There was, as Cathy Langer of Denver’s Tattered Cover put it, an “embarrassment of riches” this year at the Mountains & Plains Independent Booksellers Association annual trade show. Approximately 400 booksellers, many from Colorado, with sizeable contingents from both Texas and Utah, descended upon Denver's Renaissance Hotel September 20-22 to swap stories, talk shop with the publishers’ reps, and meet a diverse group of authors and illustrators, both on the show floor and off.
YA author Ally Condie (Reached, Dutton, Nov.) and children’s picture book illustrator Derek Anderson (Waking Dragons, Simon & Schuster, Oct.), kicked off the show by speaking at the Children’s Author & Illustrator Breakfast. Condie, whose Reached concludes her bestselling Matched trilogy, didn’t want to talk about its plot, as the novel is embargoed until laydown. She did, however, show the audience a photograph of a lily that she confided would figure prominently in the book. Rather than discussing her own work, Condie focused upon the authors who’ve most influenced her throughout her life, from Laura Ingalls Wilder to Anne Tyler to Wallace Stegner.
“A lot of what Stegner writes is really steeped in place,” she said, showing a photograph taken in a canyon, which inspired the setting for some scenes in Reached. “Southern Utah happens to be my place.”
The idea of setting the scene in its proper place was also emphasized in Anderson’s presentation, as he explained the process of illustrating Jane Yolen’s text for Waking Dragons. Anderson pointed out that his job as a children’s book illustrator “is not to illustrate the author’s words, but to complement their words. It’s my job to discover the world that exists between the lines.” This discovery included his setting the dragons’ home in a cave beneath a castle. It was just one of Anderson’s many visual add-ons to Yolen’s narrative.
After the breakfast, the rest of the day was turned over to 30 publishers’ reps, who talked up their favorite forthcoming releases for both adult and children to a room packed with booksellers, many of whom don’t see reps in their stores; publishers have cut back in recent years on sending reps out on the road.
“When reps are excited about a book, it gets me excited,” Megan O’Sullivan, who has doubled the size of her children’s section since she bought Braun Books in Cedar City, Utah, four months ago. O’Sullivan, who traveled with two store employees nine hours to attend the show, says the long drive was well worth it; the trio also enjoyed visiting other bookstores along the way.
“Talking to book professionals, it pays off,” O’Sullivan said. “I need to know something about the books my customers don’t know about.”
Although there was plenty of adult fiction, nonfiction, biography, memoir, and regional titles on display in the bustling exhibit hall, many of the most sought-after galleys were YA fiction. Booksellers snatched up novels with dystopian themes meant to appeal to fans of the Hunger Games series, like The Testing by Joelle Charbonneau (Houghton Mifflin, June 2013), Carnival of Souls by Melissa Marr (Harper, Sept.), and Magisterium by Jeff Hirsch (Scholastic, Oct.). Booksellers also buzzed about futuristic re-imaginings of classic fairy tales and legends, like Stung by Bethany Wiggins (Walker, Apr. 2013) and Scarlet by Marissa Meyer (Feiwel & Friends, Feb. 2013). Jackie Blem, a Tattered Cover bookseller, said she is especially eager to read Meyer’s sequel to Cinder. “I want to see how she weaves Red Riding Hood into the tale,” she said.
YA novels without dystopian or fantastical elements were flying off of reps’ tables as well. Julie Shimada of Maria’s Bookshop in Durango, Colo., is excited about Don’t Turn Around by Michelle Gagnon (HarperTeen, Sept., ages 13-up), which she described as “an age-appropriate The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo; there isn’t all the violence.” And Scholastic has high hopes for Skinny by Donna Cooner (Oct.), with a plot inspired by the author’s own experience with gastric-bypass surgery.
Middle-grade novels also appealed to booksellers. Liesl Freudenstein, children’s book buyer at Boulder Bookstore, compared Stefan Bachmann, debut author of The Peculiar (Greenwillow, Sept.), to both Charles Dickens and J.K. Rowling. “The Peculiar is elegantly written and vibrantly creepy. The writing is amazing,” she said. Chris Erickson, a bookseller at Off the Beaten Path Books in Steamboat Springs, Colo., was excited about Margi Preus’s novel Shadow on the Mountain (Abrams/Amulet, Sept.), about the Norwegian resistance movement during World War II. “It’s set in the mountains, and we’re in Steamboat Springs: we’re all about being in the mountains,” she explained, noting also that the U.S. Air Force’s 10th Air Division trained in that town during World War II. Erickson was also anticipating Sandra Dallas’s first middle-grade novel, The Quilt Walk (Sleeping Bear, Sept.): “I love her writing; I’ve read all her adult books. I can’t to wait her first kids’ book.”
Don’t Count Out Picture Books
Booksellers anticipate a strong holiday season, due in part to the seemingly insatiable market for YA fiction, which is being snapped up by adults as well as teens. But children’s picture books are holding their own in the independent bookstores strung across the mountains and plains region. “That’s what you can’t get on an e-book,” explained Becky Smith of Town Crier Books in Emporia, Kan., as she ordered two copies of K Is for Knifeball: An Alphabet of Terrible Advice by Avery Monsen and Jory John (Oct.) at the Chronicle booth. O’Sullivan said that sales of picture books at Braun Books jumped “immediately” after she placed all picture books facing out. While O’Sullivan was excited about Waking Dragons, Freudenstein predicted that Boot & Shoe by Marla Frazee (S&S/Beach Lane, Oct.) and Nightsong by Ari Berk, illustrated by Loren Long (Simon and Schuster, Oct.) are going to do well at Boulder Bookstore. And then there’s Olivia and the Fairy Princesses by Ian Falconer (S&S/Atheneum, Sept.). Freudenstein was confident that the holiday season will be “big” for picture book sales, especially now that “Olivia’s back, stronger than ever."
After a day in the exhibit hall, a day of education, and a children’s author tea featuring 10 authors rotating among the booksellers’ tables, the circle that began with Ally Condie’s opening-day presentation seemed to have turned fully around when Elise Broach, who received the Reading the West Award in the Children’s category for her middle-grade novel, Missing on Superstition Mountain (Holt, May), took the podium at the awards luncheon held on the show’s last day. Superstition Mountain is the first title in a mystery trilogy set on a real mountain in Arizona.
Recalling the books she’d loved as a child – Little House on the Prairie, Mrs. Mike, and The Great Brain – Broach said, “Big landscapes lead to big adventures. The West is a place of big choices and big consequences.” Booksellers carefully selecting titles at the Mountains & Plains show – with the hope that they will resonate with their customers – must have agreed.