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Book fair's wares stack up with eager young readers

An estimated 30,000 attend the annual festival on City Hall's lawn in L.A. It promotes reading among children and their families.

June 03, 2007|Deborah Schoch | Times Staff Writer

The wide lawn on the south side of Los Angeles City Hall is normally empty on weekends, but on Saturday it resembled the children's section of a giant open-air bookstore.

An estimated 30,000 children and their parents converged on the lawn for Feria del Libro: A Family Book Fair, a daylong festival to promote reading among children and their families.

Many of the children needed no encouragement.

For them, it was all about finding new stories. They pored over brightly colored volumes at 22 booksellers' booths and stood with their parents in lines 10 to 20 deep to buy them.

For fair co-founder Maria Casillas, the sight of children and parents toting new books was deeply satisfying.

"My aim is for them to understand that just as they all have televisions, they have to have books," said Casillas, president of Families in Schools, which promotes parents' roles in education.

Feria del Libro got its start five years ago in Boyle Heights, where many low-income families cannot afford to buy children's books. Teachers would complain that parents were not encouraging their children to read at home.

"They're expensive, and we don't have bookstores," Casillas said. "Can you show me a Barnes & Noble in South-Central Los Angeles, in Watts, by Jordan High School?"

So the book fair started at Roosevelt High School, moving to the City Hall grounds last year to accommodate the ever-growing crowd. It specializes in quality books with cultural relevance for Los Angeles-area children.

This year's event was organized by the city, the Los Angeles Unified School District, Families in Schools, the Boyle Heights Learning Collaborative and Alliance for a Better Community.

One of the most prominent writers in attendance was Rigoberta Menchu Tum, the Guatemalan Indian rights activist who won the 1992 Nobel Peace Prize, and who autographed her books for fairgoers.

Magdalena Tobar, 12, of East Los Angeles was among the 120 people waiting in line at midafternoon for Menchu Tum's autograph.

"She's like an important person to me," said Magdalena, who most enjoys reading art history books and profiles of artists such as Leonardo da Vinci.

Akil Corbin, 7, of Los Angeles preferred the book "What Is Hibernation?" because he said he wanted to learn more about why wildlife such as bears and ladybugs sleep for part of the year.

Some avid readers waited with $50 gift cards they won as part of the Million Word Challenge, a program that encourages children to read extensively outside of school. A total of 350 schools selected 563 students to receive the cards to buy books at the fair.

One winner, Alondra Rodriguez, 5, of Independence Elementary School in South Gate, said she is a Dr. Seuss devotee and planned to buy some of his books. She credited her mother with encouraging her reading.

"She goes to the library, she gets the books," said Alondra, as her mother, Alma Rodriguez, looked on.

Although libraries are integral to children's reading, Casillas said, she wants to encourage families to buy books.

"A library book, you have to return," she said. "A book is your very own. You can put it in your bag. You can share it."

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deborah.schoch@latimes.com

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