Independent booksellers, librarians, authors and members of the publishing community gathered from October 23–24 at the Beverly Garland Hotel in North Hollywood for this year’s Southern California Independent Booksellers Association show, basking in the warm outdoor setting courtesy of sunny Los Angeles.
During the Children’s Awards Breakfast on Saturday, author Jennifer L. Holm talked about her latest graphic novel Sunny Side Up (Scholastic/Graphix), which turned out to be the perfect phrase to encapsulate the optimism that permeated the gathering, as booksellers celebrated children’s books and rejoiced in a marked increase in sales.
In addition to Holm, the Children’s Author Breakfast featured Judy Schachner (Dewey Bob, Dial), and Aaron Hartzler (What We Saw, HarperTeen), who opened the talk with an emotionalspeech about growing up gay in a religious household in Kansas City. It was when Hartzler checked out a bunch of Judy Blume titles at the library and the librarian slid the books across the counter saying “these are good books” that he realized another world was possible. With tears in his eyes, Hartzler said, “I didn’t know it at the time, but that woman saved my life.” Discovering that there was a “whole group of adults who thought Judy Blume books were good, and thought differently than my parents did” was eye-opening for the budding author. “Never underestimate the importance of your undertaking,” Hartzler told the crowd of booksellers. “Because of someone like you my life was altered.”
The SCIBA awards were presented during the breakfast: Marla Frazee won the picture book award for her title The Farmer and the Clown (S&S/Beach Lane); Pam Muñoz Ryan took the middle-grade award for Echo (Scholastic Press) and Jennifer Niven received the YA award for All the Bright Places (Knopf).
While Andrea Vuleta, SCIBA executive director, said that attendance was roughly even with last year, she added that the number of member stores has gone up. “This year, even with locations closing and moving, we have netted a few extra,” said Vuleta, bringing the number from 61 to 63.
Similar to feedback from booksellers at NCIBA, picture books had a low presence on the trade floor. Ashlee Null, children’s buyer and manager at Vroman’s, said that while she’s primarily a reader of middle grade, she wishes “picture books were bigger, because it’s my favorite format. I always feel like there could be more of them.” When asked about selling diverse books Null said that parents come in seeking diverse titles, but aren’t sure how to ask for them. “They often beat around the bush in questioning for diverse books,” making booksellers have to read between the lines. Null said her staff is “crying-in-public obsessed” with the forthcoming YA novel Serpent King by Jeff Zentner (Random House, March 2016) and Glass Sword (HarperTeen, Feb. 2016), sequel to Victoria Aveyard’s bestselling YA novel Red Queen.
The education sessions included a financial session on the economics of publishing, a panel on how to sell high-end gift books, a panel on diversity in YA books, and a session on Indepdent Bookstore Day.
Booksellers Donna Mantei and Susan Nielson, from the new store Island Tales Bookshop in Newport Beach, said the panel on Independent Bookstore Day was instructive for a bookstore new on the scene and that they are excited about Holm’s Sunny Side Up because “graphic novels do well in our store.”
The YA diversity panel, titled “Embracing the Other” featured four authors – three white, one Asian – and a white moderator. With that line-up the focus clearly wasn’t targeted to racial diversity, but meant to cover a wide range of what the term encompasses, including diversity of gender, sexual orientation, and mental and physical able-bodiedness. Authors Elana K. Arnold (Infandous, Carolrhoda Lab), Hartzler, Yvonne Prinz (If You’re Lucky, Algonquin), and Cindy Pon (Serpentine, Month9Books), discussed the diversity of the points of view represented in their YA books.
With diversity as a critical focal point in publishing at large, Pon spoke about the specific aspect of racial diversity in children’s literature. “I never read a book with anyone that looked like me,” said Pon, adding that it wasn’t until her 30s when she saw a book with an Asian female protagonist. She noted that there is still a huge dearth in inclusive speculative fiction, adding that “it’s hard to be a trailblazer.” Pon added that the whiteness represented in literature is so pervasive that she had never even written a story with an Asian character in it until she penned Silver Phoenix, and she had been writing since her tween years.
Hartzler said in his high school he was friends with the only African-American girl in his graduating class and she gave him The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison to read. He asked her, “Why don’t we read this book in school?’ to which she replied, “Exactly.”
With the last several years indicating an increase in both sales and enthusiasm, next year’s conference, which has not yet been scheduled, is sure to bring a welcome gathering of publishing professionals to revel in what they do best: bringing the best new children’s literature to kids.