While the focus was primarily on the offerings for adult readers among the 625 booksellers attending this year’s Winter Institute (held in Denver January 23–26), children’s publishers and authors also took their turns in the limelight at the annual gathering of publishers’ reps, authors, and booksellers.

Of a dozen publishers presenting their 2016 releases at the Small Press Luncheon during Wi11, one, Creston Books, publishes books for children by debut authors and illustrators. The California-based press, which launched its first list in fall 2013, has 19 books on its list to date, 11 of which have received starred reviews in trade publications. “There’s a lot of bang for our small list,” publisher Marissa Moss said, before presenting her spring list of four releases: California Dreaming by Marissa Moss (April), the latest in the Mira’s Diary series of time-traveling historical novels; Hildie Bitterpickles Needs Her Sleep by Robin Newman, illustrated by Chris Ewald April); Busy Busy by Lucy Scott (May); and The Girl Who Saved Yesterday by Julius Lester, illustrated by Carl Angel, which Moss described as “gorgeous.” Moss disclosed that it would probably be Lester’s last book, adding, “If you care about diversity, this is a book you should read.”

While the other 11 small presses emphasized their adult offerings, several included a children’s book or series among the adult titles. Ben LeRoy, F&W/Tyrus publisher, presented Local Girl Swept Away by Ellen Wittlinger (June), the latest YA release from Merit Press, which is an F&W imprint of YA releases curated by author Jacqueline Mitchard. Matt Smiley of the University of Minnesota Press kicked off his presentation with the picture book, Wake Up, Island by Mary Casanova, with woodcuts by Nick Wroblewski (March), which is one of the press’s top two releases for the trade market this spring. And Shana Capozza of Rowman & Littlefield presented among an extensive list of books about the outdoors five books in the Ranger Rick line of children’s books that are being released in June by Taylor Trade Publishing to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Ranger Rick magazine next year. “It’s about getting kids excited about visiting national parks,” Capozza said.

Children’s authors received equal time during the Indies Introduce Anthology session immediately following the Small Press luncheon. Of the nine debut novelists presenting their spring releases to a packed ballroom of booksellers, four were YA authors – the fifth YA author scheduled to speak, Goldy Moldavsky (Kill the Boy Band, Scholastic/Point, Feb.) was stuck in New York City because of the blizzard. The four YA authors selected for Indies Introduce who did make it to Wi11 included Lindsay Eagar, Hour of the Bees (Candlewick, March), which she described as a magical realism novel that she wrote “in about 10 days”; Bonnie-Sue Hitchcock, The Smell of Other People’s Houses (Random/Wendy Lamb, Feb.), about four teenagers in the early days of Alaska’s statehood; Sean McGinty, The End of FUN (Disney-Hyperion, Apr.), described as a volatile “blend of M.T. Anderson, Cory Doctorow, Andrew Smith, and Hunter S. Thompson”; and Harriet Reuter Hapgood, The Square Root of Summer (Roaring Brook, May), about a 17-year-old physics prodigy who immerses herself in equations and theories in response to personal heartbreak.

Afterwards, Judith Lafitte of Octavia Books in New Orleans expressed appreciation for all of the debut novels presented, singling out The Square Root of Summer over the other eight adult and YA debuts, and describing it as “something new, really different. It sounded like it’s going to be exciting to read.”

The Square Root of Summer wasn’t the only YA novel receiving special mention from both general and children’s booksellers. Several booksellers PW queried cited Ruta Sepetys’ Salt to the Sea (Philomel, Feb.), a historical novel about the sinking of the Wilhelm Gustloff in 1945 during World War II as the book they are most excited to sell. Most of the booksellers PW spoke to had read the galleys before Winter Institute.

“Thirty pages in and tears were running down my face,” said Shirley Mullin, the owner of Kids Ink in Indianapolis, praising Sepetys’ extensive historical research into the sinking of the ship filled with refugees of various nationalities fleeing war. The author’s research included interviews with both survivors and divers who have explored the wreck. “I often read books in a few days, but I had such an emotional investment in the characters, it slowed down my reading,” Mullin said.

There were also, as usual, discoveries made during the conference. Robert McDonald of the Bookstall at Chestnut Court in Winnetka, Ill. praised as his find of the show Ms. Bixby’s Last Day by John David Anderson (HarperCollins/Walden Pond, June), and described the middle-grade read as “sad and funny, all at the same time.” It tells the tale of a teacher who, in the midst of reading The Hobbit to her middle-grade class, announces that she won’t be finishing out the school year. “How could I resist?” McDonald asked PW. Linda Devlin of Linda’s Story Time in Monroe, Conn., noted that, with three boys as the main characters and a “light touch,” Ms. Bixby’s Last Day is going to “do really well” with boys, including reluctant readers.

Winter Institute is moving to Minneapolis in 2017, to be held January 27–30, and with the number of children’s authors and illustrators residing in Minnesota, the “Minnesota Mafia” of children’s trade and educational book publishers clustered in the Twin Cities and Mankato, and the proximity of such iconic children’s bookstores as Wild Rumpus Books and The Red Balloon Bookshop, children’s books and authors are certain to remain front and center throughout next year’s three-day gathering of book industry people.

“I’m so psyched – it’s such a great indie publishing town and such a great indie bookstore town for both adults and children,” said Anmyram Budner of Main Point Books in Bryn Mawr, Pa., as Wi11 wound down with a small press reception. “Why would we not want to be in the Twin Cities and while in town, check out [Wild Rumpus owner] Colette Morgan’s famed bookstore menagerie?”

For more coverage of Winter Institute 11, see Kwame Alexander Becomes the 'Say Yes Guy' at the Show, Winter Institute 11 in Photos, and Bookselling Tips from Winter Institute 2016.