The summer was one of rediscovered classics, movie tie-ins, and backlist at indie bookstores across the country. Despite the lack of a must-have YA author or series (as with John Green or Divergent in years past), PW’s annual end-of-summer poll, which surveyed two dozen general and children’s bookstores across the country, showed that children’s book sales were up. Not all stores saw big boosts from two highly anticipated rediscovered works – Dr. Seuss’s What Pet Should I Get? (Random House) and Harper Lee’s Go Set a Watchman (Harper). But even those that did reported strong sales across the board.
“What Pet Should I Get? was excellent, but we had other strong sellers,” said Alexandra Uhl, owner of A Whale of a Tale Children’s Bookshoppe in Irvine, Calif., which did “great” during its second year at its smaller 1,200 sq. ft. location. “I would say that we had a nice balance of new titles and backlist going out,” she added. , “We did very well with Echo [by Pam Muñoz Ryan, Scholastic Press], Survival Strategies of the Almost Brave [by Jen White, FSG], The Honest Truth [by Dan Gemeinhart, Scholastic Press]. And, of course, Fancy Nancy [by Jane O’Connor and Robin Preiss Glasser, HarperCollins] is still strong for us,” she said. Uhl is good friends with Glasser, who draws her into each of the books.
“Our summer sales followed the same trend as our year, up a little over 11%,” said Holly Weinkauf, owner of Red Balloon Bookshop in St. Paul, Minn. “We’ve had a good year, and I’m expecting that to continue. We have lots of great events coming up this fall. So we may even finish the year closer to 15% up.” Two of the store’s biggest kids’ sellers this summer were event-related: Mike Wohnoutka Dad’s First Day (Bloomsbury) and Libba Bray’s Lair of Dreams (Little, Brown), second in the Diviners series. Red Balloon also continues to sell lots of Shannon Hale and Dean Hale’s The Princess in Black (Candlewick) and Abe Sauer’s Goodnight Loon (Univ. of Minnesota Press).
Country Bookshelf in Bozeman, Mont., reported a sales increase of 24% this summer, following the 58-year-old store’s “best spring ever,” according to owner Ariana Paliobagis. She anticipates ending the year up 15% over last year. “[Lee’s] Go Set a Watchman was definitely a sales-driver for us, and we took lots of preorders. It sold really heavily the first few weeks. Sales have dropped dramatically. But it is still selling at a slow steady pace,” Paliobagis said. “What Pet Should I Get? has done quite well, with many customers buying multiple copies. Like Go Set a Watchman, sales aren’t as big now, as when it first arrived, but still steady.”
One hundred miles away at Montana Book & Toy Company in Helena, Mont., the Dr. Seuss wasn’t particularly strong, according to manager and children’s buyer Pam Sommer. Her top two sellers for kids were both backlist titles: The Day the Crayons Quit (Philomel), by Drew Daywalt and Oliver Jeffers, and John Green’s Paper Towns (Penguin/Speak). “Our summer sales were up from last year; our tourist trade was quite brisk,” Sommer said. Leading into summer, she reported, sales were slow. But with several big events coming up, she anticipates a strong finish to the year.
What’s Selling Now – and Into the Holidays
At Monkey See, Monkey Do... Children’s Bookstore in Clarence, N.Y., more than 40 literacy-oriented summer camps held over the course of 10 weeks over the summer drove sales and helped push the store up 15% over last year. That meant strong sales for camp-related titles and series like the Never Girls series (RH/Disney), Sarah Mlynowski’s Whatever After (Scholastic), Harry Potter, and Minecraft. It also cuts the other way with popular titles like the Who Was series (Grosset & Dunlap) becoming the basis of an upcoming camp this winter.
An events-driven bookstore, Monkey See, Monkey Do is using a grant from author James Patterson to help pay for its first WNY Children’s Book Festival in Buffalo in November with more than 30 authors attending. And with its section for adult readers growing, the store is also making plans for more events for older folks, including adult coloring classes.
The Children’s Bookshop in Baltimore did particularly well with Go Set a Watchman. “We sold quite a lot,” said owner JoAnn Fruchtman, who explains that To Kill a Mockingbird is required reading for 9th and 10th graders in her area. And she’s made a point of telling customers to think of the new book as a first draft. Among the fall titles that she thinks will have legs are Kevin Henkes’s Waiting (Greenwillow), Brian Selznick’s The Marvels (Scholastic Press), and Laura Amy Schlitz’s The Hired Girl (Candlewick), which is set in Baltimore. Although Fruchtman is particularly excited about Schlitz’s novel, she said that she’s become “very selective” about buying YA. In part that’s because she doesn’t like a lot of it – too much post-apocalyptic stuff, too much violence for her – but also because YA hardcovers are frequently downloaded.
At Green Bean Books in Portland, Ore., which has a younger demographic and does better with picture books and board books, B.J. Novak’s The Book with No Pictures (Dial) continues to sell well. Owner Jennifer Green has high holiday hopes for Don and Audrey Wood’s The Full Moon at the Napping House (HMH); Mac Barnett and Christian Robinson’s Leo: A Ghost Story (Chronicle); and Drew Daywalt and Oliver Jeffers’s The Day the Crayons Came Home (Philomel). “We can’t wait to start selling The Thing About Jellyfish (Little, Brown) by Ali Benjamin,” Green added. “We fell in love with this book as soon as we got the ARC this spring. We also absolutely love the new picture book We Forgot Brock! (S&S) by Carter Goodrich.”
Kids’ is one of the best-selling categories at the 20,000 sq. ft. Last Bookstore in Los Angeles, which bills itself as California’s largest used and new bookstore and record shop, with 60% of children’s sales coming from picture books, according to general manager Katie Orphan. In YA, the store does particularly well with crossover titles. “The YA book adaptations this summer drove a lot of sales,” said Orphan, who singled out Jesse Andrews’s Me and Earl and the Dying Girl (Abrams/Amulet), Green’s Paper Towns, and Melissa De la Cruz’s Isle of the Lost (Disney-Hyperion). “We display books that are being turned into movies, as well as our in-house bestsellers. So some of our YA titles are displayed [in] multiple places, which keeps encouraging sales.” Among the fall titles she is looking forward to are: Julie Murphy’s Dumplin’ (HarperCollins/Balzer + Bray), Rainbow Rowell’s Carry On (St. Martin’s Griffin), and book two of Holly Black and Cassandra Clare’s Magisterium series, The Copper Gauntlet (Scholastic Press).
Even though summer is typically a slow time at Books & Books, headquartered in Coral Gables, Fla., children’s book buyer Ketsia Julmeus estimates that sales were up 15%. “The summer was pretty robust, actually. It felt like a lot of families stayed in town, and we had tourists as well. The kids department was always packed, and our events had great numbers,” she said. Middle grade was the strongest kids’ area at Books & Books this summer, in part driven by from local author Dave Barry’s The Worst Class Trip Ever (Disney-Hyperion).
While sales at many stores were up, several also commented on increased foot traffic. Suzy Takacs, owner of the Book Cellar in Chicago, said that the store seemed busier than usual, although they didn’t do anything different. “We usually open earlier on Tuesday and Sundays in the summer to take advantage of those people at the farmer’s market,” she said. At her store, board books and picture books have always been strong. But as a result of hosting the first Chicago Young Adult Book Festival in the spring, Takacs thought it brought attention to the fact that the store has a good, but small, YA section and is supportive of YA authors. Like many booksellers, she anticipates continuing up sales through the holiday season. “Still growing,” Takacs said of book sales overall. It is a sentiment shared by many booksellers as they prepare for the holiday season.