While last week’s Children’s Institute marked the eighth year for the annual summer gathering of indie booksellers to discuss children’s books and meet authors, this year marked the first time the conference was held virtually, due to the ongoing pandemic. Rather than the sunny Tucson setting as participants eagerly anticipated earlier this year, CI8 took place on more than 400 booksellers’ computer screens and other digital devices over the course of two days, July 15–16.

Despite a few technical issues, booksellers enjoyed the virtual conference too, judging by feedback received from Keryl Haussman of Words Matter Bookstore in Pitman, N.J.: “I thought it was great,” she wrote. “I had a minor glitch now and then, but it wasn’t a big deal. I'm new to bookselling. I've only attended the Children’s Institute last year and this year. Both were great. However, I enjoyed CI8 more. I wasn’t fighting exhaustion, fumbling with overfilled tote bags, and scrambling to find the correct rooms.”

CI8 basically featured three components: speakers and informational sessions; debut author introductions; and informal virtual hangouts at the conclusion of day one. We’ve gathered a selection of highlights from the events.

Speakers and Informational Sessions

Isaac Fitzgerald (r.) holds up his debut picture book, which he created with illustrator Bridgette Barrager, How to Be a Pirate (Bloomsbury, Mar.), during his keynote presentation, while ASL interpreter Brian Truitt follows along. Image: Rachel Sipress.

A trio of authors—Dhonielle Clayton, Ebony Elizabeth Thomas, and Tracy Deonn—discuss representation in middle grade and YA science fiction and fantasy, with an assist from ASL interpreter Jennye Kamin. Image: Rachel Sipress.

Another day one session featured four indie booksellers—Hannah Oliver Depp (Loyalty Books, Washington, D.C. metro area), Javier Ramirez (Madison Street Books, Chicago), Danny Caine (The Raven, Lawrence, Kans.), and Kathy Burnette (Brain Lair, South Bend, Ind.) —discussing store voice, online sales, and profitability. Image: Rachel Sipress.

Throughout the two days, there was time set aside for IndieCommerce and IndieLite one-on-one virtual appointments with ABA staff. (Clockwise from top l.), ABA IndieCommerce director Phil Davies, IndieCommerce specialist Courtney Karecki, and Finnegan Butterfield, a bookseller at Towne Center Books in Pleasanton, Calif. who is also an ABA IndieCommerce customer support specialist. Image: Rachel Sipress.

Day two kicked off with a conversation between Kwame Alexander and Jerry Craft, which touched upon their creative processes, their favorite New York City indie bookstores in the 1990s, how they met, and their recollections about receiving the phone call informing them that they had won the Newbery Medal. Alexander caused a stir among the audience of booksellers when he mentioned in passing that he has been involved in developing a musical that will debut at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C. Image: Claire Kirch.

Debut Authors Meet the Indies

Wednesday morning’s Indies Introduce Middle Grade and YA Debuts session featured an indie bookseller presenting each author. Here, Drew Durham of Books, Inc. in Palo Alto, Calif., introduces Chris Negron, author of Dan Unmasked (HarperCollins, Aug.), a middle grade novel about two boys whose friendship is tested. Image: Rachel Sipress.

Buyer Chelsea Bauer of Union Avenue Books in Knoxville, Tenn., introduces Ash Van Otterloothe author of the middle grade novel Cattywampus (Scholastic Press, Aug.), about young witches in Appalachia. Image: Rachel Sipress.

Lauren Nopenz Fairley, operations manager at Curious Iguana children’s bookstore in Frederick, Md., introduces Caroline DuBois, author of The Places We Sleep (Holiday House), a middle-grade novel-in-verse. Image: Rachel Sipress.

After being introduced by Kathy Burnette of Brain Lair in South Bend, Ind., Tracy Deonn speaks about her YA novel, Legendborn (McElderry, Sept.), which its publisher describes as a “modern-day twist on a classic legend with a lot of Southern Black Girl Magic.” Image: Rachel Sipress.

Leah Johnson talks about her queer rom-com which spotlights another kind of Black Girl Magic, You Should See Me in a Crown (Scholastic Press, June). Image: Rachel Sipress.

Magic was definitely in the air on Wednesday morning. Rebecca Crosswhite of Rediscovered Books in Caldwell, Idaho, introduced Sophie Escabasse, author of a middle grade graphic novel, Witches of Brooklyn (Random House Graphic, Sept.). Image: Rachel Sipress.

Sophie Escabasse performing a dramatic reading of Witches of Brooklyn (Random House Graphic, Sept.). Image: Rachel Sipress.

Virtual Hangouts

Booksellers, authors, and other CI8 attendees were encouraged to visit a variety of “virtual hangout” rooms to mix and mingle as day one of CI8 wound down on Wednesday afternoon. Room One included cameo appearances by pets and assorted props, as well as reminiscences by booksellers and other participants of their past travels, including Alaskan cruises. Image: Claire Kirch.

While some virtual hangouts were lively scenes, others were more intimate gatherings of booksellers, including Room Four, where ABA education content coordinator Stephany Choi (top r.) chatted with Casey Leidig of Green Apple Books in San Francisco (top l.) and Rebecca George of Volumes Bookcafe in Chicago (bottom l.). Image: Claire Kirch.

Room Five included a few ABA staffers—Joy Dallanegra-Sanger and Jess Stauffer—after a successful first day (top row, c. and r.), while three indie booksellers – Valerie Koehler (Blue Willow in Houston), Paul Murufas (Books, Inc. in San Francisco), and Drew Durham (Books, Inc. in Palo Alto) look a little worn out after a full day of online programming. Image: Claire Kirch.

Newly minted ABA CEO Allison Hill (c., middle row) dropped in on Room Five of the virtual hangouts on day one of CI8, joining ABA colleagues, booksellers, and author Chris Negron, to cat and swap stories about life during the pandemic. Image: Claire Kirch.