Wednesday marked the first ever American Booksellers Association’s ABC Children’s Institute, and the day’s agenda was chockful of educational sessions, roundtable discussions, networking opportunities, author hobnobbing, and other events.

The idea for the daylong event, says Joy Dallanegra-Sanger, ABA’s senior program officer, was conceived after the ABA-ABC merger. “One of our goals after the two organizations merged was to make sure we continue to provide education for children’s booksellers and for members from general bookstores who sell children’s books,” she says. “Children’s books are a strong and growing category for independents, and keeping booksellers better informed is a top priority for us. The Children’s Institute is a wonderful day of education and fun events.”

BEA’s annual Children’s Book & Author Breakfast kicked off the day’s festivities. Walter Dean Myers, national ambassador for young people’s literature, offered an opening welcome, and Chris Colfer, an actor on TV’s Glee and a debut children’s book author (The Land of Stories: The Wishing Spell, Little, Brown), emceed the program. Speakers included John Green (The Fault in Our Stars, Dutton), Lois Lowry (Son, Houghton Mifflin), and Kadir Nelson (I Have A Dream, Random House/Schwartz & Wade).

Following the breakfast, booksellers were invited to an opening plenary called Understanding the Children’s Book Consumer in the Digital Age. After ABA president Becky Anderson offered opening remarks, Kelly Gallagher, v-p, publishing workflow solutions at R.R. Bowker, discussed activities, purchasing influences, and behaviors of today’s children’s book consumer.

At the morning’s Middle Grade Editors’ Buzz Panel, five editors of middle grade books each talked about an upcoming novel that they are especially excited to be publishing. Participants and the books discussed were Virginia Duncan, v-p and publisher of Greenwillow Books (Stefan Bachmann’s The Peculiar); Steve Geck, editorial manager of Sourcebooks Jabberwocky (Mira’s Diary: Lost in Paris by Marissa Moss); Alvina Ling, editorial director, Little, Brown Books for Young Readers (Grace Lin’s Starry River of the Sky); Kate O’Sullivan, Houghton Mifflin Books for Children executive editor (Malcolm at Midnight by W.H. Beck); and Jason Rekulak, associate publisher and creative director of Quirk Books (Charles Gilman’s Tales from Lovecraft Middle School #1: Professor Gargoyle).

Booksellers had a chance to interact with a spectrum of children’s book creators at the Speed Dating Lunchwith Children’s Authors. After opening remarks by Robin Adelson, CBC’s executive director, authors moved from table to table, offering attendees insight into their new books. Eighteen authors participated in the event, including Jeffrey Bennett, Tonya Bolden, Patricia Reilly Giff, Wes Moore, Mike Mullin, and Marilyn Singer.

The luncheon was followed by a panel session, Reaching the Middle Grade Reader, which addressed the developmental stages of middle grade readers and how booksellers can better serve the needs of middle grade readers. The panel featured author R.J. Palacio (Wonder); Karen Lotz, Candlewick president and publisher; Jason Wells, executive director of children’s publicity and marketing at Abrams; Lisa Von Drasek, director of the Center for Children’s Literature at Bank Street College of Education; Margaret Brennan Neville, children’s room buyer and manager of The King’s English Bookshop in Salt Lake City; and Trish Brown, co-owner of Hooray for Books! in Alexandria, Va. Jennifer M. Brown, children’s editor of Shelf Awareness, served as moderator.

A second panel session, Meeting the Literacy Needs in Your Community, offered a discussion about how booksellers can assess literacy needs and bring books to the children who need them most. Dara LaPorte, cofounder of An Open Book Foundation, moderated a panel that included Meghan Goel, children’s book buyer at BookPeople in Austin, Texas; Ellen Richmond, owner of Children’s Book Cellar in Waterville, Me.; Carol Rasco, president and CEO of Reading Is Fundamental; Jennifer Frances, founder of Bess the Book Bus; and Hillary Roselund, associate director of national programs for Jumpstart.

Held mid-afternoon, the ABA/CBC Tea with Children’s Authors and Illustrators gave booksellers the opportunity to share a cuppa with children’s book creators, who chatted about their work. Among the 17 participating authors and illustrators were Mac Barnett, Kristin Cashore, Shannon Hale, Patricia MacLachlan, Chris Raschka, and Jerry Spinelli.

An informal, knowledge-sharing poster fair followed the tea. At this event, called Some of Our Favorite Things: Booksellers Share Best Practices, a number of booksellers revealed their stores’ initiatives and special offerings through creative poster displays.

Next on the day’s agenda were a variety of Focused Roundtables for booksellers. The roundtable discussions spotlighted such specific topics as Building Relationships with Teen Bloggers, How to Sell a Wordless Picture Book, Navigating the Dialogue: Content and YA, Building Successful Story Times, How to Host Awesome Authorless Events, and Buying and Selling Non-Book Merchandise.

Capping of the day’s festivities was the annual Children’s Art Auction and Reception, held in the Javits Center’s South Concourse. This event included silent and live auctions of original artwork from children’s books – from sketches and studies to finished paintings and limited-edition prints. There were also some intriguing non-book items on the auction block, including a tricycle decorated to promote Michael Buckley’s Kel Gilligan’s Daredevil Stunt Show, illustrated by Dan Santat; a trip to New York City to help fly the Wimpy Kid balloon in the Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade; and a baby dress handmade by Ann M. Martin. The auction’s proceeds benefited the American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression’s defense of the First Amendment rights of young readers. Walter Dean Myers served as honorary chair of this event, and shared auctioneer duties with his son, author and illustrator Christopher Myers.