With a slightly different name and a showing of 80% new faces from the children’s bookselling community, the first meeting of the Northern California Children’s Booksellers Alliance took place at Book Passage in Corte Madera, Calif. on February 24 under the direction of Summer Laurie, children’s book specialist at Books Inc., and chair of the new group.

“Seeing so many new faces mixed in with some original members of the former Northern California Children’s Booksellers Association was fantastic,” Laurie said. “Because the children’s book market has exploded in the last two years, and there’s much greater interest in the genre in general bookstores now, we decided to re-activate the group.” The old association disbanded three years ago because of a lack of member participation; only a handful of children’s booksellers were doing all the work towards the end. “We felt we were no longer addressing the needs of all the members,” said Laurie. “Because most of them were already members of the Northern California Independent Booksellers Association, we decided at that time, with the approval of their board, to become a subset of the NCIBA.”

Taking time off turned out to be a good idea, because it gave the NCCBA a chance to re-think the goals for the children’s book community and return as a more focused entity. “Those selling books to kids and teens, especially in general bookstores, have often felt like an afterthought,” Laurie said. “But this is an amazingly rich, passionate, and lucrative market that we believe gains strength through community. The Alliance intends to harness that enthusiasm and support one another in a constantly changing business.”

During the talks to transition the NCCBA into the NCIBA back in 2011, it was agreed that one board position would be reserved expressly for the chair of the Children’s Alliance. “It’s a two-year position which I’m happy to hold for the moment,” said Laurie, who expects small subcommittees to be created within the Alliance to tackle upcoming projects.

The turnout at this week’s meeting was impressive, with 67 attendees representing 17 stores, as well as librarians, teachers, publishers, distributors, authors, and illustrators. Ashley Despain, children’s book specialist at Green Apple Books in San Francisco, said the meeting was “fantastic. I have a unique position at our store, being the only children’s book specialist there,” he said. “To be part of a larger community of booksellers now is a wonderful source of encouragement and support. At the meeting, we shared tips and told stories about our stores, which created a great feeling of camaraderie. I’m grateful for this, and look forward to many more of these gatherings in the future.”

The Alliance will have at least one more meeting this year and will implement more children’s programming at the NCIBA trade show in October. “We might take a new approach to the annual children’s tea at the regional as well,” said Laurie. “But my first order of business is to get a revamped listserv in working order. We’ll be making a switch to Google Groups to take advantage of the folders and calendar options, in essence making a real hub for all things Alliance.”

Historically, the Otter Gala has been one of the most memorable events of the NCCBA, but it has been on hold for three years. “I’m excited to see how the Alliance may completely revise it for today’s membership, ” said Laurie, who adds that the future of the event will be a group decision. “But I expect the Otter Gala to be under serious consideration.”