Children’s and YA booksellers from across the country are gathering at the Javits Center in New York City for the annual BookExpo conference, where they hope to connect with colleagues near and far, and scope out some of the season’s highly anticipated releases for young readers. We spoke with a number of booksellers about their impressions of the show, and the titles they’re most looking forward to grabbing at publishers’ booths.
Bookseller Meghan Hayden, who is opening a general interest bookstore called River Bend Bookshop in Glastonbury, Conn., is eager to discover new books for kids and teens that capture “the spirit of resistance” and that keep readers “engaged as citizens and with community.” Also speaking to the power of books to build connections, Amanda Clark, events coordinator at the Novel Neighbor in St. Louis, says, “We are also very interested in children’s books about political activism.” She is on the lookout for stories that represent many voices to support the work of We Stories: Raising Big-Hearted Kids, a local organization that advocates for open conversations about race and racism.
In terms of the big picture books of the show, several booksellers shared their excitement for We Don’t Eat Our Classmates by Ryan T. Higgins (Disney-Hyperion). Ellie Temple, children’s book buyer at Excelsior Bay Books in Excelsior, Minn., says, “I used to buy back-to-school books, but they don’t sell. But this one is so funny, and the illustrations are so cute, I think children are going to love it.” The book’s moral is simple: a baby T-Rex “catches on that if she wants to have friends, she cannot eat them,” Temple says.
Philipp Goedicke, children’s book buyer and specialist at Community Bookstore in Brooklyn, eagerly awaits Carmela Full of Wishes by Matt de la Peña, illus. by Christian Robinson (Putnam), the duo’s first collaboration since their Newbery Medal- and Caldecott Honor-winning Last Stop on Market Street. “It’s really about hope,” he says. “I’m looking forward to hope.”
Dea Lavoie, owner of Second Star to the Right, a children’s bookstore in Denver, has Dav Pilkey’s newest book in the Dog Man graphic novel series, Dog Man: Lord of the Fleas (Graphix), on her radar, while she’s also eager for Matthew Van Fleet’s Chomp Goes the Alligator (S&S/Wiseman) and Karma Wilson’s latest addition to her Bear Books series, Bear Can’t Sleep (S&S/McElderry).
On the graphic novel front, Heather Herbert of Children’s Book World in Haverford, Pa., plans to “race to the booth” to snag a copy of Jarrett Krosoczka’s Hey Kiddo (Graphix). Hebert calls the graphic memoir, which addresses the opioid epidemic, “a real breakthrough.” adding that she believes it to be “a really important book for customers, schools, and libraries.”
Another illustrated title that is stirring up interest at the show is Jacqueline Woodson’s forthcoming picture book, The Day You Begin, illustrated by Rafael López (Penguin/Paulsen). Jamie Thomas, general manager at Women & Children First in Chicago, says, “The Day You Begin is absolutely magical as it gently explores difference and empathy for children.”
Angie Tally, children’s buyer at the Country Bookshop in Southern Pines, N.C., is likewise looking forward to The Day You Begin, in addition to Woodson’s middle grade novel, Harbor Me—also due from Penguin/Paulsen in August. “She’s such a force in the industry,” Tally says. “And her books have that double punch: I can share them with families that have younger and older kids, too. I think [the new books] will be great family read-alouds.”
Tally says she is perhaps most looking forward to Alan Gratz’s Grenade (Scholastic Press). “His books are across the board ones I can hand to boys,” she says. Gratz’s previous novel, Refugee, was one of the bestselling books at her store this year, and Tally has high hopes for his new work. “His voice and grasp of history are phenomenal,” she says.
Other middle grade books of interest include Meg Medina’s Merci Suarez Changes Gears. Angela Maria Spring, owner of Duende District Bookstore in Washington, D.C., says, “It’s a really wonderful book with a fantastic new heroine who is down-to-earth and relatable: she just wants to be who she is. It’s a book I wish had been around when I was a kid.”
Making the leap from picture books to middle grade fiction is Andrea Beaty’s heroine Rosie Revere. Holland Saltsman, owner of Novel Neighbor in Webster Groves, Mo., is eager to handsell Rosie Revere and the Raucous Riveters (Amulet), which she says marks “the chapter book debut of one of our favorite picture book characters!”
Temple of Excelsior Bay Books has high praise for Louisiana’s Way Home (Candlewick), companion to Kate DiCamillo’s middle grade novel Raymie Nightingale. “Typical Kate, it makes you laugh,” she says. “I thought it was really good and has a very satisfying ending.”
Buzzworthy novels for teens continue to draw long lines at publishers’ booths and the autographing stations. Brittany Lockhart, a YA bookseller at Barnes & Noble in Hackensack, N.J., was ready to claim her galley of Bridge of Clay (Knopf), Marcus Zusak’s highly anticipated follow-up to The Book Thief. “I love YA and connecting with YA readers, so I’m excited to check out the new books,” she says. She is also excited about Deb Caletti’s A Heart in a Body in the World (Simon Pulse), and Victoria Aveyard’s War Storm, the conclusion to her bestselling Red Queen series. She predicts the latter will do particularly well at her store, given the current popularity of YA fantasy. Fellow N.J. bookseller Jamie Kurtz, general manager at Books-A-Million in Paramus, was queued up to get a signed copy of Dear Evan Hansen: The Novel (Poppy), and is eager to see what all the buzz is about for the stage-to-page adaptation. “I haven’t seen the musical yet, but I hear amazing things, and I was at the Dear Evan Hansen panel here [on Thursday].”
Contemporary YA is also in high demand at the show. Kurtz, who is attending BookExpo for her second year, is also eager to grab advance copies of People Kill People by Ellen Hopkins (S&S/McElderry) and Wildcard (Putnam), book two in Marie Lu’s YA Warcross duology. At Books-A-Million, she finds that YA novels that address diversity, such as Angie Thomas’s The Hate U Give (HC/Balzer + Bray), are bringing timely and topical issues to the forefront.
Thomas at Women & Children’s First says, “For YA, I’m really excited to handsell Becky Albertalli and Adam Silvera’s team-up, What If It's Us (HC/Balzer + Bray). This book combines Albertalli’s sweetness with Silvera’s ability to break your heart in an adorable, believable, and unique story of two boys in love in New York. It’s so refreshing to see queer love stories that are mainstream, swoonworthy, and funny.”
For Sara Grochowski, children’s book buyer at McLean & Eakin Booksellers in Petoskey, Mich., “One of my most anticipated fall releases is Courtney Summers’s Sadie (Wednesday Books). I’ve loved every book Summers has written and this newest, a thriller for fans of true-crime podcasts, is sure to be a page-turner.”