Children’s Institute 10, in Phoenix, Ariz., buzzed with a giddy camaraderie among colleagues reuniting after several years apart. The show convened at the Arizona Biltmore, an architectural gem with cacti, palm trees, and hummingbirds aplenty. Although the resort’s multiple pools beckoned, the literary sessions proved irresistible.
Midmorning on Ci10’s first day, booksellers and industry folks boarded two buses for a bookstore tour, taking in a trio of unique local establishments. Buses took turns visiting Grassrootz Books and Juice Bar and Palabras Bilingual Bookstore, where visitors queued for books, T-shirts, and specialty items like the DIY books at Palabras (a shop decorated with murals and canvases painted by bookseller Jeff Slim). The bus tours converged at Changing Hands, where attendees met owner Cindy Dach and children’s book buyer Brandi Stewart, then lined up at First Draft Book Bar for hydration in the dry heat.
Ci10’s opening reception and costume party functioned as another icebreaker. Anastasia McKenna of The Twig Book Shop (San Antonio, Tex.) dressed as Yellow Crayon, who vies with Orange Crayon for “the real color of the sun” in The Day the Crayons Quit, and other participants donned The Hate U Give shirts and Pete the Cat tie-dye. Amanda Lepper of Dog-Eared Books (Ames, Iowa) inhabited a Dougie Dung Beetle persona, and Cynthia Compton and Stephen Schultz of 4 Kids Books + Toys (Zionsville, Ind.) wore black buttons on their glasses in an uncanny imitation of Coraline’s Other Mother and Father. From The Bookshop Plus (Lake Placid, N.Y.), Elisa McIntosh put on gray foundation and a Moaning Myrtle robe that won her a free pass to Ci11 from an ABA panel of judges. Upon her victory, McIntosh-as-Myrtle declared, “No toilets will be flooded tonight.”
From the reception, attendees proceeded to a more serious but not at all somber Juneteenth celebration. ABA CEO Allison Hill, chief communications officer Ray Daniels, and accounting coordinator Ana Gonzalez introduced a timely and celebrity-filled panel: Stamped from the Beginning author Ibram X. Kendi and Patriarchy Blues author Frederick Joseph, in conversation with Jake Cumsky-Whitlock, co-owner of Solid State Books in Washington, D.C.
After providing background on Juneteenth and its designation as an American (not strictly African American) holiday, the trio talked about how they celebrate the occasion. Joseph likes to visit Ferncliff Cemetery in Westchester, N.Y., where Malcolm X, Betty Shabazz, Paul Robeson, and other Black icons are interred. After admitting that in his family “we don’t have a tradition as cool as that,” Kendi explained that Juneteenth is “not a day of relaxation—it should be a day of education,” a time to take action toward making society more equitable.
When asked what role books for young readers play in Juneteenth recollections, Joseph reinforced the power of authors and booksellers as “keepers of the gate,” sharing the story of a white girl whose father refused to let her read Joseph’s book The Black Friend based on its subtitle, On Being a Better White Person. The girl pinged Joseph via social media, he sent her a copy of the book, and she wrote an essay to her father on the need for anti-racist action. Kendi agreed that children’s books can provide a counternarrative to “decades of internalized racist ideas.” The panelists agreed that all should be wary of inserting any white savior narrative into the holiday (it’s not about Abraham Lincoln), and that Juneteenth should not be commodified with slogan-bearing T-shirts.
Following the panel, Gonzalez introduced an interpretive dance and musical performance by the Phoenix-based Black Theatre Troupe. Founded in 1970, the Black Theatre Troupe is the oldest African American theater company in the Southwestern U.S. Their dancers, live band, and choir presented powerful gospel-influenced pieces including “Wade in the Water.”
Attendees did not get to meet Kendi, whose team spirited him away after the panel, but booksellers snagged signed copies of his picture book, Goodnight Racism. Joseph stayed to meet audience members and sign copies of Better Than We Found It: Conversations to Help Save the World (written with his wife, Porsche Joseph). In sum, the event practiced what it preached, celebrating Juneteenth by educating on what schools and media historically have left out. The authors modeled a teach-in, the artists shared their abilities, and the crowd left informed and invigorated.
Getting Down to Business
Tuesday morning brought the opening of the Galley Room and shipping tables, where attendees packed ARCs into boxes and the ripping sound of packing-tape dispensers filled the air. Next door, ABA 's Hill began events with the announcement that ABA had made a donation to the Salt River Community Children’s Foundation, honoring the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community. Hill read from Joy Harjo’s Conflict Resolution for Holy Beings, a poem titled “For Calling the Spirit Back from Wandering the Earth in Its Human Feet,” as a lead-in to a breakfast keynote by Karen Walrond, author of The Lightmaker’s Manifesto.
Educational programming, indie picks, and author events filled the day. Panels on storytime as performance, how to handle book-banning controversies, and IndieCommerce and Edelweiss tools provided professional guidance. Brenna Connor, manager of Industry Insights for the NPD Group, offered a granular overview of the children’s book market. And participants flocked to the Indies Introduce lunch, where booksellers heard snippets from forthcoming books and got their galleys signed by authors Jas Hammonds (We Deserve Monuments, Roaring Brook), Ana Gracia (Boys I Know, Peachtree Teen), Laura Krantz (The Search for Sasquatch, Abrams), XiXi Tran (This Place Is Still Beautiful, Balzer + Bray), Maggie Horne (Hazel Hill Is Gonna Win This One, Clarion), and Kay Dawault (Star Knights, Random House Graphic).
The spectacular sunny day wrapped with a reception that brought together more than 40 authors signing their new books, followed by an after-party thrown by Scholastic Graphix.