Children’s books have long been an integral part of the Mountains and Plains Independent Booksellers Fall Discovery Show, and this year’s gathering at the Renaissance Denver Hotel, held October 8–10, was no exception. If anything, the opening children’s author and illustrator breakfast, with its mix of a reasoned look at serious concerns and downright zaniness, set the tone for the show overall.
Sara Pennypacker discussed war’s effect on kids, which she sensitively writes about in Pax (HarperCollins/Balzer + Bray, Feb. 2016), while Judy Schachner (Dewey Bob, Dial), who was diagnosed with ADHD when she was in her mid-50s by a third grader (“because you’re crazy like me”), spoke about her collections of roadkill and other stuff. Jon Scieszka (Frank Einstein and the Brain Turbo, Abrams/Amulet), aka Mr. Ambassador (he served as the first National Ambassador of Young People’s Literature), offered up some of his favorite questions from kids like this two-parter, “Why do you have a rocket?” and “Where do you park it?”
Many authors throughout the show thanked booksellers for what they do. “We revere you,” Pennypacker said. “We would break into your house on Sunday morning and make you heart-shaped pancakes, if it weren’t too creepy.” Her words resonated with booksellers like Julie Shimada, children’s and sidelines buyer at Maria’s Bookshop in Durango, Colo., who said, “Breakfast was phenomenal. [Bookselling] is more than just selling books, and authors appreciate that.”
The longstanding Children’s Author Tea became the Young Readers Roundup this year and featured nine authors. Publicist Paula Singer read a presentation prepared by Lauren Myracle about Upside Down Magic (Scholastic Press), written with Sarah Mlynowski and Emily Jenkins; Myracle was unable to attend. The writers ranged from Kristyn Crow, whose Zombelina books (Bloomsbury) are starting to take off, to graphic novelist Craig Thompson, whose first children’s graphic work, Space Dumplins (Scholastic/Graphix), has been so successful that he is expanding the standalone book into a trilogy. Alaska Public Radio reporter Bonnie-Sue Hitchcock, whose debut novel, The Smell of Other People’s Houses (Random/Lamb), is geared to readers ages 12 and up, said that the book has such strong adult appeal in the U.K. that it will be published there with two covers, one specifically targeting adults.
One of the smaller regional shows with 434 attendees this year including 176 booksellers, MPIBA continues to be one of the most enthusiastic. In part that’s because the region, which extends from Texas to the Canadian border and beyond, gained 10 new member stores and 21 new professional members over the past year. Among the newer stores that have joined MPIBA in the past few years are: Second Start to the Right, a children’s bookstore and tutoring center in Denver, which turns one next month; and two-year-old BookBar in Denver, which just completed an addition of 750 sq. ft. with a children’s room, a reading area, and a family restroom section. The region’s premier bookstore, the Tattered Cover, is in the midst of changing hands; founder Joyce Meskis and soon-to-be owners Len Vlahos and his wife, Kristen Gilligan, attended the show.
At least part of the excitement at this year’s MPIBA came from strong sales. Many area bookstores fit the profile described by American Booksellers Association CEO Oren Teicher at the annual meeting. In 2015, book units sold across ABA reporting stores have been up 10.8%. “We had the busiest year we’ve ever had,” said Sue Fassett, manager of Dolly’s Bookstore in Park City Utah. Book sales have benefitted from both the Sundance Film Festival and Vail acquiring the Park City Mountain Resort. Charlotte Glover, who decided to try MPIBA after buying Parnassus Books in Ketchikan, Alas., last year, said that sales were up 9%. Stores like Brace Books & More, in Ponca City, Okla., which has been affected by declining oil prices, have made up the difference with increased sidelines. According to owner Jerry Brace, sidelines and gifts are now 60% of the inventory.
MPIBA, which keeps the show floor open for a day and a half, is an important stop for publishers of all sizes. Many Shambhala Publications staffers came to celebrate the press’s return to Boulder, Colo., last month, after 29 years in Boston. Kirsten Johanna Allen, editorial director and co-publisher at Torrey House Press, said, “We love this show. We’re a small publisher out of Utah. This has so much energy and enthusiasm for connecting with people.” Added Jamie Tan, publicist at Candlewick Press, who brought first-time author Lindsay Eagar (Hour of the Bees, March 2016) to the show, “The MPIBA conference is really great for introducing authors. It’s great to mingle with booksellers.”
In 2016 MPIBA’s Fall Discovery Show will be back at the Renaissance Denver Hotel from October 6–8.