Despite a winter storm that paralyzed much of the Great Plains region, almost 500 booksellers spent three days – and in some cases, more – at the Westin Hotel Crown Center in Kansas City, Mo., for this year’s Winter Institute, February 23 to February 25. Oren Teicher, the ABA’s CEO, told PW at Sunday evening’s author reception that 95% of the 500 booksellers (from 270 stores) who had registered actually attended Wi8; there were only about 40 cancellations related to the weather, from approximately two dozen bookstores. And only about a quarter of the booksellers left town Monday morning in advance of the second storm, which blew through the city on Tuesday. That number increased, however, as the day drew on. About half of the booksellers had left by Monday evening, when the small and independent press reception officially ended Wi8. As PW left for the airport Tuesday afternoon, some booksellers stranded by the storm were planning to gather together at a local barbecue restaurant for a dinner party organized by Geoffrey Jennings of Rainy Day Books in nearby Fairway, Kans., and John Mesjak of Abraham & Associates.
Children’s booksellers were at the annual gathering in full force, schmoozing with each other as well as with publishers’ reps and authors. Panels of particular interest to children’s booksellers were packed, as was the Friday evening “This Is Teen” After Party, featuring Alaya Dawn Johnson (The Summer Prince), Paul Rudnick (Gorgeous), and Elizabeth Eulberg (Revenge of the Girl with the Great Personality).
Two very different panels drew throngs of children’s booksellers. The first was Saturday’s “Nonfiction Buying with Common Core Curriculum in Mind” panel; it drew about 100 booksellers, who listened attentively as Kenny Brechner of Devaney Dook & Garrett Booksellers in Farmington, Maine, Richard Buthod of Turtleback Books in St. Louis, and Becky Anderson of Anderson’s Bookshops in Naperville, Ill., explained how booksellers could benefit from the implementation of Common Core standards in (to quote the official wording) “English Language Arts & Literacy in History/Social Studies, Science, and Technical Subjects.”
Referring to one of the themes of sociologist Daniel Pink’s opening plenary that morning on how booksellers have to move from search to discovery mode if they want to succeed in today’s business climate, Anderson said, “Teachers are grappling with Common
Core standards. I’m hearing a lot of fear out there, a lot of confusion. They know there’s a gap to be filled in reaching Common Core.”
“Not all informational texts are nonfiction,” Buthod emphasized, an important point borne out by the Common Core Standards “Text Exemplars” handout made available to the audience, which includes read-aloud stories, poems, chapter books, and plenty of novels. “A big idea of the Common Core is supplementary texts,” Brechner said, explaining that film, podcasts, short stories, and other shorter pieces that “create texture” are recommended.
Stressing the importance for booksellers of keeping their lists of Common Core-appropriate books to recommend to teachers “fresh,” Brechner suggested that they do so by keeping up with YALSA’s awards lists, the NCTE Orbis Pictus awards lists, the Robert F. Sibert Award list, and others.
As the booksellers brainstormed with panelists on how to most effectively partner with schools implementing Common Core Standards, Anderson said, “So many of these things we’re already doing. “Just tweak it a bit.”
The second panel, which created some of the loudest buzz among booksellers, was “Banned Books, Censorship, and YA Literature.” The panel, moderated by Chris Finan of ABFFE (American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression), featured authors Laurie Halse Anderson and Sherman Alexie, as well as bookseller Mitch Kaplan of Books & Books in Coral Gables, Fla., who engaged in a spirited discussion with 120 booksellers about the continuing challenges to YA literature, which Finan said was a “growing problem.”
“Censorship happens because people don’t know how to read,” Alexie said, adding that challengers to his YA novel, The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, would either claim that the book contained objectionable content that it actually did not,” or did not understand the context in which he used offensive language.
“A parent in Georgia says my book contained blowjob lessons, “ Alexie said, “I’m way too shy to write that. I can’t even make those suggestions to my wife.”
Anderson, two of whose YA novels have been challenged over the years, expressed some sympathy toward "good-hearted people" who find it “easier to demonize an entire genre of literature” rather than speak to their children about uncomfortable issues.
“Where we need to be strong is fighting people with political agendas,” Kaplan said, explaining that he feels that one of his missions as a bookseller is to educate his customers who express concerns over certain books that they have heard were objectionable in some way. Take a stand, Kaplan urged his fellow booksellers. “When you take a stand, you find a million natural allies out there.”
When a bookseller asked Kaplan what he would do if a school invited an author to speak to students, but would not allow his or her books to be sold there because of controversy, Kaplan and the other booksellers spontaneously exclaimed as one, “Find another school.” Kaplan added that he would publicize the situation and inform the school that his store would never work with them again. He would also inform the author of the situation.
“I’d still go, then I’d take over the assembly,” Alexie added. “That happened to me a couple times.”
“[The ABFFE panel] was the best [Winter Institute] session I’ve ever gone to,” Shirley Mullin of Kids Ink in Indianapolis told PW. “I felt even if I don’t see another thing here, the censorship panel made it all worth it. It made me realize my staff needs to educate ourselves on the issue. I’m going to strategize on educating them – if we ever get home.”
Winter Institute will take place in Seattle next January, at a date yet to be determined.