This year, as coordinator of our school’s book fair, I witnessed the spending habits of carefree children. They stampeded into the gym waving bills. As Dave Barry would say, “I am NOT making this up.”money

Did they buy books?

Ha ha ha – not really.

The friendly book  fair people were kind enough to send half a truckload of “educational materials” priced from fifty cents to three dollars. Boxes cleverly labeled “school supplies” contained erasers disguised as candy (choking hazard), and calculators that smelled like chocolate bars (batteries not included).

Yes, some students bought books – especially those with toys included. This was how my own kids sidestepped the “books only” rule I thought was impenetrable. When we got our book-encased-toys home, the toys were either broken or almost broken and the books? Well, here’s my seven year old’s review:

“This doesn’t have much of a story, and I hate it when the rhyme doesn’t match up.”

But all books are educational and therefore worthwhile, aren’t they? I mean, I’m a writer. Wouldn’t I want my kids to have a library of their own beloved books?

And there’s the second part of the one-two punch of marketing to children. Parents and educators.

Have you ever set foot in a retail store devoted to quality educational toys? Of course you have. Maybe before your first baby even developed teeth buds. Because you want the BEST for them.

These stores carry brands with words like “genius,” “explorer,” and “creative” in their names. I know I’m being suckered, but what if the neighbor’s kid becomes a genius and mine remains average? I wake most nights in a cold sweat just thinking about it.

But, for the most part, when we get these toys home – after spending the college fund – we open them up to find packets of baking soda (vinegar not included), woefully limited building sets (extension pack $49), and, well, stuff you could make yourself if you spent any time on YouTube.

A valuable lesson!

A valuable lesson!

Okay, I’m a little biased. Besides, kids have to have something to keep them entertained, right? They’re fickle little consumers.

Which brings me to the fundraising item of the week: scented pencils at $1 each. My friend’s daughter bought two.

“I got a jelly doughnut and a cotton candy, but the jelly doughnut one stinks.”

“Ask them if they’ll exchange it for a different kind.”

“Um… can I just buy another one?”

“They’re a dollar apiece!”


“Okay, but it’s coming out of your allowance…”

That’s how empires are built: one pencil at a time. As the book fair rep explained it, “We’ve got to hold them upside-down by their ankles and shake ’em!”

Only they don’t have to shake very hard. They already know exactly what they’re doing.

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