Gen de Botton works behind the scenes with the ABA team to make Children’s Institute happen. De Botton joined ABA as program and development coordinator in 2015 and now serves as senior manager of children’s bookselling education and programs. She spoke with PW from her home in Seattle about mission-driven bookselling, sustaining creativity amid capitalism, and The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane.
What were your bookselling experiences prior to ABA?
I was the manager of the children’s department of Borders in Mount Kisco, N.Y., from 2003 to 2011, and it always stayed within the top 10 children’s departments company-wide. At one point, I transferred to Borders’ children’s department in Flint, Mich., and ran it for two years. When I moved back to New York, I resumed working at my own Borders, and when it closed, a woman named Jennifer Cook seized the opportunity to open a children’s bookstore, Little Joe’s Books, in Katonah, N.Y. She came to Borders looking for employees, and we vibed, so I ran an independent children’s bookstore for three years until she sold it.
What do you love about children’s books and bookselling?
This may sound silly, but what really brought me into the world of children’s books is The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane by Kate DiCamillo. I read it when it first came out, and I’ve read it multiple times since. It’s such a powerful, existential book about grief and evolution and never giving up. In addition, I’ve always been attracted to mission-driven work, and children’s bookselling is inherently mission driven. Yes, you’re capturing a sale, but ultimately you’re providing a tool to a young person for entertainment or education or healing. You’re fulfilling a need. When I came to ABA, I wanted to help children’s booksellers achieve a goal of impacting communities, help children feel seen and validated, and elevate the knowledge that children’s books are essential to the holistic health of the industry.
How do you develop Children’s Institute programming?
I definitely don’t do this alone! I have a wonderful education project coordinator working with me, Cassie Youngstrom. She’s a former New York City high school teacher with a background in instructional design, so she has informed the conversation and events. One of the joys of being on an education team with Cassie, senior education manager Lisa Winn, and director of education Kim Hooyboer is that we have an opportunity to ask our members what they’re excited about. The education is something we work on all year.
What topics are top of mind for you in 2023?
At Winter Institute, Cassie and I both saw that what’s happening in children’s bookselling is now flooding into general bookselling. Book banning is nothing new to children’s booksellers, who have been on the forefront of children’s right to read for decades. Books as windows and mirrors for diversity—that’s not a new conversation for children’s booksellers. When we put together the program, we revisited those topics to figure out actionable solutions. How can we help booksellers and bookstore owners advance conversations and continue with the mission-driven work of supporting young readers?
Which education sessions are you excited to introduce this year?
Bookselling is an extremely creative, personal, vulnerable job. It’s also capitalism, and we can get caught in the numbers and forget the things that inspire us. So we’re bringing an instructor from the Iowa Writers’ Workshop who specializes in creative business planning to lead owners and managers through generative prompts that will help them implement programs. We’re also doing a workshop with a graphic designer to create bookstore T-shirts. Repping your favorite bookstore is like repping your favorite band—I have 45 or 50 bookstore T-shirts by now, and there’s a symbiosis between the products we sell and the community we bring in. We have a lot of fun at Children’s Institute! Winter Institute is truly a gala, and Children’s Institute feels like a gathering of close friends.