Penguin Random House Book Fair puts variety on the books for year 22

As 6-year-old Elysianna Otto clicked away at a laptop, singing along to music playing over the speakers, a bag of freshly made pink gluey slime next to her, she was learning the skills of a bridge engineer.

Model bridge making software was one of the activities offered for kids by the STEM Club of Carroll Community College during the Penguin Random House Book Fair, hosted at the college annually.


“Let’s wait until it falls down,” Elysianna told her dad, Tosh Otto. But it didn’t. The virtual bridge held as a truck passed over it.

Tosh Otto was not having as much luck. He said he would leave the bridge-making “perhaps to the next generation.”

Saturday, March 2, was their third year visiting the book fair, which is “a good way to spend the afternoon,” he said. It’s low cost and gives kids a chance to dabble in a bunch of different activities.

Nearby, other children were crafting electromagnets from batteries and wire-wrapped nails and building Play-Doh creatures into light-up circuits.

“Many people don’t know Play-Doh is actually a conductor,” said Sithy Maharoof, associate professor and adviser of the STEM Club who had put together the activities. “They can actually build a simple electrical circuit.”

The activities are a good way for students to experiment with science even beyond what they might get to at school, she said.

Though the center of the book fair may be the tables and tables of Penguin Random House titles available for sale at a discounted rate, the activities drew in volunteers and vendors from all different disciplines seeking to connect with the community.

President James Ball came to the college in 1999 when the fair was in its first few years.

“I thought, ‘Jeez that’s a lot of work. Are we really making all that much money off of it?’ But when I saw the crowd coming in, I thought, the good will this does in the county, the ability to pull families in and promote literacy and work with our Random House partners ... It’s been a tremendous asset both to the college and to our students from a scholarship standpoint.”

He continued, “It’s especially good at promoting literacy in this county. And this county is quite literate.”

The Carroll County Public Library is a leader among libraries in the state for use per capita.

He emphasized the support of the partnership with Penguin Random House. Proceeds from the fair benefit the Carroll Community College Foundation which awards scholarships to students who come to study at the college.

“We figure we’re pretty close to $1 million over the time we’ve been working together,” Ball said.

Penguin Random House hosts annual book fair in March 2017.

Julie Perretta, of Eldersburg, who was browsing for books on the main floor with her husband and kids, said it was the family’s third year at the fair. They had enjoyed the scavenger hunt and crafts so far.


“I’m always excited to find some time in my busy schedule to sit down and read,” she said.

Events with authors, improv actors, librarians and scientists filled out the schedule for the day.

In the early afternoon, author Laura Shovan taught a workshop about writing action scenes for fiction. Expecting a class full of kids, she was surprised when all of those in attendance were actually adults.

Her novel, “Takedown,” follows high school wrestlers when a female athlete joins their team for the first time.

In writing the matches, she drew on seven years of watching her son compete, as well as interviews with real-life athletes to craft scenes that rang true for wrestlers but still made sense to readers who had no experience with the sport.

She led the class through a practice exercise writing a scene where a brave fair volunteer saved a signed copy of “Becoming” from a planned book heist.

For middle grade authors, “School visits and workshops are a natural part of what we do,” Shovan said.

With the internet, authors are less cut off from their young readers, who might be just an email or a Skype call to a classroom away. This is a good thing, she said, because students “see that authors are real people … and writing is something they can do.”

Olivia Babb and Derek Hudgins were both creative writers who joined the workshop after traveling from Baltimore and Cockeysville to attend the book fair.

“I love reading and writing and children’s lit,” said Babb, who is working on her master’s degree in elementary education. She said it was exciting to see the sheer variety of books available.

On the fair floor, Finksburg resident Donna Marquess was browsing the fiction while her son looked at graphic novels.

“There’s definitely a nice variety,” she said.

In the gym, Noah Silvester, 8, tried out the parachute activity before heading to the STEM activity area. He’d also tried the scavenger hunt, made slime and picked out an “Incredibles” book and a cookbook. He didn’t have a favorite activity because he liked everything, he said.

Upstairs in the children’s activities section, Riley Haffey, 9, was waiting in line for face painting after picking out a free book to take home. She chose a title from “The Never Girls” series.

Though she likes mysteries, she doesn't really have a favorite genre.

“I like every book,” she said.