Scholastic is widely known for its annual book fairs at thousands of schools across the country, which evoke excitement in children, and nostalgic memories for adults.
The children’s book publisher made headlines this week after announcing that it was making certain books about LGBTQ+ characters, civil rights leaders, and Black fictional characters optional for elementary schools hosting book fairs this year.
Update: Scholastic has reversed its decision to allow schools to exclude a collection of books about LGBTQ+ characters and Black characters when hosting its book fairs. Read more.
Dozens of Scholastic book fairs are ongoing in schools across the country this fall. Annually, the publisher provides books to about 120,000 book fairs, according to Scholastic’s website.
Here’s what you need to know about what students can find at book fairs, who organizes them, who selects the books for them, and more.
What can students find at school book fairs?
Book fairs are temporary pop ups with curated collections of books for students to buy. The events are predominantly for elementary and middle school students, and often feature a selection of books by a certain publisher, such as Scholastic, or books chosen by an independent bookstore vendor.
In addition to books, the fairs may also sell school supplies and book accessories. The size of a book fair varies depending on the school hosting it.
Who partners with schools for book fairs?
Scholastic is by far the most well-known book fair vendor, but there are other publishers, companies, and bookstores that also partner with schools to conduct fairs.
The vast majority of Scholastic book fairs serve elementary schools, said Ben Stone, a senior vice president of sales and strategy at the company. However, the publisher also organizes fairs for middle schools, K-6, and K-8 grade ranges. Scholastic does not organize book fairs for high school students.
Who organizes book fairs at schools?
About 70 percent of Scholastic’s book fairs are organized at the school level by a librarian, according to Scholastic. The librarian coordinates with someone at Scholastic to coordinate the selection of books, the delivery of all the necessary items needed to run the fair, and the profit sharing after the fair.
About 30 percent of Scholastic book fairs are organized and operated by parent volunteers from a parent-teacher association, Stone said.
Barbara Johnson, a school librarian from Connecticut and past president of the Connecticut Association of School Librarians, says that when anyone who isn’t a certified librarian runs a book fair, it shouldn’t be left up to them to make sure that the books in the fair are diverse and represent all students.
“Many districts like mine have [PTA] members who are running fairs, who just rely on the book fair vendors to provide them with books that represent students or books that will be attractive or engaging to their students,” Johnson said.
“They’re just relying on a company to do the right thing, and to help guide them and give them books that are appropriate for their patrons.”
Who selects the books featured in a fair and how?
For Scholastic book fairs, schools receive between 250 to 500 unique titles, depending on school size, Stone said. Schools do get some choice between curated collections, but can’t control which unique titles they’ll receive before the fair based on stock availability, he said.
In addition to the regular bookshelves schools receive for the fair curated by Scholastic, the publisher offers about 13 optional add-on collections that book fair hosts can pick from, including collections for Spanish language books, discounted books, and books about religion, Stone said.
Librarians can opt in for those collections, much like the “Share Every Voice, Celebrate Every Voice” collection that features stories about LGBTQ+ people and minorities that Scholastic made optional this year.
“We know what we intend to send each school based on grade range and fair type, but we’re not able to say with certainty or share with the school in advance,” Stone said.
In its fall of 2023 preview, Scholastic includes a disclaimer that while it includes most of the books that will be available, “Some books may not be available and there may be some books—not in this preview—sent as substitutes.”
Librarians don’t know the exact titles that will be included in a fair, said Debby Vandersande, a librarian from Fairfax County in Virginia who has been hosting Scholastic book fairs for more than a decade.
While schools cannot request for specific books to be included ahead of time, if the host school wants a specific title while the fair is ongoing, they can ask for it by filling out a form online as part of a restock request—which is a way for schools to get additional products that were not originally included, Stone said.
What is the benefit of having book fairs at schools?
Book fairs help engage students in recreational reading, which research has shown can improve reading scores, Stone said.
“The fair is all about the joy of discovery, and the power of choice for the students,” he said.
“To find books that excite them about reading, that engage them in reading with the belief that that will aid in their reading of curriculum materials.”
The books in a Scholastic book fair are typically not related directly to the school curriculum, he said.
The fairs are also meant to inspire a love of reading among children, who get a chance to select the books they want to read based on their interests, Stone said.
“There is a lot of research that shows that when a child has the opportunity to pick the books that they read, they’re much more likely to enjoy reading, to read more often, and to continue to be lifelong readers,” he said.
Do schools make money from book fairs?
Schools make some profit from the sale of books at fairs, which can be a financial incentive or a fundraiser for the school.
The fair vendor, such as Scholastic, typically owns the registers at a book fair. At Scholastic fairs, schools can choose between taking 25 percent of the total fair revenue in dollars, or 50 percent of revenue in Scholastic dollars, which is internal currency districts can use to purchase library and curricular materials, stationery, library shelving and furniture, whiteboards, and other educational supplies the publisher offers.
The total fair revenue can vary widely, from about $1,200 in small schools to $100,000 in large ones, Stone said. On average, a Scholastic book fair tends to make $6,000, which makes the average school profit $1,500 or 3,000 Scholastic dollars, Stone said. In total, schools earn about $200 million through book fairs each year, Stone said.
Are book fairs affordable?
Not all schools can afford to host book fairs, and not all students can afford to buy books even if their school has a fair, according to Stone and four librarians Education Week spoke with.
The disparities in access make the system of book fairs unfair, Johnson, the librarian from Connecticut, said.
“I think the system of the book fair in general is kind of missing the boat on how to get books into the hands of kids,” she said.
This year, Scholastic has increased the number of books that are $5 and below by 50 percent, Stone said. For schools with high numbers of economically disadvantaged students, there’s an extended selection schools can request, with every book costing up to $5.
Schools can also use part of the revenue they earn from fairs to build a fund to help children who don’t have money to shop at the fair, Stone said. Finally, Scholastic can help hosts find local fair sponsors so the fair can be free for all students. Last year, the publisher ran about 750 sponsored book fairs.
“We believe that there should be an equitable and accessible experience for absolutely every child regardless of income,” said Anne Sparkman, senior vice president of corporate communications at Scholastic.