According to the Great Lakes Independent Booksellers Association’s outgoing board president Cynthia Compton, the owner of 4 Kids Books in Indianapolis, one incentive behind the decision to hold a combined trade show with the Midwest Independent Booksellers Association in 2012 and 2013 is that it will be easier to snag A-list authors. But for many GLIBA booksellers attending this year’s show in Dearborn, Mich., on October 14-16, the roster of 68 authors – especially the children’s book authors – just couldn’t get any better.
While regional favorites like Will Hillenbrand (Spring Is Here, Holiday House, Mar.; Sneeze Big Bear, Sneeze, Marshall Cavendish, Sept.; and Don’t Slam the Door, Candlewick, Aug.) and Mike Mullin (Ashfall, Tanglewood, Oct.), created long lines at group signings, and James Howe’s (Addie on the Outside, Atheneum, July) denunciation of bullying touched booksellers during Saturday’s author luncheon, it was Sunday’s presentations that truly wowed the crowds.
Moderated by Jan Dundon of Anderson’s Bookshop in Naperville, Ill., Sunday morning’s panel of teen and tween authors got the ball rolling for about 60 booksellers. Authors Moira Young (Blood Red Road, McElderry, June), Jessica Martinez (Virtuosity, Simon Pulse, Oct.), Lisa McMann (The Unwanteds, Aladdin, Aug.), and Marie Lu (Legend, Putnam, Nov.) participated in a provocative discussion of current trends in publishing for teens and tweens. While dystopian literature remains red-hot, with many YA novels being touted by their publishers as the next Hunger Games, the panelists all emphasized that they write what they want to write, they don’t latch onto current trends. By the time authors discover current trends in literature, McMann pointed out, "It’s almost too late."
McMann, whose novel, The Unwanteds, is being described by its publisher as "Hunger Games meets Harry Potter," disclosed that she started writing The Unwanteds five years ago, inspired by cuts in arts funding at her children’s school. "We’re all adult writers with anxiety about the future," Young declared, trying to explain why so many YA authors are writing such intense novels these days. "It’s our own anxiety we’re writing about." McMann added that "it’s a dark world," with many children living in dysfunctional families or in poverty.
"Writers have to give children books with characters in worlds they can relate to," McMann said, while Lu added that YA fiction is very hopeful," despite its dark themes. "These characters are taking control of their lives and changing their worlds," Lu pointed out.
The theme of taking control and changing worlds resonated throughout the Children’s Book and Author brunch (which replaced the traditional breakfast this year), although the theme came across in a lighter vein. Brian Selznick (Wonderstruck, Scholastic, Sept.), Chris Raschka (A Ball for Daisy, Random/Schwartz & Wade, May), Kadir Nelson (Heart and Soul, HarperCollins/Balzer + Bray, Sept.), and Maile Meloy (The Apothecary, Putnam, Oct.) took turns describing to more than 200 booksellers the creative processes behind their latest works. Of course, these being children’s book authors, with three of them identifying themselves as illustrators as well, each came prepared with slides to supplement their talks.
During Selznick’s presentation, booksellers were treated to vintage photos from the archives of New York’s Museum of Natural History and Queens Museum of Art. Raskcha narrated the evolution of A Ball for Daisy, a wordless children’s illustrated book that took him 10 years to create, a project that he said proved to be more difficult than writing a chapter book. Nelson showed photographs of his grandparents and great-grandparents, whose stories of their experiences as African-Americans inspired Heart and Soul, a book that Shirley Mullin of Kids Ink in Indianapolis earlier told GLIBA booksellers is worthy of a Caldecott Medal. Lastly, Meloy kicked off her presentation by showing photos of her friends and family with Michigan connections, followed by an illustrated history lesson about both Hollywood during the McCarthy era and post-World War II Britain, the two backdrops for Meloy’s fantasy novel for middle-grade readers.
There is magic in the most seemingly ordinary places, Meloy explained. "Books provide a magical access," she said. "Thank you for getting the books into the hands of children."