The “enthusiasm and sass” of independent booksellers that American Booksellers Association CEO Oren Teicher said that he has observed at this year’s ABA spring forums was on display at Sunday evening’s kickoff for the third Children’s Institute, which is being held April 19–21 at the Pasadena Hilton in Pasadena, Calif.
The sold-out conference with 190 booksellers in attendance opened with a talk by one of the country’s newest indie booksellers, Diary of a Wimpy Kid author Jeff Kinney. His bookstore, An Unlikely Story, in Plainville, Mass., will have a soft opening in mid-May.
“I’m very excited to be adding another bookstore to the landscape and joining your ranks,” said Kinney, who invited booksellers to visit the store and share ideas. For him, “it didn’t seem real until two weeks ago when the bookshelves went in.”
Kinney dated the project of creating a bookstore in the former town anchor, Falk’s Market, back to being asked to write an essay for his alma mater, the University of Maryland, on what it means to be fearless. That’s when he realized, “I’m actually pretty fearful. I’ve never taken a risk.” He still works for Pearson on Poptropica, the same job he had before Wimpy Kid became a success. He still writes after his work hours.
Both of his pursuits, programming and cartooning—and soon bookselling—Kinney attributed to his short-lived neighborhood bookstore, Crown Books, where he discovered his own interests in books. He also singled out Drew Boyd and Jacob Goldenberg’s Inside the Box, which focuses on adding, multiplying, dividing, and subtracting elements to create something new, and an innovation offsite that Poptropica held about it, with helping him clarify his thinking.
“I have come to really appreciate how important it is to put a book in the hands of kids. It gives permanence to ideas in a way which technology can’t,” said Kinney.
The importance of making sure that diverse books go in those hands was the theme of the opening reception, co-sponsored by PW, which featured a signing and talk by five members of We Need Diverse Books. As Teicher noted in introducing WNDB president Ellen Oh, “One significant issue all of us have been facing is to create a more diverse reading population. We wanted to start that with kids' books.”
Oh talked about the catalyst for the formation of WNDB: Walter Dean Myers’s March 2014 op-ed piece in the New York Times, called "Where Are the People of Color in Children’s Books?,” which closed with the sentence, “There is work to be done.” His son, illustrator Christopher Myers, also wrote an opinion piece for the Times that ran at the same time on “The Apartheid of Children’s Literature.” A month later when BEA announced the lineup for BookCon and the most diverse author was Grumpy Cat, it was clear that it was time to begin that work.
“We believe in the power of children’s books,” said Oh. “We’re here to make sure that there won’t be another op-ed piece in 30 years.”