"I'm on a picture walk right now," said a young girl at the African American Children's Book Fair Saturday afternoon as she paged through a book with a jaguar on the front. "That's where I just look at the pictures to see what book has the best ones."
Judging by the cover aside, she was one of hundreds of African American kids lining up around the block — literally, the line to get in extended nearly a complete block out the door of the Community College of Philadelphia's gym down 17th Street — to meet authors and buy books that are for them and about them.
C.J. Farley, author of Gameworld, a YA fantasy novel due out on Feb. 4, said his book aims to give kids a different take on fantasy — one in which people of color are actually there.
"I love The Hobbit, I love Narnia, but when I see the movies and when I see no people of color as the heroes, I think to myself, 'Are we fantasized out of existence? Is it a fantasy not to see us?' I want to show [black children] as the heroes of their own stories," he said.
Pam Tuck, author of As Fast as Words Could Fly, a historical fiction picture book about school desegregation, and Marion T. Lane, author of Patriots of African Descent in the Revolutionary War, also a historical fiction, both called the book fair "empowering" for the children there.
"They are able to read books that they can relate to," Tuck said. "The authors and illustrators that they see, they too can become one of those."
Millicent Bland, who brought her children to the fair for the first time, said it was overwhelming to see how many books — from romance fiction for teens to Gabrielle Douglas' second memoir — had a focus on people of color.
"It's encouraging," she said. "As an African-American parent, I want our children to explore authors just like them."
The little girl on the picture walk (there was hardly a moment to catch her name) did add, after breathlessly declaring how much she "loved to read," that she would be spreading the literacy love around.
"I'm gonna go buy this book for my sister, bye!" she yelled as she ran away.
For more, check out theafricanamericanchildrensbookproject.org.