Children’s books were tightly woven into the warp and weft of this year’s New Atlantic Independent Booksellers Association fall conference, including the Moveable Feast at which authors like M.T. Anderson (The Clue of Linoleum Lederhosen, Simon & Schuster) and Lincoln Peirce (Big Nate Strikes Again, Harper) spoke. The first show of the season’s round robin of regional gatherings, NAIBA took place just off the smoke-filled casino at the Trump Marina in Atlantic City from September 20 to 22. It could be a harbinger of the role that children’s books will play in the upcoming holiday season.
Children’s author Jon Scieszka was one of three speakers at the show’s preview supper, along with Brad Meltzer and Walter Mosley. A children’s breakfast the next morning—with Jennifer Donnelly, author of Revolution (Random House); James Howe, author of Brontorina (Candlewick), Sharon Robinson, author of Jackie’s Gift (Viking); and Nick Bruel, author of Bad Kitty vs. Uncle Murray (Roaring Brook/Porter)—marked the official opening of the show.
Former bookseller Bruel had everyone in the room laughing, despite the early hour, with his talk on A Customer Walks into a Store.... “I know the secret that’s in all your hearts at the end of the day,” said Bruel, as he described the moment at the end of the day when almost all the lights have been turned out and booksellers take one last look around before heading out the door. “Man, this place would be awesome,” he said, “if not for all those goddamn customers.” One such customer – director Nora Ephron – even worked him into her film You’ve Got Mail – as the clerk who never heard of Noel Streitfeild’s Shoes books.
As part of a session on Radical Bookselling, YA author A.S. King encouraged booksellers to do author events, and spoke about her experience doing a writing workshop for teens at Clinton Book Shop in Clinton, N.J. Store manager and workshop leader Rob Dougherty recommended that booksellers engage with the entire fabric of their communities, not just libraries and schools, and stop waiting for the ABA or NAIBA to do things for them. “We all know what’s happening at Borders and Barnes & Noble. Now is the time to strike,” he said. “We have to take bookselling beyond our front doors and ask ‘what’s in it for me?’ ”
At a workshop on Partnering with Schools. Heather Hebert and Sarah Todd at Children’s Book World in Haverford, Pa., and Shelly Plumb, owner of Harleysville Books in Harleysville, Pa., discussed how to collaborate with schools besides traditional book fairs. For example, Todd builds relationships with schools, and increases orders, by making presentations of her 10 favorite books to each class. “The parents are thrilled,” said Hebert, “because they don’t have to buy wrapping paper or candy. It’s a fundraiser for the school and we’re showing we’re a good resource.” Todd times her talks close to a school’s in-store book fair, which helps boost sales for those titles and enables Children’s Book World to have better control over what it stocks for the event.
Tom Williams, owner of Mendham Books in Mendham, N.J., singled out the educational sessions as “worthwhile,” adding that he found the show “upbeat. But we’re in it for the long haul.” At the annual meeting, NAIBA president Lucy Kogler, manager of Talking Leaves Books in Buffalo, N.Y., said, “The vibe [of the show] has been exceptional. This conference has really focused me on what it means to be an independent bookseller.”
Carla Cohen, founder of Politics & Prose Bookstore in Washington, D.C., and her longtime partner Barbara Meade, were the first booksellers ever to receive the NAIBA Legacy Award. Booksellers rose three times to honor Cohen, who served as a mentor to many in the room. “We love what we do. We are promoting something vital, important, and fun,” Cohen said.
NAIBA also inaugurated the NAIBA Carla Cohen Free Speech Award, which went to Pam Muñoz Ryan and Peter Sís for their book The Dreamer (Scholastic). Politics & Prose trade book buyer Mark LaFramboise read Ryan’s thank-you letter. “Please know how thrilled I am, especially given Pablo Neruda’s ardor and suffering for the right of free speech. But also, I am honored to have an accolade that carries the name of an independent bookseller, Carla Cohen.... And I’d like Carla to know how thrilled I am to be connected to her stellar legacy, even by this narrow thread. I am proud to be a part of this community of independent booksellers, independent writers, and independent thinkers.”