If there seemed to be more bookish types than usual walking around the Twin Cities last week, there was a good reason for it. The Minnesota Library Association met for its annual conference in St. Paul, and at the same time, booksellers from across the Midwest and beyond gathered across the Mississippi River in Minneapolis. The festivities began with the American Booksellers Association’s first Events Specialty Institute, held at the Renaissance Hotel October 2-3. The institute drew 90 booksellers and prospective booksellers, who heard from fellow booksellers, publishers, and even a children’s book author, Kate DiCamillo, on how best to plan and execute stellar events. While they were in town, booksellers had the opportunity to meet children’s authors Margi Preus (Shadow on the Mountain, Abrams/Amulet, Sept.), Marissa Moss (Mira’s Diary: Lost in Paris, Sourcebooks Jabberwocky, Sept.), and Marianne Richmond (If I Could Keep You Little, Sourcebooks Jabberwocky, 2010), who were among the dozen authors signing books at a welcome reception for ESI participants.

The ABA institute piggybacked onto the first-ever Heartland Fall Forum, a joint trade show held Oct. 3-5 by the Midwest Independent Booksellers Association and the Great Lakes Independent Booksellers Association, which drew 770 total attendees.

Almost 400 booksellers – 283 MIBA members and 81 GLIBA members – came from as nearby as the University of Minnesota Bookstore, about a mile away, and as far away as Carmichael’s in Louisville, Ky., some 700 miles away. They mobbed the exhibit hall’s 77 exhibits, which represented the offerings of hundreds of companies. Exhibitors and booksellers alike raved about the show, commenting on its positive vibe. “There’s an energy level here I haven’t felt in years,” Roberta Rubin, owner of the Book Stall at Chestnut Court in Winnetka, Ill., said. “Combining the shows was a great idea,” Jerry Bilek, the owner of Monkey See, Monkey Read Books in Northfield, Minn., added. “There are a lot more people here this year. It seems more vibrant.”

The show’s exuberance was amplified by the presence of 110 authors and illustrators, including 17 children’s authors and illustrators, out of a total of 34 who rotated among groups of booksellers at the Authors Moveable Feast Luncheon. The booksellers were also treated to presentations by Maggie Stiefvater, Mary Casanova, Patricia MacLachlan, and the husband and wife illustrator-author duo David Small and Sarah Stewart: the five spoke to a full house of booksellers at the children’s breakfast about what inspired them to write.

“When you are writing a story, it can be as big as your imagination,” said Stiefvater, the author of the bestselling Shiver trilogy, whose latest book, The Raven Boys (Scholastic, Sept.), is the first in The Raven Cycle, another series of YA fantasy novels with paranormal elements. “People have been making monsters of men, and men of monsters, ever since we began telling stories.”

Casanova, whose first YA novel, Frozen, was released in September by the University of Minnesota Press, disclosed that she became a writer because she grew up in a large family and took up writing to “find my voice” amid all the chaos. Her new novel was inspired by a few sentences in the Koochiching County (Minn.) archives about an incident that occurred in the early 20th century that haunted her for years before she began writing. The body of a prostitute who had frozen to death on the street was propped up in chambers during a town meeting, Casanova explained, saying, “The image of her body used as a joke was so disturbing and compelling. I wanted to give a voice to this woman’s life and death.” The University of Minnesota Press will also reissue six of Casanova’s middle-grade novels, beginning in fall 2013, and has signed a contract for an original picture book to be written by Casanova, called Wake Up, Island.

MacLachlan, the author of many novels and picture books, including the Newbery Medal-winning Sarah, Plain and Tall, discussed the formidable task of writing The Boxcar Children Beginning (Albert Whitman, Sept.), a prequel to Gertrude Chandler Warner’s Boxcar Children books, the first of which was published in 1924.

“I wanted to create the parents. And then – there’s no simple way to say it – kill them,” she explained. MacLachlan, who says her children and her grandchildren’s personalities and experiences inspire her fiction writing, endeared herself to the booksellers by telling stories about them. Her infant granddaughter “dreams of books,” MacLachlan said, demonstrating how, in her sleep, the baby moves her hands and fingers as if she is turning the pages of a book.

Small, the only man on the roster that morning, drew laughs when he said, “It’s an honor coming on stage after those feisty women!” Relating how difficult it can be to illustrate his wife’s books (The Quiet Place (FSG, Sept.), is the sixth such collaboration), Small displayed the images he produced to accompany Stewart’s story of a Mexican girl who immigrates with her family to the Midwest. As Isabel struggles to adapt to a strange new country, she spends her time reading and playing in a refrigerator box she decorates and adds onto, with other big boxes she obtains. The Quiet Place was inspired by the real-life experiences of a friend of Small and Stewart’s, who came to the U.S. from Mexico as a child in the 1950s and made a cozy refuge out of large boxes as she, too, learned to adapt.

“A box is not a prison for a child,” Small said, and Stewart added, “I wish for you all a quiet place.”

Booksellers were anything but quiet during the show, talking up children’s books with one another, with the exhibitors, and with the authors. The emphasis was not necessarily on what was new, but on what would endure, as evidenced by the presentations made in the “What’s the Buzz?” session. A panel of five booksellers discussed the books they’re most excited about handselling as they enter into the holiday season.

Books dealing with “real” themes appealed to Cynthia Compton, the owner of 4 Kids Books & Toys in suburban Indianapolis. She raved about Hands Around the Library, a picture book written by Karen Leggett Abouraya and illustrated by Susan L. Roth (Dial, Sept.), which was inspired by the thousands of Egyptians who joined hands around the Great Library of Alexandria in January 2011 to protect the building from looters. She also talked up My Name Is Parvana by Deborah Ellis (Groundwood, Sept.), a YA novel set in Afghanistan, describing it as “an important book about real kids undergoing real troubles in this real world right now.” And she recommended The Diviners by Libba Bray (Little, Brown; Sept.), calling it, “engaging, exciting, creepy, and CSI-ish.” It’s for teen girls, she said, “and their moms” – who want to read the YA fiction their daughters are reading.

Sally Bulthuis, owner of Pooh’s Corner in Grand Rapids, Mich., was most excited about books by regional authors, including Stewart and Small’s The Quiet Place. She also had positive words for A Bear and A Boy in a Boat, written and illustrated by Dave Shelton (Random/Fickling, June), which she called “Winnie–the-Pooh meets Life of Pi.” For older readers, she cited Lois Lowry – who, she said, “was writing dystopian fiction long before any of us were calling it that” – and her latest, Son (Houghton Mifflin, Oct.). Plus, she said, “Margi Preus is writing some of the best historical fiction right now.”

Robert McDonald, children’s book buyer at the Book Stall at Chestnut Court in Winnetka, Ill., praised Bedtime for Monsters by Ed Vere (Holt, July) and Last Laughs: Animal Epitaphs by J. Patrick Lewis, Jane Yolen, and Jeffrey Stewart Timmins (Charlesbridge, July). But he, like Compton, also favors YA fiction that’s grounded in the real world. He called Butter by Erin Jade Lange (Bloomsbury, Oct.) “complicated,” and thinks it’ll go well with Skinny by Donna Cooner (Point, Oct.), both novels about teenagers with issues about eating and their physical appearance.

Lisa Baudoin of Books & Company in Oconomowoc, Wis., called David LaRochelle’s It’s a Tiger!, illustrated by Jeremy Tankard (Chronicle, Aug.), a “fantastic story-time book, with language and bright colors.” She also recommended Silhouette of a Sparrow by Mary Beth Griffin (Milkweed Editions, Sept.) as a “ beautiful YA historical fiction” set in 1920s Minnesota. The Edge of Nowhere by Elizabeth George (Penguin, Sept.), Baudoin added, was a thriller by the well-known adult mystery writer. “It’s not apocalyptic,” she said, but contains a “Hunger Games-like cliffhanger ending.”

Robin Allen, the owner of Forever Books in St. Joseph, Mich., had her own picture book favorites, two of them with ocean themes: Shiver Me Timbers! Pirate Poems & Paintings by Douglas Florian, illustrated by Robert Neubecker (S&S/Beach Lane, Sept.), which she read out loud in a pirate dialect, and Moby Dick: Chasing the Great White Whale by Eric A. Kimmel, illustrated by Andrew Glass (Feiwel and Friends, Sept.), which she praised for its “stunning paintings.”

Allen also talked up I Need My Own Country! by Rick Walton, illustrated by Wes Hargis (Bloomsbury, Oct.), as a great book to use for talking to children about the elections; The Peculiar by Stefan Bachmann (Greenwillow, Sept.), which she called a “brilliant” middle-grade novel; and Every Day by David Levithan (Knopf, Sept.), a YA novel about which she said “Those who read it will never forget it.”

Judging by the smiles on the faces of booksellers throughout the show, MIBA and GLIBA booksellers won’t soon forget this season’s offerings. Many PW spoke with have high expectations for a strong holiday season.

Next year Heartland Fall Forum moves east, to the Crowne Plaza O’Hare, in Rosemont, Ill., less than two miles from the airport; it will take place October 4-6, 2013.