Just like the local bookstore owner who knows the titles you’d most like to read, Bookworm Central is a book fair company that carefully curates books with a specific school’s students, teachers, and parents in mind.
"Great literature has the power to provoke thought, spark imagination, and shape character," says Radhika Bajaj, founder. "Literature reinforces the concepts essential to civilized society, such as courage, compassion, integrity, goodness, and gratitude. Books bring these gifts to life, helping children develop inner resources that they can draw on throughout their lives."
When Bookworm Central first launched in 1993, Bajaj quickly learned she was not competing with national behemoths like Scholastic and Usborne, whose publishing arms produce most of their book fair products. Instead, Bookworm worked to understand the education marketplace and distinguished itself by:
Identifying the “best books” and by matching them with the requirements of the partnering schools;
Recognizing the specific school’s (customer’s) interest and needs; and
Using data to continually improve products and services.
In the beginning, Bajaj had the idea of fundraising book fairs as a platform to not only provide children with direct and easy access to great books, but also to contribute funds to schools and the community. After working with this idea in her basement, she incorporated the company and brought on friend Laurie Rothenberg as a partner.
"The heart and work of our company is to facilitate equitable access to best books and resources that nurture children to become independent readers and learners for life,” says Bajaj.
Motivated by statistics that a large percentage of children have no books in the home, they created a wide array of literacy programs designed to address specific challenges faced by students and shared by school divisions, schools, teachers, and parents.
One of their literacy initiatives is Books4Babies. Led by SPARK, the Prince William County Schools’ Education Foundation, Books4Babies partners with Sentara Hospital and University of Virginia Health System to ensure that every new parent at these facilities receives a free book and materials that emphasizes the importance of reading with children from birth onwards.
"We would love to grow the Books4Babies program to allow every child born in Prince William County to get 12 books a year for five years, so by the time they start school, they have a library of 60 books of their own,” says Bajaj. “We are seeking partners for this initiative.”
Bookworm Central has been offering online book fairs for many years, but the circumstances of COVID-19 showed that schools and their communities would be well served by having an online platform to host their own unique bookstores. In addition to connecting a community with books, Bookworm Central’s online bookstore platform can become an ongoing fundraising stream for schools and organizations.
"We love innovative solutions that are easy to launch, sustain, and provide a service that enhances the lives of all participants—the online bookstore platform was conceived to do this and more," says Bajaj. "It has the potential to build reading communities within all schools."
Bookworm Central and its staff of up to 30 people continue to grow and offer solutions to challenges in their community. They offer author signings and other community events. New ideas bubble up all the time.
"We want to engage with our schools, families, and community. If you have an idea, please reach out to us—we love partnering with community stakeholders.”