NAIBA dinner speakers Paul Rudnick
and Laurie Halse Anderson,
with S&S rep Tim Hepp (r.).

Children’s books shared the stage with adult titles at this fall’s New Atlantic Independent Booksellers Association fall conference at the Sheraton City Center in Baltimore, Md., held Oct. 3—5. Longtime Baltimore institution The Children’s Bookstore was one of several stops on a DIY bookstore tour that preceded the official opening of the conference with a dinner with children’s author Laurie Halse Anderson and adult author Paul Rudnick. Sporting a blue IndieBound T-shirt, Anderson thanked booksellers for fighting the good fight for shopping local. She also credited Madonna with her decision to follow up her YA novel Chains, a National Book Award finalist, with the picture book The Hair of Zoe Fleefenbacher Goes to School (both S&S), illus. by Ard Hoyt. “I started writing picture books, because they’re short, and if Madonna can do them, how hard can they be,” she quipped.

At the children’s breakfast the following morning, novelists Patricia Reilly Giff, who co-owns the Dinosaur’s Claw bookstore in Fairfield, Ct., and Gordon Korman spoke about writing and their most recent books, Wild Girl (Random/Wendy Lamb) and Zoobreak (Scholastic), respectively. Unfortunately, third speaker Tomie dePaola was forced to cancel his book tour for Strega Nona’s Harvest (Putnam) due to illness. In a note to NAIBA booksellers he wrote that he was “really bummed out” not to be there.|

Gordon Korman signs a copy of Zoobreak (Scholastic) for first-time author Kathy Miller, who self-published Chippy Chipmunk Parties in the Garden (Celtic Sunrise).

“Writing is a way of making the past come alive—my past,” said Giff, adding that Wild Girl is loosely based on what she imagined it was like for one of her elementary school students to come to this country, as well as her own family members who immigrated to the U.S. The setting, too, includes places to Giff. The Belmont Park Race Track is where she and her husband, a retired cop, hung out and held hands when they were first married. In fact, they still do.

Korman credited Judy Blume for his love for middle-grade novels, and his track coach for giving him a seventh-grade English project that enabled him to write his first one. As monitor for his class’s Scholastic book club, he sent the manuscript to the same address as the book orders—Scholastic’s warehouse. Scholastic published his novel when Korman was a freshman in high school, and he has been writing middle-grade books ever since. “In dark moments,” said Korman, “I look at myself as the Mick Jagger of children’s books.”

At the Morning Show, a new educational program using a talk-show format, Pat Kutz, co-owner of Lift Bridge Book Shop in Brockton, N.Y., interviewed Association of Booksellers for Children executive director Kristen McLean, who participated in a panel on tween books. If there were any doubts about the importance children’s books can make to the bottom line, especially these days, Kutz dispelled them. “We really regard children’s books as a profit center,” she said. “They represent 25% of our sales and less than 25% of our returns.”

Simon & Schuster field account manager Charlie Young (l.) and a satanic Tim Hepp, this year's Helmuth Sales Rep of the Year, offered a brief word on John Connolly's The Gates (S&S) as part of The Morning Show.

McLean noted that with the exception of 2008, children’s books have gone up “hand over hand” since 2002. Even in 2008 paperbacks were up, she added. She also expressed optimism about the future of the book in the face of technological advances like ScrollMotion’s soon-to-be-released iPhone app for picture books. According to early testing, she said, parents were using this to replace video games when they are waiting with their children at airports and doctor’s offices, not to supplant physical books. Citing a 2005 study by Cambridge University, which looked at thousands of exams that were taken by 16-year-olds going back to 1984, McLean said that today’s teens are more literate than their pre-electronic counterparts.

To assist children’s booksellers looking to build a graphic novel section, Jessica Stockton Bagnulo, co-owner of Greenlight Bookstore in Brooklyn, moderated a panel with representatives from two graphic novel distributors—John Shableski, sales manager of Diamond Book Distributors, and John Davis, director of Bookazine’s pop culture program. To demonstrate the sales potential for graphic novels, Shableski noted that in the library market a graphic novel collection will out-circulate everything else. Davis also encouraged booksellers who are on the fence about stocking graphic novels or manga to dedicate a section to them. “Starting small is a fine place to start,” he said. “Just start!” Both Shableski and Davis plan to post information from their talks, including a glossary of terms and resources, such as the PW Comics Week electronic newsletter and, on NAIBA’s Web site.

At the NAIBA awards banquet, Peter Brown received an award for his picture book, The Curious Garden (Little, Brown), and Gayle Forman for her YA novel If I Stay (Dutton).