As children’s booksellers gathered for one last Southern California Independent Booksellers Association Fall Trade Show last weekend, members focused on nurturing local relationships and uniting California colleagues.

Less than one week before the annual trade show at the Sheraton Los Angeles San Gabriel Hotel, the SCIBA board had passed a sudden Resolution to Dissolve. On September 27, the first day of the trade show, members deliberated and unanimously voted to dissolve. For the rest of the weekend, SCIBA concentrated on collaboration, hoping to unify southern and northern California into a single bookselling organization with the working title, “One California.”

“It was definitely one of the best attended shows we’ve had in three or four years,” said SCIBA executive director (and former children’s bookseller) Andrea Vuleta, who saw children’s programming and increased educator presence as highlights of the show. Vuleta always gave teachers and librarians an opportunity to attend the conference, but their attendance had increased this year. “We still have a good focus on that market,” she said, referring to the students who are nurtured by these SoCal educators. “Because those are all our future readers,” she said.

Booksellers have already begun to embrace the “One California” vision. “A bigger, stronger, more united voice is beneficial,” said Linda McLoughlin Figel, the co-founder of {pages} A Bookstore in Manhattan Beach. Her store added a children’s specialist this year, and Figel saw a rise in foot traffic compared to 2018. “Bigger is better,” Figel said. “There is more we can do advocacy-wise together, both legislatively and with the publishers.”

Authors, Awards and Advocacy

Undaunted by the previous day’s bittersweet news, enthusiastic children’s booksellers rallied for a packed final day of SCIBA programming on Saturday. SoCal author Cynthia Kadohata hosted the Children’s Award Breakfast, a happy celebration of SCIBA’s community and history.

During the breakfast, Ernesto Cisneros, a schoolteacher in Santa Ana, talked about his forthcoming debut, Efrén Divided. His middle grade novel tells the timely story of an American-born middle schooler who watches his mother get deported to Mexico after an immigration raid. Cisneros, himself the child of an immigrant, has seen his relatives’ and students’ lives disrupted by deportation. The author had written unsuccessfully for a decade until the day his teenage daughter who asked him: Why does America hate families like us so much?”

Cisneros recounted the rest of the story in the hushed Sheraton ballroom: “The only answer I could give her was, ‘Because they don’t know us.’ And she said, ‘Well, why don’t you change that?’ ” The author paused, visibly overcome by the memory. “So, I wrote the book that I thought my daughter would want to read,” he said, hoping that Efrén Divided will help middle grade readers cope with this bewildering reality and educate others about his community’s experience.

Isabel Quintero won the SCIBA Picture Book Award for My Papi Has a Motorcycle, illustrated by Zeke Peña, a book she called “a love letter” to her hometown of Corona, Calif. “I am the daughter of Mexican immigrants,” she said. “This book is a memory of riding on the back of my dad’s motorcycle. That’s me going to work with my dad, a Mexican man who has been working in this country, building homes that we’d never be able to afford. He built homes for people who can disregard people like us.”

Host Cynthia Kadohata won the SCIBA Middle Grade Award for A Place to Belong, the story of a Japanese-American family that returns to Japan after World War II. Kadohata won the same award last year for Checked.

Finally, author Julie Berry received the SCIBA Young Adult Award for Lovely War, a novel that explores the effects World War I and World War II had on four different characters. “I have been so humbled by how the SoCal bookselling community has embraced me and made me a SoCal author,” said Berry, a California transplant who grew up in western New York. “You guys really are my friends. I don’t get out of the house often, and if you want to go out for breakfast, I am in,” she said.

A Booming Year for SoCal Booksellers

There was plenty to celebrate at the trade show as SCIBA members looked back at a strong year. The region counted six new bookstores this year, including Sandcastle Tales in Del Mar, where founder Alex Rhett opened her doors in July. The mother of three had seen her neighbors surfing, running, and hiking, so she stocked her store with books about outdoor activities. “It worked, because I know my community,” she said. The bookseller also spends a lot of time researching “nostalgia books” for local readers. “I ask people, ‘what books did you read when you were little?’ And I try to order that book immediately,” she said.

Jessica Palacios from Once Upon a Time Books in Montrose said that the store has seen a rise in picture book and graphic novel sales this year. Outreach to local teachers has also paid off. “We’ve had a lot of school events this fall,” she said. “We’ve done a better job of working with publishers for both new local authors and national authors on their tours.” The bookstore is also developing a year-round graphic novel book club for 2020.

The expo floor opened from 3–5 PM on the final day of the show, with booksellers stocking up on galleys. Among the most coveted titles were Sulwe by Lupita Nyong’o, a picture book written by the Academy Award-winning actress and author, with illustrations by Vashti Harrison; The Lucky Ones, a YA novel about a school shooting survivor by Los Angeles author Liz Lawson; and Wayside School Beneath the Cloud of Doom, a return (after 25 years) to the middle grade series written by Louis Sachar; and The Fate of Fausto, a new picture book by Oliver Jeffers.

Looking to the Future

The weekend programming concluded with a popular session specifically devoted to children’s bookselling called “Setting Our Future Free by Writing About Our Past.” During the educational panel, children’s bookseller Brein Lopez, general manager at Children’s Book World in Los Angeles, spoke with author Ernesto Cisneros and poet Hope Anita Smith.

Smith told booksellers about the creation of It Rained Warm Bread (Holt), a novel-in-verse that tells the true story of how a 13-year-old boy named Moishe Moskowitz survived the Holocaust in Poland. Smith told the teachers, librarians, and booksellers in the audience to share more poems with young readers. “Poetry isn’t supposed to be rocket science. There is something in there for you,” she said, highlighting how the genre can speak directly to kids. “There’s so much power in poetry, especially for reluctant readers. They can read one and it’s all in there. Each poem is a complete story and they can get something out of it. That’s why I love poetry. Every word is gold and I don’t want to waste anything.”

Moderator Lopez guided the conversation between two turbulent moments in American history, 1939 and 2019. He explained that the label “All-American story” has been used to limit children’s literature for decades, ignoring the more diverse readership in the United States.

“These are loaded words that we use,” he said. “We need to start using the words ‘All-American’ all the time to talk about black kids’ lives, brown kids’ lives, and everybody else’s lives as being ‘All-American.’ Don’t get rid of the word. Open up the doors to what that has always meant. Every story needs to be retold, because we’ve only heard the one version of it our entire lives.”

Speaking with PW after that session, Linda Nurick, owner of Cellar Door Books in Riverside, applauded books that share the contemporary immigrant experience. She has witnessed first-hand the impact of heightened immigration enforcement in her community. “We’ve always had kids afraid of Immigration and Customs Enforcement and what they could do to their families, but now it’s more intense,” she said. This year, she said her bookstore had featured a window display with “quotations from refugees about why they come to our country from other places,” and they had continued to contribute books and fundraise for nonprofits serving immigrant populations.

“Our publishing industry has responded to what’s happening in our world. It’s all out there and our authors and our publishers are saying ‘No. Oh no. Absolutely not,’ ” Nurick said, encouraged by SCIBA’s final programming and the spirit of her fellow booksellers. “We’re getting some amazing books out of that.”