Bringing Back the Multicultural Book Fair


Image credit: Marie-Louise Miller, Co-Chair of the Multicultural Book Fair

Frieda Belasco, Managing Editor

Located in the Cochran Gym at Hastings High School, from Wednesday, June 1 to Saturday, June 4, the 6th annual Multicultural Book Fair was back and bigger than ever. 

Started in 2017 by Dr. Jenice Mateo-Toledo, the district’s Diversity and Inclusion Coordinator, the book fair aims to expose the community to a more diverse range of books. Dr. Mateo-Toledo came up with the idea of the book fair “after reading research that posits people often become less biased when they meet or interact with other people who are different from them.” She decided that “if that can’t or doesn’t happen in person, it can happen through books.”

The books sold at the Multicultural Book Fair represent a wide variety of nationalities, races, genders, religions, sexual orientations, abilities, languages, and social classes.  The committee based their definition of “diversity” on the Culturally Responsive-Sustaining framework developed by the New York State Education Department. As Dr. Mateo-Toledo explained, “a Multicultural Book Fair supports opportunities for students to learn about diverse authors and cultures. It exposes children to new books and helps add to a love of reading. It also builds excitement in school and helps students expand their own home libraries.”

Choosing books to sell at the book fair is a year-long process. The organizers of the fair talk to friends, colleagues, family, and others, to get a sense of what new books are coming out that year, and to see what kinds of books and authors people want to see represented at the book fair. Marie-Louise Miller, the Co-Chair of the Multicultural Book Fair with Dr. Mateo-Toledo, thinks that it is important for students to have a say in what books they want in the book fair as well. In an interview, she explained, “The voice of the kids is sometimes more important to me than the voices of the other adults. I really would rather hear what you think a problem is. I would like to hear what you think needs to be done about it. I’d like to hear what you’re inspired by. I’d like to see what books you think are really cool.”

The importance of including students in the Book Fair goes beyond selecting books. In 2019, prior to COVID restrictions, the Book Fair was set up more like a festival, with crafts projects for kids, teens playing music, and dance performances. Many HHS clubs participated as well by setting up booths with posters at the fair. As Miller said, “I think it’s important for high school clubs, and even middle school clubs, to be present at the book fair because they’re part of the culture of our school.”

Dr. Mateo-Toledo and Miller hope to see the return of a larger-scale fair in the future. The past two years, they’ve had to scale down due to the pandemic, but they wish that they’ll soon be able to bring back more programming. This includes author visits, a feature of the Multicultural Book Fair that both organizers are passionate about. As Miller explains, having an author visit the schools brings a “sense of connection to the work.” 

This year’s fair included author visits from Veera Hiranandani, author of The Whole Story of Half a Girl, among other fan-favorite middle grade novels and Janae Marks, who most recently wrote a middle grade book called A Soft Place to Land. 

When thinking about the future of the Multicultural Book Fair, Dr. Mateo-Toledo and Miller are open to the fair evolving as the world evolves. Even since it first began in 2017, the number of books that center around or are written by individuals from under-represented groups has increased tremendously, something that is a good sign for the future. The book fair, Dr. Mateo-Toledo said, “is an amazing opportunity. It isn’t something that’s fixed, or stiff. It’s something that is open to change. It’s open to collaboration and input, because we really want the community to participate in the best ways that they feel they can participate.”