By Britten Follett – Senior Vice President of Marketing and Classroom Initiatives, Follett School Solutions
It’s on the top shelf. Slightly out of reach for five and six-year olds. So they stand on their tippy toes, reach high, and tilt the book off the shelf. I watch as their little fingers flip each page. They gasp in horror, and smile in delight.
Is it the neon and black cover art?
Is it the word “Creepy?”
Is it because the main character is a bunny aspiring to be a grown up?
Is it because it’s about “Underwear?” (insert third-grader giggle)
That story repeated itself every fifteen minutes, as class after class walked through the preview day of Marge Cox’s Follett Book Fair, at Veteran’s Memorial Elementary School in Naples, Florida.
It repeated itself again, further north in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin at Wood’s School. There, parents took their students to shop at the book fair, following parent/teacher conferences. I watched as parents pointed, giggled, and picked up the book to page through it.
As a volunteer at these Book Fairs, it was fascinating for me to observe what books students gravitated towards. Teachers and school leaders pointed and smiled fondly at the classics. A parent shared how seeing Madeline, Curious George, and Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs convinced her that her daughter would discover quality books here. A seven-year-old boy walked up and excitedly asked where he could find books about bats! The little girls we interviewed about their purchases have an affinity for kitties, which probably explains why Pete the Cat is a hit! A ten-year-old boy spent an hour perusing the young adult titles, and asked his librarian if Looking for Alaska was appropriate for him.
While I loved Looking for Alaska, given my role at Follett, I’m embarrassed to admit, I’d not heard about the Creepy Underwear book until my first day at the Book Fair. I don’t have little ones, and while I do have quite a reading habit, bunnies and underwear are not at the top of my interest list. I probably never would have picked up that book. But watching it lure student after student, I had to give it a read.
The story line goes something like this…
Bunny passes on normal tighty whities, and takes a leap of faith, buying a pair of neon green creepy underwear. When they glow in the dark and scare him, he goes through extreme measures like hiding, burying, and tearing them apart—all to be rid of the creepy underwear. Only to find that the things that scare you… make you stronger.
It’s 24 pages of humor with a life lesson. Yes, I think the neon green cover catches their attention. Yes, I believe a book about underwear is VERY appealing to little ones. And for that, it may be the most “picked up” book I observed at the fairs.
It’s eye-catching. It’s getting kids reading. Kids who might be afraid of reading. Kids who might want to hide their books from mom and dad. Kids who might want to tear them apart. Some of those students need to find just one book to take away that fear. As a result, they too will be stronger.
Britten is a journalist. A marketer. A storyteller. A board member. A philanthropist. An advocate for libraries and education. It’s not uncommon to have multiple acts in life. But Britten has excelled at two very different career paths while spending her free time giving back to the community and spreading the word about child abuse prevention. Britten spent 10 years as an Emmy and Edward R. Murrow award-winning television journalist. She wrote, published, and brought to market a top selling true crime book exposing the child welfare system that failed to protect a 2-year old Oklahoma girl who was killed by either her mother or her step-father. In 2010, she made a tough decision to give up a career she loved and embark on a new career as a 5th generation family member working for Follett Corporation. At Follett, she started as the marketing manager for the International team and has held various roles in marketing and communications throughout the organization. Today she is the senior vice president of marketing and classroom initiatives for Follett’s K12 education business. Her work at Follett established the foundation for the Future Ready Library framework, which has changed the conversation about the role of a school librarian and influenced the future of libraries in schools nationwide. She does all of this while giving back to the communities she serves through advocacy programs like the Follett Challenge, issuing scholarships through the Follett Educational Foundation, influencing the future of higher education through her board role at Southern Illinois University, and doing keynotes about why we need to make child abuse prevention a political and dinner table topic.