James Dashner (l.), Nancy Farmer and Berkeley Breathed, featured speakers at the children's author breakfast at NCIBA.

At a breakfast that was more stand-up comedy than standard presentation, authors Nancy Farmer, James Dashner and Berkeley Breathed charmed the sold-out crowd gathered for the Children’s Author Breakfast at the Northern California Independent Booksellers Association annual trade show in Oakland on October 10.

Award-winning YA author Nancy Farmer, whose books focus on the themes of love, sacrifice and the afterlife, began her talk with a humorous, detailed description of her recent eye surgery, which explained why her husband Harold escorted her to the podium. Already legally blind in one eye, Farmer developed a condition that creates scar tissue behind the eye; her physician alerted her to this during a routine office visit and ordered surgery to commence soon after. “They kept me awake during the procedure,” she said, “so I was able to watch everything the surgeon did, including make the incisions, from the inside. You can imagine...” she trailed off to peals of laughter from the audience.

Farmer, author of the Sea of Trolls fantasy trilogy (the third volume, Islands of the Blessed, is being published by Richard Jackson Books this month), described how she had to lie face-down for two weeks after the surgery so that the air bubble behind her eye would recede. Following that, she still had to keep her head down, and spent her recovery time at home with unwashed hair in old, sloppy attire. A boy raising money for his baseball team came to her front door one afternoon when Harold was walking around with his shirt off. The couple opened the door. “The boy took one look at us and ran away. I looked like a hunchbacked homeless person, and Harold didn’t look too bad himself,” Farmer recounted drily.

Farmer, who was educated and worked as a scientist, wrote her first story at the age of 40 before penning the novels that have brought her so much acclaim. She is self-taught as an author, and outlines her books, she says, in much the same way one might compose the movements of a symphony.

She was followed by cartoonist and author Berkeley Breathed. “I had a colonoscopy last week,” he joked to the audience, turning Farmer’s medical revelations to his advantage. Rather than describe it, though, Breathed presented a slide show that began with images of, well, actual playground slides. When the laughter died down he confessed to having stolen that idea from someone else, which led to a talk about where ideas come from. This concept, of finding the source of the creative spark, has always inspired Breathed’s work as a cartoonist (he is best known for his successful Opus and Bloom County strips) and can occur, he said, when one drawing and one word join together to become something much bigger than their individual parts. His first novel, Flawed Dogs, was published by Philomel last month.

Breathed, who is a champion of the dogs abused by football player Michael Vick (Flawed Dogs features a photo of one of the rescued pit bulls receiving its first hug from a human being), published his last cartoon in 2008. Its vague comic reference to Islam brought so much controversy to Breathed after that, including a slam by the WashingtonPost, that he decided to retire as a cartoonist.

His 2007 picture book Mars Needs Moms (also Philomel) is being made into an animated feature film, which will open early next year. An editorial dispute over that book (it ends with the death of the mother of a little boy) with Little Brown, his publisher of 25 years, caused him to leave the house for Penguin in 2007.

Although James Dashner has written several popular YA books since 2003, including the Jimmy Fincher Saga and the 13th Reality series (all from Shadow Mountain Press), it’s only recently that the married father of two was able to quit his job as an accountant and write fulltime. Delacorte signed Dashner this year for the three-book series The Maze Runner, the first volume of which was released earlier this month.

The ebullient author began his talk with an amusing PowerPoint presentation called “Top Ten Things Heard at the Children’s Book Author Breakfast.” The finale—in the number-one position—was, “Who the hell is James Dashner?” Because Delacorte currently has the author on a multi-city tour, and plans to promote and market Dashner throughout the fall, it’s likely that many more booksellers will recognize his name by year’s end. Simon and Schuster will be releasing The 13th Reality series in paperback in December. “You’re doing the most noble thing in the world,” Dashner told the audience. “You’re helping kids find and love books.”

Terry Gilliam, owner of Mysterious
Galaxy, with Mrs. Nelson's buyer
Andrea Vuleta at the breakfast.

Andrea Vuleta, buyer for Mrs. Nelson’s Books in La Verne, Calif., said that her store is in the middle of promoting its first “Boy’s Month,” which runs through October. “The response has been fabulous,” she said. “So far we’ve had nine authors from all genres come and speak to the boys. Also, we’ve had firemen and policemen here to read aloud from their favorite books to the boys, showing them that reading and books aren’t just for girls.” Among Vuleta’s picks for the Christmas season are Otis by Loren Long (Philomel); Guess Again by Mac Barnett, illustrated by Adam Rex (S&S); and Maggie Stiefvater’s Shiver (Scholastic).

At the Bay Area’s Books Inc. chain, sales on children’s books are up over adult titles. Jennifer Laughran, children’s event coordinator for the 12 stores, attributes some of this to the outstanding fall children’s lists and the success of Books Inc.’s events, including their monthly Not Your Mother’s Book Club meetings for kids. David Levithan, author of Love Is the Higher Law (Knopf), will be featured in December. Natalie Standiford’s How To Say Goodbye in Robot (Scholastic), Only a Witch Can Fly by Allison McGee, illustrated by Taeeun Yoo (Feiwel and Friends) and Flash Burnout by L.K. Madigan (Houghton) are among Laughran’s favorites for the holiday season.