CENTER CITY >> Once again, Germantown, Mount Airy and West Oak Lane children and parents are invited to attend the largest gathering of authors, illustrators and their creations. The 25th annual African American Children’s Book Fair will feature some with Northwest Philadelphia roots. It’s a short commute to Community College of Philadelphia, 1700 Spring Garden St., Saturday, Feb. 4, from 1 to 3 p.m. at the start of Black History Month.
Perhaps no one is more excited about this event than Vanesse Lloyd-Sgambati, who is the brainchild of the event. She said more than 3,500 attended last year’s fair.
“We always get such a strong turnout from those who live in the Germantown and Mount Airy area. That is because I think that parents there understand the importance of reading and we do appreciate the strong participation from the Northwest part of the city,” Lloyd-Sgambati said.
There will be many freebies for all the young book lovers at the event. Yet Northwest Philadelphia area teachers and librarians will find there is an abundance of materials for them. They will have the “Our Educator’s Book Giveaway” to distribute brand new books to teachers for use in their classrooms or school libraries.
“Art is just something I love,” said author and illustrator Javaka Steptoe, who is following in the footsteps of his late father, John Steptoe, author of “Mufaro’s Beautiful Daughters: An African Tale.” He is making his own mark in the children’s book world by writing about the childhoods of historical figures. His new work is “Radiant Child: The Story of Young Artist Jean-Michel Basquiat.”
“I have always had an affinity for comic books and color growing up,” said Steptoe, who recently was nominated for a NAACP award. “Art is just something I love. I wanted to do a children’s history book that included the history of historical figures from their childhood and ends with them as an adult. I also wanted books that went beyond the stereotypes.”
This new book also showcases the diversity of the culture of Africans in the Americas. The main character’s heritage is represented on the book jacket. Amid the colorful design are the flags of Haiti and Puerto Rico.
Sandra Richards’ book “Rice and Rocks” is dedicated to both her late nephew, Giovanni, and her Jamaican maternal roots. She said her nephew, who died of meningitis at the age of 8 in 2007, used to pick the pigeon peas out of the rice her mother cooked on special occasions.
“He used to say he didn’t like these rocks and I found that hilarious,” Richard said. “Though I have no children, I love to be around my nieces and nephews and little cousins. Kids can be so funny because they see things through many filters that are just raw and pure. So that is what I enjoy writing about.”
Richard welcomes the chance to return to Philadelphia because she has family in Northwest Philadelphia. She said she remembers coming to Philadelphia on the train growing up. Her family would often get off at the North Philadelphia Station on Broad Street.
“I am just excited to come to Philadelphia and share my book,” she said.
Kelly Starling Lyons, a native of Pittsburgh,said she is looking forward sharing her books inspired by her own childhood love of reading. She said she remembers getting her first book with an African-American girl on the cover, “Roar of Thunder, Hear My Cry.” After that, she longed for more books like that, so that led her to penning them. Now she will be bringing her new “One More Dino on the Floor” to share with Northwest Philadelphia and other youngsters.
“I think it is amazing to come to a fair that has been going on for 25 years,” Lyons said. “I am really fired up about it. I hope to return next year because I am working on two chapter books.”
Tonya Bolden will be sharing “Beautiful Moon,” as well as her latest work, “Pathfinders: The Journey of Sixteen Black Souls.” Like Steptoe, she is fascinated by history. Yet for Bolden, the love of history is something she acquired later in life. Now, she said she wants to make the subject exciting so young students will be more eager to learn about it.
“This is a collection of biographies of people who had big bold dreams. It was something I didn’t always see about history in books when I was growing up,” Bolden said.
“We usually tell folks to get there early because the lines form before the events begins,” Lloyd-Sgambati said. “The fun-filled afternoon is packed with activities that promote the power and joy of reading. Authors and illustrators make presentations and sign their books. The Literary Row will distribute book-related promotional materials free of charge. In addition, there will be a wide selection of affordable literature available for purchase.”
The event is open to the public at no cost.