Book Fair Ideas (or How to Survive)

I have a love/hate relationship with book fairs. I love how excited the students get, and I love all the shiny, new books. I enjoy the themes (when it's a good one), and I like decorating. Then the book fair opens...

If you've new and you haven't experienced book fair week yet, you're in for a rude awakening. It is crazy. I'm not even sure crazy is the right way to describe it. Much of the insanity depends on the size of your school, of course, but no matter what size your school is, you have to have some rules and procedures in place. Trust me, it will make your life a lot easier. Here's a timeline of some things I do during every book fair. I've been a part of several book fairs now, so I hope what I've learned will help you.

Two Weeks Before Book Fair

1. Start recruiting parents. You can never have too many parent volunteers, in my opinion. I try to have at least 2 other adults in the library with me at all times during book fair week. I prefer to have 3 or 4 if possible, because someone usually won't be able to make it. I will tell you more about how I use parent volunteers a little later.

2. Start working on decorations. If you are doing a Scholastic book fair, they send out a handy idea book to help you out. They also have a full library of clip art in their online toolkit. I print out the black and white clip art and collaborate with our art teacher, who has every student decorate a picture for the book fair.

3. Fill out all necessary paperwork. Check with your school's bookkeeper and principal to make sure you've filled out all necessary forms for your book fair. You may need to do this even earlier, depending on your district's requirements. Ask your bookkeeper if you are allowed to accept credit and debit transactions. My district does not allow it.

One Week Before Book Fair

1. Write a parent letter. The success of your book fair depends on communication. If you're using Scholastic, there is a sample parent letter in the online toolkit. That's what I use - I just personalize it for my school. I staple it to the flyers they provide, and send it with the students whenever they have library class that week.

2. Show the book fair preview DVD to your students. This is HUGE. I show the DVD every year, and my biggest sellers are always books that were featured on it.

3. Go over the rules with your students. I'm sure it comes as no surprise that I have book fair rules. Click here to see my rules. I have to keep my regular schedule of classes during book fair week, so I have to be able to keep order in the midst of the chaos. I've found that if you go over this stuff ahead of time, it won't be perfect, but it will make your life much easier.

4. Confirm your parent volunteers. Give everyone a call, just to remind them which day they signed up to help and to answer any questions they may have.

5. Get all accounting forms ready. My school district has very strict guidelines when it comes to taking money from students. It's very difficult to get everything done while students are shopping, so I get as much done ahead of time as possible. At my school, K-2 students' names have to be handwritten on a multiple receipt form each day the book fair is open (no photocopying allowed), so I do that the week before. 3rd-5th grade students have to sign their own names, so I send those to the homeroom teachers so they can get every student to sign for every day the book fair will be open. I tried this for the first time this year, and it worked so much better than having students sign on the spot like I've done in years past.

6. Make sure you have change. At one school I worked at, I had to bring my own change. True story. At my current school, I have to submit a request for change the week before. Make sure you know how you're getting change. You probably won't need as much as you think. I sell A LOT at my school and I only need $45 in change.

7. Start decorating! This is tough to do when you have a full schedule of classes in the library. I enlist as much help as I can get - parents, student teachers, building assistants, and even students help me. My principal has been really good about freeing people up to help for a couple of hours here and there, because she sees how much work goes into the book fair. I try to rearrange my schedule so I'll have at least half a day to set up. I don't go overboard, but I do like to try to make it special for the students. They LOVE the decorations, especially the ones they made themselves.

Book Fair Week

1. Stick to your guns. You will likely have a long line of students waiting to get in the library when you get there the first day. Remind them that they must have a library pass to enter. You won't be popular at that moment, but you'll be thankful later.

2. Use the cash register. Again, I'm assuming most people use Scholastic book fairs (I don't know of many alternatives, honestly). Be sure to use the cash register they send. I use it for EVERY transaction, whether it's $0.50 or $50.00. I print a receipt for EVERY transaction, and then I write each student's name and homeroom on top. Yes, it's extra work, but it has been absolutely critical in several situations when we needed to know if a particular student purchased something. I always run the cash register myself, because the money is my responsibility, and it's my fault if something gets screwed up. I have my parent volunteers help me write the students' names on each receipt, and record the dollar amount they purchased on my school's multiple receipt forms. That's what I turn in to the bookkeeper each day. The register receipts are my personal backup. Never underestimate the importance of recording the financial information accurately. Print out the financial summary each day to see how much you sold and what items sold the best.

3. Have parent volunteers restock and straighten. In addition to my accounting form helpers, I like to have a few extra parent volunteers to watch for shoplifters, restock merchandise, and straighten everything up after the students destroy it. Student helpers can do this if you don't have extra adults available.

4. Double count everything. Always. At the end of each day, make sure to have at least one other person available to help you count the money. I prefer to have at least 3 people counting, but 4 is best (two people to count money, two people to total receipt forms). I separate all the checks, bills, and change out by type. All $50 bills together, all $20 bills together, etc. Same with the change: all quarters together, all dimes together, etc.(yes, I hand count the change). I write each bill type down on a piece of paper, then I put the dollar value of each stack beside the bill type. After I've counted it, I pass it to my partner to double check me. While I'm counting one type of bill, my partner counts another, then we switch. Once a stack has been double counted, we put a rubber band around it and stick it in a bank bag. We do the same thing with the coins. Next, we total all multiple receipt forms. Twice. Everything gets added together, then we make sure the currency equals the multiple receipt total.

5. Host at least one parent event. We usually have book fair during Parent/Teacher Conference night. The parent event is always huge. Some schools do a morning event, like Muffins for Mom or Donuts for Dad, and others do a Grandparent lunch. Any of these things will result in big sales for your fair.

6. Use your credit wisely. If you need books for your library, the book fair is a great place to get them. I don't pull a lot of books from my fair because I don't have time to process them. If you do, or if you have an assistant who can do it for you, this is a great option. Some people give a little bit of credit to their parent volunteers for helping, which is also a great idea. I like to give my book fair credit to kids who aren't able to buy anything. I use my register receipts (which have student names and homerooms written on them) to keep track of everyone who purchases something during the week. I wait for a day when I have an extra parent volunteer and have them highlight names off a roster for each homeroom, using the receipts to figure out who already bought. I tell those students they won a "special prize drawing." Very few catch on, and they are truly thrilled to be able to get something. I am very blessed to be able to do this at my school, because there are were only around 20 students who could not buy anything. There's no way I could have at my previous school because there would have been way too many. If you have that situation, though, you could always really hold a drawing.

After the Book Fair

1. Pack it up. Don't put a lot of effort into the pack up. I just throw it all in boxes and stack them up. I'm always ready to see it go out the door.

 2. Fill out financial forms. This is pretty easy with Scholastic. Just get online, go to your toolkit, and fill out the financial form using the cash register summary for the week (this is easiest way). Assuming you sold enough, you can split your profit between cash and Scholastic Dollars. I have mixed feelings about the level of sales required to earn cash profit with Scholastic, but that's another post for another day. This year, I decided to take a little extra in Scholastic Dollars so I could create a library treasure box. I picked out a BUNCH of little knickknacks that the kids love from the book fair and put them in a box. I'm going to decorate the box and use the prizes as positive behavior incentives for people who go above and beyond the call of duty in my library.

3. Collapse in exhaustion. It's been tough. I know. When you look at the financial form, you may be asking yourself if it was really worth all the hard work and stress. The students will come in and ask if the book fair is over, and when you see the disappointment in their eyes, you will eventually be able to admit that it was worth it (and maybe even a little fun at times) before your next book fair arrives.

What's your favorite thing about book fair? What do you dread? Please share your experiences and tips for first timers in the comments!


  1. Sheryl says

    My favorite is seeing the excitement on their face when they see the bookfair for the first time. Kinders are really funny. They can't believe that they get to keep the book.

  2. says

    I just experienced my first book fair two weeks ago. Thankfully our PAC did the bulk of the heavy lifting. The most difficult part was keeping my regular schedule going at the same time as the book fair. Luckily we have an empty classroom this year and I was able to take some classes there once they've viewed the merchandise. Now I have a lovely sum of money to order some dazzling new books for the library. Love your pictures. I didn't do much decorating, but you've inspired me for next year. BTW, love your blog.

  3. Elem_Librarian says

    Thanks, Carol! I'd love to do more decorating, but I don't have as much time as I need. I loved the luau theme. I even bought a luau music CD to play until it started to get on my nerves. :)

  4. Amy Penwell says

    I'm opening my first book fair first thing tomorrow morning…..decorations up, books merchandised attractively, teacher sneak peek lunch a nice success the day before Thanksgiving. I still feel like a train is about to come :)

  5. Amy Penwell says

    Scholastic just picked up the book fair, and you are right – when it's over, you are happy to see it go! We had the highest sales ever for our school, and I think it was due to three things:

    1. Parent volunteers. Two volunteers are minimum for an evening family event – one for register, one for questions/getting posters, etc, PLUS me to work the floor. And it was a GREAT opportunity for me to meet parents, as I am a new librarian in our school.
    2. Something to jazz up family night. With this year's 'all star' theme, we asked the mascot from a local minor league baseball team to come. Big hit with everyone.
    3. Adequate space. Previous book fairs used only half the library, and it was squished. I took over the whole space and kept the story rug area as my 'holding area' for students who had already purchased books.

    I love the idea of snagging some book fair items for rewards – too bad I had already packed up when I read that post!

    • Jocelyn says

      Erin, I honestly just survive book fair week. I usually turn on a video and let kids who brought money take turns shopping (I let everyone look the first day, even if they didn’t bring money). If you have a lot more help than I do, you could try setting up some stations during book fair week.

      • says

        Thanks Jocelyn. That is what I usually do because I don’t get help. This year my classes are an hour long and I’m not sure the video, whatever it may be, will keep their interest. I appreciate your reply and knowing that I’m not alone in the love/hate of book fair week!!

  6. Sherry Copeland says

    Make labels ahead of time that let parents know that books you give away were just that, gifts. One bad experience when parent thought the child had taken the book and I came up with this plan. Added benefit is the good will and warm memories for time to come.

  7. says

    I do many of the same things you do. My best book fair tip is a little mantra to teach the kids so they remember to bring tax money. Along with book fair flyer, I attach a state tax sheet and this saying “For every dollar, bring a dime” explaining that if they bring one dollar, bring a dime to cover cost of tax. $3 bring 3 dimes, $5 bring 5 dimes and so on. I have never had to help cover tax money when a sad face kid hasn’t brought tax money. They remember.

  8. Dave York says

    I was a new Teacher-Librarian last year. I have helped my wife (also a T-L) run her book fair the last 2 years. It’s certainly different when you have to do it yourself! At the school I was at, I didn’t have any parent support *BUT* did get a lot of help from other teachers, the counselor, and secretarial staff!!! I had kids asking if we were going to have another book fair in the spring.

  9. Beverly says

    This year is my very first book fair and I am not a Librarian I am just an aide but they didn’t hire a Librarian so I am a bit lost with this whole book fair thing. Thank you so much for giving me a little bit more information on what to expect this year.

  10. Sarah says

    The last day of our book fair was yesterday and I followed a lot of your tips and tricks throughout the week. I am the teacher-librarian at our school, but luckily I had a few parents willing to spend their afternoons helping out. One parent helps out the entire day and stays after school. Amazing, the things parents will do if you ask them directly. :) Our school isn’t that big, but our library matches our population. We have about 900 students and our library is tiny, but we managed to stuff the book fair in there with a few tables.

    We had students late for class in the morning and missing the bus after school, among other things. So, we enacted a new rule that no student should come in before or after school without a parent. I thought, for sure, we would lose sales because of this, but we actually made more. Parents brought their debit cards with them and were able to buy more for their kids than the kids would on their own. Plus, the parents made them buy actual books instead of the little things. :) It worked out well for us, despite the sad faces when we told them they couldn’t come in.

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