(From l.) Jerry Pinkney, Suzanne Collins and Laurie Halse Anderson, after GLIBA’s children’s book and author breakfast.

Children’s books were very much on booksellers’s minds at last weekend’s Great Lakes Independent Booksellers annual trade show, held in Dearborn, Mich. Not only were booksellers from children’s bookstores throughout the Great Lakes region out in force, but some general booksellers were eager to stock up on “recession-proof” children’s books, a strategic move in a part of the country that’s reeling from rising unemployment and home foreclosures.

Though holiday picks like The Drummer Boy by Loren Long (Philomel, Oct.), The Moon Over Star by Dianna Hutts Aston and Jerry Pinkney (Dial, Oct.), What Dogs Want for Christmas by Kandy Radzinski (Sleeping Bear Press, Sept.) and God’s Dream by Archbishop Desmond Tutu and Douglas Carlton (Candlewick, Sept.) were hot titles at the show, several YA titles had booksellers buzzing, especially Eon: Dragoneye Reborn by Alison Goodman (Viking, Dec.), Chains by Laurie Halse Anderson (S&S, Oct.), and The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins (Scholastic, Sept.).

“It’s a strong children’s list this fall,” Cynthia Compton, owner of 4 Kids Books in Indianapolis, noted, “It makes for a lot of excitement among booksellers. But there’s also a lot of anxiety for booksellers whose budgets are limited by the economy.”

The excitement started building on Friday, when GLIBA officially kicked off with a book awards luncheon, which included Christopher Paul Curtis receiving the children’s chapter book award for Elijah of Buxton (Scholastic), and Loren Long (illustrator) and Randall de Sève receiving the award for children’s picture book for Toy Boat (Philomel). The excitement continued through Saturday’s trade show, peaking Sunday morning, during a sold-out children’s book and author breakfast, featuring Anderson, Collins and Pinkney. The three speakers tied important events in their own lives to pivotal episodes in the history of this country, which shaped them as adults and inspired their work.

“We are all connected to one another, not just in this era, but across the centuries,” Anderson said, explaining how her discovery that her longtime “hero,” Benjamin Franklin, owned slaves inspired her to write Chains, the story of Isabel, an African-American slave during the American Revolution era, who spies on her British-sympathizer owners for the rebels.

“Slavery is the elephant in our country’s living room,” Anderson said, noting that 10 of the first 12 U.S. presidents owned slaves, who comprised 20% of the U.S. population before the Civil War. “It won’t go away until we acknowledge and deal with it.”

Signing at GLIBA: Heather Henson and
David Small, author and illustrator of

That Book Woman (Atheneum, Oct.).
Photo: Tami Furlong.

Collins also spoke of how acknowledging the mistakes of the past is essential in order to move forward into the future. After recounting anecdotes of growing up in a military family, and her ongoing fascination with Roman gladiators, she described the impact that her father’s time in Vietnam in the ’60s had had on her life and her writing, including The Hunger Games, the tale of a group of teenagers in a dystopian society who must fight to the death in a reality TV show.

“I knew that if George of the Jungle could survive in the jungle, my father could survive a year in Vietnam,” she recalls thinking at the time. That is, until one day, she saw graphic war footage on TV: “enough to be frightened” for her father.

“The subject of children and the effects of war and violence are very close to my heart,” Collins said, “Given the policies of the current administration, there can’t be enough books to educate people about this.”

The final breakfast speaker, Jerry Pinkney, told how a book’s language has to “excite” him, how he has to be able to “pull pieces” from his own life experiences, in order to create illustrations. The text of The Moon Over Star inspired him, as it reminded him of his childhood and trying to make spaceships out of the odds and ends in his father’s workshop. But the moon itself also inspired him, as he recalled being invited by NASA in 1982 to witness the Columbia space launch. And, finally, Pinkney said, he related to the African-American girl in The Moon Over Star dreaming in 1969 of flying to the moon, because at 11 years old, he had begun to dream that even he, “an African-American child” in 1950s-era Philadelphia, could someday become an artist—an idea “planted” in him by cartoonist Henry Liney, who had taken an interest in his work.

“As parents, teachers, and educators, we must understand the power of the imagination and how much you can do with a little,” Pinkney told the 250 booksellers at the breakfast.