For booksellers, the holiday season really is the most wonderful time of the year. Reports from around the country indicate a healthy season for children’s booksellers in particular, consistently citing sales hikes of 10% or more over the previous year, despite the difficult climate, both literal—which saw cold temperatures across much of the country—and political. Nearly all booksellers surveyed for this report noted strong sales of new books by perennial bestselling authors, including Turtles All the Way Down by John Green (Dutton), The Getaway, the latest Wimpy Kid book by Jeff Kinney (Amulet), Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban by J.K. Rowling, illustrated by Jim Kay (Scholastic/Levine), and Philip Pullman’s The Book of Dust (Knopf).
Much of the sales enthusiasm may have been fueled by a shift in attitude from last year’s holiday season. “We got so many gifts from customers this year!,” said Leila Nebeker, book buyer at One More Page Books in Arlington, Va. “I was so touched by how many of our regulars went out of their way to bring us cookies, gift cards, or other gift items during the holidays. Whereas last year, the holiday season felt permeated by fear and anger, I think this year people worked hard to show kindness and gratitude. I certainly felt more appreciated than ever by our amazing customers this year.” She noted several titles for young readers that were popular with staff and—as a consequence —with customers this year, including Not Quite Narwhal by Jessie Sima (S&S), When Dimple Met Rishi by Sandhya Menon (Simon Pulse), and The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas (HarperCollins/Balzer + Bray).
Tod Gross, manager of Phoenix Booksellers’ downtown outpost in Burlington, Vt., concurred about the change in attitude. “People were generally cheerful. I think people who shop local and in a local bookstore are predisposed to be happy. If you choose to go out to a local bookstore you’re self-selective for cheerfulness—you love being around books, you love talking about books. Last year was a little grimmer. We were commenting the other day that there was no negativity this year, even towards the end when people become desperate on the last shopping day.”
Gross was among the booksellers who noted the unexpected spillover sales for Dream Big Dreams: Photographs from Barack Obama’s Inspiring and Historic Presidency, the young readers’ edition of Obama: An Intimate Portrait, both by Pete Souza (Little, Brown); Dream Big Dreams was more widely available than the adult edition, which sold out early in the holiday season and was difficult for many booksellers to keep in stock.
Many booksellers were also laser-focused on tracking sales of two other titles in particular: Elena Favilli and Francesca Cavallo’s two editions of Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls (Timbuktu Labs). “I cannot believe how they have sold,” said Shirley Mullin, owner of Kids Ink in Indianapolis. She added that the store has sold 75 copies of the first book since June, and 17 copies of the second one since November. “These are not amazing numbers, except when you consider they are $35 each. I am not sure where customers have been hearing about them but they come in asking for the books specifically and don’t flinch at the price. I think it’s all connected to the #MeToo movement. They are excellent books.”
Several booksellers noted the same trend. “There’s a lot more focus on feminism and activism. Certainly more than two or three years ago,” Pete Mulvihill, co-owner of Green Apple Books in San Francisco, said, adding, “I sent my buddy Bedtime Stories for Rebel Girls for his kid, and he’s like, ‘Oh, you’re the fourth person to give that book.’ ” Sarah Hollenbeck, co-owner of Women and Children First in Chicago, said, “I was blown away by the tall stacks of books that customers brought to the register —along with loads of socks, dish towels, pencils, enamel pins, and other add-ons. I was expecting more resistance when it came to higher priced books like Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls.”
Jarek Steele, co-owner of Left Bank Books in St. Louis, Mo., also had Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls as “the hands-down favorite” in the store, with 37 sold. This was followed by A Is for Activist by Innosanto Nagara (Triangle Square), with 33 sold; Here We Are: Notes for Living on Planet Earth by Oliver Jeffers (Philomel), with 31 sold, followed by Feminist Baby by Loryn Brantz (Disney-Hyperion) and I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter by Erika L. Sánchez (Knopf). “Notice a trend?,” he joked.
Some booksellers were also helped by sales of sidelines. “We were up 22% from December 2016, and 11% from December 2015. For the entire year, so far, that puts us up about 12%,” said Cynthia Compton, owner of 4 Kids Books & Toys in Zionsville, Ind. “That’s great, but only about half of that increase is books. The rest, honestly, is fad sales: fidget spinners, thinking putty/slime, and squishies. We have had great cash flow with trends this year, and we are fortunate to have been able to catch the wave on three of them.”
As far as its bestselling books,4 Kids Books & Toys had a tie between Tyrannosaurus Rex vs. Edna the Very First Chicken by Douglas Rees, illustrated by Jed Henry (Holt) and She Persisted by Chelsea Clinton, illustrated by Alexandra Boiger (Philomel). “In middle grade, we continued to do very well with The War I Finally Won by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley (Dial) and Shoe Dog (Young Readers Edition) by Phil Knight (S&S/Wiseman). Also in this section we had a resurgence of interest in Chris Colfer’s entire Land of Stories series, which seems to magically create a new legion of fans every time a volume in the series is pubbed.” In addition to the aforementioned John Green and Erika Sanchez novels, Warcross by Marie Lu (Putnam) was also a top-selling YA title at the store.
At Children’s Bookstore: Charlie’s Corner in San Francisco, owner Charlotte Nagy said the season’s results were even more positive, with sales up 65% over 2016. “The uncertainty of what was going on post-election, we picked up on that. It was a different feel. This year people were very happy to be in here. They have this look in their eye where they are children again. The most important thing after the election, we came together to make our motto: ‘Here there’s a place for you. There’s a place for everyone.’ ”
No book represented that better, Nagy noted, than Her Right Foot by Dave Eggers, illustrated by Shawn Harris (Chronicle). “We have a whole stack of those right there in our front window,” she said. It was her store’s third bestselling title for the season, trailing only Ruth Bader Ginsburg: The Case of R.B.G. vs. Inequality by Jonah Winter (Abrams) and, natch, Goodnight Stories for Rebel Girls.