So far, 2017 is stacking up to be a solid year for independent booksellers selling children’s books. Peter Reynolds, owner of the Blue Bunny Books & Toys in Dedham, Mass., said that sales are up 25% this year overall, despite an Amazon Books opening less than a mile away earlier this year and his own store having been closed for three weeks to renovate and add a cafe. “Summer has been really good for us and we’re a bit surprised. Our loyal customers became even more loyal,” he said, pointing out that digital sales have been especially strong, and accounted for a 4% rise in sales this summer alone.
“We had a really good summer,” said Ann Woodbeck, owner of Excelsior Bay Books outside of Minneapolis. “Sales were way up. We expect to finish out the year with a double-digit increase over last year.” But, she said, though children’s books are 35% of total book sales, sales this summer have been flat. “Normally there’s a bump during the summer, but this summer it may have been down slightly. Surprising.”
Maureen Palacios, owner of Once Upon a Time Bookstore in Montrose, Calif., reported that sales were up 5% over last year, primarily as a result of hosting a half-dozen sold-out reading and writing camps. “We also partnered with area schools for summer reading, which always helps bring in folks,” she added.
Red Balloon Bookshop in St. Paul, Minn., reported a 3% rise in sales this summer. Though owner Holly Weinkauf felt the number was “pretty flat,” she was nevertheless sanguine about the rest of the year. “I think we’ll be slightly up from last year,” she said. “Big-name events this fall should help us. Regular walk-in sales and traffic this year have been good. I think it’s going to continue into the holiday season.”
Events also drove sales at Green Bean Books in Portland, Ore. “We were up 3 1/2% this summer, which is fantastic,” said co-owner Jennifer Green. One particular draw was Drag Queen Story Time and Craft, a “glamorous performance that shows kids that dress-up is for everyone and challenges strict gender definitions,” according to the event’s Facebook page.
Colleen Kammer, co-owner of the Book Beat in Detroit, said, “Children’s sales, as well as local school and library sales, are excellent. They are about 55% [of the store’s total book sales].” A store favorite is See You in the Cosmos, a middle grade novel by Jack Cheng (Dial). “It’s doing really well. People are excited about it,” she said.
Like several booksellers surveyed, Kristen Sandstrom, manager at Apostle Islands Booksellers in Bayfield, Wis., cited Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls by Elena Favilli and Francesca Cavallo (Timbuktu Labs) as a top-selling title. “We have sold 68 copies since July 19, at $35 per copy. I am shocked at how well it’s doing,” she said.
At Katy Budget Books, just west of Houston (which escaped damage from Hurricane Harvey), store manager Richard Deupree reported that the store was particularly successful with any title that appeared on the Indie Next List from the American Booksellers Association. “We sold all the ones that everyone sold,” he said. “Everything, Everything by Nicola Yoon (Delacorte) was huge. John Green [continues to be] huge for us.” He also noted that the store hosted a first-time self-published author, Monica Luedecke, this past weekend. “Her book, The Goal House, is fascinating in that it is meant for middle readers, but one adults can learn from as well.”
Zane Fletcher, YA and children’s area manager at the Bookworm in Omaha, Neb., said his store also did well with a local author, albeit one with a bit more of a track record: Rainbow Rowell. “We sold 200 copies of the paperback release of Carry On,” said Fletcher. As for picture books, Fletcher said that Dragons Love Tacos and its sequel, Dragons Love Tacos 2, by Adam Rubin and illustrated by Daniel Salmieri (Dial) were surprise breakout hits for the store. “Also, we’re doing more cross-merchandising,” Fletcher added. “[For example], plush toys are placed near the corresponding book to build up sales of plush. That has resulted in about 18%–20% of customers wanting the book ending up buying both book and plush.”
Kate Schlademan, owner of Learned Owl Books in Hudson, Ohio, near Cleveland, also had a local author who proved popular with buyers: cartoonist Terri Libenson, whose debut graphic novel, Invisible Emmie (HarperCollins/Balzer + Bray), came out in May. “She’s been getting great reviews [in major media publications],” Schlademan said.
Looking ahead toward the fall season, it should come as no surprise that booksellers expressed almost universally high expectations for John Green’s forthcoming novel, Turtles All the Way Down (Dutton), his first new novel in five years, since his blockbuster The Fault in Our Stars. Others pointed to The Ship of the Dead by Rick Riordan, third in his Magnus Chase and the Gods of Asgard series (Disney-Hyperion), the new fully illustrated Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban by J.K. Rowling (Scholastic/Levine), and The Wolf, the Duck, and the Mouse, a picture book collaboration from Mac Barnett and Jon Klassen (Candlewick).
Becky Anderson, owner of Anderson’s Bookshops in the Chicago area, said, “Our percentage of kids to adult is 49% to 51%—so just about equal. Kids has always been big for us—but continues its climb. We anticipate a great year, and for a great increase over last. Fall events are lining up to be big, as well as authors in schools and book fairs, and all could have record numbers.” Among the titles she’s looking forward to selling are Wishtree by Katherine Applegate (Feiwel and Friends), Saving Marty by Paul Griffin (Dial), The War I Finally Won by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley (Dial), and The Glass Town Game by Catherynne M. Valente (McElderry).
At Changing Hands Bookstore in Tempe, Ariz., children’s book buyer Brandi Stewart is looking forward to Insignificant Events in the Life of a Cactus by Dusti Bowling (Sterling) and Marissa Meyer’s Renegades (Feiwel and Friends). Piper by Jay Asher and Jessica Freeburg (Razorbill) is also a staff favorite.
Despite the popular pedigree of the aforementioned titles, when you have a children’s author on staff at the store, like they do at Avid Bookshop in Athens, Ga, you can expect sales of that book to trump all others. “Top Elf by Caleb Zane Huett [Scholastic] is building to be our number one holiday book,” owner Janet Gaddis said. “Our bookseller Caleb is kind, silly, wise, and very funny, and that comes across so vividly in this middle grade (and non-religious) book about the North Pole competition to be the next Santa Claus.”
As for sales for the rest of the year, most booksellers are anticipating strong results. Anne Holman, general manager of the King’s English in Salt Lake City, where children’s book sales account for 40% of revenue, echoed most of the booksellers in our survey when asked about the remainder of the year. “I think people are excited to be back in bookstores,” she said. “It’s happening in a lot of places. We’re having a great year, customers are happy, we’re happy, and I’m looking forward to ending on a successful note.”