The annual Southern Independent Booksellers Alliance Discovery Show, held from September 15–17, hosted a strong series of panels and presentations focused on children’s publishing. As the show opened, it was announced that Newbery Medalist Kwame Alexander would be honored with SIBA’s first Conroy Legacy Award. The prize was named after the late author Pat Conroy and recognizes writers who, in the words of the award citation, “have achieved a lasting impact on their community, demonstrating support for independent bookstores.” A donation is made in the name of the author to the Pat Conroy Literary Center and to a charity of the author’s selection, in this case, the George C. Round Elementary School in Manassas, Va.
“Kwame Alexander is at the forefront when it comes to mentoring the next generation of writers, not just in the U.S. but worldwide,” said Hilary Barrineau of Hooray for Books in Alexandria, Va. Barrineau interviewed Alexander on stage, which was a show highlight for bookseller Ada Fitzgerald, co-owner of Main Street Books in Davidson, N.C. “His comments on the importance of building community were all the more relevant because of recent events [a reference to the violence in August in Charlottesville, Va.]. It was less practical than the session on using Edelweiss that I went to, but far more scintillating.”
Alexander was among a handful of authors who brought race issues to the forefront of conversations at SIBA. The lineup also included Quvenzhané Wallis, author of A Night Out with Mama and Shai & Emma Star in Break an Egg! (Simon & Schuster), and Atlanta-based author Nic Stone, who presented her debut novel, Dear Martin (Crown). Speaking during a Penguin Random House breakfast, Stone asked for a show of hands of “brown people” in the room. A single arm shot up: that of Erica Merrill, co-owner of Wild Iris Books in Gainesville, Fla. “There is no easy way to change the composition of this room,” Stone said. “We don’t like talking about it. We don’t like looking at it, but we need to.”
Merrill, who describes Wild Iris as a feminist bookstore, offered a workshop on the concept of “inventory activism,” which advocated that booksellers make deliberate choices in the books they stock to reflect authors of a wide variety of races, religions, and sexual orientations. Michelle Cavalier, co-owner of Cavalier House Books in Denham Springs, La., was among the booksellers embracing the idea. She said she would, for example, stock and display Stone’s Dear Martin, about a college-bound African-American man who reacts to injustice by keeping a diary addressed to Dr. Martin Luther King, alongside the collected works of Dr. Martin Luther King. (Shortly after the show, Wild Iris announced that it would close its doors on December 23, after 25 years.)
Numerous other sessions at the show offered discussions of children’s books and publishing, including a panel on “Big Reads for Small People,” featuring Lisa Kerr Dunn, author of Dreaming with Animals (University of South Carolina Press); Kim Jaime Kim, the illustrator of La, La, La: A Story of Hope (Candlewick); Stacy McaAnulty, author of Brave (Running Press), and Sue Patterson, author of Big Words for Little Geniuses (Little, Brown/Jimmy Patterson). Another panel, on “Teen Reads,” made frequent references to the importance of the internet in the research phase of the writing process, particularly when it comes to esoteric subjects. Peter Bognanni, author of Things I’m Seeing Without You (Dial), about a girl grieving over the suicide of a boy with whom she had an online relationship, said that he’d become “kind of obsessed” with researching boutique funerals; Amy Lukavics, author of The Ravenous (Harlequin) noted her reluctance to research recipes for cooking human meat (a feature of her novel) for fear of them becoming part of her search history; and Claudia Gray, author of Journey to Star Wars, the Last Jedi: Leia, Princess of Alderaan, recalled searching Google to find out if Wookiees shed hair. “I couldn’t find an answer and eventually had to call Lucasfilm to ask. They didn’t know either and had to call a meeting to discuss the question,” she said.
Alas, SIBA, too couldn’t escape the headlines, and some books even look poised to— perhaps unwittingly—capitalize on the news. Among those is Sergeant Reckless: The True Story of the Little Horse Who Became a Hero (Balzer + Bray) by Patricia McCormick, who spoke at one of the lunchtime presentations, and illustrated by Iacopo Bruno. Several booksellers remarked on an uptick in interest in the picture book, which is about a heroic horse that served with the U.S. military during the Korean War, due to the current belligerent rhetoric between the U.S. and North Korea.
Occurring as it did in the aftermath of Hurricane Irma striking Florida, the SIBA Discovery Show was missing booksellers from eight stores across Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, and Virginia who had registered for the show, but were unable to make it due to troubles stemming from Hurricane Irma, which struck the region earlier in the week. At present, SIBA has 138 members, down three from this time last year. In all, booksellers from 71 different stores across the region attended and registrations were up 4% over last year’s show in Savannah. “New Orleans, like Savannah, is a popular destination and we always have members make an extra effort to attend,” Nicki Leone, marketing director for SIBA, said. Next year’s Discovery Show is scheduled for Sept. 13–15 at the Innisbrook Resort in Tampa, Fla.