Even though only six of the 22 authors on the speakers roster at this year’s Mountains & Plains Independent Booksellers Association trade show in Denver Sept. 23-25 were children’s and YA book authors, the buzz created by three of them among the 150+ booksellers almost surpassed the amount of buzz about the new adult releases.
Laurie Halse Anderson, the author of what she calls “historical thrillers” for YA readers, started things off with a bang while introducing her latest novel, Forge (S&S), at the Children’s Author & Illustrator Luncheon on the first day of the show. While providing the historical background to Forge, Anderson suggested that booksellers downplay the historical nature of her books, and instead emphasize their action-packed plots to YA readers. Susie Wilmer, co-owner of Old Firehouse Books in Ft. Collins, Colo., explained later that Anderson doesn’t want her novels promoted as historical fiction because teens are going to respond, “‘Johnny Tremain. Boring.’”
The subject matter of Forge – the tale of a teenaged runaway slave who fights with the colonial soldiers at Valley Forge during the American Revolution – clearly intrigued booksellers, including first-timer Jane McBride, a buyer at Utah State University in Logan. She explained, “We don’t think about African-Americans choosing to fight with the Americans during that war, even though they were slaves and there was slim hope of freedom for them.”
Don Voss of Colorado State University Bookstore in Ft. Collins, said simply, “I wish what Anderson said about Forge could be permanently imprinted on my brain.”
But it was what Wilmer described as Anderson’s “spitting mad” defense of a previous novel, Speak, that especially resonated with her audience on the eve of Banned Books Week. Speak, which was a National Book Award finalist, is under attack in Missouri by a Christian fundamentalist firebrand, with the Dickensian name of Wesley Scroggins, who condemned it as “soft pornography,” primarily because it contains two rape scenes. Scroggins is seeking to have Speak removed from classrooms and school libraries in that state.
Anderson expressed the same sentiments at the luncheon that she’d expressed two days previously on her blog: “Some people say that I shouldn’t make a big deal about this. That I am giving him more attention than he deserves. My fear is that people in Scroggins’s community will believe what he says. And then they will complain to the school board. And then the book will be pulled and then all those kids who might have found truth and support in the book will be denied that. In addition, all the kids who have healthy emotional lives but who hate reading will miss the chance to enjoy a book that might change their opinion. All because some wingnut grabbed the opinion page of his newspaper, bellowed his lies, and no one challenged him.”
Matt Miller of Denver’s Tattered Cover bookstore commented later, “Hearing that passion, her anger, that her book was being maligned, brought home for me the importance of the ABFFE,” while Meghan Goel, children’s book buyer at Bookpeople in Austin, Texas, and the new president of MiPBA’s board, added, “She got us fired up about books and about free speech, and about bookselling. We’re all going go back to our stores all revved up for Banned Books Week.”
Artsy-Fartsy (Bailiwick Press) author Karla Oceanak and illustrator Kendra Spanjer also jolted MPiBA booksellers, when they presented their playful comic novel for middle grade readers at Friday morning’s Regional Book Awards Breakfast. The duo explained that they hoped to encourage middle-graders to read by creating this irreverent, half-text, half-illustrated book similar in format to the Wimpy Kid books. Artsy-Fartsy, the debut release from Bailiwick, a new children’s book publisher based in Ft. Collins, was the recipient of this year’s MiPBA Children’s Chapter Book Award. Oceanak is also the publisher of Artsy-Fartsy, which is the first book in the Aldo Zelnick series of comic novels. The other two novels in the series are Bogus, which was released this past summer, and Cahoots, which will be published in spring 2011. IPG has just begun distributing Bailiwick Press releases.
“I was really impressed by Artsy-Fartsy and what the author and illustrator are trying to do,” said Stacy Morris, special events coordinator for Katy Budget Books in Houston, Tex. “You could tell how passionate they are about trying to get children to read.”
“We had such a ball with the author-publishers,” Old Firehouse Books’s Wilmer added. “They showed us that this book really had meat to it.”
Torrie Rice, owner of the Wheatland Book Nook in Wheatland, Wyo., told PW, “I think I know a few kids I can get to read it and promote it to some other kids.”
Art & Max by Caldecott Medalist David Wiesner, who discussed his artistic process and vision during a panel session with his editor, Dina Stevenson, publisher of Clarion Books, also excited booksellers, who were full of praise for his new picture book about the friendship between two lizards. College professor Merrillyn Kloefkorn, who also helps out with bookselling at Bo Peep Books in Golden, Colo., explained that she intends to have her education students develop stories inspired by the illustrations that don’t accompany text in Art & Max, as she’s done for Wiesner’s Tuesday, The Three Pigs, and Flotsam.
“I love how Wiesner goes out of the lines in his illustrations,” Kloefkorn added, while Colorado State University Bookstore’s Voss, himself a book artist, added, “What a cool book. Art & Max has all of the elements of a high-quality book. It’s excellent and I am definitely going to push that one at my store.”
Speaking to a delegation of booksellers from Maria’s Books in Durango, Colo. as the trade show wound down, Voss expressed what many booksellers surely must have felt during the three-day meeting, when he commented, “Coming here is a shot in the arm, meeting the authors directly, hearing them speak. Many times they’ve moved me to tears.”