With one month to go until the American Booksellers Association’s second Children’s Institute (April 6–7), the first one to held outside of BEA, and two months until its Indies First Storytime Day (May 17), PW caught up with Matthew Zoni, manager of the ABC Children’s Group, and with ABA senior program officer Joy Dallanegra-Sanger, to find out more about the ABA’s stepped-up commitment to children’s programming.

“We’ve been focusing on kids books and children’s bookselling for a while,” said Dallanegra-Sanger. “Children’s books sales are a strong, bright spot.” But coming off strong children’s programming at January’s Winter Institute 9 – which included ABC Group panels on “Selling Sad and Dark YA Literature,” “Starting Tween and Teen Advisory Boards,” “A Year of In-Store Promotions,” and “Using Common Core to Develop Your Community Profile” – it seems as if the kids’ area has truly come into its own. Zoni, who joined the ABA staff in November after 13 years with Barnes & Noble doing events, book fairs, teacher nights, institutional sales, and b2b, has been tasked with upping the depth and breadth of kids’ programming.

“Children’s Institute,” Zoni said, “exceeded all our expectations. We have 125 booksellers over 80 stores, about twice as many as we were originally expecting and from all regions.” The April date in San Antonio was chosen to keep it far enough away from both BEA and Winter Institute to draw children’s booksellers, but close enough to another big book event – in this case Texas Library Association annual conference (April 8–11) – to make it easier for publishers. Although the concept for this year’s institute is similar to Wi9, Dallanegra-Sanger said, “We are experimenting with the formatting because it’s packed into one day.”

That experimentation led to the decision to schedule author talks throughout the conference, rather than a single keynote each day. CI will open in the evening with a plenary with Brad Meltzer (I Am Amelia Earhart and I Am Abraham Lincoln, Dial), followed by a second plenary the following morning with Tim Federle (Better Nate Than Ever and Five, Six, Seven, Nate!, S&S Books for Young Readers) and talks by Chip Kidd (Go: A Kidd’s Guide to Graphic Design, Workman) and professional storyteller Miss Anastasia. The full schedule is available here.

As for Storytime Day, Zoni notes that last fall’s Indies First/Small Business Saturday was such a “huge success” that ABA wanted to find a way to do it again, and this seemed like a good twist on the original event. “We heard from booksellers and authors that they really wanted to do it again, at another time,” adds Dallanegra-Sanger. With Kate DiCamillo leading the charge it made sense to ABA to schedule the storytelling event for the spring in conjunction with Children’s Book Week. It’s still early, but Zoni and Dallanegra-Sanger are pleased with the response so far. In the first week, nine bookstores signed up and as of March 6 the number has more than doubled.

It’s too soon for Zoni and Dallanegra-Sanger to release a schedule of kids’-oriented activities at BEA. But they promise a repeat of last year’s tour of illustrators’ studios, speed dating with authors, and the author tea, all cosponsored with the Children’s Book Council. In addition to events, Zoni is also involved in finding a way to get information about Common Core titles to booksellers and is the ABA representative on the Book Industry Study Groups Common Core committee. Zoni is not convinced that the current ABA database is the best solution. “It was an early attempt to get a foothold on Common Core. We intend to update it,” he said. “We’re also looking at alternatives.”

While BEA and Common Core are works in progress, all things kids is clearly central to ABA’s initiatives.