Daniel Handler, the author behind Lemony Snicket fame, kicked off this year’s Northern California Independent Booksellers Association meeting at the South San Francisco Conference Center, offering his trademark humor and talking about his new book, We Are Pirates. Handler said to the crowd, “This is a novel that needs to be sold by a pack of rogues,” and asked them, “Do you have what it takes to sell a book about two teenage girls and denizens of a senior home committing acts of mayhem in the San Francisco Bay?”

Looking at the recent upswing in indie bookstore success, the answer seems to be, “Yes, we do.” Hut Landon, executive director of the NCIBA, said that in the region, eight new stores have opened, three have changed ownership, and three more have relocated to a larger space, confirming the optimistic mood in the air. Landon said 400 booksellers representing 100 stores attended over the two days; the one area where attendance was up was for education programming, “We saw an increase of about 20% across the board, for both rep picks sessions and other education workshops.”

The varied panels included a spirited panel on graphic novels led by author Thien Pham (Sumo), librarian Eva Volin (Alameda Free Library), and bookseller Ann Seaton (Hicklebee’s). The session was designed to help booksellers and librarians learn about how to sell graphic novels and educate parents on their legitimacy as “real books”. Pham said to the crowd, “Prose is dead; comics are limitless. Whatever you can do with words you can do better with words and pictures. I am a reluctant reader and my books are for other reluctant readers.” Librarian Volin encouraged librarians, teachers and booksellers to educate parents on the usefulness of graphic novels at getting kids to read.

The Children’s Author Tea featured Kazu Kibuishi (Amulet #6: Escape from Lucien), Raina Telgemeier (Sisters, Scholastic/Graphix), Jandy Nelson (I’ll Give You the Sun, Dial), Frank Portman (King Dork Approximately, Random House), and Scott Westerfeld (Afterworlds, Simon Pulse). Kibuishi echoed the sentiments from the graphic novel panel. “As a kid, I felt behind. Everything I learned about America I learned through reading comics.” Portman regaled the crowd with music, and joked, “Keep cool, we don’t want this turning into the booksellers’ Altamont.” Westerfeld said that “teenagers read more intensely than any other humans on the planet. I wanted to write a book that validates children’s dreams of writing books of their own.”

Children’s booksellers expressed enthusiasm about a variety of forthcoming titles. Several are eagerly anticipating Blue Lily Lily Blue, the third book in the Raven series by Maggie Stiefvater. Angie Kelsey of The Book Seller in Grass Valley called it “simply fantastic.” Cindi Whittemore of Ink Spell Books in Half Moon Bay was excited to meet Jory John, co-author of The Terrible Two (Abrams/Amulet), which is launching a series. “I’m so psyched that Jory John agreed to do an event at our store,” she said. “He’s got such great energy. Getting to meet authors is one of the great things about this show.”

Lynne Carlton of Linden Tree Books in Los Altos, said they closed the store so that the entire staff could attend the show, allowing booksellers a chance to learn from the sessions and get excited about forthcoming titles. She noted her excitement about one book in particular, The Princess in Black, saying, “I really want girls to have a role model that’s not pink.”

The appearances of several small animal friends added to the lighthearted mood. Author Marcia Goldman brought her therapy dog Lola, who stood on the book signing table being pet by passersby, and author Michele Raffin signed copies of her book, The Birds of Pandemonium, while seated next to a majestic blue crown pigeon that people cooed over.

Overall, attendees were upbeat and optimistic. Lorraine Zimmerman of University Press Books in Berkeley said, “There’s a very high energy here. I bought so many things I didn’t intend to buy because the books keep getting better. I’ve been a bookseller for over 30 years. There was a low mood after the last bubble burst, and we were barely making it. Suddenly everything’s up.”