The front cover of the Heartland Fall Forum program this year featured a quote by Stephen King, “Books are a uniquely portable magic.” Magic certainly infused the third joint MIBA and GLIBA trade show, held in Minneapolis from September 30–October 2 at the Marriott Renaissance Hotel at The Depot, a renovated 19th-century train station.

Indeed, magic was in the air during Tuesday evening’s awards ceremony, when Kate DiCamillo received the Midwest Booksellers Choice Award from MIBA for Young Adult Fiction for Flora & Ulysses (Candlewick), as well as the Voice of the Heartland Award from both GLIBA and MIBA booksellers for demonstrating an ongoing commitment to bookselling in the Midwest. DiCamillo cut short a book tour in South Dakota to be present at HFF to accept the award from former Bookmen principal Brett Waldman of Tristan Publishing and the now-defunct distribution company’s co-founder, Norton Stillman of Nodin Press.

The Bookmen is where DiCamillo launched her remarkable trajectory into the literary stratosphere. She worked there as a book picker in the mid-90s, a job that she credits with having inspired her to become a writer.

Waldman lauded DiCamillo for her “tremendous gift for telling stories” and for providing the inspiration for “us all to live out our gifts,” noting that there are 22 million copies of DiCamillo’s books in print.

Reflecting upon her move to Minnesota from Florida 20 years ago, in 1994, DiCamillo recalled being “catatonic with fear.” She “didn’t have mittens, socks, or a job,” she recalled. She noted that it was in Minneapolis where she “found [her] voice and was transformed from a “terrified, hopeful, clueless” young woman into a successful author.

After the opening night reception, awards ceremony, and a raucous after-party in the Stone Arch hotel bar, booksellers got to work the next morning, learning from and exchanging ideas with one other during a jam-packed day of education on the nuts and bolts of bookselling that received rave reviews from all.

“I always think we’re so good at education, And then I come to this show and say, we are so, so very good at education,” Cynthia Compton, the owner of 4Kids Books & Toys in suburban Indianapolis told PW following the “7 Habits of Successful Bookstore Owners” panel of four booksellers with a combined 76 years of bookselling experience. “Winter Institute gives me big, global ideas, but this show gives me day-to-day hands-on tasks I can go back to my store and accomplish right away,” Compton added.

The next morning kicked off with the popular children’s author breakfast, which, as always, was a sold-out event. Holly Black and Cassandra Clare shared the stage in presenting a multimedia history of their friendship and how it led to their writing The Iron Trial, the first novel in their new YA series, Magisterium (Scholastic, Sept.). The two met 12 years ago at Black’s first book signing at Books of Wonder in New York City for Tithe: A Modern Fairie Tale. Clare disclosed that The Battle of the Labyrinth by Rick Riordan inspired her to write a novel for middle-grade readers about “someone who didn’t want to go to magic school.”

“We could write it together,” Black says she had suggested to Clare, which is exactly what the pair did: they actually worked on passages together, “to create a seamless narrative, so that you couldn’t tell who wrote what,” not even, Clare said, Black’s mother. “She was upset.”

Clare and Black’s story of spending so much time together during the writing process prompted Judith Viorst, the morning’s next speaker, to express her surprise that the two were still friends. Viorst recalled that when she and her husband Milton wrote a 500-word book review together, “it took months” for them to reconcile.

Viorst, who has written for both adults and children, is best known for her 1972 picture book, Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day; the movie adaptation has just been released. While she was excited about attended the film’s premiere in Los Angeles, she assured booksellers she was at Heartland to talk about the book, not the film. Viorst explained that she’d written it for her son, who as a child, “had more than his share of bad days.”

After she wrote the book, with the original title, Alex, her son responded with anger. “Why are you giving me this bad day?” he asked. “Why don’t you give it to Nick [his brother]?” Thus, she recalled, they agreed to name the title character Alexander.

“He became fond of the name,” she noted, recalling that when Alex was a young man, he used the book to introduce himself to young women. Viorst, who wrote Alexander, Who’s Trying His Best to Be the Best Boy Ever (Atheneum, Sept.), said she didn’t write a sequel until she conceived of a tale about Alexander that she liked as much as the original. “Any mother who disapproved of my previous Alexander book would approve of this one,” she insisted.

Alex’s own daughter, Olivia, inspired Viorst’s next children’s book series about Lulu, who is “a major pain in the butt,” and pulls “the most outrageous stunts.”

The morning’s last speaker, Rosemary Wells, also talked about the real-life inspirations for the characters in her books. The “writer’s gift,” she explained, was that they have “a weird recognition of the nuts and kernels of a story” that arises from real-life situations. Showing the audience a photo of the “real Sophie,” of Sophie’s Terrible Twos (Viking, Feb. 2014). Wells said, “You can just about see her; her face is covered with tears and snot.”

Describing her Max & Ruby picture books, including Max & Ruby at the Warthogs’ Wedding (Viking, Sept.), Wells noted that Max and Ruby might be fictional characters (and bunnies to boot), but they are inspired by the children she meets in focus groups and in the writing workshops she teaches. “Max and Ruby are nonfiction; they are live children,” she said, “Writers always twist and turn reality. We write about the world we know, the world we imagine, and the people we know.”

As booksellers outside the great hall stormed the exhibit floor the second those doors opened at 9 a.m., Wells wound up her presentation by thanking the booksellers present for the work they do, getting books into the hands of children. “You are the people who hold up the flag of literacy in your community,” she declared.

Throughout the day, publishers and booksellers talked shop, but despite the emphasis on transacting business, there still was plenty of magic and serendipity on the exhibit floor. Stacey Williams, a Milwaukee-based first-time exhibitor and the publisher of picture books since 2013 under the Little Bahalia imprint, told of her September release, My Love for You Is the Sun, selling 100 copies in a few hours at author Julie Hedlund’s book launch at Parnassus Books in Nashville, and 180 copies at illustrator Susan Eaddy’s book launch at Saturn Booksellers in Gaylord, Mich. Williams also credited her booth placement next to Penguin Random House for drawing in booksellers who otherwise might have overlooked her fledgling press which has to date only four books in print, and two November releases.

Terry Potter of Kids Ink in Indianapolis talked up Press Here author Hervé Tullet’s latest picture book, Mix It Up (Chronicle, Sept.), while Compton of 4Kids praised Sam and Dave Dig a Hole (Candlewick, Oct.) by Mac Barnett, illustrated by Jon Klassen. “It’s like I Want My Hat Back,” she said. “The ending is implied. It fits into the tradition of read-aloud picture books where there’s enough words to take you into the adventure, but not so many that you lose the ability to have a conversation about the book.”

The magic that permeated Heartland might have been responsible for the discoveries by booksellers of small press gems. Jamie Schwesnedi of Moon Palace Books in Minneapolis praised Crazy Horse’s Girlfriend by Erika T. Wurth (Curbside Splendor, Sept.), explaining that it is the kind of YA novel that he would have wanted to read as a teen and wants to read as an adult. “That’s rare,” he said. Compton discovered another YA small press gem, The Carnival at Bray (Elephant Rocks Books, Oct.), written by Jessie Ann Foley, a English teacher from Chicago, about an American girl uprooted to Ireland. “I wouldn’t have seen that book if I hadn’t sat at her table at the author’s moveable fest,” Compton said. “I love when that happens.”