Children’s authors played a pivotal role at this year’s Northern California Independent Booksellers Association’s Fall Discovery Show at the South San Francisco Conference Center, sparking important discussions that lasted for the entire conference.
The Mirrors & Windows Buzz Brunch hosted by the Northern California Children’s Booksellers Alliance was the centerpiece of the trade show’s first full day on October 19. According to NCIBA administrator Ann Seaton, this newly added event “sold out in the blink of an eye.” Attendees from around the region joined the heartfelt conversation that tackled diversity, the gay rights movement, and immigration.
During the brunch, Kathryn Otoshi shared her wordless picture book, Draw the Line (Roaring Brook). With spare imagery, the book follows two kids doodling on the ground. When their drawings inevitably collide, the children bicker over control of the tangled lines. As the argument escalates, the hand-drawn scribbles split into a literal chasm that separate the two characters. At that moment in the story, Otoshi asked the audience a key question facing readers of all ages: “How do we ever come back together again after a serious break?”
Recalling how last year’s election caused painful rifts among family and friends, Otoshi was moved to tears. “When I read this book to kids, I always ask, ‘What’s going to happen here? Can they come back together?’ ” she said. “It feels pretty hopeless. But hopefully, the answer is yes.” Her book ends with an inspiring reconciliation.
Rob Sanders, author of Pride: The Story of Harvey Milk and the Rainbow Flag (Random House), was joined on stage by his editor, Michael Joosten. Sanders started writing his new book on June 26, 2015, basking in the elation of that historic day when the Supreme Court ruled that gay marriage is a constitutionally protected civil right.
“This began as a book of celebration, but it became a book of necessity over the last few months,” Sanders said. This year, he said, has proved to be a rude awakening for the gay rights movement, as federal decisions barred transgender individuals from military service and excluded them from employment discrimination protections afforded to other Americans.
“It has become obvious that equality is never won. You take little steps toward equality, and then you take some steps back. But you are farther along,” Sanders said, reminding booksellers why kids must learn about historical context and the incremental nature of progress. “You are always working toward it. So out of necessity, children need to know this story.”
Children’s books were frequently referenced in the “Maximizing Backlist” educational session. While trade shows traditionally focus on new and forthcoming children’s books, Joy Dallanegra-Sanger, senior program officer at the American Booksellers Association, emphasized how classic children’s books play a key role at bookstores; backlist makes up about 70 percent of children’s sales, she said. “People buy the books that they loved for kids. For parents and people who don’t have kids, they go back to what they knew as kids. It’s been like this for a long, long time.”
Even so, a number of new children’s titles captured booksellers’ attention this year at NCIBA. Many of the most eye-catching titles involved interactive elements: pop-up books, print titles with digital extensions, or books with crafting elements. Britney Van Burkleo Alvarez, trade marketing manager at Lonely Planet Kids, showed off Incredible Cabinet of Wonders, a collection of mini-museums dedicated to everything from monsters to toys to scientists. Each individual “cabinet” features the art of a different illustrator, complete with flaps, sliders, and other playful elements. “We are living in an interactive age,” said Alvarez. “The more physical, tactile experience kids can have when they engage with books, the more excited they are.”
Baker & Taylor national sales manager Scott Butler had the most interactive display on the exhibition floor. Throughout the entire show, he helped attendees of all ages make simple stop-motion animation videos with plastic Legos and a tablet computer, following directions from the Lego Make Your Own Movie Kit (Klutz).
HarperCollins rep Jim Hankey highlighted Good Day, Good Night, a picture book manuscript written by Margaret Wise Brown that never found an illustrator, until now. The book is finally published with illustrations by Loren Long, who won the SCBWI Golden Kite Award for illustrating I Dream of Trains by Angela Johnson. “It has rhythmic text that everybody knows from Goodnight Moon,” said Hankey. “And Loren has put little Easter eggs for people who know The Runaway Bunny and Goodnight Moon.”
Based on enthusiastic bookseller response to the title, Hachette Book Group senior sales representative Tom McIntyre predicted that The Trials of Morrigan Crow by Jessica Townsend “is going to be a huge title for us.” This debut novel, first in the Nevermoor series, chronicles the adventures of a girl who appears to be cursed but ends up joining a secret competition in a mystical city.
March Forward, Girl: From Young Warrior to Little Rock Nine (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt) by Melba Pattillo Beals and illustrated by Frank Morrison, was another popular book at the show—satisfying booksellers hungry for nonfiction in the middle grade category.
Macmillan sales rep Gigi Reinheimer chose the graphic novel Pashmina (First Second) by Bay Area author Nidhi Chanani as her top pick for the trade show. At the author signing, “we literally ran out of it,” Reinheimer said.
As the exhibition tables were packed up on October 20, sales rep and bookseller Bob Ditter shared his favorite new Candlewick titles at the Imprint Group West booth. He displayed Jaime Kim’s illustrations in Kate DiCamillo’s book, La La La: A Story of Hope—an almost wordless picture book about a girl searching for connection in a darkened world.
It seemed as if DiCamillo’s book could provide an answer to the question that Kathryn Otoshi posed earlier in the week. “How do we ever come back together again after a serious break?” Deborah Santana, editor of the forthcoming All the Women in My Family Sing: Women Write the World: Essays on Equality, Justice, and Freedom (Nothing but the Truth Publishing), felt that NCIBA inspired a spirit of unity and a celebration of diversity among publishing professionals. “There’s no time like now to look at other people’s lives and bring people together in solidarity and one-ness,” she said. “The people I’ve met here are so eager to join in with this one-ness—to get all voices heard.”