If there was a theme to this year’s Heartland Fall Forum, held this time at the Westin Hotel in Lombard, Ill., west of Chicago, from October 9–11, it was that despite the differences between the Midwest Independent Booksellers Association members and the Great Lakes Independent Booksellers Association members (mostly geographic in nature), when it comes down to it, they are all one big family, especially when it comes to sharing children’s books.

There were 297 booksellers from 67 GLIBA stores, 50 MIBA stores, and three stores that belong to both associations attending Heartland this year to hobnob with each other, meet authors, and to check out the offerings from 66 exhibiting companies representing hundreds more. This year marks the fourth year that the two regional booksellers associations have held one joint trade show.

The theme that MIBA and GLIBA children’s booksellers are family was established during the opening night’s awards dinner, when booksellers from both organizations celebrated Michael Perry accepting MIBA’s Midwest Booksellers Choice Award for his middle grade novel The Scavengers (HarperCollins), Loren Long accepting GLIBA’s Great Lakes Great Reads Award for his picture book, Otis and the Scarecrow (Philomel), and David Arnold accepting a GLIBA award for Mosquitoland (Viking). Joyce Sidman won a MIBA award for her picture book, Winter’s Bees & Other Poems of the Cold (HMH), illustrated by Rick Allen, though she was not present to accept it.

During the Moveable Feast of authors the following day, keynote speaker YA author Pat Schmatz (Lizard Radio, Candlewick), who self-identifies as queer, spoke about her childhood and youth, disclosing that books were her “saving grace” during a difficult time in her life. “The characters in books – not all books, but a precious few – spoke the truth in a way that resonated with me,” she said. “Especially The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton.”

But during her youth, Schmatz recalled, “I never thought about how books got into my hands. I didn’t think about the team of adults involved and the decisions they made.”

“I was so impressed with how honest she was with her own personal story,” Pamela Klinger-Horn of Excelsior Bay Books in Excelsior, Minn. said later, “It demonstrated the importance of kids seeing themselves in literature. It’s crucial for libraries and bookstores to stock books that help kids who are ‘different.’ ”

It seemed like a family of children’s booksellers gathered together during the Kids Buzz panel, moderated by Robin Allen of Forever Books in St. Joseph, Mich. The panel included both GLIBA and MIBA booksellers, and the audience was a mix of the members of both organizations. The panel included Lisa Nehs of Books and Company in Oconomowoc, Wis. Shirley Mullin of Kids Ink in Indianapolis; Dave Richardson of Blue Marble Books in Covington, Ky., a Cincinnati suburb; and Drew Sieplinga of Wild Rumpus in Minneapolis. While all talked up their favorite children’s books, the panelists’ inclusion of books by regional authors who are also customers in their stores was especially helpful for booksellers who might otherwise not have known about them.

For instance, Mullin praised Indianapolis children’s librarian Sarah J. Schmitt’s YA novel, It’s a Wonderful Death (Sky Pony Press), and, while not giving away the ending, declared of its last chapter, “Oh my God, who would have thought of that?” Richardson introduced Cincinnati writer Kathy Cannon Wiechman’s debut novel, Like a River (Calkins Creek), a YA book about the Civil War, by saying, “This is amazing writing, people. You need to have this in your store.”

While some booksellers said that Schmatz’s talk was the highlight of the show for them, others said that the children’s author breakfast was the highlight for them. It was an all-star lineup of authors: David Baldacci, Andrea Davis Pinkney, and Bruce Coville, who at the last minute was brought in to replace Judy Schachner, as she was unable to make it to Chicago in time for the breakfast.

Besides presenting his YA novel, The Keeper (Scholastic Press), a sequel to The Finisher, Baldacci thanked independent booksellers for championing him throughout his career. Indie booksellers, he said, know books: “It makes a difference to come into a store [to promote books as an author] and to feel that you’re with friends and family,” he said.

“If the publishing industry has a heart, and I think it does,” he said,” I’m looking at it. You are its heart.”

Following Baldacci, Pinkney, wearing sparkly gold sleeves and gold platform shoes, strode to the podium singing a variation of the Temptations’ “Get Ready.”

“Books can make a big difference,” she sang. “Get ready, get ready, because here I come.”

Discussing her picture book, Rhythm Ride: A Road Trip Through the Motown Sound (Roaring Brook), Pinkney gave booksellers a capsule history of the emergence of Motown, which she explained, was part of the Civil Rights Movement.

“Why this book now?” Pinkney asked, “I believe the answer is in this room. We all love Motown music.”

Her job when writing a book, Pinkney said, is to “[reach] a hand out to a child and to [take] them on a journey.”

Besides heart and good taste, Coville told booksellers, they have personality. After talking about his latest middle-grade novel, Diary of a Mad Brownie (Random House), which included jokes about butt cracks and reading in an affected Scottish accent “bad” Scottish literature that had inspired him in creating and naming his characters, Coville disclosed that he loves “making kids laugh.”

“Joy is the laughter of the soul,” he said. “Laughter takes us out of ourselves.”

Concluding his fast-paced presentation on a serious note, Coville commended booksellers for their laughter in the face of daunting obstacles. “You can’t be a bookseller in these times if you are not fearless,” he said. “You can’t have fear and live your dreams.”