Ajritha Priya looks, through her rimmed spectacles sitting loose on her nose, over the hundreds of children's books at most of the stalls at the Chennai Book Fair on St. George School Grounds on Thursday. The class II student of Saraswathi Vidyalaya Matriculation School, Choolaimedu, is stuck at one stall where she finds a puzzle book interesting. It costs Rs.85, but she has only Rs.50. Her class teacher tries to convince her that she does not have enough money to buy the book. Another teacher tries to explain to the girl saying, “I will give you free tickets to the fair so you can come with your parents and purchase the book tomorrow.” Priya reluctantly agrees and moves ahead with her classmates, some of them holding polythene bags with books and others empty handed.

It is a day out shopping for books for quite a number of school students at the 34th edition of the Chennai Book Fair. To attract young readers, the fair organisers are allowing children fee of cost and quite a number of the stalls have books priced as low as Rs.10.

A group of boys from Ramakrishna Mission Residential High School (Student Home) were enjoying the freedom of being allowed to choose the books of their choice. D.Thayumanavan, a class IX student, bought three books at Rs.100 – general knowledge books as he participates in quizzes and a book on Kamaraj. “Each of us is given money to buy books of our choice and after reading them we would keep in the library,” say Thayumanavan and his classmate Manikandan.

All the students of Saraswathi Vidyalaya Matriculation School were brought to the book fair on Thursday. Teachers, especially of the primary classes, had informed parents of the students to send at least Rs.50 that could be spent on books. The school students make the venue busy and chattering in the opening hours of the fair on weekdays. But, not everybody shops. Stall representatives say very few are serious buyers; a majority of children look through the colourful books and leave the place.

However, nobody is complaining. “Some books capture the fancy of children and they ask a few questions and leave. That in itself is an input on what are their likes and dislikes, while some return with their parents to shop,” says V. Devanand of Sri Universal Book House. Quite a number of schools are shopping books for their library.

According to members of the Booksellers and Publishers Association of South India (BAPASI), organisers of the fair, invitations were sent to 300 schools this year.

“Last year we distributed one lakh free coupons and this time we increased it to three lakh. Nearly 45 schools must have brought students so far to the fair, including a few from the districts,” says T.S.Srinivasan, BAPASI executive member. “Next year we would send the free coupons well in advance to many more schools.” The fair concludes on January 17.

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