The drone of police helicopters and raucous chants of nearby Occupy Oakland protesters could not diminish the excitement and positive focus of children’s booksellers at the 2011 Northern California Independent Booksellers Association trade show, held October 27-29 at the Marriott City Center in Oakland.
Among the well-attended educational programs was “Introducing the ABC Group at ABA,” moderated by Ann Seaton of Hicklebee’s in San Jose and ABA's Oren Teicher. The two organizations were successfully integrated this year, with Shannon O’Connor (who was not present) serving as manager of the new ABC (Association of Booksellers for Children) Group. “We took the existing program and retained as much as we could,” said Teicher. “One of the most important results has been the ability to make the ABC Group available to general trade bookstores. We have a larger community to draw from now. Also, we can now build on the particular opportunities for children’s books. We’re looking to the ABC Group for knowledge.” The ABC Group will retain its silent auction at BEA and continue to issue the Kids’ Next lists and annual catalog.
Seaton presented an overview of the study conducted by Bowker and the ABC Group, which had responses from 1,500 consumers of children’s books in three age groups. The primary goal of the survey was to identify core consumers and change them from browsers to customers. Among the findings: the 18-44 age group buys 61% of children’s books, the majority of these consumers are middle-class and educated, books remain the most important media in the lives of newborns to six-year-olds, and books rank highly among teens. “The survey shows that books are still in demand,” Seaton said.
The ABC Group catalog, ABC Best Books for Children, is an ongoing project that will continue under the new organization. It lands in mid-autumn each year, and is not themed to the holidays but to titles recommended and vetted by booksellers before inclusion. The catalogue may be ordered through the ABA; 500 copies cost $20. The ABC Group continues to distribute its Kids’ Next flyer to member stores and has added the New Voices leaflet, which is broken down into teen and middle grade categories. “75% of kids’ books are purchased in bookstores,” said Seaton, “and there is a growing recognition of the ‘buy local’ message, but we have to continue to reinforce that this holiday season. Consumers value booksellers’ knowledge, but they don’t value the store itself enough.”
Attendance at this year’s NCIBA show was up about 10%. “Based on badge requests, both booksellers and exhibitors are here in great numbers. I typed up 500 bookseller badges and 450 more for exhibitors,” said a very happy Hut Landon, executive director of NCIBA. Within the organization are five children’s-specific booksellers, and another 25 general bookstore members also belong to the Northern California Children’s Booksellers Association. NCIBA has 10 board meetings a year. “It’s easy to create a sense of community in this area,” Landon said. “We’re geographically very close to one another, and see each other often.”
Friday morning’s packed Children’s Author Breakfast, always a favorite event at the show, featured illustrator Marla Frazee (Stars, written by Mary Lyn Ray, S&S/Beach Lane Books), Maureen Johnson (The Name of the Star, Putnam), and Brian Selznick (Wonderstruck, Scholastic Press). Frazee’s slide show included several photos of her trip to South Danbury, N.H., this spring to visit Ray at her bucolic 1850s farmhouse, where the two women discussed the merging of words and illustrations for Stars and established a warm friendship. Noting that Ray has restored the farmhouse to its original state, furnishings and all, Frazee made the audience laugh when she said, “I called my husband from my bedroom and said, ‘I’m on another planet!’ ”
Her presentation also featured photos of Ray’s dog Biscuit that, on the surface, is an adorably shaggy, small canine. “But one day, out of nowhere, Biscuit jumped up and bit me on the ass, tearing all the way through the seat of my pants,” Frazee said. The audience roared. She then described how Ray brought her into the house, made her “drop trou,” and cleaned and bandaged the wound.
Having a background in New York City theater world no doubt added to the hilarious animated talk given by Maureen Johnson about her love of ghosts. “I like to imagine them and hunt for them,” she said. In London, she did quite a bit of research for The Name of the Star, which is about the ghost of Jack the Ripper. She then launched into a parody of the reality TV show Ghost Hunters that included sound effects, dialogue (“Did you hear that?”), melodramatic facial expressions, and the opinion that “TV ghosts suck!” Johnson didn’t use PowerPoint during her talk and showed no slides, and jokingly asked the audience beforehand, “Hey! Where’s the interactivity?” in the knowledge they were probably expecting such things. Her one-woman show, however, didn’t require props; Johnson had the audience eating out of the palm of her hand, and the booksellers gave her a rousing hand of applause at the conclusion of the talk.
Brian Selznick wore shiny gold high-top tennis shoes at the podium and told the audience that it marked the conclusion of the book tour he’s been on for Wonderstruck since mid-September. Selznick worked for a time at Eeyore’s Books for Children in New York City before becoming a children’s book author and illustrator, and told the booksellers that of all the other book vendors he was most grateful to them for their support. Selznick presented a slide show that followed his artistic process, step by step, and it clearly held the booksellers in thrall. He then showed photos he’d taken on the set of the Martin Scorsese-directed film version of Selznick’s Caldecott winner The Invention of Hugo Cabret, which opens next month. In conclusion he played the trailer for the film, proudly pointing out his name in the final credit.
On the busy show floor Sunny Ostrom, assistant manager of the Book Seller in Grass Valley, Calif., spoke of her enthusiasm for NCIBA and gratitude for her store’s longevity. “We have a loyal customer base in a literary, cultural community,” she said. Children’s books take up an entire floor at the Book Seller; the space is called “The Kid’s Cellar” and accounts for about 40% of the store’s sales. “We do a lot of handselling and go out of our way to take special orders. We’re really committed to children’s books.”
Among her picks for the biggest holiday books are A Christmas Tree for Pyn by Olivier Dunrea (Philomel); The Third Gift by Linda Sue Park and Bagram Ibatoulline (Clarion); and Graeme Base’s The Jewel Fish of Karnak (Abrams). Ashley Despain, children’s book buyer for Green Apple Books in San Francisco, mentioned Press Here by Hervé Tullet (Chronicle); Zombie in Love by Scott Campbell and Kelly DiPuccio (Atheneum); and The Son of Neptune, by Rick Riordan (Disney-Hyperion) as some of his favorites.
Goosebottom Books was exhibiting for the first time at the show. Publisher Shirin Bridges, who saw a lot of activity at her booth, said, “I’m very happy to be a member of NCIBA now, and to be here. This is a wonderful gathering of friends and colleagues, and it’s great to get to know the booksellers.”