If the energy of the American Booksellers Association’s Winter Institute comes from putting 500 booksellers in a room, as ABA CEO Oren Teicher pointed out, the excitement generated by nearly 200 children’s booksellers proved equally strong at Monday’s first full day of programming at the ABC Children’s Institute (April 19-21) at the Pasadena Hilton in Pasadena, Calif.
“I thought it was fantastic,” said new bookseller Candice Huber, who opened Tubby and Coos Mid-City Book Shop in New Orleans seven months ago. She singled out the opportunities for networking in particular. Another CI-first timer, Sharon Ristau at UConn Co-op in Storrs, Ct., described the conference as “fabulous.” Her favorite panel was one on in-store birthday parties. Other tip-filled sessions for increasing business included reaching reluctant readers, marketing to grandparents, buying and merchandising nonbook items, and starting a teen book festival.
The day began with laughter when Jon Scieszka, the first National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature in 2008, introduced breakfast keynote speakers Mac Barnett and Jory John, coauthors of The Terrible Two. Parodying Jeff Kinney’s inspiring keynote from the night before, Scieszka said that he was planning to “suck up to booksellers” and open a bookstore, too.
Although many booksellers know Barnett and John, as pranksters from their regional tour last fall, the pair spoke seriously about literacy, or as much as two people who asked in jest to have two upright twin beds for their presentation, which were on stage when they arrived. Their friendship began a decade ago at the nonprofit drop-in tutoring center 826 Valencia in San Francisco and they continue to donate their time.
John was an intern at 826 and Barnett was an intern at McSweeney’s, which shared the same space. To get to both required walking through a pirate supply store that was set up as “a bit of a joke” to satisfy commercial zoning requirements. But it went on to become a source of revenue. At the 826 in Los Angeles, where Barnett ended up working, the business became a Time Travel Mart, “like a '70s 7-Eleven.”
John and Barnett compared 826 to an independent bookstore: a hybrid of a retail, community, and art space. “I know bookselling is a tough business,” quipped Barnett. “But time travel is a tough business, too.” They recommended that booksellers “borrow what you like and steal from us,” specifically making sure that they use their space all day every day to engage kids, whether it’s getting them writing or having a thumb-wrestling party.
Their talk was followed by a session on Best Practices for Greater Diversity, which was moderated by Sara Hines, co-owner of Eight Cousins in Falmouth, Mass., and included author Aisha Saeed, v-p of strategy for We Need Diverse Books, and author I.W. Gregorio, v-p of development at WNDB. The panelists focused on things that booksellers can do to highlight diverse books in displays and with their event programming. To help booksellers handsell books without ghettoizing them in the process, Gregorio announced that WNDB has created a Booktalking Kit that will be included in bookstore white box mailings next month. The kit will also include shelftalkers.
Other standout events included a presentation by two-time Caldecott Honor recipient Marla Frazee and her longtime editor and friend, Beach Lane Books publisher Allyn Johnston. Using three of Frazee’s books, including the forthcoming Is Mommy? (Sept.) by Victoria Chang, they discussed how they work together to create a finished picture book.
A tour of Vroman’s Bookstore and how it mixes book and nonbook items to tell a story for customers, one that begins before they even walk in the door, followed by an author reception with 50 authors, rounded out the day-time programming. And Scholastic provided an after-dinner party with, of course, more authors.