Although there were plenty of great children’s books on display at the Mountains & Plains Independent Booksellers annual trade show, which took place at the Denver Renaissance Hotel from October 10–12, the 71 authors present indisputably stole the show, particularly those who spoke in front of the 155 MPIBA booksellers in attendance. Valerie Koehler, owner of Houston’s Blue Willow Bookshop, described the slate of authors as “spectacular,” a sentiment echoed by scores of others.

This year’s MPIBA show kicked off with the Children’s Author and Illustrator Breakfast, featuring Matt de la Peña (The Living, Delacorte), Lauren Myracle (The Infinite Moment of Us, Abrams/Amulet), and Robert Sabuda (The Little Mermaid, Little Simon), who spoke before booksellers seated at tables festooned with colorful plastic sea creatures and seashells.

“It’s the first time I’ve ever seen this book,” de la Peña said, as he held up an early hardcover of The Living. “It’s very pretty.” De la Peña, who has written four other YA novels, related some stories from his childhood, growing up Mexican-American and working-class in Southern Calif. Describing his earlier books as having “race and class out there as the focus,” de la Peña called The Living “more contextual”: Espinoza, a teenager working on a luxury cruise ship, and Addie, wealthy teenage passenger, are thrown together after an earthquake off the California coast releases a tsunami that sinks the ship.

“This was my attempt to tone down the class and race issues and play up the larger story elements in the hopes of reaching a broader audience,” de la Peña said.

Lauren Myracle also addressed inclusiveness in her presentation of her most recent novel, The Infinite Moment of Us. “One of my goals is in writing books is to make the point that we are so much more alike than different,” said the author, who has written 19 books for middle-grade and teen readers. “To downplay anyone’s struggles is to do them a disservice.”

Describing her YA novels as stories about teens whose “souls [are] colliding, as well as bodies colliding,” Myracle explained that she wants to contradict the myths that society perpetuates concerning teenagers. “Boys can be nervous about sex and girls can enjoy sex,” she said, before reading correspondence from “haters” as well as from parents wanting to know how they could connect with their teenage children more effectively.

Adolescent concerns resurfaced with an unlikely author, when pop-up creator Robert Sabuda joked that The Little Mermaid is the story of “a young woman with body issues who doesn’t understand the phrase, ‘he’s just not that into you,.’ ” Sabuda related the details of hisjourney toward becoming an acclaimed illustrator and engineer of 24 pop-up books published since 1994, when The Christmas Alphabet was released.

“From the first moment that I could pick up a crayon and draw it across the paper, I knew I would be an artist,” he said. At age eight, he received a Cinderella pop-up book by the Czech artist Vojtech Kubašta as a gift and tried to replicate it, using manila folders his mother brought home from work. When he was 15, Sabuda disclosed, he was caught shoplifting oil paints from an art supply store, but was let go after the mall security guard asked him if he was an artist. “Was it a subconscious respect for art in a poor part of Michigan?” Sabuda asked the MPIBA booksellers.

Literary Speed-Dating

At the Children’s Author Tea, eight tables of booksellers each welcomed a rotating procession of authors making five-minute elevator pitches.

“My books are traditional fairy tales with a tough-girl edge and set in the West,” said Erin Zweiner, a Montana resident and debut author; her next book will be titled Snow White and the Seven Burros.

“I never thought there’d be this many,” Jennifer Adams said of her Babylit series, which now has seven classics adapted for toddlers. “I do read the originals; I want to capture the spirit of the book and make it approachable.”

Holly Goldberg Sloan said that her Counting by 7s “is not a happy book, but it’s a hopeful book.” Though it’s aimed at middle-grade readers, it’s also appropriate for both YA and adult readers, she added, calling it a “family novel.”

According to Todd Mitchell, Backwards is hard to describe, and told in reverse. Dan commits suicide, and his alter ego, The Rider, “loves life.” Mitchell, a high school teacher, explained that he wanted to “address the seriousness of suicide, but also write an uplifting book that would attract readers who wouldn’t normally read books about suicide.”

Julie Berry told booksellers that she had “stumbled upon a character” and wrote All the Truth That’s in Me in the second person in a short amount of time, drawing upon her own “stalker mentality” as a teenager.

Paolo Bacigalupi explained that Zombie Baseball Beatdown targets those boy readers in the third to seventh grades “who think that books suck.” Mark Tatulli also wants to engage reluctant boy readers, he said, even though he hopes that girls will like Desmond Pucket Makes Monster Magic as well. “It’s not Gone with the Wind, but it’s a gateway to reading. If they have a positive experience with a book, they’ll want to read more.”

Jennifer A. Nielsen’s three Ascendance novels – The False Prince, The Runaway King, and The Shadow Throne (out February 2014) – are also for the reluctant reader, the author noted: “This is a good middle-grade alternative to Harry Potter. It’s got romance and adventure and the action goes on and on.” As Nielsen wound up her short presentation, she celebrated the partnership between booksellers and authors, noting, “When we write books and you sell books, we make magic. Neither of us can do it alone.”

During the author presentations, “there was a lot of laughter and poignancy,” Blue Willow’s Koehler noted as the show wound down Saturday. Sue Fassett, who manages Dolly’s Books in Park City, Utah, said that she’s “always surprised at how eloquent and entertaining authors can be. Of course, they’re wordsmiths, and it often translates. MPIBA chose their authors well.”