If there’s one thing that’s certain, besides death and taxes, it’s that even children’s bookstores are currently moving a lot of copies of Fifty Shades of Grey. According to PW’s informal survey of what books will be hot for the summer bookselling season, which kicks off today, Fifty Shades is even outselling another popular trilogy that shows little sign of abating: Suzanne Collins’s Hunger Games books. Although erotica may be a surprise seller for children’s bookshops, even ones where parents stocked up on Go the F**k to Sleep last fall, many big books are in fact aimed squarely at children and teens. And lest there be any doubt, dystopian YA continues to rule. Customers aren’t just reaching for the Hunger Games but for Divergent and Insurgent, the first volumes in Veronica Roth’s trilogy for HarperCollins.
Even without a sales lift from mommy porn, most children’s specialty stores, and general stores with strong children’s sections, are anticipating a good summer. “After several years of decline, it’s turned the corner,” says Bill Reed, co-owner of Misty Valley Books in Chester, Vt. “We’re not back where it was, but we’re OK.” Others, like Washington, D.C.’s Politics and Prose Bookstore, are also up. “We’re obviously pleased,” says co-owner Bradley Graham. “We don’t know what’s accounting for new growth. We could explain it last fall from the bump from Borders.” He is using the increased earnings to fuel a major renovation of the store’s first floor, starting next month. The new layout is intended to improve traffic flow and allow more seating, to accommodate 300 people at in-store events. Other changes for the second half of the year include moving from an outdated MS-DOS inventory control system to a new one and overhauling the store’s Web site.
Some newer stores are seeing a level of growth more common before 2008 and the Great Recession. “So far we are looking at 2012 being our best year,” says Dick Brulotte, manager of five-year-old Beehive Books in Delaware, Ohio. Since the holidays, sales have been “significantly” better than pre-holiday levels. More recently the store has begun repainting and moving sections, and added a section for Melissa and Doug toys and Newbery and Caldecott Medal books.
Brulotte is experimenting with putting the YA and children’s sections together after noticing that intermediate readers are gravitating toward YA, especially since the Hunger Games movie came out. By contrast, YA could be stronger at the Blue Marble Bookstore in Fort Thomas, Ky., which dropped “Children’s” from its name last month in an effort to boost YA sales. “We decided our YA readership was a little low,” says bookseller Dave Richardson. “We’re trying to make the store name more hospitable to teenagers.”
Sales are also strong at two-year old Alamosa Books, a children’s bookstore in Albuquerque, N.M. “We are consistently doubling sales over last year,” says owner Elizabeth Anker. “That’s on top of a holiday season up over 120%. Another newcomer, two-year-old Books & Books Westhampton in Westhampton Beach, N.Y., has seen sales rise an average of 40-50% this year, according to co-owner Jack McKeown. His store is staffing up for a “substantial” increase in traffic this summer, and also launching a handselling initiative that requires each bookseller to adopt three or four titles to handsell during the high season. One house favorite certain to get extra attention is The Bad Apple (S&S/Aladdin),the first in The Merits of Mischief YA series by local author T. R. Burns.
Not all stores view summer as a make or break season. “Summer doesn’t affect us much,” says Michael Coy, manager of Third Place Books in Seattle’s Ravenna neighborhood. “We’re cautiously optimistic about 2012 as a whole.” Others located in summer tourist destinations are equally unsure what the summer may bring. At Bank Square Books in Mystic, Ct., owner Annie Philbrick, president of the New England Independent Booksellers Association, is happy that the store is holding its own. “Sales are good; we’re busy,” she says.
Although some stores have experienced a dip in sales, PW turned up only one in serious trouble, a children’s specialty store that could close as early as next month. Some stores like Magic Tree Bookstore in Oak Park, Il., which did not experience an uptick in sales over the holidays, are seeing one now. Its numbers are up 11% and walk-in traffic is also up, according to owner Rose Joseph. In preparation for the summer selling season, she repainted and rearranged the 28-year-old store. “It’s a whole new vibrant look, with a lot more colors,” says Joseph, who moved a table of adult books to the front of the store, along with YA and classics. Nonfiction and science kits have been moved to the middle of the retail space.
So what will people be reading this summer besides The Hunger Games, The Fault in Our Stars by John Green, Rachel Renée Russell’s Dork Diaries, or anything by Rick Riordan? Seira Wilson, children’s book editor at Amazon.com Books, says she “loves” Leigh Bardugo’s Shadow and Bone (Henry Holt), the first book in the Grisha trilogy and one of Amazon’s Best Books of the Month for June. “I think it’s one of those books that really stays with you.” Wilson also expects big things from Seraphina (Random House, July) by Rachel Hartman. She predicts that readers who enjoy Christopher Paolini will like it. (She did, and she doesn’t even like dragon novels.) Indies are also getting behind this book, which is one of the top 10 on the Summer 2012 Kids’ Indie Next list.
Wilson also singles out William Joyce’s The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore (Atheneum) as “one of my favorite books I’ve read in a long time. It will appeal to book lovers of any age.” A piece of art from the book is featured on the cover of this holiday season’s ABC catalog. For middle-grade readers, Wilson recommends Geoff Rodkey’s Dead Weather and Sunrise (Putnam), the first book in the Chronicles of Egg series and Amazon’s pick for best middle-grade book for June.
Middle-grade fiction is moving briskly at many stores besides the online retailer. “Middle-grade readers have a lot of great books to choose from this summer,” says Alamosa’s Anker, who mentions Kepler’s Dream (Putnam), a mystery by Juliet Bell (the nom de plume of adult author Sylvia Brownrigg). “Fancy Nancy’s first mystery is doing well and driving sales on her other books, too. Our Girl Scout book club members, age 9, have chimed in on The Hero’s Guide to Saving Your Kingdom (HarperCollins/Walden Pond Press) by Christopher Healy and Three Times Lucky (Dial) by Sheila Turnage. I’m a Tom Angleberger junkie and love Fake Mustache (Abrams/Amulet).” Local author Caroline Starr Rose’s January release, May B. (Random House/Schwartz & Wade), also continues to sell well at Alamosa. Another favorite for Deborah Johnson, book buyer at Barstons Child’s Play – with four stores in the Washington, D.C. area and one in Baltimore – is Angleberger’s next in the Origami Yoga series, The Secret of the Fortune Wookiee (Abrams/Amulet, Aug. 7).
Although Barstons added 100 feet of shelf space to the YA section of its main store so that it could carry adult books that appeal to high schoolers, it has not neglected picture books. “We are huge Traction Man fans,” says Johnson of the string of books by Mini Grey (Knopf). Mo Willems continues to sell well, and Johnson anticipates sales all summer long for his new Pigeon book, The Duckling Gets a Cookie!? (Hyperion, Apr.). Another store pick is a humorous retelling of a Hans Christian Andersen tale, The Princess and the Packet of Frozen Peas (Peachtree) by Tony Wilson, illustrated by Sue deGennaro.
With Maurice Sendak’s recent death, many like April Gorski, manager of the seven-year-old Book Vault in Oskaloosa, Ia., anticipate sales of all his books will be strong during the next few months. Classics in general do particularly well at Children’s Book World in Los Angeles; perennial summer favorites include Corduroy, The Story of Ferdinand, Frog and Toad, and Amelia, according to owner Sharon Hearn. The Ladybug Girl picture book series has stayed strong at a number of stores, including Linden Tree Books in Los Altos, Calif., where co-owner Jill Curcio singles out Ladybug Girl and Bingo (Dial) as a summer pick.
Nor are there any indications that YA is slowing. Leon Archibald, children’s buyer at Bank Square, was one of several to anticipate robust continued sales for Kristin Cashore’s Bitterblue, the companion volume to Graceling and Fire (Dial, May), one of the top 10 on the summer 2012 Kids’ Indie Next List. Blue Marble’s Richardson, who describes himself as “a big fan” of Marissa Meyer’s Cinder (Feiwel and Friends),predicts that the January release, book one of the Lunar Chronicles, will be discovered this summer.
Local authors for various age-groups tend to sell well. Of course, some communities are luckier than others. At the 40-year-old Twig Book Shop in San Antonio, Tex., shopping local translates into especially strong sales for local author Rick Riordan, whose third book in the Kane Chronicles, The Serpent’s Shadow, was just released. “He is everyone’s fair-haired local boy,” says manager Claudia Maceo. “He comes in and signs books. We ship [them] everywhere.”
Most booksellers PW spoke with agree with Mark LaFramboise, head book buyer at Politics and Prose, who states, “Summer’s looking good, and fall is going to be great.” If sales keep pace, children’s booksellers could be looking at putting the Great Recession well behind them.