On July 15 and 16, the eighth Children’s Institute will become the first of the American Booksellers Association’s educational gatherings to be held as an online-only conference. The association was forced to postpone its annual in-person conference until 2021 due to the pandemic. A similar decision by ReedPop to move BookExpo and BookCon to 2021 and to host an online series of events at the end of May paid off in terms of attendance. While those events, which were open to the public, generated 11,000 views for the Children’s Book & Author Dinner and close to 240,000 views for the Sunday BookCon panels, viewership for the virtual CI8 will likely be smaller. Last year’s institute in Pittsburgh, which was the largest to date, drew just over 330 booksellers and dozens of authors.
ABA’s commitment to Children’s Institute dates back a decade, when the idea for a mini Winter Institute for children’s booksellers had not yet been fully formed. Following the November 2010 vote by members of the Association of Booksellers for Children to merge with the ABA, then–ABA CEO Oren Teicher voiced his support for more education for booksellers: “We at ABA see this vote as an opportunity to be able to accomplish more to serve the present and future needs of children’s booksellers.”
The association made good on that promise, launching the first Children’s Institute in 2012 concurrently with BookExpo. After a one-year hiatus, ABA spun off the institute as an annual standalone event for children’s booksellers. In the intervening years, Children’s Institute gained traction and became an important piece of ABA’s educational programming schedule.
“The virtual format,” notes ABA CEO Allison Hill, “has the benefit of allowing a greater number of booksellers to participate overall, expanding the way ABA thinks about educational programming for the future, and giving ABA the chance to practice the newly learned language of virtual events that Covid times require. Most importantly, CI8 will give us all a chance to come together to celebrate books, bookselling, and authors.”
We need diverse booksellers—and books
In the wake of the Black Lives Matter protests following the deaths of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, and with continued calls for greater diversity in book publishing and bookselling, CI8 will include programming about inclusivity and implicit bias as well as diverse books.
This isn’t the first time that Children’s Institute has prioritized diverse books and bookstores in response to membership concerns. At the 2017 institute in Portland, Ore., Ilsa Marie Govan, cofounder of Cultures Connecting, gave a presentation on how to hire and retain a diverse workforce. This year she is facilitating anti-racist training in a session titled “White Anti-racist Allyship: What Is our Role in the Struggle?” on July 15 , a day that will be devoted to education. National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature Jason Reynolds, whose Long Way Down is due out in a graphic novel edition this fall, was a keynoter at that same institute and became the spokesperson for ABA’s Indies First activities surrounding Small Business Saturday in 2017 and 2018.
At CI8, the keynote address will be given by Isaac Fitzgerald, a debut children’s author and former books editor at BuzzFeed. Panels will include one on YA and middle grade science fiction and fantasy as well as one titled “Store Voice, Online Sales, and Profitability.” The day will close with an hour-long virtual hangout that will be set up with different rooms so that booksellers can get together in small groups.
Though there won’t be a virtual author’s reception, the popular Indies Introduce Debut authors session will be back with all 10 of this summer and fall’s children’s author picks on hand. They will read from their books and meet with booksellers. This time, though, booksellers will need to bring their own lunches.
The second day of virtual CI8 will be devoted to forthcoming books. Two 90-minute Rep Pick sessions, with virtual galley rooms, are scheduled for Thursday, July 16.
Save the date
In 2021, Children’s Institute will take place June 16–18 at the Westin La Paloma Resort & Spa in Tucson, Ariz., where it had been scheduled to be held this year.
Below, more on Children's Institute.