The Pan-African Children's Book Fair celebrates seven years
Mary H Bugembe is Managing Publisher, the Foundation for the Promotion of Children's Science Publications in Africa (CHISCI), and Co-ordinator of the Pan African Children's Book Fair. PO Box 61301 Nairobi, Kenya. Tel/fax +254 2 573029/571944, e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
Started seven years ago by the Foundation for the Promotion of Children's Science Publications in Africa (CHISCI), the Pan-African Children's Book Fair (PACBF) is a fair with a difference. At the core of CHISCI's concern in initiating this activity was the African child and the need to stimulate a learning environment that captures and nurtures the child's inherent qualities of imagination, curiosity and creativity. The PACBF therefore is not merely an exhibition of books but has a dynamic atmosphere built around it deliberately to enhance the precious centre that books occupy in the learning life of a child. At the PACBF children have an opportunity to engage in a variety of activities such as art, toys, fun-with-science, debates, quizzes, creative writing, story-telling and, of course, reading. Children in Kenya have come to love this event as they so comfortably identify with it as their very own. Each year, the number of children attending has been increasing and at the same time the quality of their participation has tremendously improved.
What factors are responsible for this? First was the realisation that children's appetites for reading simply have to be whetted. In 1994 CHISCI introduced a children's library within the fair, later named the `Reading Tent'. The assumption at that time was that children had no purchasing power and therefore this way at least they could read a couple of books at the fair. Since 1994 the Reading Tent has been a major attraction to all children visiting the fair. It is gratifying to see that other book fairs in Africa have emulated PACBF by introducing reading tents alongside their book fairs and book exhibitions.
Second has been the steady improvement in the marketing skills of exhibitors, who are slowly beginning to go beyond the traditional handing out of promotional literature and are reaching out to the children in a more proactive way, engaging them into books, introducing new titles, allowing them to browse and generally making them feel comfortable at their stands rather than seeing them as a menace. The 1998 PACBF was a spectacular advance as each stand became a mini library. As one Tanzanian publisher commented: `We had no idea how popular our Swahili books are with Kenyan children.' How else can anyone know the impact of a product unless it is tested on and tasted by the direct consumers, and what better testing ground for children's books than at their own book fair? The challenge here is for a change in attitudes and approach by many publishers, who are used to marketing through schools (teachers) and bookstores, with very little or no direct contact with the ultimate consumers - the children.
Recognising the centrality of children in ensuring the success of the children's book trade, CHISCI took its campaign beyond the Children's Book Fair and started children's libraries (three so far). It also turned its library facility at the book fair into a mobile reading tent providing open-air reading and educational entertainment to children and their parents in a rare ambience of fun and leisure for the whole family. It is through the experiences at these outreach activities that new revelations emerged as to the power of the child in influencing parental attitudes towards books. At the mobile reading tents, children demand books from their parents. They want to take books home with them to complete the stories they start reading at the tent. From this realisation, a new idea was born.
At the Seventh PACBF held from 2-7 June 1998, CHISCI introduced an entirely new element. A `Children's Home Library Campaign' was launched through the inauguration of The Alchemist, a children's discount bookstore and book club, by the Canadian High Commission, represented by Mrs Ute Gebrandt, the First Secretary. (The Canadian government and UNESCO provided the seed money that set up CHISCI ten years ago.) To our great surprise and satisfaction the children present at the fair responded with tremendous enthusiasm, buying books and promising to start their own home libraries. At its first attempt the bookstore was able to sell books worth US$1000.
The greatest complaint from children and parents was the price of books available for children. While the children are determined and willing to save to buy leisure and general books (because they love to read), they find the prices of books far too high for their pockets. The Alchemist is an innovation to encourage children to save and buy books at affordable prices. Publishers are responding quite well by giving high discounts to the bookstore, which in turn is able to pass on a proportion to the children. The Alchemist is poised to grow into a major marketing tool for children's books. [end] [BPN, no 23, 1998, pp 7-8.]
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