An exuberant group of children’s booksellers, educators, authors, illustrators, and librarians gathered at the Westin Hotel in Pasadena, Calif., for the Southern California Independent Booksellers Association’s seventh annual Children’s Literacy Dinner on Saturday, February 16.

“This is a recognition and celebration of children’s books, and the librarians and teachers who put books in the hands of kids,” Kris Vreeland of Once Upon a Time in Montrose, Calif., told PW during the reception. “They represent an important part of our sales, and really support us. It’s also fun to talk with librarians and educators in an informal setting.” Once Upon a Time had a booth at the reception prior to dinner where the staff handed out “Peace Love Books” tote bags and also sponsored a drawing that offered a prize of a school visit by Rachel Renée Russell, author of the Dork Diaries series.

The turnout of 130 was lower than that of last year’s event, only because the room at the hotel was smaller than in 2012. “We had 145 people last year,” said SCIBA president Andrea Vuleta, “and could easily have topped that tonight were it not for the problem of space.” More than half the attendees were librarians and teachers, who schmoozed with booksellers at the eight exhibitor booths during the reception. Vuleta is confident that more stores will attend the 2014 dinner. “We need them to talk to the educators and spread their knowledge about discounts and the value in shopping local,” she said. “Librarians and teachers primarily buy from Follett now, when they could be shopping indie.”

With 23 authors attending the dinner (including four speakers), Vuleta had to turn down additional offerings from publishers. “But we’re thrilled with those who are here,” she said. “Even Hope Larson (A Wrinkle in Time: The Graphic Novel), who rarely makes appearances, is joining us for dinner.”

SCIBA president Mary Williams introduced the evening’s emcee, Shannon Hale (Princess Academy: Palace of Stone). “I won’t be doing the interpretive dance that I did last year,” she said, to the laughter of those who remembered her previous appearance. “But I have some surprises in store for you tonight.” She first showed a short comedic video demonstrating her collaborative process with husband Dean Hale (Rapunzel’s Revenge), which had the audience in stitches. Hale then checked in with Dean via Skype as he struggled to stay in control of their four young children, all of them on camera screaming and running around the living room. Throwing his hands up in mock frustration, Dean turned the Skype camera on son Max, who introduced Tom Angleberger (The Strange Case of Origami Yoda) as the evening’s first speaker.

Standing at an easel onstage, Angleberger slowly drew a picture, in stages and in very light pencil, and asked the audience to guess what it was. This encouraged ridiculous answers that were shouted out from all over the room until finally someone correctly identified the sketch as Yoda. “I always write about the weirdest kid at school,” said Angleberger, “because I was that kid. In the book, Dwight is me.” His next book is Art2-D2’s Guide to Folding and Doodling: An Origami Yoda Activity Book (March), which teaches kids, among other things, how to convert a Chapstick tube into a child-friendly weapon. “I’m a big nerdy dude,” Angleberger told the audience. “Before ‘Star Wars’ became my life, I always wanted to be a bookseller.”

Angleberger then invited eight-year old Ian Rickles, the son of a Manhattan Beach, Calif., teacher who attended the event, to the stage to help him demonstrate how to make an origami Yoda. The crowd followed along during the lesson, using the slips of green paper conveniently found at each place setting. Rickles hammed it up with Angleberger, who slipped the completed boy-sized origami Yoda costume over his assistant’s head before having him take a bow on stage.

When Angleberger stepped down, Brandon Mull (Chasing the Prophecy, March) took his place for a bit of comedy improv with Hale before supplying a mini-bio of himself as a kid. “I was always the last one to leave the classroom, because I lived in my head so much it was a challenge to pack things up. Sometimes my sister would have to come and help me so we could finally go home,” he said. “My interest in fantasy started early, when I read The Chronicles of Narnia.”

In fact, Mull’s defining image as a writer is “the wood between the worlds,” a reference to C.S. Lewis’s Narnia series and the atmosphere in which he prefers to create each book. Next up: spearheading Scholastic’s new multi-author fantasy series, Animal Spirits, with Book 1: Wild Born (Sept.).

Animal Magnetism

Polar Bear Morning, Stephen Savage’s new picture book, with text by Lauren Thompson, continues the style of illustration he’s best known for. “I was a child in the 1960s, and my parents gave me a great sense of how stylish retro design is,” Savage said. “If there’s a theme to my art, it’s definitely retro.” He works with linocuts – a post- war technique that uses linoleum to create prints in relief – and showed the audience several examples of mid-century logos to illustrate his point. “Good design touches the heart and mind,” Savage said. “If I feel a sense of home when I do retro, then young readers will, too.” He ended his talk with a slide show of step-by-step instructions for making linocuts.

The final speaker was Ruta Sepetys, who had a bestseller in 2011 with Between Shades of Gray. “I’m going to be the downer of the evening, following three great, funny men,” she said jokingly. Sepetys, who was on the first week of a 10-week tour for her new novel, Out of the Easy, spent most of her time at the podium discussing Between Shades of Gray and its theme of the importance of family. “Everybody has a family story,” she said, “but you have to take the time to find out what it is.” As with her first novel, Out of the Easy is also a family story, but a very different one. The protagonist, Josie, is the daughter of a brothel prostitute in the French Quarter who longs to get out of New Orleans to attend college. When Josie becomes involved in the investigation of an unexpected death in the Quarter, her plan is interrupted. “I took several trips to New Orleans to research the book,” Sepetys said, “and interviewed people who had intimate knowledge of the underbelly of the city.”

Vuleta reflected on the event, the first she coordinated in her new role as SCIBA executive director, a job she began on January 1. “I had a lot of nervousness before the dinner,” she said, “but I couldn’t be happier now with the way it went. My only regret is that we didn’t have a bigger space to use, but it does seem that everybody loved the evening. I’ve already received great feedback. And the publishers were incredibly supportive, booking their authors for me on such short notice. Because of my job transition, I was only able to start work on the dinner on January 16.” The planning may have been a bit rushed, but Vuleta’s hard work seems to have paid off, as many guests lingered long into the evening.