Children’s authors and illustrators, along with programming for children’s booksellers, were among the factors that made the 2017 Mountains & Plains Independent Booksellers Association Fall Discovery Show, held at the Renaissance Denver Stapleton Hotel from October 12–14, a record-breaker. Attendance, which had been growing steadily in recent years, broke 600, making this the biggest fall trade show the association has mounted since executive director Laura Burnett began running it in 2011. That figure includes 350 booksellers, nearly double the number in 2015. “I’m beyond pleased,” Burnett told PW. “I’m thrilled. I thought all the authors [adult and kids’] were phenomenal and moving.”

Discovering Authors—at Breakfast, Tea, and Dinner

MPIBA, which traditionally kicks off with a children’s breakfast and has long had a speed-dating tea (or Young Readers Roundup), also included a children’s author and artist at the “adult” author banquet on the final night of this year’s show. Writer Matt de la Peña and illustrator Loren Long, co-creators of the picture book Love (Putnam, Jan. 2018), made the most of the opportunity. After speaking about their book, which de la Peña said that he wrote for his young daughter to counter today’s divisiveness, the pair gleefully read it aloud.

At the banquet, Uzodinma Iweala (Speak No Evil: A Novel, Harper, Mar. 2018) underscored the importance of children’s literacy as he spoke about growing up in Washington, D.C. He would visit the library and buy books at the Cheshire Cat children’s bookstore (now part of Politics & Prose). At the bookstore, Iweala met his first president, Jimmy Carter, when he was just 11 years old. As for his favorite books growing up, the Choose Your Own Adventure series was “dope.”

“I’m interested in the authors,” Joanne Walker Matzenbacher of Bookworks in Albuquerque, N.M., said, explaining why she attends MPIBA. She called the children’s breakfast, with Peter Sís (Robinson, Scholastic Press, Sept.), Jessica Brody (The Chaos of Standing Still, Simon Pulse, Nov.), and Shannon and Dean Hale (The Princess in Black and the Mysterious Playdate, Candlewick, Sept.), “fabulous.” Sís, who came to the U.S. 34 years ago to work on two films, one for MTV and one on the 1984 Olympics, spoke about the dangers of the written word in his native land, Czechoslovakia. People were never sure which books they were allowed to read and which were banned, he said. He tried several creative professions before getting his big break. A friend had sent some of Sís’s pictures to Maurice Sendak, who called him collect and asked if he wanted to be in children’s books. Broke, Sís said “yes.” His latest book, Sís said, was inspired by his boyhood infatuation with Daniel Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe and a photograph he found of himself as a boy dressed up in a pirate costume made by his mother.

Jessica Brody had written a number of upbeat rom-com novels for teens that she felt good about—books like 52 Reasons to Hate My Father and My Life Undecided. “Everything I set out to do, I accomplished,” she said. That was until she began to write The Chaos of Standing Still (which had the working title Delayed). Her earlier formula didn’t fit. Although the novel has humor, a boy in a Muppet shirt, and a girl stranded in an airport who falls in love with him, it also has that same girl trying to come to grips with the death of her best friend. “It’s the only book I ever cried over,” said Brody, who called it her “grief book.”

Booksellers who weren’t already crying during Brody’s presentation, as they thought of their own ways of grieving, had to wipe away tears during the Hales’ impassioned speech about why books for boys and girls should not be stereotyped. “People are afraid to give books about girls to boys,” Shannon Hale said. “They’d never think about giving a book about boys to girls. Reading helps us learn empathy. If we’re shielding boys, they’re not learning about half the human race. Maybe he can grow up in a world where he can see girls and women as human beings and equals.”

As the parents of four kids, Shannon Hale said of her and her husband, “we are desperate for early chapter books. We were hoping for imitators.” If that didn’t make the point that she wanted to see more books where girls could be both tomboys and princesses, she added, that if she were to die tomorrow, the only thing she wants on her tombstone is: “Author of the Princess in Black.”

By the time the Young Readers Roundup, hosted by Claudia Maceo of the Twig Book Shop in San Antonio, Tex., took place the following afternoon, those tears were a thing of the past. Booksellers were excited to hear about new and forthcoming books from 15 authors, ranging from Tochi Oneybuchi, whose YA fantasy based on a Nigerian folk tale, Beasts Made of Night (Razorbill, Oct.), was a YA buzz panel pick at BookExpo, to Ted Rechlin, whose graphic nonfiction book on dinosaurs, Jurassic (Rextooth Studios) came out earlier this summer, and Lindsay Eagar, whose Race to the Bottom of the Sea (Candlewick, Oct.) combines middle grade maritime adventure with science.

Kid-Friendly Educational Programming

While much of the educational programming was aimed at general booksellers, the ABA panel presented at each regional trade show on maximizing backlist, had plenty of information for children’s booksellers, who are no strangers to the importance of backlist, given the popularity of longtime classics like Goodnight Moon. ABA senior program officer Joy Dallanegra-Sanger and board member Valerie Koehler of Blue Willow Bookshop in Houston encouraged booksellers to take advantage of the many new publisher promotions for backlist. They pointed out that backlist continues to dominate bookstore sales. Dallanegra-Sanger quoted NPD Group figures when saying that this year through the end of August, 57% of all book sales (both adult and children’s) were for backlist titles, with 43% frontlist.

Koehler said that she’s planning to use some of the new ABA backlist promotions to support her “baby’s first year” subscription box. Another place where the promotions will help out is her recently revamped classics section, which has gone from looking like a high school reading list section to a place to find interesting older books. Since the changeover, sales for the section have picked up.

But the educational session that most directly addressed the needs of children’s booksellers focused on “Build a Better Book Fair.” “A lot of stores look at book fairs as a profit center,” said moderator Margaret Brennan Neville of the King’s English in Salt Lake City, Utah. “But that’s not completely true.” She tried to use her experiences in a relatively small bookstore, whose biggest book fairs are for private schools, with those of panelists Sarah Hopkins of the Bookworm of Edwards in Edwards, Colo., and Meghan Goel of BookPeople in Austin, Tex., which has been steadily growing its book fairs, up from 20 in 2016 to 30 this year, to temper expectations and keep book fairs in the black.

At the Bookworm of Edwards, book fair revenues average $1,500 to $5,000, while BookPeople’s fairs range from $5,000 to 10 times that figure and have increased with the store’s outreach to schools over the past dozen years. BookPeople added a separate warehouse and a new POS system just for its book fair business. It also has book fair accounts with all its publishers. “That extra discount, which can be five or 10%, does add up,” Goel said. Although she’s had book book fair accounts with the major publishers for the past decade, she’s only recently set up accounts with smaller publishers.

Like Goel, Hopkins encouraged booksellers to order directly from publishers and to analyze each book fair using Excel. “There’s never too many analytics,” she advised. Based on some of the store’s findings, Hopkins said that they’re planning to experiment with remainders to make sure they have affordable books for all kids in the school. She is also using backlist promotions to keep inventory costs down.

But beyond the programming, one of the biggest show highlights was the nearly dozen new booksellers with stores that have recently opened or are about to open or who are about to take over seasoned locations. And as MPIBA president Anne Holman of the King’s English noted at the general meeting: “Our stores are healthy. And that’s a good thing.”