At the Southern California Independent Booksellers Association’s 2017 trade show, which took place October 27–28, members celebrated both increasing diversity and rising sales in the children’s section. The organization itself has grown, moving this year to the Sheraton Fairplex Hotel & Conference Center in Pomona to accommodate more exhibitors and members.
“I think everyone’s positive here,” said Maureen Palacios, the owner of Once Upon a Time Bookstore in Montrose. “We’re seeing renewed interest in kids’ books. There’s such beautiful product out there that’s inclusive, that especially represents Southern California in our diversity of cultures and people.”
The Children’s Awards Breakfast echoed that sentiment, as the trade association honored a diverse slate of children’s books. Kadir Nelson won the SCIBA Picture Book Award for Blue Sky White Stars (Dial), Holly Goldberg Sloan won the Middle Grade Book Award for Short (Dial), and Sherri L. Smith won the Young Adult Award for Pasadena (Putnam).
Thanking the SCIBA booksellers as she accepted her award, Smith said, “Independent bookstores are so American. They are carving a place out in the world for people to discover who they are. There is a story for every person, and these stories represent a mass diversity that is very exciting to see.”
Throughout the trade show, authors stressed the importance of diversity in children’s literature—reminding booksellers of the key role they play in connecting kids with life-changing books. Los Angeles-based author Tahereh Mafi recalled how different bookshelves looked just seven years ago. “I kept my head down,” she said of her early days as an aspiring writer who concealed her Iranian-American identity. “I’d never heard of an author of commercial fiction who wore a hijab. I didn’t know if there was a place for someone like me in pop culture.”
Hugo and Nebula Award-winning author Nnedi Okorafor agreed. “Growing up, I hadn’t seen a lot of fantasy where I saw representation of myself,” said the author of the Binti Trilogy and the picture book Chicken in the Kitchen (Lantana). “It wasn’t that I needed to see representation of myself in every book, but one or two would have been nice. I wanted to add my point of view.”
A number of booksellers noted a new energy in their children’s sections, as more readers turn to bookstores for inspiration and identification. “It feels different,” said Ashlee Null, the children’s department manager at Vroman’s Bookstore in Pasadena. “There are people who are specifically looking for books over toys this year; they are looking to books for inspiration.”
Null also noticed that popular kids’ books at her store had moved away from sarcasm and snark into “more heartfelt” themes. The store now stocks a prominent Build a Better World display with inspirational titles like It Takes a Village (S&S/Wiseman) by Hillary Clinton, illustrated by Marla Frazee (who was also a speaker at the SCIBA Children’s Awards Breakfast); Yo Soy Muslim: A Father’s Letter to His Daughter (S&S/Salaam Reads) by Mark Gonzales, illustrated by Mehrdokht Amini, and Why Am I Me? (Scholastic Press) by Paige Britt, illustrated by Selina Alko and Sean Qualls.
“Children’s book sales are up 10 percent,” said Cecil Brown, a buyer at book and magazine retailer Kinokuniya and a SCIBA board member. His bookstore operates 12 stores across the country, with three locations in the Southern California area. Cheered by the rising sales, the bookstore will expand its children’s section to include all the books in the 2017 SCIBA holiday catalog.
The store primarily focuses on Japanese and other Asian titles, especially Japanese comic books and graphic novels. “Manga is definitely having a moment,” Brown said, citing Your Name by Makoto Shinkai, illustrated by Ranmaru Koto, as a top seller at the store. “Young American readers will even ask for the manga in Japanese; it really helps them learn the language,” he said.
Throughout the conference, booksellers and trade reps shared the hottest books. “We’ve been really delighted to see Tomi Adeyemi’s Children of Blood and Bone (Holt) coming next March,” said Maryelizabeth Hart, co-owner of San Diego’s Mysterious Galaxy Bookstore. Adeyemi, a Nigerian-American writer and creative writing coach who lives in San Diego, will publish with Henry Holt Books for Young Readers. The book landed one of the YA genre’s biggest recent book deals and already has an adaptation in the works with Fox 2000.
Other new and forthcoming favorites at the show included: The Stars Beneath Our Feet (Knopf) by David Barclay Moore, The 12 Sleighs of Christmas (Chronicle) by Sherri Duskey Rinker, illustrated by Jake Parker; Before She Was Harriet (Holiday House) by Lesa Cline-Ransome, illustrated by James E. Ransome; Here We Are: Notes for Living on Planet Earth (Philomel) by Oliver Jeffers; The Antlered Ship (S&S/Beach Lane) by Dashka Slater, illustrated by Eric Fan and Terry Fan; and Love, Santa (Scholastic/Levine) by Martha Brockenbrough.
SCIBA executive director Andrea Vuleta said she was proud of the show, which focused on providing education and community support for the region’s younger generation of booksellers. Since the 2008 economic downturn, many members had “scrambled” to add value by selling everything from socks to toys. This year, Vuleta was much more optimistic about the value of good old-fashioned books.
To that end, the trade show highlighted publisher promotions for booksellers and the diversity on bookshelves that more accurately reflects the southern California community. Vuleta programmed the trade show to help SCIBA booksellers appreciate the power of books. “There’s a lot more opportunity to grow the book part of your business,” she said. “That’s exciting! The potential in the book is coming back.”