Book Fair brings community together

The Book Fair Committee ordered 9,000 books from Barnes and Noble and arranged them in the Campus Center.

Shani Israel, Staff Writer

Exhilarated students with leis draped around their necks wandered through dozens of tables, looking through the 9,000 novels on display. Afterwards, they walked over to the colorful and flowery checkout line, eager to purchase their favorite selections from the Book Fair.

The Book Fair committee spent a year preparing for “Book Fair Beach,” which took place on Wednesday, October 11 and Thursday, October 12 in Flores Hall. On Wednesday, the Middle School and Lower School participated in Day of Reading, which was a day devoted to reading, discussing  novels, and exploring the Book Fair.

The book fair was organized by two co-chairs, Annette Gregory and Sarah Lane (‘94), both parent volunteers who took on the role to get more involved with the community. They spent a year figuring out logistics, meeting with alumni to secure speakers, discussing which books to feature with input from librarians, and ordering the books from Barnes and Noble. Some books featured at Book Fair had been released the day before the event.

“There are so many different aspects of it. You have to spend time getting basic logistics down,” Gregory said. “You don’t really think about it, but being an all-school event, there are so many things you have to coordinate.”

In past years, students would travel off-campus to Barnes and Noble for the Book Fair. This year’s fair took place in the Campus Center.

“In essence we’re trying to set up a store in here, which is a bigger chore than actually taking the kids to the store,” Gregory said.

Book Fair highlights the value of reading and gives students time focused on reading within a social setting. 

“The most exciting part about Book Fair is seeing students down there looking at the book displays, discussing books with their friends and having a great time talking about books,” Upper School librarian Peg Patrick said. “I think that’s really important because in our technology-driven world, we forget about how enjoyable it is to sit down and read.”

In addition to selecting novels and setting up decorations, the committee had to select alumni authors whose books would be displayed. Alumni guest speakers visited during the week leading up to Book Fair discuss their lives and their work with students. Children’s book authors Nathan Hale and Laura Vaccaro Seeger spoke to the Middle and Lower Schools on Oct. 5.

Author and alum Katherine Arden (‘06), who recently published The Bear and the Nightingale and is working on its sequel The Girl in The Tower, spoke to the Upper School on Oct. 3 about her journey after high school. Arden took a gap year after graduating from SJS to study abroad in Russia, where she studied again during college. She moved to Hawaii after college to recover from academic stress and was inspired to begin writing her fantasy novel set in medieval Russia while working on a coffee farm there.

“I wanted students to see that they could be anything that they wanted to be. Here was a person that graduated from St. John’s and took a very untraditional path to something that is her passion, and she didn’t even know it was her passion until much, much later in her experiences,” Patrick said. “I wanted students to understand that the life before you really is an open book, and that sometimes unconventional things really, really help.”

Students could visit the fair to purchase books during their free times in the school day or before and after school. They could also come to Family Night on Oct. 12 to “catch the reading wave.” Families congregated on the Great Lawn and filled Flores Hall, dubbed “Beachside Café,” ready to enjoy hotdogs and burgers, socialize, and explore the Book Fair.

“It’s nice that the kids can run around and play and the adults can socialize,” Lane said.

The Book Fair and Family Night faced some challenges. While authors in previous years attended the event for a book signing, Arden was only able to appear for her assembly presentation. Some students were also concerned that the event appealed more to Middle and Lower School students. 

“I felt that the Book Fair was designed more for the younger kids,” junior Caroline Burnett said. “It was a little disappointing because I was one of very few Upper Schoolers in attendance.”

Despite these concerns, Family Night had a large turnout and attendees considered the Book Fair a success.

“My favorite thing about the Book Fair is that it is a fun way to get some new books while hanging out with my friends,” Burnett said. “It was a fun way to kick back on a Thursday night.”

Organizers agreed that Family Night and Book Fair as a whole are important events because they bring the community together by connecting students across grade levels and providing a family gathering.

“Other than the St. John’s-Kinkaid game, you don’t really have an event that brings people from all over the school together,” Lane said. “I like Family Night because it is the only time we have the whole school together.