Black Friday weekend – and the holiday selling season – got off to a strong start for many children’s specialty booksellers PW spoke with as part of an informal survey of two dozen booksellers. Lesley Reiner, co-owner of Inkwood Books in Tampa, Fla., described the weekend as “fabulous,” while Carol Chittenden, owner of Eight Cousins in Falmouth, Mass., called it “wild and wonderful. Dollars were up 12%. The number of customers was up 6%. And the average purchase was up 5%.” For Allison Stage, owner of four-year-old Mockingbird Books in Seattle, sales for the weekend were up dramatically over 2011, at 40%. Overall sales for the year are up more than 30%. “Customers aren’t quite as worried about spending their dollars,” she said.

Shopping local made a difference for many bookstores, especially on American Express’s Small Business Saturday. Even those who didn’t participate in the American Booksellers Association’s weeklong Thank You for Shopping Indie promotion, which enabled booksellers to get a special discount on books from 20 publishers that could then be passed on to customers, felt the love. “There is a lot more attention and awareness here in the Twin Cities about shopping locally,” said Holly Weinkauf, co-owner of Red Balloon Bookshop in St. Paul, Minn., who saw sales rise 20% on Friday and Saturday. Although customers noticed the promoted titles and were buying them, she thinks it has less to do with the ABA program than with the impulse to support local businesses. “People came in and said they wanted to shop local,” she said.

Jan Peccia, co-owner of Montana Book and Toy in Helena, said her store also benefited from hometown pride. “This community is now making a conscious effort to shop local. We had a signing with a local author on Saturday, and the turnout was great,” she noted, adding that comp sales for the weekend were up 16%. The store is still down in book sales for the year, although sidelines and gifts are holding steady.

For Sally Bulthuis, owner of Pooh’s Corner in Grand Rapids, Mich., the holiday season started a bit earlier this year, on November 19, when the store held a book signing for Wimpy Kid author Jeff Kinney that was attended by 800 people. That, together with Black Friday weekend sales, pushed store sales for November up almost 100% over last year. Bulthuis was not alone in noticing the Diary of a Wimpy Kid effect with the release of book #7, The Third Wheel (Abrams/Amulet); the title hit a number of general booksellers’ lists along with those for specialty children’s stores.

While Wimpy Kid has been a strong seller, books for older teens were noticeably absent from many booksellers’ list of top sellers. JoAnn Fruchtman, owner of The Children’s Bookstore in Baltimore, believes it’s because teens are using e-readers. “We sell a lot of picture books and elementary novels, but we are selling fewer YA novels, and we know why,” she said. “They’re not buying them in [physical] book form. They have the device, the e-book is cheaper, and no one knows what they’re reading.”

Even with weakened YA sales, Fruchtman said that sales have been up this fall. “People are spending more money,” she said. “There are a few picture books we love,” she added, singling out Chris Van Dusen’s If I Built a House (Dial) and the new English translation of Pippi Moves In! (Enfant), a collection of comics by Astrid Lindgren and Ingrid Vang Nyman that haven’t been published outside of Scandinavia in 30 years. Sheila Turnage’s first novel, Three Times Lucky (Dial), is selling well, as is the Ella Bella series, especially James Mayhew’s newest one, Ella Bella and The Nutcracker (Barron’s).

In addition to the new Ella Bella, several other holiday titles are starting to pop. Though Hanukkah starts early this year, on December 8, Eight Cousins’s Chittenden said that she’s not hearing nearly as much interest in Hanukkah titles from her customers. James Dean and Eric Litwin’s Pete the Cat Saves Christmas (HarperCollins) is among her top four sellers, along with the new Wimpy Kid, and W.H. Beck’s Malcolm at Midnight, illustrated by Brian Lies. The store’s Giving Tree project, which allows customers to give the holiday gift of a book to a child who might not otherwise receive any, is now in its 20th year and making a good showing for the holidays. Chittenden said that she already has well over 100 names.

At the Blue Marble in Ft. Thomas, Ky., where business has been steady this year, several seasonal titles are going strong, including Nick Bruel’s A Bad Kitty Christmas (Roaring Brook), which keeps selling out. Every time they get it back in stock, said manager Peter Moore, the wholesaler runs out and they have to wait for the next shipment. Local author-illustrator Loren Long’s Drummer Boy (Philomel) and Will Hillenbrand’s Asleep in the Stable (Holiday House) have also been popular. Moore anticipates that the store’s upcoming signing with Ashley Bryan for Who Built the Stable? (Atheneum) will boost sales further.

Another holiday title that is selling briskly, The Elf on the Shelf: A Christmas Tradition (CCA and B) by Carol Aebersold and Chanda Bell, illustrated by Coë Steinwart, was especially popular at Sparta Books in Sparta, N.J.; the title character had his own balloon for the first time in this year’s Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade in New York City. At newly opened Next Chapter Bookstore in Barre, Vt., Chris Van Allsburg’s The Polar Express (Houghton Mifflin) was the bestselling children’s book of the weekend, according to owner Cynthia Duprey. She also did very well with perennial bestselling author Rick Riordan’s The Mark of Athena (Disney-Hyperion), book #3 in his Heroes of Olympus series, as well as with a self-published book by local authors – and brothers – Sean Plasse and Matt Plasse, The Brothers Plad (First Rise).

At Pannell Award-winning Little Shop of Stories in Decatur, Ga., co-owner Dave Shallenberger was pleased with Saturday, which had “outrageous” sales. He benefited from the city’s Keep It Indie program: for every $200 that customers spent in November, they received a $20 gift card to an area restaurant. In addition to Pete the Cat, other top sellers included This Moose Belongs to Me by Oliver Jeffers (Philomel).

One frequently mentioned picture book, Jon Klassen’s This Is Not My Hat (Candlewick), was a favorite over Black Friday weekend at The Bookcase of Wayzata, Minn. Manager Nancy Caffoe also expects to sell many copies of local author William Alexander’s Goblin Secrets (S&S/McElderry), which she has been having trouble stocking since he won the National Book Award for Young People’s Literature. And she’s been surprised by the adult crossover appeal of R.J. Palacio’s Wonder (Knopf), which parents are recommending to friends and which is being read by adult book groups.

Legos continue to be popular this holiday season, both to play with and read about. Matt Norcross, co-owner of McLean & Eakin in Petoskey, Mich., describes Ninja LEGOs as “crack for kids,” and is doing well with LEGO Ninjago: Character Encyclopedia (DK). Another top seller is Dan Kainen and Carol Kaufmann’s Safari: A Photicular Book (Workman).

While the next few weeks will determine just how strong a holiday season stores will have this year, a good start coupled with very few hard-to-get titles offers promise.