According to NPD Books’ 2018 report on trends in the bookselling industry overall that analyst Alison Risbridger presented at Winter Institute in Albuquerque last week, “The long-tail book market is incredibly flat.” What growth there is, she added, is driven by adult nonfiction and children’s books. The 700+ booksellers from all 50 states, Canada, and Europe attending WI14 certainly demonstrated that this trend holds true for the indies, because the forthcoming children’s releases on display in the galley room and at receptions received an inordinate amount of attention, from both general booksellers as well as specialty children’s booksellers.
Children’s authors and publishers were hitting above their weight at WI14: while approximately one-third of the 150 authors and illustrators in attendance were children’s authors or illustrators, ranging from picture book creators to YA authors; aside from Margaret Atwood, Erin Morgenstern, and Ocean Vuong, it seemed like everybody PW spoke to was buzzing about the children’s authors.
During a panel session for general booksellers, “A Crash Course on Kids’ Bookselling,” Cathy Berner of the Blue Willow Bookshop in Houston pointed out that with children’s specialty bookstore sales up 3% in 2017 at ABA member stores—including an 11% growth in board books and a 20% growth in graphic novels—general bookstores should “be invested in the success of children’s book sales.” Judging by the interest in that panel and other ABC panels, like one on selling directly to schools, WI14 booksellers certainly were committed to building up their children’s sales.
Fourteen of the 20 Indies Introduce Winter/Spring 2019 authors—seven of them the authors of children’s books—took to the stage in a packed auditorium of booksellers inside the Albuquerque Convention Center on Thursday afternoon, each of them introduced by a bookseller. The children’s authors included Justin A. Reynolds, Opposite of Always (HarperCollins/Tegen, Mar.), introduced by Blue Willow Bookshop’s Berner; Scott Brown, XL (Knopf, Mar.), introduced by Nichole Cousins, White Birch Books, North Conway, N.H.; Gillian McDunn, Caterpillar Summer (Bloomsbury, Apr.), introduced by Alicia Michielli, Talking Leaves, Buffalo, N.Y.; Christine Lynn Herman, The Devouring Gray (Disney-Hyperion, Apr.), introduced by Katherine Ward, Micawber’s Books, St. Paul, Minn.; Kip Wilson, The White Rose (Versify, Apr.), introduced Talking Leaves’ Alicia Michielli; Maya Motayne, Nocturna (HarperCollins/Balzer + Bray, May), introduced by Jen Pino, Vroman’s Books, Pasadena, Calif.; and Tanya Boteju, Kings, Queens, and In-Betweens (Simon Pulse, May), introduced by White Birch Books’ Nichole Cousins.
Booksellers PW spoke with about their most exciting WI14 discoveries for the most part mentioned one or more of these seven Indies Introduce authors, particularly Opposite of Always, which Reynolds had described as a YA novel “about friendship, about death, about time travel,” that drew long lines of booksellers when he signed copies after the session; White Rose, a tale told in verse about a German resistance group in World War II, which blew away Lauren Weiser, a bookseller at Left Bank Books in St. Louis, who described it as “absolutely amazing, like nothing I’ve ever read before;” and especially Nocturna, a YA fantasy that Pino at Vroman’s compared to Stephanie Garber’s Caravel and Marissa Meyer’s Renegades.
“It was interesting to hear how the author, who is Latina, wanted to create a fantasy world that paid tribute to her heritage,” said Katie Orphan, manager and buyer at The Last Bookstore in Los Angeles,. “I did not expect to cry at the Indies Introduce panel. But there I was, crying. I think readers are excited to find books in which they can see themselves reflected back.”
Anmyram Budner, a bookseller at Main Point Books in Wayne, Pa., told PW that Nocturna was hands down her favorite discovery of the show because Motayne’s reading from it during the Indies Introduce session “demands that you read it to find out what happens.”
Magic was definitely on Budner’s mind last week, because her second favorite discovery was The Changeling (The Oddmire, Book One) (Algonquin, June) by William Ritter, which she says she picked up “on a whim” in the galley room. “Oddmire is funny and fierce. Mischievous kids, magic, and some awesome moms.” It was, she added, “the kind of joyous reading that I miss being a grownup.”
Several booksellers, including Kenny Brechner of DDG Booksellers in Farmington, Me., raved about Jerry Craft’s New Kid (HarperCollins, Feb.) which Brechner described as being in the Wimpy Kid genre, “but with African-American characters.” Craft “is a fresh face in the genre,” Brechner said. “That’s really important to expand the horizons of readers in our rural area.”
As for Nancy Simpson-Brice of The Book Vault in Oskaloosa, Iowa, her top discoveries were two picture books: Llama Destroys the World by Jonathan Stutzman, illustrated by Heather Fox (Holt, May), and Babysitter from Another Planet by Stephen Savage (Holiday House/Porter, Feb.). “I liked these two picture books best, especially after talking to the authors at the reception,” she said, adding that her YA pick was A Place for Wolves by Kosoko Jackson (Sourcebooks Fire, Apr.).
While children’s books and authors created the most buzz at WI14, one new children’s book publisher also received a lot of attention from booksellers. Kobe Bryant, who played basketball for the Los Angeles Lakers for 20 years, took to the podium on Friday morning during the small and university presses breakfast to introduce his new children’s and teen book imprint, Granity Studios, which is publishing books targeting young athletes with tales containing athletic characters and themes exploring the particular challenges athletes face.
Bryant noted that he first realized the “power of story,” when he told a first-grade class he once visited in Philadelphia a story he made up about a pile of clothing that morphed into monsters. The children were delighted, though terrified, he said. “That’s when story and I connected.”
Although not using the term “reluctant readers,” Bryant addressed the reality that young people today are used to “immediate gratification,” and may lack the patience to “get there one page at a time, one page at a time.” Granity, he emphasized, will publish books that “help the next generation of athletes reach their full potential.”
While many booksellers expressed their excitement over being in such close proximity to the basketball legend, with Liberty Bay Books in Washington state tweeting, “Welcome to the book world, Kobe,” others expressed their disappointment that ABA had invited him to participate in WI14, as Bryant was charged in 2003 with sexual assault (the case was settled out of court, with Bryant issuing a public apology without admitting guilt).
Winter Institute will move east next year: WI15 will take place in Baltimore, Md., January 21–24, 2020.