Children’s books featured prominently at the Southern California Independent Booksellers Association regional meeting, held October 17–18 at the Beverly Garland Hotel in Los Angeles. Both Maureen Palacios, owner of Once Upon a Time Bookstore and president of the SCIBA Board, and SCIBA executive director Andrea Vuleta brought their backgrounds and expertise in children’s books to organizing the event’s panels and festivities.

While Vuleta said that attendance dipped slightly from last year, she also noted that the number of booksellers had gone up. “While five storefronts closed in the last year, mostly due to leasing issues, the SCIBA has gone from 44 storefront members to 61 since the 2013 SCIBA trade show,” she said, adding that one new children’s bookstore, Once Upon a Storybook, had opened and joined the SCIBA in recent months.

Saturday morning kicked off with a festive Children’s Authors Breakfast, which was filled to capacity. Palacios joked that the librarians and teachers in attendance were used to the early hours, while booksellers in the audience might be struggling with the 8 a.m. call time.

Author Matt Ward (War of the World Records) served as the master of ceremonies, and the breakfast featured speakers Meg Wolitzer (Belzhar, Dutton), Deborah Underwood (Here Comes Santa Cat, Dial) and Jacqueline Woodson (Brown Girl Dreaming, Penguin/Paulsen), who all gave moving speeches about how their upbringings influenced their work. Underwood, spoke of working as a street musician her first year out of college on San Francisco’s Fisherman’s Wharf. She described the cold working conditions and how a used bookstore nearby always gave her free coffee. When Underwood got the idea to become a writer she bought a craft book from that very store and the bookseller gave her 40% off. “Looking back I really believe that my career started when I bought that book. That bookseller helped me get on that path to being a writer, and I owe so much of my success to independent bookstores.”

Woodson spoke of how children need both “windows and mirrors, and books provide those windows and mirrors so that kids can learn about the world around them and also see themselves reflected in that world." Wolitzer, whose book Belzhar pays homage to Plath’s The Bell Jar, joked that when she tells people she’s a writer and they ask, “Would I have heard of you?” her response is, “In a more just world.” Wolitzer went on to thank libraries for fostering her interest in writing and reading.

The SCIBA Children’s Book Awards went to Salina Yoon, for her picture book, Found (Walker). Holly Goldberg Sloan took the middle-grade award with Counting By 7s (Dial), and Catherine Links won in the Young Adult category for A Girl Called Fearless (St. Martin’s Griffin).

During a Children’s Rep picks session, Palacios wielded a gong to keep the time, and Gabe Barillas from HarperCollins told the crowd, “I love this crowd, because you’re more enthusiastic than the adult crowd.”

Mike Heuer of Hachette did a well-received Keith Richards impersonation while recommending Richards’ new picture book, Gus and Me: The Story of My Granddad and My First Guitar (Little, Brown), which features illustrations by Richards’s daughter. Dave Erlich of Chronicle Books said his favorite book to sell is The Memory of an Elephant by Sophie Strady, illus. by Jean-François Martin (Chronicle), calling it “enchanting and memorable.”

Nicole Dufort of Penguin Random House said that while a lot of YA books center around death, her pick of Denton Little’s Deathgate (Knopf, April 2015) was a unique take on the subject matter. Barillas raved about The Turtle of Oman by Naomi Shihab Nye (Greenwillow); Nicole White of Penguin said that Jandy Nelson’s I’ll Give You the Sun (Dial), which has been optioned by Warner Bros. was the most beautiful book she’s read all year. Heuer of Hachette predicted that Glory O’Brien’s History of the Future (Little, Brown) will be a breakout for author A.S. King, and Dufort of PRH seconded Heuer’s pick.

Amanda Barillas, children’s book buyer at Flintridge Bookstore, said, “I’m really excited about The Red Queen [by Victoria Aveyard] from HarperTeen. I could not put that book down. It has everything in it you could possibly want: mystery, romance, and nothing is quite what it seems when you read it. I just can’t wait for the next one.”

The first panel of the weekend was on the Nuts and Bolts of Bookstore Finance, where Oren Teicher (ABA), Linda McLoughlin Figel (Pages Bookstore), and John Evans (Diesel: A Bookstore) spoke about increasing profitability through negotiating leases, educating landlords, and other tips. Other panels continued the theme of maximizing sales, through successful merchandising displays and capitalizlng on the success of the Indies First campaign Small Business Saturday.

Kris Vreeland, children’s book buyer at Once Upon a Time, raved about the interactive roundtables, which mixed educators, librarians and bookstores into small groups where they could collaborate and share ideas. “Panels are great, but it’s nice to be able to talk together. In our group we discussed how we can best work together and help each other to get kids more excited about literature. The more we can work together the stronger our relationships can become.”

On the trade show floor the festive mood continued. Author Jory John said, “I’m having such a great time spreading the word about The Terrible Two (Abrams/Amulet).” John co-wrote the book with his friend Mac Barnett, and the middle-grade novel is all about pranksters. “I’m here at SCIBA to administer the ‘Prankster’s Oath’ to independent booksellers and librarians, and welcome them into our secret prankster’s society,” He said John was seen inducting booksellers into the society and later in the evening prank-called author Jon Scieszka from the booth.

Overall the theme was optimism and collaboration; booksellers seemed hopeful about going forward, citing such movements as Indies First as providing a renewed interest in shopping at independent bookstores.

Oren Teicher, CEO of the ABA, said that stores are feeling really good. “There’s a marked sense of optimism here. People said that independent bookstores were an endangered species about to disappear – but here we are, and business is good.”