The ninth annual Children’s Institute, sponsored by the American Booksellers Association, is winding up today after two days of workshops, panel sessions, roundtables, storytimes, and other programming. This year’s virtual event—the second Children’s Institute held virtually—includes a publisher expo and a galley room. Almost 500 booksellers and others are participating in this year's conference.

Ci9 kicked off on Monday with a program that ranged from a session on how to conduct difficult conversations, to the most recent Indies Introduce selections, to a surprise visit by Judy Blume and David Levithan, who paid tribute to Beverly Cleary, who died in March of this year, by reading from her classic Ramona books.

On Tuesday morning, the Ci9 opening keynote featured David Yoon and Nicola Yoon in conversation with Bria Ragin, the Random House editor working with the two authors on their teen romance imprint, Joy Revolution, which will launch in spring 2023 with a debut list of books about BIPOC characters written by BIPOC authors.

The Yoons said that the origins of Joy Revolution went back 20 years when the two met in graduate school. “We’d go to bars and talk about poetry and literature and culture,” David, who is Korean American, recalled, “We quickly realized we were both rom-com junkies.” Nicola, who is Jamaican American, added, “One of the things we always talked about was how come no one looks like us in these stories? Why aren’t we in these stories?”

“Love is transformative,” Nicola said, “and everyone falls in love. So let’s do these stories.” David emphasized that such stories “humanize” BIPOC, “showing them as regular people, just like everyone else, falling in love, making mistakes, getting silly. It seems like a humble mission but it’s really crucial too.”

“This is our activism,” Nicola said. “This is the way we are giving back to publishing and to the world that has given a lot to us.”

Panels and Roundtables

Yesterday’s program also included a session on author events in the post-pandemic world with panelists from Bloomsbury’s children’s publishing group, Penguin Random House, and Macmillan agreeing that the traditional author tour is a thing of the past and that author events will continue to evolve. “In terms of hybrid events, one of the things we’re talking about here,” said Melissa Campion, senior director of author events at Macmillan, “Is calling it hybrid tours—having a virtual component to a tour, as well as an in-person component. That takes the pressure off; hybrid tours might be a little easier.”

Lara Phan, director of account marketing at Penguin Random House, noted that publishers “are open to whatever the stores are willing to do. We really appreciate when booksellers are willing to try things with us, knowing that this is a new landscape, not just for all the bookstores out there, but for us as well, and a lot of our authors. Sometimes, on our end, convincing authors that the way things used to be done, where it was in a store, or a school, or an auditorium, with x number of people – not only is that not going to be the way it’s going to be for the foreseeable future, but are there things that we can learn from all of this to do in 2024?”

Erica Barmash, senior director of marketing and publicity at Bloomsbury Children’s Books noted, “To be very frank, the cost of an author attending a virtual event is a lot less than what we spend on sending an author on tour. The expectations have shifted: we still want everyone involved—author, bookseller, us to have the best possible experience—but there’s a lot more willingness to try new things, because there’s not that financial cost. Some authors are very into trying new things, some are huge champions of indie stores, some are just agreeable people, so with the right author you can propose something new.”

Booksellers are also discussing how to deal with a holiday season that is projected to be a strong one, but may be hindered by staffing shortages. In a roundtable on planning in-store operations for the holidays, several booksellers suggested turning to volunteers or people who are willing to accept store credit in return for doing some seasonal support work during the holidays. Given rising Covid cases and an expectation that some customers may not want to shop in-store, these booksellers explained that this approach is a way to retain flexibility, assign staff to phone and e-commerce sales support, and stay within budget.

Other booksellers participating in this roundtable reported that they were already stocking up for the holidays, as well as encouraging customers to start their shopping early. Alex Rhett, owner of Sandcastle Tales in Del Mar, Calif., said she was even putting books out with red ribbons to inspire customers to start thinking of the holidays, and that it was working. “I cannot trust things to come on time, so I just started selling,” she told the other booksellers.

Ci9 continues today with a closing keynote featuring Hanif Abdurraqib, Tiffany D. Jackson, and Jason Reynolds, moderated by Scholastic author Tami Charles, entitled “Music and the Stories that Make Movement,”and storytimes with Kate DiCamillo as well as Ziggy and Orly Marley, plus other programming.