As I've mentioned several times this year, our school participates in Scholastic's Reading Counts program. As part of that, I'm responsible for helping plan, fund, and organize 4 reading celebrations throughout the year. Today was the last celebration of the year and boy were the kids excited! I must admit that my level of excitement increased when they gave me a megaphone to use outside!
Luckily, the weather was beautiful (like 87 degrees) and we had a lot of kids earn the party. I had originally wanted to have an author come, but my literacy committee voted for a party instead. In searching for ideas, the committee brainstormed possibilities and I also asked some of our readers. The winning selection "ice cream and extended recess" was offered up by one of our book club students. And everyone loved her idea.
In thinking about buying lots of ice cream and toppings, I had a bit of a panic. Where would I store all of that? We aren't allowed to store in the school's freezer. How on earth would I have enough people to help me scoop and serve all of it? It made my head spin until I was talking with my bookkeeper about the money and I remembered that at one of my previous schools, we used to have the Jandy's truck come and set up as a fundraiser. Yatzee! I could call them and use my funds (I had been stashing book fair money aside to save for the author visit) to pay for the Jandy's truck to do all the work!
It worked out well because this company was so easy to work with. They gave me all sorts of options and even brought a "nut-free" truck so that we wouldn't have to worry about allergies with students. We had six flavor options, six "dry" toppings options, and about six "wet" topping options, plus syrups and whipped cream! Literally, I set up the visit, told them where to put the truck, and then several teachers and I supervised the older students and assisted the younger ones in making their custom frozen yogurt treats. It was a win-win! They also included a visit from "Mr. Jandy" and the kiddos went cRaZy over this! And I think you can see that the kids were very happy with their sweet treats too...just look at all of those smiles.
Being new to an elementary school library means being new to the work involved in hosting a book fair. My school usually has a fall and spring fair, both with Scholastic. The previous media specialist had already booked the fairs for this year, so basically all I needed to do was to confirm. Easy enough, right? Wrong. Way wrong.
My first rookie mistake was in thinking that a book fair only takes one week. Wrong. When looking at the schedule, the fair is delivered the week prior to the actual event week, so I had to make room for all those cases coming in (more on the cases later). I also had to schedule a "closed" day so that I could set up the displays and put the items out in the library. And we also have a Grandparents' Day Lunch that is hosted every year....on a Friday...during the book fair. The booking of the fair was done so that the Friday before the fair we could host the grandparents for a day of shopping. This meant no class preview day. Basically, I needed an entire week to get this fair ready. And it was the week of Labor Day, so that meant we were out of school on Monday. I can honestly say that the fact I have to take two weeks out of my schedule for the fair, not just one, was disappointing to me. But...I get it.
My second rookie mistake was approving the custom fair that was ordered without thinking about it. The previous media specialist was obviously experienced. She had done many fairs in this space and knew exactly what she could and would be willing to do. She ordered a custom fair with 9 cases, plus countless boxed items for additional "sections" for the fair. I didn't realize this was a mistake until the fair was delivered. When I saw the quantity of stuff rolling in...well, let's just say my reaction was less than positive. Mostly because I was realizing in that moment that it would be me and one Scholastic rep setting up the fair. (Scholastic promised me a person to help set up the fair since it was my first fair ever.) There is no way I will order a fair this large ever again....and I mean never. It is just entirely too much stuff for our small space!
After the Labor Day holiday, I hit the ground running on Tuesday and Wednesday with all of my classes. I tried to get everyone in to return and check-out books prior to shutting down all circulation for the week of the book fair. The students were sad that they didn't have an actual library lesson this week and I was too...but the excitement was building for the book fair. I had to shelve thousands of books in these two days! My little library helpers came in each morning to help, but I did do the bulk of it.
I awaited the arrival of the fair on Wednesday. It was to be delivered between the hours of 7am and 4pm. When my clock read 3:50 and no truck had arrived, I was anxious. And upset. And worried. But at 3:58pm, the truck pulled in and the custodian and Scholastic guy started unloading. This is when the real panic set in. I couldn't believe how MUCH stuff was rolling in the door. I mean we had a hard time fitting it all in the library and the cases were closed!!! I didn't get out of the door until after 5pm that day.
Thursday came and I locked the doors and got to work. I started at 7am and worked all day. I didn't even stop for lunch! I worked and waited for the Scholastic rep to come. I had been told twice that I would have help from a Scholastic employee since this was my first fair. When it got to be noon and no one came....well....panic set in. I was almost in tears, at this point. But I plugged on.
My third rookie mistake was that I had scheduled my Teacher Preview Event for Thursday afternoon. The teachers would be coming at 2:30 to create their classroom wish lists and to have snacks. I only had a few hours to transform everything. With no Scholastic help in sight, I tried to pull it all together. And...it seems I did a decent job. The teachers came in and loved it. They were in awe of how MUCH stuff was in the fair! (Ha....never again, folks, never.) They loved the fact that I had put out "vittles" (Chex mix with added pretzels and candy corn) and chilled drinks for them. They were also in love with the Scholastic bins for their wish lists.
If you haven't seen or heard about the bins, they are a new feature this year. You need to order them. I got mine free because I was selected somehow (probably because I had a custom fair with 9 cases!!! LOL). Anyway, teachers grab a bin, pull books they want from the shelves and put inside the bins. Then, they use a dry erase marker to add their name to the bin. You make a cute display with these and it makes it easy for families to select a book to purchase for the teacher's classrooms. The teachers said they had never gotten to do this before and they had so much fun! Several of them even got in on the photo booth action, so that made it festive.
So, I survived set up. And I survived the Teacher Preview. I went home at 4:30 or so and immediately put myself in an Epsom salt bath! When I got out, I informed my husband he was in charge of dinner and then I put my feet up and put a heating pad on my back. Words cannot express the degree of soreness I felt in my body. The next day proved it to me in bruises. I was covered in them!!! They were so bad that I had to wear a long-sleeved cardigan to work so that people wouldn't think I had been abused during the night.
Friday had finally arrived and it was time for the Grandparents' Day Event. Luckily, my principal helped me secure some volunteers. Oh my gosh...these ladies were the only reason I survived this particular day! The school counselor and speech therapist worked our cash registers for two hours straight. No breaks. My principal greeted guests and also ended up bagging items when the lines wrapped around the walls. One mom volunteered as well and she was so helpful with explaining our Classroom Wish Bins to families as they entered the library. I made sure folks registered for our free prize drawings and generally ran around like a chicken with its head cut off. We probably had about 400 people in the library in about two-three hours time. We sold over $3000 worth of merchandise. It was crazy, but successful.
If you are still reading at this point, I'm grateful. I don't want anyone to think that I am anti-book fair. But, as a newcomer, I see that it is a lot of work and the profit margin is extremely small. As I write this post, I am currently at home on a Monday awaiting the arrival of Hurricane Irma. Yep. This post was about my PRE-FAIR week. The fair was supposed to start TODAY. But, Hurricane Irma decided to show up, so my school is closed today and tomorrow. That means my fair will only be two full days. On Friday, we will only be open half a day so that I can begin packing it all up. I'm exhausted just thinking about it.
I see the benefit in the book fair. It gets the kids and teachers fired up about reading new books. It gave families a reason to come together over books and that is never a bad thing. But, I did have families come up to me and question the prices on items. More than one person commented about the high prices. In a Title I school, it is hard for families to buy books at $20 a pop. That is why I think the small stuff (like pencils, spy pens, rubber erasers, etc.) sell so well. And that is the last thing I want to be selling. I want to sell books. It was hard to look them in the eye and tell them that yes, that was the actual price.
One thing that did encourage me in all of this was the fact that our families supported our teachers. Many of our teachers have a big treat in store when I deliver their Classroom Wish Bins this week. These families purchased books for our teachers and some families purchased more than one. It was an awesome sight to see.
So...I'm anticipating low sales this week for the actual book fair. With only two and a half days of shopping time, I will be doing well just to get my classes all in to the book fair once. Here's to holding out hope.
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