Jamie Lee Curtis, signing her new picture book at SCIBA. Photo: Guinevere Platt.

At the beginning of her speech during the booksellers' lunch at the Southern California Independent Booksellers Association trade show in Los Angeles last Saturday, Jamie Lee Curtis (Big Words for Little People, HarperCollins) first asked if there were any children present in the room. Assured that there were not, she looked out at the audience and asked, “How the f*ck did I get here?”

Once the roar of the laughter died down Curtis entertained the crowd of 162 booksellers, teachers and librarians with the tale of the unlikely and circuitous journey she took from being a poor student (“I scored 860 on my SATs. Combined.”) to a bikini-clad movie star to her current status as bestselling children’s book author. It wasn’t until her children were born that Curtis had the inkling she might be able to turn their whimsical pronouncements into books that kids might learn and realize their potential from. With illustrator Laura Cornell, Curtis now has eight books in print from HarperCollins. “I’ve been with them since they were Harper & Row,” she said with affection.

Also on the bill at the SCIBA children’s luncheon were Brandon Sanderson (Alcatraz Versus the Scrivener’s Bones, Scholastic), Loren Long (Drummer Boy, Philomel) and Dorothea Benton Frank (The Christmas Pearl, William Morrow), whose talk was so endearing that Jamie Lee Curtis told her from the podium, “You ought to be one of the hosts of The View!”

The historic Biltmore Hotel in downtown Los Angeles was the setting for the annual SCIBA trade show, held this year on Saturday, October 18. The day kicked off with the Children’s Rep’s Pick breakfast in the morning. Later in the day Kristen McLean, executive director of the Association of Booksellers for Children, led a seminar called “Getting the Most Out of Your Children’s Section.” During the one-hour meeting McLean discussed managing space, book selection and programming for bookstores, classrooms and libraries. She emphasized the importance of “soft space” in stores where children and/or parents can sit on chairs or colorful cushions that encourage them to slow down and look at the books and toys. “The longer people browse, the more they’ll buy,” McLean said. She also discussed ways in which children’s sections can be baby-proofed.

Dean Lorey receiving his award for Best Children's Novel at the SCIBA banquet. Photo: Guinevere Platt.

When explaining the nature of thoughtful book buying, McLean talked about the importance of galley sharing among staff to ensure informed suggestions for customers. “Get behind 10 titles that all staff members will know, a couple from each category in your store,” she said. Creating a voluntary teen advisory board to give employees advice on the “exploding” fantasy genre, and asking reps to come in and present rep picks to the employees were two more suggestions meant to help streamline buying decisions as well.

On the issue of children’s programming McLean reminded the group, “The bookstore isn’t a playground—you’re there to sell books.” Too often, she said, new booksellers will limit themselves to free storytelling hours in their stores, which don’t necessarily encourage book sales. One way to guarantee and generate income through store events is to tie them to a paid ticket. Author appearances should be marketed with a “limited space available” tag and the purchase of a book required as the cost of admission.

McLean ended her talk with the idea that a handsell can easily be accomplished without actual hand selling. “Staff picks, end caps, flyers, regional title sections and shelf talkers all contribute to customers making buying decisions on their own,” she explained.

Capping the evening’s Author’s Feast was the book awards ceremony. ThePout Pout Fish by Dan Hanna (FSG) won for best picture book; Dean Lorey’s Nightmare Academy 1: Monster Hunters (HarperCollins) won for best children’s novel. Both authors thanked the independent bookstores in Southern California for supporting their books. “You’re really important to the life of a book. You nurture us and encourage us,” said Lorey.