Among the featured events at this year’s Bologna Children’s Book Fair was an International Children’s Booksellers Conference, a four-hour event featuring a dozen children’s booksellers from around the world discussing their stores and various projects. Julia Eccleshare, director of children’s programming for the Hay Festival in the U.K., who moderated the event, noted, “The part of the industry that has been thriving the most since the financial crisis of 2008 is children’s books.” She went on to add that booksellers “handselling books” to parents are the lifeblood of the business.
Among the booksellers discussing their work was Melissa Posten, children’s buyer and event coordinator at the Novel Neighbor in Webster Groves, Mo., who was participating in the fair as part of the Bookselling Without Borders fellowship program, which brought three U.S. booksellers to the fair. Posten showed slides of her store, pointing out that “though just 20% of the floor space is dedicated to kids’ books, it generates 60% of the revenue at the store.” In discussing the community role of the store, she noted that American independent booksellers are trying to “counter some of the bad news from our government” and serve as an inclusive gathering place. Accordingly, the store “centers diverse books rather than othering them.”
Two booksellers from Spain also showed slides of their stores: Oblit Baseiria of Casa Anita Llibres and Ana Garralón of La Fabulosa. Baseiria’s store in the Barcelona neighborhood of Via de Gràcia serves as a community hub, particularly for schools that bring classes into the shop. In explaining the bookselling environment of Barcelona, she noted that the most important bookselling day of the year is the Catholic feast day of St. Jordi, April 23, a holiday in which residents of the city traditionally give each other books. “We have also decided to mark the day by hosting an international meeting of children’s book illustrators at the shop,” she said.
La Fabulosa in Madrid focuses on selling children’s books from Latin America. The store, which opened in March 2017, was initially a collaborative effort of 12 publishing houses from across Latin America and was developed in an effort to expand their market to Spain. “But what is interesting,” said Garralón, “is that we have people coming to Madrid from Chile who are buying books from Mexico in our store.” Garralón said that they often find friends showing up at the shop door with suitcases full of books they have brought over from their partner publishers in the Americas. They call them “libros trafficantes”—book traffickers. The store has also tried some innovative marketing to get attention, including running a program called “[Cuentas por teléfono”—stories by telephone —in which customers can have a story read to them over their phone.
Another bookseller with innovative marketing ideas was Sergey Karpov of Marshak bookstore in Moscow. The tiny store started as a pop-up shop and settled into a neighborhood of young parents. “We are hard to find as we are inside the yard of another yard, so we rely entirely on social media to bring in customers. This works because many of our customers, who are 25 to 35, are web workers.” He says that the store exists as much online as it does in the real world. “It is a sort of web project, and we have apps for two- to six-year-olds and for older children.”
Karpov has also gone after influencers and brings in celebrity booksellers for short stints behind the register and encourages them to create playlists for the stores. “A big part of what we are doing by selling books is making heritage real for modern families. There were already two revolutions in Russia, in 1917 and in 1991, and we see ourselves as part of a third.”
Other booksellers who presented during the event included Yoko Umegaki of Nijinoehonya in Tokyo, Japan; Mihaela Maier from Tutimi și Titoc in Cluj-Napoca, Romania; Sara Panzavolta of Libreria Momo in Ravenna, Italy; Judith Wilhelm of Calibroscopio: El Libro de Arena in Buenos Aires, Argentina; among others.
If one bookseller commanded the limelight momentarily, it was Grazia Gotti of Libreria Giannino Stoppani, a children’s bookstore on Bologna’s Piazza Maggiore. Gotti was keen to present an idea she and other Italian independent children’s booksellers have been working toward: the launch of a fully transferrable book token for children. The token, which functions like cash, can be redeemed at any member of ORBIL, the Italian Association of Independent Booksellers. “This,” said Gotti, showing off an image of a prototype on the screen, “is our dream. For a child to be able to walk into any children’s bookstore, anywhere in Italy, and buy a book on their own.”