For its fourth year in a row, Children’s Institute gathered booksellers from across the country for two days of education. Below, we report on some particularly useful highlights that booksellers shared, on everything from handselling graphic novels to running successful, inexpensive authorless events.

Buying and Selling Graphic Novels

A panel with Heather Hebert (moderator) at Children’s Book World in Haverford, Pa.; Andrew Camner at Books & Books in Coral Gables, Fla.; Marika McCoola at Porter Square Books in Cambridge, Mass.; and Cathy Berner at Blue Willow Bookshop in Houston, Tex.

  • To get started, McCoola suggested asking a local librarian for a list of graphic novels with the highest circulation.

  • When it comes to shelving, Berner recommended that graphic novels go where your booksellers are most likely to look for them. At her store, the decisions can seem “very capricious,” she said. For example, the Wimpy Kid series is shelved in children’s fiction.

  • Porter Square uses a similar approach based on where booksellers will handsell them and places bind-ups of Lumberjanes comics in the store’s YA section.

  • Books & Books recently created a manga section, to supplement its adult graphic novels and children’s graphic novels sections. “In my experience, people looking for [manga] aren’t looking for anything else,” said Camner, who has been a manga fan since he was 14.

  • If parents say that they want their child to read a “real book,” McCoola discusses “visual literacy” and the importance of learning to read images. She also finds that anything that has won an award is easier to handsell.

  • Hebert makes sure that graphic novels are always included at educator nights and book fairs. If educators are interested in graphic novels, they will communicate that with parents.

  • McCoola said that her store quadrupled sales of middle-grade graphic novels when they created a separate section.

  • Hebert would like to see more diverse characters in graphic novels, while McCoola suggested more male protagonists for middle grade graphic novels and more YA graphic novels.

  • For those looking for diversity, Camner recommended not overlooking Marvel or DC and series like Batgirl.

  • As for booksellers concerned about competing with local comics shops, Camner said that it’s not an issue. Those who shop at comic shops are going to go there every Wednesday to pick up their weekly comics.

Child Development and Literacy

A panel with Dane Ferguson (moderator) at Ferguson Books & More in Grand Forks, N.D.; Kathleen Carey at Book House of Stuyvesant Plaza in Albany, N.Y.; Anne Turlington at Pomegranate Books in Wilmington, N.C.; and Deirdre Englehart of the School of Teaching, Learning, and Leadership at the University of Central Florida.

  • Panelists stressed the importance of reading aloud to children even for 15 minutes a day, as it “helps them connect with you, learn the language, and sets the stage for a love of reading,” Englehart said.

  • Children “absorb so much” from reading with adults, Turlington said, “and it establishes the habit of setting aside time to read.”

  • Englehart suggested asking follow-up questions after reading together to concretize comprehension.

  • Ferguson suggested that booksellers share books that grandparents will get excited about, and to open the book and give them things to point out to the kids while reading together to better engage them in the story.

  • Titles like Haiku Baby and wordless picture books can be “rich reading experiences,” Carey said, to get kids pointing at pages and immersed in the book.

  • Englehart suggested keeping a basket of props that go along with read-alouds for younger children to act out the story along with hearing it.

Stemming the Summer Slide with Summer Reading and Book Camps

A panel with Kelly Estep at Carmichael’s Bookstore in Louisville, Ky. (moderator); Amy Brabenec at Brookline Booksmith in Brookline, Mass.; Melissa Fox at Watermark Books & Café, Wichita, Kans.; and Diane Capriola at Little Shop of Stories in Decatur, Ga.

  • For the past five or six years, Little Shop of Stories has put together a reading guide each summer: some frontlist, some backlist titles. The store holds a summer reading challenge, for younger readers and for teens. For the younger ones, the challenge is to read 40 hours over the summer and keep a reading log; for every 10 hours read, kids get coupons for a free item in a local store. More than 1000 kids signed up this year. For teens the challenge is to read five books and design an activity based on one of those books. This year they added a third challenge, for adults: to read outside their usual interest area. A key component is partnering with local stores and reminding people to support their local businesses. “It’s a win-win for everyone,” Capriola said.

  • Brabenec gathers all of the summer reading lists from the nine area schools; the store keeps a binder of the lists and puts up a display that has all of the required titles faced out. She said they make sure to have all of the books in stock at the start of the summer and at the very end.

  • “We’re using the Give Me Summer, Give Me Books bingo game on the ABA site,” Estep said. “We didn’t have time to create our own site, so this is great.”

  • Carmichael’s runs a summer book club for third, fourth, and fifth graders, that meets once a month. They started a YA book club this summer but “teens are hard to reach,” said Estep. One teen customer volunteered to do the social media component for the club, which was a big help.

  • Fox’s store runs two book clubs each summer. For their Roald Dahl book club, parents are allowed to attend but not say anything. And the teen book club is reading Patrick Ness’s Chaos Walking: five kids and their parents, holding a free-form discussion.

  • Watermark has been running Camp Watermark for about 10 years. They reach out to customers, local artists and writers, etc., and ask them to come in for two hours to talk about what they do, and most people who are approached say “sure,” Fox said.

  • Capriola’s extensive summer camp program blew away the audience members. At Little Shop of Stories, they hold 10 full weeks of summer camp, each week a different camp, held Monday through Friday 9–4, for $325 per week, 20–24 kids ages 7–11. There’s a huge turnout to wait in line on the day that camp reservations begin; it’s become a community ritual. “Camp Hogwarts is probably the camp we’re most known for,” Capriola said. “Each day is a year at Hogwarts, and at the end the kids sit for their O.W.L.s.” Activities include potions class, crafts and activities, and trivia contests. There’s also a Goody for Girls camp and a Camp Half Blood, modeled on the camps run by Bookpeople. Capriola’s advice to camp-running newbies: start small.

Jeff James, featured talk on “Disney’s Approach to (Great) Customer Service”

Disney Institute v-p and general manager discusses how Disney has become a leader in customer services.

  • “We believe there’s an opportunity to differentiate who you are if you maniacally focus on the customer,” James said as he urged booksellers to put the customer first, over making money. “We’re in the customer experience decade.”

  • Always pay attention to the details, he advised.

  • It’s more important for an employee to have an interaction than a transaction.

  • Think about your brand promise. Loyalty is earned by delivering on the brand promise. At Disney that promise is “to create happiness.”

  • Every customer (or guest) has to have the same experience.

  • At Disney, cast members intuitively do the right thing because of deep cultural immersion. “We fundamentally believe purpose trumps task,” said James.

  • While big ideas are important, James said that at Disney they believe that it’s better to change 1,000 things 1% than to change one thing 1,000%.

Rethinking and Rearranging Children’s Nonfiction

A panel with Sarah Hutton (moderator) at Village Books in Bellingham and Fairhaven, Wash.; Hannah Lee at Main Point Books in Bryn Mawr, Pa.; Hilary Lawlor at Elliott Bay Book Company in Seattle; and Sara Grochowski at Brilliant Books in Traverse City, Mich.

  • Grochowski’s motto is “always be curating.” She pulls returns every week. But she is also constantly looking for books to try, and recommends that booksellers follow educators and librarians on Twitter like @MrSchuReads and @Knott_Michele to look for titles to build their nonfiction sections.

  • Lee, whose store is located in a “ritzy” area, wants to showcase other cultures, other lives, in her nonfiction section.

  • At Elliott Bay, Lawlor is trying to grow the YA nonfiction section. It’s currently one shelf. “We feel you can’t ignore it,” she said, “particularly for your queer or LGBT teens.” The store also has a monthly theme for its nonfiction displays and endcaps.

  • Grochowski shelves the Who Was and What Was books together. Because of space limitations, she mixes YA nonfiction with fiction.

  • Hutton shelves one copy of series titles in the fiction section to capture both fiction and nonfiction readers.

  • Anytime someone comes into the store and asks for a nonfiction title, Grochowski will order it for the store. “If they want it, someone else will,” she said. Lawlor keeps a shareble document via Google with topics that customers ask about. If it happens two or three times, she said, Elliott Bay will add that topic to the store’s subsections.

Understanding and Selling Early Readers and Leveled Readers

A panel with Elizabeth Bluemle of Flying Pig Bookstore in Shelburne, Vt. (moderator); Annette Hughes, sales director for Scholastic Trade; Susan Kusel of [words] Bookstore in Maplewood, N.J.; Sarah Cuadra of Storybook Garden in Weslaco, Tex.; and Kathy Faber, v-p of children’s sales at HarperCollins.

  • Panelists offered a variety of definitions for levelel readers; Faber defined them as having strict guidelines for word and syllable count. “The hope is to not make it a frustrating experience.”

  • Addressing the issue of labeling, Hughes said, “It’s important to understand the levels but that’s more for the educational side. We’re looking to build the readers.” Scholastic has its own wording on the books’ back covers, “a gentle rebellion against that computer metric, and to allow for the fact that most kids are reading in a range,” not just at one specific level.

  • As far as shelving, Cuadra keeps the books by publisher, while Kusel organizes them by beginning, intermediate, and advanced. But she has a problem: she can’t fit the Elephant & Piggie books into their spinner racks. For beginning reader books that are not leveled, Kusel shelves them with picture books. “In-between books are really tricky.”

  • Bluemle says that for shelving, “I try to think like the customer.” She also mentioned a big market for these books: homeschoolers. “It’s something they really need help with.”

  • “Your stores are probably the best resources for growing children’s reading,” Hughes said. “There’s too much emphasis on leveling. We want to open that door.’

ABC and ALA Present: Partnering With Your Local Library

Natasha Gilmore of Publishers Weekly moderated a panel with bookseller/librarian pairings: Holly Weinkauf at the Red Balloon Bookshop in St. Paul and Lisa Von Drasek, children’s literature research collection at the University of Minnesota Libraries; Laura Delaney at Rediscovered Books in Boise, Idaho, and Heidi Lewis at Boise Public Library; and Lauren Zimmerman, Writer’s Block Bookstore in Winter Park, Fla., and Sabrina Smith at Winter Park Public Library.

  • Since Rediscovered Books opened a decade ago, it has partnered with its local library by accepting donations of used books for it and giving customers receipts.

  • Lewis said that one advantage booksellers can offer librarians is getting authors to appear for free and providing library patrons with the opportunity to buy signed books.

  • This is equally important for Smith. When Zimmerman opened her bookstore, she was persistent about contacting the Winter Park Public Library and told them that she would get them authors for free and would give them part of the proceeds from book sales. For Smith that was like “manna from heaven,” since she has to fundraise a third of her budget.

  • Weinkauf trades with her local library. In exchange for the librarian doing storytime workshops with her staff, the bookstore offers her puppets at cost. The store also rents costumes that it shares with the library, in exchange for the librarian doing storytime at the Red Balloon.

  • In Boise, the library and the bookstore started a “Don’t Break the Chain” summer reading program. Each child who reads 20 minutes a day for seven days in a row (Sunday through Saturday) between June 1 and July 31 gets a paper chain link. Lewis would like to see the chain grow big enough that it could stretch the eight blocks between the two buildings.

  • Von Drasek recommended working with local Rotary Clubs, which are raising money this year for literacy. In what she jokingly refers to as “money laundering,” her library’s Friends group received a donation for the library from the Rotary Club. The library used the money to give away 175 books to underserved kids at an event with Newbery Medalist Kwame Alexander.

  • Persistence was something that Lewis stressed. Booksellers should make sure that they find the champion in the library for what they’re trying to do, like having the library stay open for an after-hours event.

  • Although Weinkauf can’t require events-goers to buy a book when she partners with the public library, she does make it clear that it’s important for customers to buy the books. Instead her store offers those who purchase the event book an early slot in the signing line.

  • From the audience Hannah Lee at Main Point Books in Bryn Mawr, Pa., said that she is nurturing a relationship with her local library by giving them damaged books. They’re excited to see what new titles she brings.

Buying and Merchandising for the Holidays

A panel with Angie Tally (moderator) at the Country Bookshop in Southern Pines, N.C.; Kristen Gilligan at Tattered Cover Bookstore in Denver, Colo.; Holly Alexander at Barbara’s Bestsellers in Chicago; and Lauren Savage at the Reading Bug in San Carlos, Calif.

  • Gilligan said that she still relies on insights gleaned from a talk many years ago by Paco Underhill, author of Why We Buy. Among his observations that she uses is that most people go to the right when they walk in a store.

  • Alexander recommended keeping impulse buys at the front counter and changing them weekly. If they stay on the counter too long, people will feel no urgency to buy.

  • For those overwhelmed by store displays, Savage suggested starting small with one table, generally a front table, and thinking of displays as stories, or vignettes. The display should have height, like a pyramid, and she prefers symmetrical displays.

  • “To me, the goal of visual merchandise is to attract customers and increase sales,” Gilligan said. Displays create an atmosphere, she added, and should be easy for the customer to understand immediately, with no explanation necessary.

  • When she’s buying, Alexander will tag books in Edelweiss that she wants to include in displays. Since she buys many of her Christmas and Hanukkah books in the summer, she already knows what she wants to display when the holiday season comes.

  • One of the sidelines that Savage does particularly well with is S’well water bottles. She will put a few around the store during the year to make sure that people remember them for the holidays. At Christmas, she will create a big S’well bottle display.

  • The Grinch costume is a big draw in Tally’s community and during the area’s two holiday parades that pass by her store, she will have a staffer dressed as the Grinch standing out front. By getting the costume on Friday, she can keep it all weekend and doesn’t have to return it until Monday.

  • Gilligan reminded booksellers to take photos of their displays and to post them on social media. She also recommended combining books and gifts on the same table.

  • To combat cluttered front counters, Savage takes similarly sized baskets and paints them all the same color. She doesn’t use publisher-provided displays.

  • Alexander sells ornaments and hangs them from the tree used for store displays to sell them. To get customers in the holiday mood, she even wraps store signs to look like presents.

  • One of Tattered Cover’s challenges is that it doesn’t decorate for the holidays –no Santa or Grinch. Gilligan uses a lot of poinsettias in her displays instead.

  • For ideas of strong displays, Savage looks to other retailers like Nordstrom and Anthropologie. And when she has only a single copy of a book left on a display, she will move it to the back of the display and stand it up and pair it up with a gift. That way customers will buy the last copy of a book on display.

Reaching Reluctant Readers

A panel with Margaret Brennan Neville, The King’s English Bookshop, Salt Lake City (moderator); Debbie Buck of Vintage Books in Vancouver, Wash.; Claire Gatrell-Stephens, Orange County Public Schools in Orlando, Fla.; and Molly Olivo of Barstons Child’s Play in McLean, Va.

  • Often with reluctant readers, “nothing really grabs them,” said Buck. “You have to ask a lot of questions to see what might interest them. You have to think outside the box.”

  • “Kids tend to self-identify as reluctant readers,” Olivo said. “They’ll say ‘I hate books.’ The best strategy is to say ‘I respect that’ ” and point out that maybe they just haven’t found a book they love, and then hope to help them to find it.

  • When working with a reluctant reader, Olivo said she will tell the parent to go somewhere else while she talks with the child. “Parents tend to speak for their kids in the selection process. I prefer the one-on-one approach.”

  • Success breeds success; “once the kid has some success, they come back and are a lot more excited about it,” said Neville.

  • Ask teachers and librarian customers for ideas in reaching reluctant readers.

  • Use the Quick Picks for Reluctant Readers list from YALSA.

  • They like stories about issues they’re grappling with.

  • Some booksellers found success with recommending nonfiction to boys who are reluctant readers. - Olivo cautioned against pigeonholing reluctant readers by gender, pointing out the boy in her store who was thrilled to discover Nimona.

  • “I find that sharing my own enthusiasm is the best way to sell a book,” said Gatrell-Stephens. “If you can tell them it’s a good story and why, you can hook them.”

Hosting Board Game and Other Non-Author Events

A panel with Johanna Albrecht (moderator) at Flyleaf Books in Chapel Hill, N.C.; Stephanie Crowe at Page & Palette in Fairhope, Ala.; Lisa Nehs at Books & Company in Oconomowoc, Wis.; and Brenda Weaver at Hearthside Books & Toys in Juneau, Alas.

  • “Hoard what you get for free and build excitement around it,” Albrecht said, sharing an event she created around a single promotional poster, in which kids came in and colored on the poster. Between the rainy weather, freebies, and story time, this free event was a success.

  • Nehs encourages pre-orders by offering discounts to gauge potential event attendance.

  • Weaver sells board games, and uses her demo copies to stock a game lending library that draws in families. Her store also hosts a successful game club, in which customers from teenagers to those in their 60s play board games together in the store.

  • All of the panelists use the newsletter subscription list for their YA book clubs to advertise YA-related events in the store.

  • Many of the stores had groups of “advisory boards” in which teens and tweens check out galleys from the store in exchange for writing shelftalker reviews. Publishers in turn use the quotes from young readers in promoting the books, too.

  • Weaver also offers classes, including “how to be successful in school,” in which parents and children can learn tips – like setting up a homework zone at home – that will help them academically.

  • A couple of the panelists had success with open mics; one, on Shakespeare’s birthday, allowed customers to get on stage and read their favorite lines from The Bard. Another gave customers the chance to read their favorite ghost stories for Halloween.

  • Crowe has a whole calendar of non-author events in her store, ranging from fashion shows, in which kids dress up like Fancy Nancy (or firemen!) and hit the runway; and a storytelling workshop for grandparents, where for $15 and an hour and a half, a local storyteller offers grandparents tips on how to read aloud successfully, and even gives out handouts.

  • While many independent bookstores are seeing success with “Blind Date with a Book” campaigns, in which stores pre-wrap books and offer a simple blurb for customers to buy and be surprised with its contents, audiences asked for suggestions on what to name a child-friendly version of such a thing. One audience member suggested: “Peek-A-Book!”