The school gymnasium was generally not one of my favorite places as a child. (Outdoor gym class wasn’t as bad, as I could handle kicking a ball and running. Indoor gym class, however, meant gymnastics or volleyball, or “Mr. King Soccer,” which involved trying to knock down the other team’s bowling pins while keeping your own from being knocked over.) But when it was set up for the annual book fair, it suddenly became the best place in the whole school.
Across the street, the public library usually had the best selection of books at a price I could afford (free). But the book fair meant a smorgasbord of new books that the library didn’t have yet, and at prices reasonable enough that I could always count on my parents to get me at least one. (At the supermarket not a penny could be spared to buy name brands, but they were pretty generous when it came to buying books. They always let me purchase books from the monthly Scholastic take-home flyers, and they also let me buy all the books by L. Frank Baum and Marguerite Henry that I could find.)
I still have a pop-up book that I’m pretty sure came from a book fair in the New Meadow Elementary gym. What Do You Get? asks riddles like “What do you get when you cross a duck with a cow?” (milk and quackers) or “What do you get when you cross a blackbird with a mad dog?” (a raven maniac). I’m not sure if the jokes are all that funny except to kids (my son does crack up over most of them, though he’s not sure why crossing a worm and a porcupine should produce barbed wire), but the implausible pop-up pictures add a lot to its entertainment value.
And the tradition continues. This week is the Scholastic Book Fair at my younger son’s school. Monday he announced that he needed $5.99 for Tentacles. I always like to check out his book choices myself, both to know what I’m getting him, and because even at age 47, I still love browsing at a book fair. I like seeing what books kids are reading, getting ideas for possible Christmas presents, and checking out the bargain table. I didn’t end up getting there when the book fair was open, but fortunately I could check out the book just as easily online. (Perhaps even more easily, because at amazon.com I can get the opinions of other children and their parents.)
I quickly decided this was a book we could both enjoy. Mystery, legendary animals – and a reading level high enough to challenge him a little and be enjoyable for me also. It also turned out that he had more than enough money saved up to buy it, even without my giving him the proceeds from selling his Leapster on ebay.
The one problem was that Tentacles turns out to be a sequel, and I always like to read books in order if I can. But the internet again helped me, as I looked up our local library’s online catalog and found that I could (and did) go pick up Cryptid Hunters at lunchtime. Now the question is just who gets to read it first.