Children’s Institute 10, the ABA’s first in-person event since the pandemic began, took place in Phoenix, Ariz., June 20–22. We’ve put together highlights from some of the professional development panels and discussions, which offered strategies for children’s booksellers.

Banned Books: Turning Challenging Conversations into Community

The rise in censorship is on the minds of every bookseller and librarian, and a Ci10 panel on book banning raised questions of how to address disagreements online and in person. Panelists talked about how to respond when customers (or trolls) questioned a book, how to sustain positive engagement with the reading community, and how to get books into readers’ hands even as titles are removed from schools and libraries.

Lexi Beach, co-owner of Astoria Bookshop (Queens, N.Y.), expressed that book bans have influenced her buying. “Customers want to find out more or support the author,” she said. “I need to have more than one copy of Gender Queer in stock, and that does sometimes mean more sales.”

“People come into your bookstore with their own baggage and their own trauma,” said Mack Burner, the YA buyer at Bookworm of Edwards (Edwards, Colo.). He believes books can be “safe spaces to process ideas.” He gave as an example Jewell Parker Rhodes’s Ghost Boys. “I sold it to basically everyone who walked in the door; I billed it as police brutality for middle graders, kind of getting to the punch before they could,” he said. He also recommended Jason Reynolds and Ibram X. Kendi’s Stamped from the Beginning. “Yes, these books deal with big scary real-world issues, but they’re in the middle grade category.”

“A phrase I use a lot is ‘emotionally appropriate’—these books are written for kids, who are at different developmental levels,” Beach responded. Panelists considered loaded terms like “trigger warning” and “content warning,” leading ABA moderator Gen de Botton to comment, “I love calling it a “heads-up warning.” We don’t want people to be frightened, we want people to be engaged and have the knowledge before they go into the book.”

Sometimes, a store visitor attempts to harangue staffers or pick a fight. On the topic of confrontations, the panelists and audience conferred about the safety of staff and the desire to retain customers. “What do you do when you see that someone you work with is cornered?” asked Casey Morissey, one of three buyers at Greenlight Bookstore (Brooklyn, N.Y).

In these kinds of situations, Burner turns to an employee manual. “You need to be prepared to protect your staff in that interaction,” he said. “Floor managers need to be on board. We don’t have a hierarchy of decision-making [for ordinary situations], but we do have a tiered ‘when-shit-hits-the-fan’ policy.” Often a situation resolves itself when the individual leaves and never returns, Burner said. “If the garbage wants to take itself out, I’m OK with that. But I also think there are some people who come in and want to share their opinion [and they remain customers].”

“We did a de-escalation training through the ABA,” Morissey offered. Right to Be, an organization formerly known as Hollaback!, offers free virtual de-escalation training resources for the public as well as customized training for businesses on responding to harassment, conflict resolution, bystander intervention, and resilience. The Center for Anti-Violence Education also provides workshops on de-escalation and active bystander intervention.

As far as keeping books available—especially in places like Florida, where one bookseller bemoaned recent removals of LGBTQ+ content from schools and libraries—the panelists stressed the importance of handselling, staying up-to-date on content, and being politically engaged. “Read books and share them with the people who need them,” Beach said. Burner added, “Focus on what makes a book do good in the world rather than what makes it different.’” An audience participant from Georgia said her store’s banned book fair was the “best offsite event we’ve ever done. We ran out of books. We got people saying, ‘You’re selling pornography.’ But they came to the bookstore, and they couldn’t find it.” —NodB

Idea Exchange: Adding Value to Services

“We give a lot of things away for free,” said Heather Hebert, owner of Children’s Book World (Haverford, Pa.) at the discussion on adding value to bookstore services. “But it’s not bad to say we want to make a profit, not bad to say ‘I work hard at this.’ Time is money.” Her co-presenter, Kathy Burnette, owner of Brain Lair Books (South Bend, Ind.) assured the attendees, “You know stuff that other people don’t,” and said by all means they should demand fees for research consultation, curated gift boxes, supplying books to school events, and other services rendered. Bookstore T-shirts—like Burnette’s “read books, drink coffee, fight evil” shirt, which she sported at Ci10’s Drag Queen Storytime—can generate community and promote a brand. “Customers want to help you save the world,” Burnette said.

At the idea swap, booksellers discussed ways to monetize storytime without charging for a ticket: businesses might co-sponsor; advertisers can pay a fee to list an event in bookstore newsletters; some daycare centers schedule paid field trips to bookstores; caregivers will shell out for a themed storytime (“Rapunzel’s coming next week. Pay 20 bucks a kid to have a princess read them a story and you get a coupon for a fancy cupcake down the street,” said one attendee). Booksellers discussed earning a small profit from book clubs by asking members to pay an enrollment fee if they do not buy their book(s) from the store; by gradually “grandfathering in” book clubs that pre-exist any new enrollment policy; and by offering clubs a discount or reserved meeting space if they order six or more books. Attendees emphasized putting policies in writing and treating them as rules: “When things are in writing, it’s not a conversation, it’s a communication.” Magic words can include, “We have to put everything in writing now” or “my accountant/lawyer/advisor needs me to do it this way,” Burnette said, as a way of attributing a fare to a higher power.

Hebert described a subscription service in which a bookseller sent a self-addressed stamped postcard in each box to enable kids to write back to the store (the bookseller paid for the stamps). The returned postcards are gratifying, and one attendee piped in to say that she formatted the return postcard as a staff pick, so that it became easy to hang as a shelftalker.

When a bookseller lamented that customers may move on if other stores still offer things for free, Burnette had a kind but firm response. “You’re thinking about it wrong,” she said. “What value are you bringing to the table? Your customers are your customers because of you. Again, you don’t have to charge for everything, but if you think ‘this thing takes me so much time,’ that is the place to start.” —NodB

Doing Well by Doing Good: Community Partnerships to Strengthen Your Network and Your Bottom Line

A standing-room-only crowd packed the panel on Doing Well by Doing Good, suggesting the appeal of community organizing among Ci10 attendees. Partnerships with local companies and organizations do not happen overnight, said Verlean Singletary, owner of Da Book Joint (Chicago), who went through a six-month process to become a vendor with Chicago-area public schools. Singletary asserted that “conversations result in generosity from organizations who need services or just want to support your store.” Emails are ineffective, she added. “You’re just going to have to suck it up and get on the phone!”

Jennifer Kraar, children’s buyer at City of Asylum (Pittsburgh, Pa.) recommended that in order to gain recognition, booksellers need to “brag about the mission” of their store and, when forging connections, “research your partnerships—make sure your partners are inclusive.”

“Bragging is important,” agreed Lupe Penn, youth and schools manager of Bookmarks (Winston-Salem, N.C.), who recommended nudging partner organizations to share their successes and inclusive practices on their platforms. “You still need to run a business while saving the world,” she said, “so set clear boundaries” while you are doing good things.

Laurie Gillman, owner of East City Bookshop (Washington, D.C.), recommended getting word out about a store mission by providing comp tickets to big author events, hosting in-store educator nights, setting up donation opportunities for recommended charities or schools, and sharing publisher swag from reps. Personal invitations and takeaways for those unaware of a store’s mission will make “a connection maybe you didn’t have before.” Even inexpensive things can signal values to browsers; a shelftalker can name an educator who needs a particular book in their classroom.

Other topics included outreach to healthcare networks, anti-racist groups, and nonprofits, which often have grant money to serve the community; starting a teen advisory council of avid readers who would love to write reviews for store shelves; and participating in large companies’ book clubs. “Opening the channels of communication” is the first step, Singletary stressed. Word of mouth helps a store do well and do good. —NodB

Listening Is Reading: Audiobooks, Literacy and Accessibility

During a discussion on audiobooks, panelists Amanda Ackley at The Bookmatters in Cincinnati and former executive director of the Blue Manatee Literacy Project; Cathy Berner, children’s/YA specialist and events coordinator at Blue Willow Bookshop in Houston; and Gen de Botton, senior children’s bookselling program and education manager at ABA spoke about the need to normalize audiobook listening as a valid form of reading with its own advantages and benefits for young readers. They also offered facts and resources that booksellers can share with their customers.

Pushing back against the claim that audiobooks don’t count as reading, de Botton emphasized that “listening is learning and reading.” It’s the first language skill we acquire, she said, and 85% of what we learn is through listening. A child’s listening comprehension can be two or more grade levels ahead of their reading comprehension. Therefore, audiobooks are a way of “leveling the playing field,” allowing readers to understand more advanced content and to go at their own pace by pausing and rewinding the story as needed.

Ackley stressed that the developmental benefits of reading aloud continue as a child grows. It’s not just important for babies.

Berner added that hearing words pronounced helps kids learn new vocabulary in context, through the narrator’s vocal cues. This can be especially helpful if the child reads along with the audiobook. The variety of narrators/voice actors also exposes kids to accents and voices they may not otherwise hear in their day-to-day lives. “When you hear a book read by someone else, that’s an added layer of interpretation,” she said. “It’s another connection to the text.”

Ackley said that some kids may not have access to physical books at home, and downloading audiobooks may be easier. Also on the subject of accessibility, Berner said that audiobooks can be a crucial alternative for readers with dyslexia, ADHD, and other learning differences. De Botton agreed, saying, “If a customer says their child is a reluctant reader, it’s important to determine: are they reluctant, or are they having difficulty?” That’s where audiobooks can help.

Berner said that audiobooks are a good option for parents and guardians who may not have time to read aloud to their kids. You can listen in the car or, as she did with her own kids, while getting ready for school.

Booksellers in the audience offered suggestions such as setting up a listening station with headphones in your store, so customers can sample audiobooks. Another idea was to turn off the background music and put on an audiobook instead.

The panelists also shared some of their favorite audiobooks for various age ranges.

Picture Books

Particularly for reading along with the physical book:

  • The Last Stop on Market Street by Matt de la Peña, read by Lizan Mitchell
  • Paolo, Emperor of Rome by Mac Barnett, read by Edoardo Ballerini
  • Thank You, Omu by Oge Mora, read by LaQuita James
  • Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak, read by Peter Schickle
  • Going Down Home with Daddy by Kelly Starling Lyons, read by Daxton Edwards
  • The Napping House by Audrey Wood, read by Melissa Leebaert

Middle Grade

  • The Best Man by Richard Peck, read by Michael Crouch. (Berner recommended any audiobook read by Crouch.)
  • Look Both Ways by Jason Reynolds, read by Reynolds et al. (Berner said not to listen while driving. “You will cry!”)
  • The Beatryce Prophecy by Kate DiCamillo, read by Finty Williams
  • Finding Langston by Lesa Cline-Ransome, read by Dion Grahame
  • Fish in a Tree by Lynda Hunt, read by Kathleen McInerney
  • The Weirdies by Michael Buckley, read by Kate Winslet

Young Adult

  • With the Fire on High, written and read by Elizabeth Acevedo. (De Botton said that listening to poetry can “open up the world” for readers who may otherwise be intimidated by the form.)
  • Heist Society by Ally Carter, read by Angela Dawe
  • Firekeeper’s Daughter by Angeline Boulley, read by Isabella Star LaBlanc
  • Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell, read by Rebecca Lowman and Sunil Malhotra
  • The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas, read by Bahni Turpin
  • Anything written and read by Kwame Alexander


  • The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien, read by Andy Serkis
  • The Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan, read by Jesse Bernstein

Recommended Resources

Harness the Power of BookTok to Drive Sales

Five panelists discussing how to reach readers through BookTok played to a packed house at Ci10. Samantha Fox, director of digital marketing at HarperCollins Children’s Books, came prepared with a slide deck on the sales growth of 297 top-trending titles from 2.8 million units in 2019 to 11 million units already in 2022. YA-specific numbers have seen 17% growth this year, and although Fox cannot say for sure, she feels the upward trend correlates to the rise of BookTok among young users. “It’s not plateauing, just getting bigger,” she said.

How does one create a viral BookTok that lures teens to a bookstore? “Let your personality shine,” said author Victoria Aveyard. “They want to know that your passion and values and interests align with theirs, and they care about where the products they’re purchasing are coming from.”

“The audience needs to know us before they’re willing to buy from us,” Fox concurred. She gave a metaphorical example: “You have a party to go to, and you’re in the middle of a book you want to just keep reading. We all have that book-nerd friend we can text” to complain about the annoying social obligation. “BookTok is that book-nerd friend.”

“You are not afraid to handsell books, [and with BookTok,] you just do it on video,” said Candace Huber, owner of Tubby & Coo’s Mid-City Book Shop (New Orleans). “People want to see raw footage of you talking to a camera.” Huber’s BookToks range from very simple (“I literally showed a Book Shop list of queer pirate books and used a trending sound of somebody doing a queer pirate shanty”) to scripted skits (“my most viral video ever was me re-enacting a man who came into my bookstore saying only men read genre fiction. Show your raw self.”). Author Alisha Rai loved the second example: “If you do difficult-customer skits, those are my potato chips.”

Alexa Butler, manager of Beach Books (Seaside, Ore.), seconded Butler: “Show yourself unloading your freight or another day-to-day thing,” she said. “Make a time-lapse video of you putting up a display.” Everyone began tossing in examples of what Aveyard called “day-in-the-lives.” “Show people how you can find the price of a book inside of a barcode, those triangles with an S in them, strippable vs. not,” Huber said. “The general public doesn’t know that stuff. Or duet authors on TikTok; I’ve gotten so many virtual events just by being friends with authors on Twitter.” (“I don’t know who needs to hear this, but always tag the authors and the publishers,” Aveyard chimed in.)

Interestingly, the BookTok session’s most amusing moment was not virtual at all. Fox saluted a bookseller who had garnered hundreds of thousands of likes for simply praising her three favorite titles. “It’s just so wholesome, everybody can relate,” she said. Butler knew the work too: “Claire was so passionate about the book, so genuine about her recommendation,” she nodded. An audience member’s hand shot up. “That’s us!” cried Alana Haley, marketing coordinator at Schuler Books (Grand Rapids, Mich.). Bookseller Claire Avins has become a BookTok sensation for her recommendations, and judging from the panelists’ awareness, the community is eating it up.

In conclusion, Fox listed four BookTok takeaways: “Community engagement creates ROIs. Initial indicators of engagement are views. Be unique. Be yourself.” —NodB