Children’s books, noted Liesl Freudenstein of Boulder Bookstore during the Mountains & Plains Independent Booksellers Association’s annual gathering in Denver’s Renaissance Hotel on October 9–11, provided a major source of excitement for booksellers throughout the show. “We have a great presence here. There are a lot of picture books, middle-grade books, and more here,” she pointed out. “And the afternoon children’s author tea is always the highlight of the show.”

Freudenstein wasn’t exaggerating. Children’s books were front and center for many of the 171 booksellers in attendance at the show this year. After the stellar presentations by three authors and one author-illustrator at the children’s author breakfast, Jeanne Costello, a bookseller at Maria’s Bookshop, in Durango, Colo. praised Avi (See You Later, Traitor, Algonquin Young Readers, March 2015), Marlee Frazee (The Farmer and the Clown, S&S/Beach Lane, Oct.), Meg Wolitzer (Belzhar, Dutton, Oct.), and Brandon Sanderson (Firefight, Delacorte, Jan. 2015) for being “so raw, so honest” in their presentations. Maria’s Bookshop children’s book buyer Julie Shimada called Frazee’s wordless picture book one of her “new, favorite” picture books, as Frazee “completely wipes away the fear of clowns” children often have. “And I was doubly charmed, because I don’t like clowns,” Shimada said. Valerie Koehler singled out Wolitzer’s YA novel, saying, “It’s so good. It’s got a twist in it; you are going to be saying, ‘Whoa!’”

Ten children’s book authors added to the buzz ignited at breakfast during the afternoon children’s author tea (or, as the MPIBA admission ticket stated, “milk and cookies”) with a full house of booksellers listening to author pitches. With long lines snaking down the hotel’s hallway beforehand, this event was, along with that evening’s adult author banquet, the most heavily attended event at the show.

Middle-grade reads appealed to Freudenstein, who talked up The Accidental Highwayman (Tor, Oct.) by Ben Tripp, who spoke at the afternoon tea. Calling him a “very interesting man,” Freudenstein said that Boulder Books “looks forward to selling his book.” She also predicted that Fig by Sarah Elizabeth Schantz (S&S/ McElderry, April 2015) would sell well at her store. Schantz has lived most of her life in Boulder and is the daughter of booksellers who once owned a mystery bookstore there, Rue Morgue, that has since closed.

Jeremy Ellis, general manager of Houston’s Brazos Books, also praised The Accidental Highwayman, declaring it to be “delightful” and “a fun adventure with a unique point of view.” It’s written in an archaic dialect, he noted, which is “quite a feat for a children’s book.” Another interesting feat: Tripp initially didn’t set out to write a novel for young readers: he’d simply set out to write a rip-roaring read when he started writing The Accidental Highwayman.

Shimada at Maria’s Bookshop is very excited about Kirby Larson’s middle-grade novel, which delves into the internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II, Dash (Scholastic Press, Sept.). “I love her book,” Shimada said. “It is of real historical significance which, surprisingly, a lot of people don’t know about.”

Irreverent titles also attracted booksellers. Hugh Jenkins of Wind City Books in Casper, Wyo., praised Flat Rabbit (Owlkids, Sept.) by Bardur Oskarsson, saying he liked the picture book because “it’s about road kill.” Jory John’s high spirits and nonstop patter, which included administering the prankster oath to booksellers in the exhibit hall and at the tea, got many excited about The Terrible Two (Abrams/Amulet, Jan. 2015). John co-wrote the novel with Mac Barnett; Kevin Cornell was the illustrator.

As John, Abrams marketing and publicity director Jason Wells sat in the hotel bar with PW enjoying adult beverages, Nicole Magistro, a bookseller from The Bookworm in Edwards, Colo. stopped by to tell John that she would have overlooked his book, but his energetic presentation during the afternoon tea made her eager to read it. And Judy Bulow, a book buyer from Denver’s Tattered Cover, told the trio in the hotel bar that she “can’t wait for the next book in this series about the funniest guys.”

Rosalind Casey, YA books buyer at San Antonio’s Twig Bookshop, talked up Poisoned Apples: Poems for You, My Pretty by Christine Heppermann (Greenwillow, Sept.), a collection of 50 poems using fairy-tale imagery that has been pulling in teenage girls. “It’s been blowing up all over my social media,” she reported. “It’s beautifully produced.” Casey also expressed excitement over Simon & Schuster’s new Saga imprint, explaining that it will be publishing and reissuing crossover novels, like Rick Yancey’s books that were published before his YA bestseller, The 5th Wave, catapulted him to literary stardom.

New Children’s Stores

MPIBA executive director Laura Ayrey announced during the organization’s annual meeting during the show that a “record-breaking” 13 new bookstores have joined MPIBA this past year. Two of those new stores are children’s bookstores with owners attending the show for the first time: Storybrooke Ink in Holyoke, in eastern Colorado, is a 1,500-square-foot store selling books and toys that opened in June, and Monkey & Dog Books opened its doors in Fort Worth, Tex., a year and one-half ago. The store isn’t just the only children’s bookstore in Fort Worth – it’s the only indie in that city. The store is “tucked inside” a gourmet caterer’s shop, according to owner Shelley Lowe, a first-time MPIBA attendee. The caterer, a friend, asked Lowe to open a bookshop inside the larger catering business. Monkey & Dog is approximately 160 square feet, and stocks about 500 titles; story time is held twice a week.

“I have no POS system,” Lowe said, “I do it all by hand. When I have enough money, it’s one of the top things on the list, but a sign is bigger [of a priority].” Lowe also reports that she might not be making much of a profit, if at all, but noted, “What I have in the bank this year is more than what I had last year.”

To read more about the children's author breakfast at MPIBA, click here.