A decade ago, the National Assessment of Adult Literacy 2003 survey concluded that 22 percent of Philadelphia’s adults “lack basic prose literacy skills,” which includes being unable to understand basic information. The national average of adults lacking basic literacy skills is 14.5 percent. Problems with literacy start when children are young. If nothing is done about it, the problems remain and create greater dilemmas, including unemployment, poverty, crime and homelessness.
According to African American Book Project founder Vanesse Lloyd-Sgambati, the 21st Annual African American Children’s Book Fair goes far in tackling the double-digit illiteracy rate in the Delaware Valley region by providing access to the multi-cultural literary community. Today, the event is hailed as the oldest and largest single day events for African American Children's Books, with an average of nearly 3,500 people attending to meet the stars of the literary community.
“When you read to a child you're not only sharing the reading experience, but a three point program as well,” said Lloyd-Sgambati. “The three point program is: enlighten, enrich and empower. You enlighten a child when you give them information. Tell them something about themselves. You enrich their lives because knowing that they come from a culture and history of such wonderful things as that go all the way back to pre-colonial up until contemporary times — it's not just the Martin Luther King story — it enriches their lives and it empowers them, and when you are empowered through the literature nothing can stop you. And, it is important for people to share these books also with the classroom — and also with other cultures, because the more we know about each other the better we coexist.”
While the value of literacy education is always highlighted, it’s the topic trends in African-American children's literature that concerns Lloyd-Sgambati the most. Her goal is to provide parents, caregivers and educators from the tri-state area tools for children to read outside of their normal school course work, and make more responsible decisions about their lifestyles.
“African-American children's books have gone in cycles — sometimes they want to focus in on slavery; sometimes they want to focus on music — and now there's been a big boom in historical nonfiction books,” said Lloyd-Sgambati. “The one thing that all these books have in common is that they highlight that there are obstacles and how people have overcome those obstacles to go on to great success. I think it is important to have those kinds of books in the home because we live in a world that is constantly in turmoil, and sometimes trying to explain to your children that stuff happens and that you can get past it is very, very important, and you can share those experiences and that philosophy through these children books. These books are also beautifully illustrated, well researched and that is the real interesting thing about the books you see in the marketplace now. These are not just pulled together the traditional (African-American history) story; these are stories that illustrators and the authors have gone back to the archives and fully researched the topic to be presented in a picture book for children that can be as young as preschool to kindergarten.”
Over 21 nationally known bestselling authors and illustrators will participate at, 2013, 1 p.m. – 3 p.m. at Community College of Philadelphia, 17th Spring Garden streets. Confirmed are Floyd Cooper, Deborah Gregory, Eric Velasquez, Shadra Strickland, Jerry Craft, Elizabeth Zunon, Nancy Devard, Jabari Asim, Regina Brooks, Marilyn Nelson, Cheryl Ann Wadlington, James Ransome, Lesa Cline-Ransome, Margaree Mitchell, Alice Randall, Glennette Tilly-Turner, Caroline Randall Williams, Renee Watson and David Miller.
The event is free and opened to the public.