteers and parents who come to shop with their kids will be enough to make shopping smooth. Children in every grade will overestimate how many books they can get with their money. Kindergarten students are different animals altogether. This is where 5th graders come in.

I have my older students help by pairing them up with a kindergarten student who is shopping. They assist the younger kiddo in picking out books, checking prices, and doing the math before they reach the register. I usually request a few extra bodies to circulate in the area where finished shoppers are allowed to use computers, so kids are never without someone who can help. I ask the 5th grade teachers for this assistance the week before a fair. Some use it as a behavior incentive, and others just send students they know would rise to the occasion. It saves my life.

Plastic Shopping Bags

This advice will hit differently depending on your local laws about plastic shopping bags. Where I live, stores are still allowed to use them, and kitchens across my city have a cabinet or two stuffed with saved plastic bags. When I first started with fairs, Scholastic would send a few reams of lovely printed shopping bags with the rest of the setup materials. However, it’s been a while since they’ve been included. These days, I start every fair set up with a request for saved plastic bags. It becomes a strange community-building exercise as staff members send crinkly masses of bags to the library.  This shared effort in my school really warms my heart, gets me in the book fair mood, and lets me know that we are ready to sell books.

Shoe Organizers

This tip came from the Scholastic rep who checks in before every fair. While the heart of the fair is always the books, anyone who has experienced the book fair knows that the pens, erasers, sharpeners, and mini backpacks are the most sparkly draw. These “stationary items” are typically the most browsed, and many students need several reminders to pick out a book before they buy pizza-shaped highlighters.

When I heard the idea to use over-the-door clear plastic shoe organizers to display the stationary items, I was over the moon. Adding an entire folding table to the area near the register took up so much space. By hanging the organizer on the shelves near the register, I’m able to keep an eye on the area that inspires the stickiest fingers while also making it easier to browse the books and wait in line to pay. I put a post it with the rounded-up price on the outside of the clear pocket, then fill the pocket with the item. Extras are stored in a box nearby, and restocking can easily be done by a volunteer.

The Basics

This one seems ridiculously simple, but once I figured it out, my entire life changed for the better. The hectic nature of a book fair week is breathtaking. I spend the entire day on my feet, counting money, helping kids, figuring out what needs to be restocked, interacting with parent volunteers and visitors, and reigning in the excitement of children unleashed in the book fair. There is no tired like book fair tired, and because I am not in a position to share my profits with other organizations (the library needs those funds!) I am the sole chairperson.

This kind of disruption often leads me to believe I deserve “a break.” There was a time when this translated to not being as strict with packing my lunch, getting to work a bit early, and making sure I had plenty of water. I would let myself sleep a little later. I would skip out on setting the coffee pot and picking out my outfit the night before. Are you seeing the problem? In the wild unknown of a book fair week, these habits are crucial. The little steps that I thought were work were actually a foundation that would let me survive the real work of making money for my library. Nothing makes a busy week worse than being dehydrated and trying to grab take out without leaving the register unmanned. Sticking to the basics saves my life.

Hopefully you’ve found a a few tips you can use in your own book fair experience. Looking for more? Here are even more book fair tips. Best of luck on your book fair!