8:38 PM / Tuesday March 28, 2023

18 Feb 2023

31st Annual African American Children’s Book Fair presents a world of possibilities

  • Facebook
  • Twitter
February 18, 2023 Category: Local Posted by:

ABOVE PHOTO: A world of exciting reading for children–guest Black authors with organizer Vanesse Lloyd Sgambati (c) attending the 31st Annual African American Children’s Book Fair at the Pennsylvania Convention Center. (Photo by Solomon Williams)

By Constance Garcia-Barrio

Magic carpets have become rare these days, but the 31st Annual African American Children’s Book Fair transported youngsters to a world of learning and possibilities. The fair took place last Saturday at the Pennsylvania Convention Center. 

 “People came to empower their children,” said the fair’s organizer, Vanesse Lloyd Sgambati, founder of the African American Children’s Book Project, which was formed to promote and preserve books written by or about Black people. “The book fair helps parents who want to establish a library or those who’ve already done so. You can’t  online and talk with award-winning authors as you could at the book fair.”

 “We offered free books, prizes, raffles and more,” Sgambati added. “I’ve done the book fair on a wing and a prayer and with help from sponsors like PECO, AARP, NBC10-Telemundo 62, and Always Best Care Senior Services.” 

Books ranged from gritty to some that harken back to fairy tales.

Photo by Solomon Williams

 “When my children were growing up it was difficult to find relevant authors of color,” said David Miller, 55, of Baltimore. “My first book was about the Dawson family, killed by drug dealers.” 

Then again, Miller published a coloring book, “Veggie Life,” that includes a surprising fact about each vegetable. Crushed asparagus, for example, is said to soothe bee stings, Miller’s book notes. 

Marchant Davis, a Nicetown native who now lives in New York City, did an update on a familiar story with his book, “A Boy and His Mirror.”

 “I wanted to write a book for the Tik Tok/Instagram generation,” said Davis, who’s acted on stage and in films. “The boy’s mirror lets him see his curly hair and caramel skin in a whole new light. “It’s like Snow White with the mirror repurposed.”

While the authors stayed busy talking with young fans, families overflowed the sales-and-display room and the hall. Some parents, like Jaclyn Curry, 38, of West Philadelphia, came at their partner’s urging.

Children’s Book Fair organizer and founder of the African American Children’s Book Project Vanesse Lloyd Sgambati with City Councilmember Jamie Gauthier. Photo by Solomon Williams

 “My husband told me about this event,” Curry said. “It’s a great idea,” she said, with her five-year-old twins in tow.

April Gonzalez, 37, was a repeat guest.

 “We came last year and enjoyed it,” she said.

 “I like talking with the authors,” said her son Miles, 7.

Black families made up the majority of folks at this jam-packed event, which also had a sprinkling of Latino and Asian parents and grandparents. Rushing in where angels fear to tread, I button-holed one of a handful of white families.

 “You stand out a little bit,” I said, and we laughed.

 “I teach at a Friends school,” Jen, the mom said, explaining that she wanted to diversify the library holdings. “What better place than here?”

 “We also want our son to be comfortable with people who may not look like him,” said Chris, the dad.

Their son, Lincoln, reported that one of his favorite books is “Kicks,” by poet Van G. Garrett, about an energetic young, brown-skinned connoisseur of sneakers.

Books presenting Black fathers seemed to be on the rise. Author Melissa Fanning, 55, of Virginia, wrote “Sea Lessons with Daddy,” based on her own life. Her father, who made a career in the U.S. Navy, was often at sea during Fanning’s childhood. They corresponded with each other to stay in touch. The book’s lessons concern life values.

 “The most important lesson is that God made everything,” said Fanning, a trainer and motivational speaker.

Raffles, games, free books, performers, posters and prizes pumped up the already-enthusiastic crowd, and so did the variety of books. Biographies went beyond the emblematic figures of Black history and the Civil Rights Movement. “Who is Ketanji Brown Jackson,” by Sheila P. Moses, put one of today’s heroines within children’s reach.

 “The 1619 Project: Born on the Water,” by Nicole Hannah-Jones and Renee Watson, which chronicles slavery and Black resistance, was available. Likewise, children could see the tale of “Carrimebac, the Town that Walked,” by David Barclay Moore, set after the Civil War. The story follows a boy and his grandmother who help save a Georgia town of freed Black citizens from “a hooded mob.”

Award-winning writers like Vaunda Micheaux Nelson brought little-known African Americans to light. One of her books, “Bad News for Outlaws: The Remarkable Life of Bass Reeves (1838-1910),” traces the life of the man said to be the first Black deputy U.S. marshall west of the Mississippi River. 

 “My parents taught us to love reading,” said Nelson, whose first name, Vaunda, came from a novel her mother was reading. “I worked for a newspaper and in a bookstore before I began writing.”

The book fair also had resources for parents eager to have their children become good readers.

Super scientist Grand Hank’s experiments entertains families. Photo by Solomon Williams

“Readby4th” is the city’s initiative to help bring students’ reading up to grade level, said Clinton Drees, special project manager with the program.

“By third grade, it’s assumed that children can read, but only 27% can. That has a huge impact on academic performance and everyday life, for instance, not being able to look up [the] information you need,” Drees said.

Readby4th offered free tools like the poster “Philly ABC,” where “ “H” is for hoagie.” The program also provided tips like: “When you’re in the grocery store, hunt for the first letter of your child’s name.”     

Tyraine Ragsdale, a.k.a. Grand Hank, a former research chemist for Johnson & Johnson, broadened the scope of the book fair with intriguing science demonstrations.  

“I’ll give a tee shirt to anyone who can name three Black scientists,” Ragsdale said to the children crowded around his table.” Several children came up with two names, but not three.

Next, Ragsdale, known for his skill in delivering STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) content in an entertaining way, bamboozled everyone with a demonstration using three tall Styrofoam cups. He poured water into one of them, asked children to watch closely, and then shuffled the cups around. When a boy pointed out what seemed to be the right cup, Ragsdale tried to pour water from it. Nothing came out. Ragsdale explained that he’d put a super-absorbent material into the cup and it had soaked up the water.

“It’s the same material that’s in diapers,” said Ragsdale, who has partnered with the Philadelphia School District in presenting science. “I did an 11-city ‘Stem Road Show Tour’ in South Africa, which provided professional development training to teachers and students,” he said.

The book fair was not only a magic carpet of sorts, but a dream machine that showed children possibilities.

“It’s hard to be what you can’t see,” said Marian Wright Edelman, activist and founder and president emerita of the Children’s Defense Fund once said.  “Children of color need to see themselves in the books they read.”

  • Facebook
  • Twitter

Leave a Comment

Recent News


Philadelphia Water Department is now confident tap water will remain safe to drink and use at least through 11:59 p.m. Monday, March 27, 2023.

March 26, 2023

Tweet Share Pin Email Based on updated hydraulic modeling and the latest sampling results and data, the...


 20 years after US invasion, young Iraqis see signs of hope

March 24, 2023

Tweet Share Pin Email ABOVE PHOTO: People take part in the Baghdad Kite Festival in Baghdad, Iraq,...


What to know about Alvin Bragg, the Manhattan DA investigating Trump

March 24, 2023

Tweet Share Pin Email ABOVE PHOTO: Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg participates in a news conference in...

Color Of Money

The average U.S. home equity is $300K: How to protect your biggest investment

March 24, 2023

Tweet Share Pin Email BPT Your home is likely the biggest purchase you’ll make in your lifetime,...


WHERE TO BUY WATER in Philadelphia (Shoprite, Fresh Grocer & Acme Markets)

March 27, 2023

Tweet Share Pin Email Tweet Share Pin Email Related Posts Philadelphia Water Department is now confident tap water...

Go With The-Flo

Vice President Kamala Harris gave a women’s history brunch co-hosted by Glamour magazine at her residence in Washington D.C.

March 24, 2023

Tweet Share Pin Email ABOVE PHOTO: Vice President Kamala Harris (Photo: By Flo Anthony March is...

The Philadelphia Sunday Sun Staff