For the first time in several seasons, neither the YA category nor John Green topped the list of potential bestsellers in PW’s annual start-of-summer survey of two dozen general and children’s specialty bookstores. “YA is still a very good seller for us,” says Sherri Gallentine, head book buyer for Vroman’s Bookstore in Pasadena, Calif. “But I would say the sales have dropped slightly since the John Green phenomenon and Divergent books have slowed.”
That’s not that not to say that YA and Green aren’t selling – far from it, particularly with the movie of Green’s Paper Towns set for a July 24 release. But Green is sharing space with a number of authors, including Jesse Andrews, whose novel Me and Earl and the Dying Girl (Abrams/Amulet) is also experiencing a movie bump.
“[YA] has had its ebbs and flows,” says Joanna Parzakonis, co-owner of Bookbug in Kalamazoo, Mich., who is “thrilled” that the Paper Towns film will be out soon. At her store, where over 50% of sales come from kids’ books, she predicts strong summer sales for other YA books, including David Arnold’s Mosquitoland (Viking) and Susin Nielsen’s We Are All Made of Molecules (Random/Lamb).
In YA, Sarah Dessen’s Saint Anything (Viking) has already gained popularity, not just among customers, but booksellers, too. Madison Butler, children’s buyer and manager at Liberty Bay Books in Poulsbo, Wash., was one of several buyers to say she “loved” it and to single it out as one of Dessen’s best to date.
Overall, booksellers anticipate that children’s books will shine this summer. At The Bookstore Plus in Lake Placid, N.Y., which had its best year ever in 2014 and is already ahead of those numbers, children’s books tend to be strong all year round, but do even better in the summer. Co-owner Marc Galvin attributes that to the fact that that many summer visitors don’t have bookstores in their communities.
“YA is still huge,” adds co-owner Sarah Galvin, who buys children’s. But so are middle grade titles like Cassie Beasley’s Circus Mirandus (Dial), and she’s looking forward to Gennifer Choldenko’s historical fiction Chasing Secrets (Random/Lamb), which she “loved.” Because of the strength of the kids’ category overall, the Galvins are considering expanding their children’s section next year as part of the store’s 40th anniversary remodel.
Ketsia Julmeus, children’s book buyer for Books & Books’s South Florida locations, singles out Jeff Kinney’s Wimpy Kid series (Abrams) and Rachel Renée Russo’s Dork Diaries books (S&S/Aladdin) as perennial favorites. “It’s a good summer sell. It’s light, it’s fun,” Julmeus says of book nine of the Dork Diaries, which came out earlier this month. Books & Books is also doing well with Circus Mirandus and bestselling adult author Sophie Kinsella’s first YA novel, Finding Aubrey (Delacorte).
One change that Books & Books made to its children’s department as a result of this spring’s Children’s Institute is promotion. The store has begun trying to find new ways to connect gamers with books. Through its “if you like this video game, then you’ll like this book” promotion, it is introducing fans of The Elder Scrolls series to Harry Potter, the Chronicles of Narnia, and Lord of the Rings.
Middle Grade and Picture Books Continue Strong
“Middle grade and picture books have always done well for us,” says Billie Bloebaum, marketing and events coordinator for A Children’s Place Bookstore in Portland, Ore., adding that “middle grade readers are among our most passionate and voracious. They’ll buy stacks and stacks of books at one time and come back the next week for another stack.” In picture books, Davide Cali’s Snow White and the 77 Dwarfs, illustrated by Raphaelle Barbanegre (Tundra), which she describes as “a very clever, nontraditional fairytale with beautiful illustrations,” is doing well, as is “anything Frozen. That’s the franchise that just keeps going and going.”
Although sales at A Children’s Place took a hit when it was forced to move from its home for the past 15 years in February. The new space, which is significantly smaller – the store downsized from 1,700 to 1,300 sq. ft. – is 35 blocks away. But Bloebaum is optimistic now that the store is settling into its new neighborhood. “These first few days of summer have already proven to show a marked improvement in sales, and I expect it will continue to grow,” she says.
At the Doylestown Bookshop in Doylestown, Pa., owner Glenda Childs says “things are looking up after a dull winter.” Both she and children’s book buyer Hannah Smith are particularly excited about the rediscovered Dr. Seuss, What Pet Should I Get? (Random). “It’s always nice to uncover a new one from a beloved author,” says Smith. Also in picture books, sales for Drew Daywalt and Oliver Jeffers’s The Day the Crayons Quit (Philomel) have never stopped. So Smith is particularly looking forward to selling the sequel, The Day the Crayons Came Home.
“We’re having one of our best years ever,” says Kimberly Jones, manager of 10-year-old Little Shop of Stories in Decatur, Ga. For the first quarter of 2015, sales were up 20%. If YA is strong, middle grade is the store’s bread and butter. As for picture books, they continue to sell, particularly as birthday gifts. Among Jones’s favorites for the summer are Ame Dyckman’s picture book Wolfie the Bunny illustrated by Zachariah OHora (Little, Brown) and Lauren Child’s The New Small Person (Candlewick), as well as Tracey Baptiste’s middle grade novel, The Jumbies (Algonquin).
But the store’s biggest change over the past year and a half has less to do with kids than with their parents. Since Blue Elephant Book Shop closed a few years ago, Little Shop of Stories has begun expanding its selection of adult titles.
Liberty Bay, located in a small town with a strong Scandinavian heritage, and is a big draw for tourists and boaters, sales were up “substantially” for both middle grade and picture books last year. So far this year sales are up 15% overall, according to Butler, who is looking forward to sales getting an additional boost next month from Candlewick’s fourth annual Find Waldo Local scavenger hunt. “The Waldo hunt is so great for all of the stores downtown,” Butler says, “because it brings people into stores that they might not have gone into before or may have not known were even there. Kids and grownups have a great time, and it’s a fun, free thing for families to do.”
Emily Hall, co-owner of Main Street Books in St. Charles, Mo., which does between 50 and 55% of its sales in children’s books, also did “exceptionally” well with Find Waldo Local last year. “The whole community was totally into it,” she says. While Where’s Waldo? and other picture books are strong at her store, Hall is adamant that they aren’t making a comeback. That’s because picture books have never stopped selling.
“Picture books are the only books that have avoided the e-book trap,” says Hall, adding that people are bringing picture books to baby showers and writing inscriptions in them instead of cards. Her favorite picture book of the year is Sean Taylor’s Hoot Owl, Master of My Disguise, illustrated by Jean Jullien (Candlewick). And she’s excited about Jimmy Fallon’s new children’s book, Your Baby’s First Word Will Be DADA, illustrated by Miguel Oróñez (Feiwel and Friends).