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The 26th annual African American Children’s Book Fair

February 2, 2018 GMT

For over 2 1/2 decades, literary publicist Vanesse Lloyd-Sgambati has committed herself to filling the void of Black representation in children’s literature by creating an annual book fair that highlights the nation’s acclaimed and bestselling authors and illustrators.

With an average annual attendance of more than 3,500, the African American Children’s Book Fair is lauded as one of the nation’s oldest and largest single-day events for African-American children’s books. The event features nationally known bestselling authors and illustrators, many of whom have won some of the most prestigious American Library Association awards.

“This is the largest gathering of African-American authors and illustrators that win all the mega awards,” said Lloyd-Sgambati. “When we say this is the group of award-winning authors, we mean that in a bold kind of way — people have won Caldecott, Newberry and Coretta Scott King honors — these people have a major footprint. The other thing that is exceptional about this book fair is it is one of the few places that you get the shared experience of [artists and writers] and that doesn’t happen except at industry shows.”

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According to Lloyd-Sgambati, the African American Children’s Book Fair combats the region’s reported double-digit illiteracy rate by presenting the best talent from the multicultural literary community and featuring books that enrich and empower families.

Author Jason Reynolds said he was 10 before he picked up a book to read on his own. Today, the 2016 National Book Awards finalist for “Ghost” uses his past to help get into the heads of young readers who are tackling real-life issues.

“If you were of color or were of any marginalized group, there was very little for you in terms of contemporary children’s literature at that time,” recalled Reynolds. “There were a few books in the early ’80s, but once you got into the late ‘80s and early ’90s, when hip-hop was taking over the world, when crack cocaine obliterated communities, when HIV was a new thing — and all this was happening and there were no books addressing what young people were experiencing every single day. Rap music did — and I studied the lyrics. That introduced me to poetry and from there to where I am today.”

Studies show that children who read outside of their normal school course work excel in all aspects of their lives, and book fair attendees have been supportive of the event and its purpose.

“My mantra is, ‘Preserve a legacy — Buy a book,’” said Lloyd-Sgambati. “You cannot talk about the need for diverse books if you are not buying diverse books. Consumers have a role in making sure that these great authors and illustrators continue to be published. In looking down the road for future generations, it is what we do today that will determine what will happen tomorrow.”

The 26th Annual African American Children’s Book Fair will take place Saturday from 1 to 4 p.m. at Community College of Philadelphia, 17th and Spring Garden streets. The event is free and open to the public. For more information, visit theafricanamericanchildrensbookproject.org.