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18 Feb 2022

Thirty years filling Black children’s arms with books 

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February 18, 2022 Category: Local Posted by:

A chat with Vanesse Lloyd-Sgambati, CEO and founder of The African American Children’s Book Project and book fair

By Afea Tucker

The 30th Annual African American Children’s Book Fair is set to take place live and in person, Saturday, February 26 at the Pennsylvania Convention Center.

The book fair is hosted by the African American Children’s Book Project, (AACBP) which was created to promote and preserve children’s literature written by and about Black Americans.

“At AACBP, we know that early access to books plays an important role in building lifelong readers,” said Vanesse Lloyd-Sgambati, CEO and founder of The African American Children’s Book Project (AACBP).

Lloyd-Sgambati wears many hats in the world of publishing.  She is also the CEO and founder of The Literary Media and Publishing Consultants, a public relations firm that specializes in publishing. 

 For over 30 years the firm has served as literary consultant to authors, illustrators, consumers, booksellers, educators, publishers, and corporate entities interested in literacy. 

 In preparation of the annual African American Children’s Book Fair, AACBP collaborated with authors, illustrators, publishers, booksellers, educators, librarians, consumers, and corporate entities committed to promoting literacy. 

“We had the book fair in 2020, because the pandemic didn’t really touch us until March, and we did a virtual event, and after all that was happening in 2021, people still were clamoring for information about books,” Lloyd-Sgambati said. “We had a global virtual event [in 2021], 3,000 people logged on from all over the world, Rome, Paris, Botswana, all the four corners of the United States.” 

This year will mark the return of the in-person book fair since the pandemic began. Doors will open on the 26 at 1p.m. and the fair will end at 4 p.m.

“Parents would call me and say, ‘I need some ideas on books.’ There are bookstores here in the city, but the kind of thing that we’re doing is so massive,” Lloyd-Sgambati said. “I have 30 of the top children’s authors and illustrators — the top — the people who are getting awards.” 

“They just had the American Library Association [meeting], and I’m bringing those people into Philadelphia, where kids can see people who look like them, and then view books that reflect their image,” she said. 

The book fair has been known to feature nationally celebrated authors and illustrators who have been highlighted on numerous best seller lists and won some of the most prestigious American Library Association (ALA) awards. 

This year’s events will feature four of the newly minted ALA award-winning books. That includes Jason Reynolds, national ambassador for Young People’s Literature.

“Jason Reynolds is the national ambassador for children’s books,” Lloyd-Sgambati said. “Most kids won’t see him, because when he does come, he’s generally not coming to a book signing.”

“There’s so many names on this year’s list,” she continued.  “One after another of people who’ve excelled in their particular sector of the publishing industry, and they come willingly because, people, you have to be invited.”

Lloyd-Sgambati does an intensive search to find what she thinks is the best quality and appropriate books for her audience.

 “You have to be invited, because I want people’s books, who are at the highest level that educate, empower, and enlighten and enrich the lives of our children,” she said. 

Given the recent rise in crime and violence, Lloyd-Sgambati believes that the work she is doing is critical during these times.

“The work I’m doing is so important to our community with all the violence that you see,” she said. “There is a community in Philadelphia that embraces this effort.”

This year’s African American Children’s Book Fair program includes book signings, opportunities to meet and greet the authors and illustrators, workshops, educating consumers on trends and resources in youth literature, guidance on establishing home libraries, and information about initiatives to promote Black American children’s literature around the world.

“When people say that Black people don’t read, they have never come to Philadelphia and seen the outpouring of love for books,” Lloyd-Sgambati said. 

Leah Henderson

Leah Henderson is one of the authors that will be in attendance at the 30th annual African American Children’s Book Fair.

“This book fair is absolutely phenomenal,” Henderson said. Henderson experienced the book fair for the first time in 2016.

“One of the participants who has been an ongoing participant had invited me a number of years ago,” she said. “And just to come through and see it. When I stepped into the space and saw so many people with stacks and stacks of books in their arms, so many Black kids running up to the tables, looking for and searching for books that had characters that look like them on the covers, it was what we write for.”

“As a Black creative, that’s what you want to 

see,” Henderson continued.  “You  want  to  see kids that look like you getting so excited to see books where you have representation of them.” Henderson believes that the book fair serves as an adventure of sorts for the young readers.

“That is one of the reasons why this book fair is just near and dear to me, and to be a participant is an absolute honor and a privilege,” she said. “Again, I think it speaks to the reasons why we write, the reasons why we do what we do, to see their faces. To see their parents’ faces, their grandparents’ faces or teachers coming to know that these are books that really showcase our experience in such a variety of ways.”

While giving her thoughts and reasons to the significance of having a niche book fair in the city of Philadelphia, Lloyd-Sgambati recalled a conversation that she had with an industry peer. “I spoke with someone who has a bookstore in Boston, and he told me he’s Black, he’s in an urban area and he said 90% of his clients are white people,” she said. “And so I said, ‘well you haven’t done the proper outreach for these people, because Black people will read.’  We have a history of literacy in our community. 

And people will deny that, but one of the things that our ancestors did, even when they could not read [themselves], they made sure that their children went to school, even if it might have been going to school just to get the basics of learning how to read,”

“We have a history of wanting to be educated in our communities, and circumstances sometimes get in the way,” Lloyd-Sgambati continued. “But we are not a people that don’t value literacy. I keep pounding that message into people’s heads, that I could not stand strong 30 years without the support of the [Black] community.” 

“There are adults who attended as children that now bring their children. It’s become a generational experience,” she said.. 

For more information about the upcoming book fair, visit:

The event is sponsored by NBC10-Telemundo62, Comcast, Wells Fargo, PECO, AARP Pennsylvania, Community College Of Philadelphia, Read By 4th, Always Best Care Senior Services, The Literary Cafe Books & Events, Keystone First, The Literary Media and Publishing Consultants, Philadelphia Sunday SUN, Visit Philly, WDAS-FM/WUSL-FM, WURD AM/FM, Philadelphia City Councilmembers Cindy Bass,  Jaime Gauthier, Derek S. Green,  Kenyatta Johnson,  Curtis Jones, Jr., Cherelle Parker, Katherine Gilmore Richardson.

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