Kids around the country started school in the past couple of weeks, so today we’re going to look at two of the most important things from elementary school: Scholastic Book Fairs and Trapper Keepers.
Outside of privilege days, nothing made me look forward to school more than the Scholastic Book Fairs. As a kid raised to love books, the idea that a whole bunch of books would be brought to my school and we got to choose ones to buy and bring home was like second Christmas for me.
Scholastic Book Fairs began in the 1970s, and 120,000 of them still take place annually. It was a huge part of my life from 1987 until 1992 or so. Prefacing many of the fairs would be the release of Scholastic Book Club flyers, which we would use to either order outright from or pick things that we would look for at the fairs.
The things that I read between the ages of 8 and 12 were defined by the Scholastic Book Fairs. For better and worse, these countrywide fairs pre-selected the groups of titles that all of us would be reading, similarly to how the existence of Netflix has led to millions of people having seen Bright.
Scholastic Book Fairs brought Christopher Pike, Richie Tankersley Cusick, R.L. Stine, Francine Pascal, and Ann. M. Martin into our lives (okay I never read Sweet Valley High, but I absolutely borrowed my sisters’ Babysitters Club books. When we visited my parents over the summer last year, I insisted that my wife take and read the copy of Tankersley Cusick’s The Lifeguard that was still on one of the bookshelves at their house. Shamefully, she had never read it before. Books like Slumber Party were entry level R.L. Stine which was entry level Stephen King, and set many of us on a reading course that would lead into high school.
My focus at the fairs was mainly Hardy Boys, Choose Your Own Adventure, Sideways Stories from Wayside School, and the Matt Christopher sports books. To this day, I’m sure that I never once got my money’s worth from the purchase of a Choose Your Own Adventure book. After the path created by my initial selections petered out, I’d put it aside. I wasn’t one for retracing steps. I was a very active kid, spending hours playing outside and participating in soccer, basketball, and baseball, so I dove into all of the Matt Christopher books. I didn’t realize until later that the stories were almost 30 years old by that time, but they did feel a little simplistic and dated. I preferred the Alden All Stars books, which were more contemporary and also dealt with kids my age (that was a Waldenbooks purchase, though).
I feel like the major publishers are missing out by not doing Adult Book Fairs at workplaces. How amazing would it be to show up one day and find out that MacMillan would be setting up shelves in the lobby? I got to experience something similar when I temped at Harper Collins and they had free copies of things to grab in the break room downstairs, but mobile grownup book fairs would be incredible.
For a brief period of time in elementary school, I and other kids like me had a reason to be excited about school supplies. That reason was a slickly designed binder with a velcro clasp called the Trapper Keeper.
Trapper Keepers were an ideal way to express our individuality by purchasing from a wide array of designs of popular licensed properties. I’m kidding about the individuality, of course, but it was truly a nice way to add a little bit of flair to one’s accessories at a Catholic elementary school where we all wore uniforms.
The Trapper Keeper was invented in the late 1970s by a director at the Dayton, Ohio based Mead Corporation. By 1981, Trapper Keepers were available nationwide. By the time I was old enough to need one, around 1988, Mead had begun entering into licensing agreements to release Trapper Keepers with cartoon and video game themes, as well as cars, animals, lightning bolts, and everything else you would find at a school poster sale in the late 1980s.
Perhaps the greatest thing about the Trapper Keeper was that some versions had open pockets on the outside that allowed the owner to put any image he or she wanted in it. My classmate Katie struck first, adorning hers with her crush Neil Patrick Harris as Doogie Howser. I countered with Paula Abdul, a knockout blow during the time period. I have no idea why it was a competition or why we should have cared, but I assume it was an early version of flirting. Anyway, Paula Abdul used to act normal as pop stars go.
The one major drawback to a Trapper Keeper, and it’s not really the fault of the Mead Corporation since this issue didn’t come into play in later grades since students had access to lockers, was that it was too wide to fit reasonably into the openings in our elementary school desks. It became bent immediately, the velcro clasp was disturbed, and then the interior folders which were supposed to find protection in the loving vinyl arms of the binder began to bend. It was ugly business, and attempting to fit one in the desk was a mistake a young boy only made once.
Trapper Keepers lost their luster by sixth grade, and while the brand stuck around and still exists in some form today, we moved on. Paula and I went our separate ways. Katie presumably fell out of love with Neil, although I may be wrong, I haven’t seen her in 25 years. We came up with other methods of carrying our folders and eventually got lockers, but I never discovered a more effective way of conveying to whomever might glance my way which pop star I happen to currently be crushing on. They’ll just have to ask.
What were your favorite Scholastic Book Fair Books? Let us know in the comments or on Twitter.
If you loved those pulpy YA horror novels you could find at Scholastic Book Fairs, you might be interested in this book by Grady Hendrix, Paperbacks From Hell. If you click the link below and decide to buy it, 80s Baby gets a small percentage.
Your nephews still have Scholastic Book Fairs several times a year. Only problem is they sell “ toys” too, & they always want those instead. It’s sad when your grandchildren don’t share your love of books as your children did. Maybe Miriam & Bernadette will. Great article