Bookstores Strategize for Screen-Free Week 2015

Printer-friendly versionPrinter-friendly version

Booksellers can help kids and families rediscover the joy of life beyond their smartphones, TVs, and tablets during this year’s annual celebration of Screen-Free Week, which takes place from May 4 – 10.

The week will be a busy one for booksellers, since this year, the international kids health initiative that challenges families and communities to unplug from digital entertainment for seven days straight coincides with Children’s Book Week and is directly preceded by Independent Bookstore Day on May 2.

It will also, however, be a great opportunity to bring customers into stores, and BookPeople of Moscow in Moscow, Idaho, plans to make the most of this.

BookPeople co-manager/children’s buyer Jesica DeHart said she is currently cooking up some promotional ideas with co-manager/store event planner Jamaica Richter.

“Our plan is, for the week before Screen-Free Week and the week before Children’s Book Week, to create daily Facebook buzz by posting ideas for activities to do that week,” she said.

For example, DeHart is considering posting an article about a recent study that showed that too much screen time can damage children’s cognitive functions by overdeveloping parts of the brain.

Lots of posts on social media in the week before Screen-Free Week will set the stage for all the in-store activities BookPeople has planned for Children’s Book Week. These include a two-day visit to the store by Curious George and daily story times with the mayor, the police chief, and assorted local celebrities.

The two children’s initiatives can definitely be integrated, DeHart said, because both ideas really go hand in hand.  When kids shut off their TVs, tablets, computers, smartphones, and video games, they spend more face-to-face time with family and friends and increase their physical activity; they end up playing more, creating more, exploring more, and, most importantly for bookstores, reading more.

“This is all happening when spring is in the air, and it’s such a good time to remind people that there are things going on around town and activities they can do with their kids, like taking a book outside,” she said.

Bookseller Ellen Scott of The Bookworm in Omaha, Nebraska, is working with a number of other local businesses to celebrate the dual message of Screen-Free Week and Children’s Book Week this year.

“The two weeks complement each other,” she said. “We reached out to three other stores that sell toys and school supplies in town, and we’re going to have a big weeklong event at four different locations.”

On May 3, just before the kickoff of Screen-Free Week and Children’s Book Week, Bookworm will host a reading and signing by Mac Barnett, author of Caldecott Medal Honor Book and 2013 E.B. White Read-Aloud Award winner Extra Yarn (HarperCollins).

“Then we’ll have discounts on different sections in the children’s department during the week,” Scott said. “On Saturday, I’m going to try to have a superhero character costume contest and parade. We will also invite parents to a session during the week with a local group that teaches about cyber bullying and cyber safety. We know that kids are still going to use their screens, but we want them to be safe,” she said.

The Bookworm is also using the proximity of another book-related event, Free Comic Book Day on May 2, to upgrade its already jam-packed, multi-store celebration. Scott said she plans to reach out to a local comic book store to see if the owner will donate some leftover free comics for her to hand out at the superhero costume contest.

In past years, other indie bookstores have celebrated Screen-Free Week in a variety of ways. In 2013, Phoenix Books in Essex, Vermont, held a family game night at the store, a children’s art show, an in-store book fair, and a book character birthday party.  

In 2014, Greenlight Bookstore in Brooklyn, New York, held a special story time featuring pro-print, anti-digital children’s titles like This Is a Book by comedian Demetri Martin (Grand Central Publishing) and Doug Unplugged by Dan Yaccarino (Knopf Books for Young Readers). The store also handed out “Screen-Free” cards for kids to fill out their screen-free activities for the week in exchange for a gift card.

For more information on how your store can celebrate Screen-Free Week, visit SFW’s website. Resources include activities lists  and a free downloadable local organizer’s kit brimming with ideas, tips, and instructions. Screen-Free Week is sponsored by the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood,