During an informal survey of children’s and general booksellers around the country, most expressed optimism as they head into the summer selling season, particularly about the prospects for the big book of the summer, J.K. Rowling’s eighth Harry Potter story, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child Parts One & Two (Scholastic/Levine), a play by Jack Thorne based on an original story by J.K. Rowling, John Tiffany, and Jack Thorne. The first new title in the Harry Potter series since the release of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows on July 21, 2007, Cursed Child will launch on July 31 with a roughly 4.5 million-copy initial laydown in North America.
“There’s a huge amount of enthusiasm for Cursed,” said Deborah Johnson, book buyer at Barstons Child’s Play, which has four book and toy stores in the Washington, D.C. metro area. The day that Scholastic announced the book, Barstons posted a sign saying, “We’re having a party.” Two Barstons staffers are among the lucky fans who nabbed tickets to the play, which is currently in previews in London and is mostly sold out well into 2017. Staff excitement has helped to push sales for all things Harry Potter; in the six-week run-up to summer camp season, the Harry Potter Postcard Coloring Book has been #8 on Barstons’ bestsellers list.
“My customers are crazy rabid fans of Harry Potter,” Francine Lucidon, owner of the Voracious Reader in Larchmont, N.Y., said. A fan herself, Lucidon is one of a number of children’s booksellers who are planning to arrive early for next week’s Children’s Institute to visit the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. But even without Harry Potter, Lucidon’s been having a good year so far. “People are buying more books more often,” she said.
Whether Harry Potter fans will preorder Cursed Child in large quantities from their local bookstore as they did for the previous books is still unclear this far out from pub date. Unlike some other booksellers in her area, Lauren Savage at the Reading Bug in San Carlos, Calif., which specializes in books for babies through age 12, said that she has had no problem getting Harry Potter fans and those on the fence about the play format to place pre-orders. “A regular customer emailed me the other day saying, ‘I don’t think my kids can read a script. Is this really worth me getting them right now?’ ” recounted Savage, who has a theater background. “I come from the complete opposite idea. The characters are so spelled out that you don’t have to go back and say, ‘Who said that and who said that?’ It makes more sense to me. It’s also a really neat way to introduce theater and reading plays to kids.”
At New York City’s iconic Strand Bookstore, children’s buyer Stella Williams is going all in on Cursed Child with an initial order of over 1,000 copies. “Kids’ book sales remain trending upwards,” said children’s buyer Stella Williams. “I think that with every new book from a franchise that is as beloved as Harry Potter, readers get the opportunity to rejoin a community that has developed through and around the books.”
Kenny Safran of Books & Greetings in Northvale, N.J., regularly holds events with big-name authors, which draw between 800 and 1,000 people. He is one of several booksellers we spoke with who are far less sanguine about the prospects of selling the new Harry Potter in significant quantities. “I come from the mindset that people who want that book have ordered it online,” he said. The book has long held the #1 spot on Amazon.
Books & Greetings, which is about 20% children’s, expects to continue to do well with movie tie-ins, including “anything” Angry Birds (HarperCollins) and Roald Dahl’s The BFG (Puffin), said buyer Zack Happel. He’s also seeing strong sales for Meg Cabot’s Royal Wedding Disaster (Feiwel and Friends), part of the Notebooks of a Middle School Princess series; author-illustrator Peter Brown’s first novel, The Wild Robot (Little, Brown); and the Baby-Sitters Club graphics novel series from Scholastic/Graphix, illustrated by Raina Telgemeier.
Similarly Books & Books’s flagship store in Coral Gables, Fla., has seen a jump in sales from Disney’s upcoming movie for The BFG, which will be in theaters July 1. Several other books and authors are also off to a particularly strong start. “Rick Riordan has been the big draw. Once the kids see it they just stop,” said children’s book buyer Ketsia Julmeus of The Hidden Oracle (Disney-Hyperion), the first book in Riordan’s new Trials of Apollo series. In addition, “Star Wars titles are kicking it, and local kids are really into Dave Barry’s The Worst Night Ever.”
Cursed Child will cap what for many booksellers could be a particularly big July. It marks the return of the popular month-long Find Waldo local promotion, sponsored by Candlewick Press and the American Booksellers Association for the fifth year in a row. In conjunction with the promotion, Candlewick will release Where’s Waldo? The Coloring Book. “It’s gotten to the point where people come in and ask if it’s going to take place again this summer,” said Kate Schlademan, owner of Learned Owl in Hudson, Ohio.
But the search for Waldo isn’t Schlademan’s only big event for young people this summer. For high schoolers, Schlademan is planning a non-required reading contest for high school students. Younger kids will be able to attend Learned Owl story times at a local farmers market and on the Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railway, which runs through the Cuyahoga Valley National Park. Her sales so far this year have been good, Schlademan said. But she’s uncertain about the impact of construction of a new sewer system and new sidewalks this summer.
“I think this summer is going to be our biggest,” said John Christensen, manager of five-year-old Arcadia Books in Spring Green, Wis., a tourist town known as Frank Lloyd Wright’s birthplace. The store is too new to have held a Harry Potter party, or to have served Butterbeer, but he has high hopes for Jo Weaver’s Little One (Peachtree). “It just a beautiful book to give to a family with a new baby. It’s about independence and taking risks,” Christensen said. His other favorites include Kate DiCamillo’s Raymie Nightingale (Candlewick) and Kiera Cass’s The Selection series (HarperTeen).
So far this year Prairie Lights Books & Cafe in Iowa City, Iowa, has had sales on par with 2015. But with a Stephen King event in June and strong releases this summer, owner Jan Weissmiller is predicting a strong summer. Among the children’s titles that buyer Victoria Walton singles out are: Sherman Alexie’s Thunder Boy Jr., illustrated by Yuyi Morales (Little, Brown), “which is really selling well”; Mo Willems’s final Elephant & Piggie story, The Thank You Book; and Dana Alison Levy’s The Family Fletcher Takes Rock Island (Delacorte).
Little Shop of Stories in Decatur, Ga., is expanding this summer. Currently located in an old bank building, Little Shop of Stories is taking over a neighboring space and growing its retail space by 50%, to 4,500 sq. ft., according to co-owner Dave Shallenberger. “We’re a children’s bookstore, and we’ll always be a children’s bookstore,” he said, while noting that much of the increase in space will be for adult titles. Heading into the summer, the store has been doing really well with a selection of kids’ books, including Lisa Brown’s The Airport Book (Roaring Brook/Porter), Sara Pennypacker’s Pax (HarperCollins/Balzer + Bray), and Brittany Cavallaro’s Charlotte Holmes novel, A Study in Charlotte (HarperCollins/Tegen). And like many children’s booksellers, manager Justin Colussy-Estes singled out Monica Hesse’s Girl in the Blue Coat (Little, Brown), a mystery set in Nazi-occupied Amsterdam, as a favorite.
One trend that has continued, at least at the Strand, is the adult to YA crossover, according to Williams. She has observed a similar crossover for adult to middle grade titles with “more mature” themes like homelessness in Crenshaw (Feiwel and Friends) and bullying in Wolf Hollow (Dutton). “We are also seeing a trend of themes popular in general fiction, mostly in the release of YA thrillers like Julia Vanishes [Knopf] or The Darkest Corners [Delacorte],” Williams said. “LGBT adult readers are coming to our LGBT section for new titles like Lily and Dunkin [Delacorte] and Jerkbait [Jolly Fish Press].”
With the exception of Harry Potter, there’s no one children’s book that Joanne Parzakonis, co-owner of Bookbug in Kalamazoo, Mich., expects to have “just crazy sales” for this summer, the way that The Day the Crayons Quit did. She sees the children’s category selling across the board, and she’s not alone – particularly since stores like Barstons sell more books for kids traveling over the summer or catching up on summer reading.
And as Savage at the Reading Bug observes, “There’s [not] a ton of great picture books coming out over the summer. It used to be that summer was all the big kids’ releases. It’s totally changed to the school year now, just based on the fact that authors are visiting schools more often and doing really well with sales that way.”