New Orleans was the colorful setting for the Southern Independent Booksellers Alliance’s annual trade show, held September 19–22 at the Sheraton on Canal Street. But inside the hotel, the throng of booksellers, buyers, and authors teemed with a different kind of excitement than what’s usually associated with French Quarter revelry.

“This was my first SIBA conference, and I absolutely loved it,” said SIBA Book Award winner Sheila Turnage (Three Times Lucky). “The panels were diverse and well designed. I learned how other middle-grade authors approach their work, and how booksellers and publishers are approaching Common Core standards. I heard sales reps from great publishing houses 'speed pitch' the most exciting Southern-flavored books coming out over the next few months. Most of all I loved the friendly back-and-forth between authors and booksellers.”

SIBA kicked off its show with several education panels, including one focusing on the hot-button topic of the moment: understanding the Common Core. The Friday morning discussion was led by SIBA’s One Book at a Time organizer, Richard Buthod; Justin Chanda, v-p and publisher of Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers; and Angie Tally, manager of the children’s department for The Country Bookshop in Southern Pines, N.C. The panelists dispelled myths, explaining how materials can be used for schools, and which books qualify. “Common Core is not a subject, not a curriculum,” Chanda said. “It is a way to teach, and it is the school system that will set their curriculum. The Common Core standard is elastic, and any book can be aligned [to it].” He urged booksellers to look to the exemplar list – which offers models on how to grow students’ ability to work with intricate texts – as a guide and not as prescriptive for the only books to use. Quality books, he noted, are key, and any quality book can work for the Common Core. “Success for the Common Core means bookstores soar,” Buthod added. “If we are not the champions for reading, who will be?” He, along with Chanda and Talley, urged booksellers to inform parents and teachers, to connect with schools, and to not fear starting the conversation and engaging in what Chanda called a “dynamic discussion.”

Dynamic discussion was a hallmark of another Friday panel, one that addressed banned books. Joining the conversation, which was moderated by Chris Finan, president of American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression, were Lauren Myracle, author of The Infinite Moment of Us, and Acacia O’Connor, coordinator of the Kids’ Right to Read Project. Myracle spoke of the booksellers who’ve told her that they’ve turned teens away from her titles because they felt they weren’t age-appropriate, adding, “I think the only person who has a right to tell a kid what to read is that child’s parent.” The issues explored in a book, she noted, don’t fade if the book is banned: “Parents are angry because they’re scared.” The best way to handle an angry parent, she said, is to let them talk, listen to them, and then discuss the books. O’Connor noted that the challenges on books are happening “at small, local levels. We all ignore school board elections, but they are so important in shaping the environment.” The panelists encouraged booksellers to get involved at the community level, and instead of shying away from conversations with parents and teachers, to see the discussions as an opportunity to help eliminate fear.

Charming the Reader

Young adult authors spoke of writing their novels to ease distressed teens, and their experiences during their formative years, during a panel called Charmed, I’m Sure: Bram & Sherlock, the Power of Music, Time Travel & Witchcraft, moderated by Jamie Fiocco of Flyleaf Books in Chapel Hill, N.C. Authors Colleen Gleason (The Clockwork Scarab), Leila Sales (This Song Will Save Your Life), Cristin Terrill (All Our Yesterdays), and Brittany Geragotelis (Life’s a Witch) discussed the importance of reaching their readers. “Teens feel alone. What connects them to a book is when they feel that someone else experiences what they experience,” said Geragotelis. All four authors noted that they write the books they do in part to provide teens with, as Sales put it, “the emotional truth they can connect to.” After the discussion, Julie Schoerke, owner of literary publicity firm JKS Communications, told PW, “From writing a book to go back and comfort her 16-year-old self, to punching a hole in the tired cliché that cheerleaders are mean and don’t get bullied, each author has written books that not only connect with teens, but offer an actual lifeline.”

Friday’s kickoff lunch proved popular with many attendees. Becky Quiroga Curtis of Books and Books in Coral Gables, Fla., emceed the event, which featured Nick Bruel (Bad Kitty School Daze), William Joyce (The Mischievians), Jude Watson (The 39 Clues: Unstoppable: Book One), Anna Dewdney (Llama Llama and the Bully Goat), and Stephen Kellogg (Snowflakes Fall). “Of all the children’s and YA programming we attended, I think that the SIBA Author Kickoff Lunch was the highlight for me,” said Janet Geddis, owner of Avid Bookstore in Athens, Ga. “Meeting inspiring authors – more than 100! – completely affects the way I interact with their books, and it energizes me when I talk about their work with customers. Our kid customers are especially awed when I can tell them little snippets of behind-the-scenes stories of their favorite books.”

A first-time event, Saturday evening’s Parapalooza, brought a slice of the New Orleans party atmosphere indoors, with adult and children’s authors alike offering enthusiastic readings from their books. “There was some question as to whether 12 authors in different genres reading only one paragraph each from their books might feel a little frenetic to the audience,” said emcee Tim Federle (Five, Six, Seven, Nate!). “And then I heard we were serving the booksellers free margaritas and I stopped worrying.” The room filled to standing-room only in a matter of minutes, as the raucous crowd toasted SIBA executive director Wanda Jewell for her work on this year’s show.

A similar party atmosphere prevailed on the show floor over Saturday and Sunday, with Mardi Gras-festooned booths serving king cake, Bloody Marys, and more. Of course, there were plenty of books and sidelines for booksellers to consider, too. “I placed an order for cardboard displays for Diary of a Wimpy Kid and Origami Yoda,” said Shane Gottwals, owner of Gottwals Books, whose franchise Wall of Books opens a new store in New Orleans in early 2014. “They really excite the kids, and I love anything that adds color and attracts attention in our stores.” Like others PW spoke with, Gottwals gave SIBA 2013 high marks: “It pushed us all to become better booksellers by allowing us to unite and, in turn, inspire each other.”