At the 2018 Southern California Independent Booksellers Association fall trade show, held on the weekend of October 20–21, children’s programs and conversations focused on ways to expand bookselling beyond the four walls of a bookstore. From school author visits to craft fairs, to digital audiobooks and window displays, Southern California children’s booksellers are working hard to bring books straight into the communities where they live.

SCIBA executive director Andrea Vuleta moved the show to a new location and a new format this year. The meeting was held at the Sheraton Los Angeles San Gabriel Hotel, a venue that opened in April. And in a scheduling change, the children’s programming was grouped together on Saturday.

Children’s booksellers were upbeat at the show. “We’re up almost 10% for the year,” said Maureen Palacios, owner of Once Upon a Time Books in Montrose, Calif. She counted more than 150 school visits last year and an increase in author events. Palacios also saw a big sales bump at the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books in April. “We had great authors like we always do, but we reconfigured the space to use it differently. That was very successful!” she said.

Jennifer Pino arrived at SCIBA after her first full year as school coordinator at Vroman’s Bookstore in Pasadena and Book Soup in Los Angeles (both stores are owned by Vroman’s, having organized more than 40 school visits in her first year at the post. “It’s really good for the students,” she said. “Reading is always a challenge for kids, and we’re trying to make it less of a challenge. Meeting an author can change a [child’s] mindset, from somebody who hated reading into somebody who loves reading.”

Li’l Book Bug owner Rosechel Sinio saw sales jump 90% at her Lancaster, Calif. bookstore last December (compared to the previous December), thanks to some extra support from the city of Lancaster and her local Boulevard Association, which have both scheduled major holiday events on her bookstore’s doorstep. Sinio’s bookstore is located inside a movie theater at the center of town, and she coordinates outreach to coincide with holiday parades and other events scheduled on her block—such as the upcoming Halloween and Harvest Festival on October 27. “We will literally have 5,000 to 6,000 people on the street,” she said. “So I created a children’s book signing and craft fair in conjunction with a city-sponsored event that’s taking place right in front of my door. Why not take advantage of it?”

Booksellers from Cellar Door Books in Riverside, Calif., have also seen a rise in visitors this year. As stories of racially motivated violence surfaced in 2018, the store became a community refuge through an ongoing window display. Inspired by Ghost Boys—Jewell Parker Rhodes’ middle grade novel about a 12-year-old boy who was killed by a police officer—the booksellers painted the names of real-life victims of racism and fear on a bookstore window. “It shows them that we care and that all these authors care,” said Cellar Door Books owner Linda Nurick. “It’s not something that is being swept under the rug. It’s something that we are going to put up in our window.” This “living display” has grown to include more children’s and YA titles: I Am Alfonso Jones, a graphic novel by Tony Medina, illustrated by Stacey Robinson and John Jennings, about an African-American teenager who is killed by the police; and The Hate U Give, Angie Thomas’s teen novel about a girl who witnesses her longtime friend being killed by a police officer.

On the exhibition floor, SoCal booksellers loaded tote bags with books. Song for a Whale, Lynne Kelly’s story of a deaf girl’s journey to communicate with the loneliest whale in the world, was one of the buzziest books at the show. Another popular title was The Atlas Obscura Explorer’s Guide for the World’s Most Adventurous Kid, a travel book by Dylan Thuras and Rosemary Mosco that helps kids discover unexpected locations. Booksellers were also intrigued by The Lost Words, a collection of poems by Robert Macfarlane, illustrated by Jackie Morris, about words that have been omitted from the Oxford Junior Dictionary in our digital age.

A number of booksellers highlighted Dry, a YA novel by Neal Shusterman and son Jarrod Shusterman set in a gloomy future wracked by drought, as a big book this year. “Being a Californian, it’s relatable. We all lived through a period of drought rationing,” said Eva Andrews, children’s department supervisor at Vroman’s Bookstore in Pasadena. “As teenagers are coming into adulthood, they are becoming aware of their environment and the impact we have on it. Dystopias illustrate that in a way they can relate to.”

Nonfiction and Diversity Drive Educational Sessions

On Saturday, two educational sessions illustrated different ways that SCIBA members and authors can reach out beyond the boundaries of a bookstore or library. The “Children’s Editors on Diversity” panel discussion brought together Salaam Reads editor Zareen Jaffery and Lee & Low editor Cheryl Klein for a wide-ranging conversation about helping young readers find books about their heritage and experience on the shelf.

“When I grew up, most of the media was Anglo-centric. I grew up feeling like I couldn’t share a lot of the parts of my life that were from my culture, family history, or our food,” said Jaffery, diagnosing the publishing problem she hopes to remedy with a more diverse list. “I don’t want more kids to grow up that way. I don’t want kids to hide those parts of themselves because they think it’s weird. I want kids from all backgrounds to feel like they can celebrate those parts of themselves.”

The panelists discussed how that lack of representation is fundamental to every level of publishing. “It is a problem that gets replicated in the industry, from the writers to the editors to booksellers,” Klein said. “But I am delighted by the number of diverse booksellers in this room. The more we can bring in any sort of representation, the more we can solve that problem.”

“The Nonfiction for Young Readers” panel collected authors and illustrators who are part of a new wave of fact-based literature. “Nonfiction is having a bit of a moment, and a lot of that is led by the fact that we are using picture book illustrators who bring a freshness, sensibility, and child-friendliness to nonfiction,” said panelist Katherine Halligan, author of Herstory, an illustrated celebration of 50 women from history. She showed how illustration and design elements can make a book “pickup-able and luscious” for children. “I very much come from the Richard Scarry school of nonfiction,” she said, reminding readers how Scarry’s kinetic and immersive art helped children learn about the world. “It’s all about getting a child to lie down on the floor with the book and read it for hours,” she said.

SCIBA Children’s Award Luncheon Celebrates Wonder

The Children’s Award Luncheon was the highlight of an action-packed Saturday for children’s booksellers. Geanna Culbertson, author of the Crisanta Knight series, emceed the event. Diagnosed with spine-curving scoliosis as a child, she said that she quickly learned the value of self-acceptance. “I wore that back brace proudly. I was the most fashionable little back brace wearer you will ever meet,” she said. She now shares that value with kids through her ongoing series about the adventures of a hero princess. “Accepting who you are in the moment gives you pride and confidence to stride forward into the world,” she said.

Author Jacqueline Woodson emphasized that booksellers need to encourage their community to vote in November, detailing a few of the “ways voter suppression is happening” around the country. “We can’t think that someone else is going to do this thing,” she said. “Don’t just vote, be an ally for people who are getting suppressed.”

During the awards portion of the luncheon, Cynthia Kadohata won the SCIBA Middle Grade Award for Checked, a novel about a hockey-loving kid going through a tough year with his family. “When I go to a bookstore and I’m handed a book, I feel this jolt of pleasure,” she said. “I want to thank the booksellers here for giving that jolt of pleasure to so many people and changing so many lives, one book at a time.”

Tomi Adeyemi received the SCIBA Young Adult Award for Children of Blood and Bone, a fantasy novel about a teen girl trying to bring magic back to her community. Author Minh Lê and illustrator Dan Santat won the SCIBA Picture Book Award for Drawn Together, the story of a boy who bonds with his immigrant grandfather over a raucous art session.

After the ceremony, Santat stressed the importance of authors going beyond the bookstore. “When I go to a book festival, I like to incorporate an underprivileged school visit,” he said. “I do the visit free of charge—because there are a lot of kids who don’t get the opportunity to hear an author speak.” He recalled a recent school visit where public school kids were bussed in from hours away and a local university bought a copy of his book for each child. “For many of those kids, it was the first book they had ever owned. They were seven, eight years old, and that was heartbreaking,” Santat said.

At the luncheon, an unexpected cancellation gave SCIBA members a new perspective on a 2018 picture book. Pura Belpré winner Yuyi Morales had been scheduled to speak about Dreamers, her book that described immigrating from Mexico with her infant son in 1994. Her journey to the United States becomes mythic through the picture book’s dreamy art. Morales was unable to attend SCIBA, so her son, Kelly, handled the presentation instead. Through a bit of literary magic, the baby boy from the picture book was transformed into a grown adult, retelling the story he lived nearly 25 years ago.

Morales praised the “sense of wonder” of first-generation immigrants like his mother. “We spent hours at bookstores and libraries, because she understood how beautiful and powerful and special those places are,” he said. He read a passage from the book that contains painstaking recreations of books they discovered in libraries during his childhood. “My mom spent a crazy amount of time making her own versions of the book covers of the books she loved,” he said.

He concluded the presentation by reading his mother’s words: “Books became our home. Books became our lives. We are stories.” The excerpt reminded SCIBA attendees that bookstores and libraries are more than physical locations; they create a sense of refuge and safety that follows readers wherever they go.