The best thing is not going to the bookstore, it's when the bookstore comes to you.
As a kid, there were few things more thrilling than the Scholastic Book Fair coming to my school. It seemed to arrive entirely without warning---one day an empty classroom, the gym, or the library would be magically transformed into a kids-only bookshop, complete with every kind of kid book imaginable, plus pencils, bookmarks, and friendship bracelets.
The first day we were told to only look and make a list of what we wanted so we could ask our parents for money to come back the next day. It was an incredible act of self-control for me not to grab all the books and hurl them toward the register. I remember there being a limited quantity of each book (not realizing there were likely more in boxes somewhere) and hiding the books I wanted behind other books where others would never think to look. I remember hiding books in the Amelia's Notebook series behind books about cars.
The evening after window shopping at the book fair was always the worst, particularly the year I was in fourth grade. You see, I had reached that age where I realized I was poor. I was ten years old and I began noticing that none of the other kids in my school lived with a single mom and that they all got home-cooked meals every night for dinner instead of something frozen and that they all had memberships to the local swim club in the summer and that they all played on community sports teams. That year I was reading more than ever and my mom would often have to tell me there was no way I could get all the books I wanted to satiate my reading appetite.
But I was not one to give up so easily. I presented my plea for book money that evening, simultaneously expecting to be disappointed and knowing that I would let loose an uncontrollable torrent of tears if I was.
Her answer surprised me, "Scholastic keeps their trailer with all the boxes of books for all the schools in the area having book fairs parked in the empty lot next to my real estate office. Tell me what books you want and I'll see if I can buy direct from them. That'll be cheaper."
This wasn't the answer I was expecting. In truth, I didn't believe her. I'd been promised things in the past---things as innocuous as trips to Chick-fil-A---that had never come to fruition because we just didn't have the extra money. Even as I knew this, I couldn't help the material allure of books, and there was no way I was trusting my book buying to anyone unless I was there to see it happen.
In my little-kid unknowingly insensitive way, I told her I didn't believe her and went to my room to break into my piggy bank. It didn't occur to me to even wrap the change or even count how much I had. I just dumped it all into a butterfly-printed purse and tossed that in my school bag with a copy of the Scholastic catalog.
All that night I couldn't sleep. I tossed and turned thinking about all the books I'd seen and flip-flopping on my decision on which ones I'd get, writing and rewriting the titles on a list I kept under my pillow. I fell asleep with the list and pencil in my hand.
The next day I went to the book fair and bought all the books I'd hidden the day before, along with some Tweety Bird and Garfield bookmarks. I don't think I had enough money because my change only added up to about $25. My teacher must have pitched in because she felt sorry for me because they bagged up all my books and handed them to me. It was better than Christmas, better than my birthday, better than Halloween, better than anything.
That night when I got home from after-school care, I saw a stack of books on the kitchen table. But the ones I'd bought at the book fair were still in my backpack.
I looked at them in disbelief. My mom explained that she got them from the Scholastic trailer that was parked next to her real estate office. She said that she found my list that I'd left in bed, but that I'd scratched out and rewritten so many titles that she couldn't tell what was what. She said that since all the books at the trailer were in boxes and she couldn't see the full inventory, she just picked out a few herself. So there was a Scholastic trailer next to her work. Everything she said was true.
The books were far below my reading level. I was a fourth grader, but I was reading at a high school level. These books were actually for fourth graders. But I loved them anyway.
I couldn't bring myself to tell her I emptied my piggy bank at the book fair, though I had a feeling she already knew.
The Scholastic Book Fair taught me about so much more than buying books that day. I learned about gratitude and the value of family. And for that, I'm forever grateful.