Winter Institute wound down in Baltimore last Friday evening, and for approximately 800 booksellers from across the U.S. and elsewhere, it was four (and more) days and nights packed with educational sessions, networking events, offsite excursions, book signings, publisher parties, and presentations by a number of the 140 authors in attendance. There is even a new tradition taking shape: 10 young booksellers attended the Friday morning small and university presses breakfast in their pajamas; they promise to celebrate “Pajama Day” again next year.

In terms of conference programming, organizers seemed intent upon educating general booksellers both on selling children’s books and on accommodating young customers in their stores. Two sessions co-sponsored by the ABC and the ABA neatly bookended the conference schedule: Wednesday morning’s panel of four booksellers, “Training General Booksellers in Kids’ Book Sales,” and Friday afternoon’s workshop, “Brain Exchange: Creating a Welcoming and Open Space for LGBTQ+ Youth.”

Adding to all of the excitement, the ABA kicked off Wi15 with its traditional opening night reception on Tuesday evening, which this year was also a celebration of the institute’s 15th anniversary and of the ABA’s 120th anniversary. Later that evening, Oren Teicher, who retired on November 1 as CEO of the ABA, was feted with a special program that included tributes and skits. Wi15 ended with a special showing of Hairspray and a tribute to John Waters.

Books, OOH-LA-LA!

Of course, when it comes down to it, despite the educational programming, the networking opportunities, the dinners and parties, and other distractions, it’s all about the books for Wi15 booksellers, who were looking to discover hidden gems in the galley room, at author receptions, and other places.

Hannah Oliver Depp, owner of Loyalty Bookstores in the Washington, D.C. area, said that she was “most personally excited about hearing the Indie Next authors discuss their books. I always end up increasing my orders or reaching out to presses I didn’t have contacts with before the panel. It makes me proud that booksellers and the ABA can have such an effect on debut writers.”

Depp isn’t the only bookseller who felt this way, judging by the numbers of booksellers who attended the jam-packed Indies Introduce event on Wednesday. Emily Hall Schroen, the owner of Main Street Books in St. Charles, Mo., was most excited to read Silence of Bones by June Hur (Feiwel and Friends, Apr.) after hearing Hur speak about it during the Indies Introduce session featuring debut authors. “It’s YA historical fiction set in [Joeseon Koreaa 500-year-dynasty that ended in the late 19th century]. It’s a murder mystery: a female investigator is the first woman in the world given the powers to arrest people. So good!” And Pamela Klinger-Horn of Excelsior Bay Books in Excelsior, Minn., said that after hearing Gabby Noone talk about her YA novel, Layoverland (Razorbill, Jan.), she was “saving this one for the plane home, because it sounds like a great recommendation for fans of Gabrielle Zevin’s YA masterpiece, Elsewhere.”

For other booksellers, it’s the tried and true authors who appeal. Kate Rattenborg of Dragonfly Books in Decorah, Iowa, was most excited by the latest middle grade novel by a favorite author: Lauren Wolk’s Echo Mountain (Dutton, Apr.). “Her writing is so beautiful and I love her character development. I absolutely loved her first two novels. This one is set in Depression-era Maine and I know she is going to pull on my heartstrings.”

On the opposite end of the middle-grade reading spectrum, Anmiryam Budner of Main Point Books in Wayne, Pa., said that she was “definitely intrigued” by Middle School Bites (Holiday House, Feb.) by Steven Banks and illustrated by Mark Fearing, about a vampire struggling to fit into his new school. “I can always use some more funny books that appeal to reluctant readers,” she said.

Picture books pulled in many booksellers. Luisa Smith of Book Passage in Corte Madera, Calif., was taken with Colin Meloy’s new book Everyone’s Awake, illustrated by Shawn Harris(Chronicle, Mar.), saying “any picture book that mentions Prince gets my vote!” For Nancy Simpson-Brice of the Book Vault in Oskaloosa, Iowa, Dashka’s Slater’s A Book for Escargot (FSG, Apr.) resonated, giving a reason that any parent and grandparent will appreciate. “I’ve given my four young grandchildren the nickname ‘Fussy Eaters,’ ” she said. “Any book that tackles the problem of picky eaters is a hit with me. And Escargot is such a charming little snail!”

Next year’s Winter Institute will take place February 7–10, 2021 in Cincinnati, Ohio.

An earlier version of this article misidentified the bookseller at Dragonfly Books in Decorah, Ia. who endorsed Lauren Wolk's latest novel. It has been corrected.