Frontlist | Virtual Book Fair Raising Money to Donate Books to Students

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Less than two weeks remain in the crowdfunding campaign for Skylight Books’ Virtual Book Fair fundraiser, the bookstore’s plan to get hundreds of books into the hands of kids at Los Angeles Unified School District students from across the city, all for free.

With this project, Skylight hopes to give between 150 and 350 books to each of seven LAUSD school communities — though that’s a top-end estimate if the project hits its $20,000 goal. As of Monday afternoon, the project has raised about $8,500 through crowdsourcing platform IndieGoGo, with 12 days to go before its Nov. 7 deadline.

If the fundraiser misses the mark, Skylight still plans to donate books and set aside funding for deliveries. But hitting that $20,000 goal would make their booksellers ecstatic.

“This gives Angelenos a way to concretely help each other,” said Madeline Gobbo, Skylight Books’ events manager. “We’re all learning about systems of mutual aid and mutual trust, and this is one little thing that our customers can do to help rebuild our communities the way we want them to be.”

Skylight’s book fairs are similar to the annual sales in-school sales run by Scholastic, the publishing powerhouse that all but corners the market on books for school-age children. One big difference is that the dollars spent at Skylight’s version stay within the local economy.

By this point in a typical year, Skylight — a neighborhood bookstore on Vermont Avenue, in the heart of Los Feliz — would have run at least one book fair for neighborhood schools, with a few more planned throughout the fall, winter and spring.

“But with COVID, it doesn’t make sense to have a bunch of kids in an auditorium and have them running around and touching all of the same books,” Gobbo said. 

But with the help of the “guerilla philanthropists” at Punk Rock Marthas, Skylight is reaching out to seven different schools well beyond their usual Los Feliz reach. Seven school LAUSD school communities in The Valley, Hollywood, East Los Angeles, and South Los Angeles will each receive stacks of paperback and hardcover books.

Skylight’s book buyers, Gobbo said, have focused on “own-voices” literature, including stories from authors from many varying communities. “Inclusivity and intersectionality is a high priority for us, so we’re really thinking about the kinds of books we want to include, not just the standard ‘reading list’ stuff,” Gobbo said, “finding new and exciting voices that will resonate with these particular students.” The bookstore is also working on a way to ensure teachers can get the books that they and their students are requesting.

Growing up, Gobbo admits that she was “a bit of a nerd,” the kind of kid who spent her time reading everything of interest in the school library. Book fairs were then, and still are, exciting events that bring dozens of new books to young readers and their school libraries — if they can afford it.

“Removing the idea of cost from the equation means that there’s no barrier. They just get to jump right in and go to that other world without someone yelling at them for not having exact change,” Gobbo said. “I wanted to give that same gift to other students, that this is for you. This world is for you, and you don’t need to feel out of place there.”

The Punk Rock Marthas are a volunteer group of passionate young folks that reach out to benefit folks from all walks of life. The Marthas just got back from Kern County, where they worked on 5,000 first-aid and toiletry for unhoused people getting COVID tests. Over the last decade, Marthas’ projects have included volunteering at kitchens, picking up beach trash, painting murals, and building meal kits for displaced farmworkers.

Fittingly, the group’s name has a literary inspiration: Laurie Halse Anderson’s Speak. In that book, the Marthas are preppy goodie-goodie. These Marthas are also do-gooders, but with a cheeky bent. And with this project, they’re boosting small business and local schools — communities need to support their local bookstores too, not just Amazon.com, Williams said.

“Jeff Bezos doesn’t give a rat’s ass if I spend $500 on books…(but) if you support local business, they’re grateful, and they go out of their way for you,” Williams said, noting that Skylight provides invaluable support to teachers. 

But the Marthas are also trying to change the idea that kids these days only care about putting shiny screens in front of their faces.

“I’ve tried to work with my neighborhood schools and ensure that every student on those campuses has access to books, and I’m trying to broaden that experience,” Williams said. “To let more students just experience the joy, whether it’s Diary of a Wimpy Kid or The Hate U Give, that they get to see and experience and smell that paper, and get lost in someone else’s world.”

For more information on Skylight Books’ “Virtual Book Fair” fundraiser, or to donate, visit Skylight Books’ IndieGoGo campaign

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