A large and enthusiastic group of booksellers and authors were among those who enjoyed beautiful weather in the Bay Area at the Northern California Independent Booksellers Association’s annual trade show October 3–4, held for the second year in a row at the South San Francisco Conference Center.

The panel discussion “Is There a Monster Behind That Bookshelf? How to Navigate the Kids Section When You Think You Know Nothing About Kids Books” kicked off the children’s events. Moderated by Antonia Squire of The Reading Bug in San Carlos, the discussion between two Bay Area booksellers – panelists Maggie Tokuda-Hall of Books Inc. and Mrs. Dalloway’s Susan Peyrat – addressed ways general bookstores can make the most of their children’s sections. “All new staff should be trained in children’s books, not just the kids’ specialists,” Tokuda-Hall said. “Suggest that they think about the books they loved when they were children, and why. Also, have your staff read the new picture books as they come in through receiving. It’s easy to do, and only takes a few minutes to get familiar with them.”

“Shelftalkers are key if a clerk doesn’t know a certain book,” Squire added, “so have as many as possible in the kids’ section. It’s also important to invest in at least one children’s journal. The starred reviews are a great tool to learn the books, and the kids’ bestseller list in the New York Times is also very important.” Peyrat has new staff members spend a day watching the children’s specialist sell books. “And have them shelve books in the kids’ section, too,” Peyrat said, “It’s a great way to familiarize them with the books.”

Mary Ann Hill of Hicklebee’s in San Jose asked the panelists, “What’s the best way to transition kids from picture books to early readers?” Suggestions offered ranged from the general – books that kids can grow into help fill this gap – to the more specific. Squire recommended The Eleventh Hour: A Curious Mystery by Graeme Base; The Magic Tree House series by Mary Pope Osborne, illustrated by Sal Murdocca; and the Dragon Slayers’ Academy series by Kate McMullan, illustrated by Bill Basso and Stephen Gilpin. “These are all good transitional titles,” said Squire. “Have your staff learn the early reader section in the store. It’s essential.” As the session concluded, the panelists seemed in agreement on one key principle: being a bookseller in the children’s section is the same as being a bookseller anywhere else in the store. “Nine times out of 10, your customers want your help,” Squire said. “And nine times out of 10, you know more than your customers.”

The audience was spilling out the door of the room where the popular children’s rep picks session took place. Of the four categories this year, the reps chose to start with Drawing Sales (books with great illustrations); these titles included Mr. Tiger Goes Wild by Peter Brown (Little, Brown) and Dream Animals: A Bedtime Journey by Emily Winfield Martin (Random House). When it was HarperCollins rep Jim Hankey’s turn in the Favorite Sleeper category, he pitched Anne Ursu’s The Real Boy. “It’s a wonderful middle-grade fantasy novel, and an Indie Next pick,” he said. Chronicle Books rep Anna-Lisa Sandstrum chose The Good Ship Crocodile by J. Patrick Lewis and Monique Felix, a picture book about friendship. “No one dies in this book,” Sandstrum said, “and no one ends up in a concentration camp.” Sandstrum spoke about Super Graphic: A Visual Guide to the Comic Book Universe by Tim Leong in the YA Winner category. “It’s for anyone from 12 to 92,” she said. “I don’t like comic books except for this one, because it explained comic books to me. The infographics are great. One is a Venn diagram that details the characteristics of all the Superhero characters.” In the category One Book I Want Everyone to Read, Kelly Stidham of Simon & Schuster made a heartfelt pitch for God Got a Dog by Cynthia Rylant, illustrated by Marla Frazee.

Hicklebee’s owner Valerie Lewis moderated the Children’s Author Tea with gusto. First to the podium was David Shannon, who gave a humorous talk about his new picture book Bugs in My Hair! (Scholastic/Blue Sky). Neal Shusterman discussed the third book in his Unwind Dystology, Unsouled (Simon & Schuster). “The idea for the book came to me after I read about the first face transplant,” said Shusterman. “I started thinking about medical ethics, and how the gray areas keep getting bigger.” Unsouled delves into the possibility of 100% human transplants, where “you’re kept alive and every part of you is given to hundreds of people, and you’re only worth the sum of your parts.”

Graphic novelist Gene Luen Yang talked about his latest from First Second, Boxers and Saints, a two-volume set depicting the Boxer Rebellion in China. “Young men were angry about foreign incursion at that time, the end of the 19th century,” Yang said. “For them, opera was their version of comic books. There were mystical rituals in Chinese opera, and these young men believed the gods depicted in the opera world would rescue them from persecution.” The last speaker, Newbery Medalist Cynthia Voigt, discussed Mister Max: The Book of Lost Things (Knopf), the first in a mystery trilogy. “I have no idea what my writing process is,” said Voigt with a laugh. “I come up with a general outline. Then I imagine as hard as I can. And then I write word one.” When she began her new book, Voigt only knew that the character would be named after her first grandson, Max. “But I couldn’t think of a plot.” A fan of Alexander McCall Smith, Voigt said she studies his story construction for help getting started with a new novel: “I’m definitely one of those plot-impaired writers.”

According to Hut Landon, executive director of NCIBA, the association has five designated children’s bookstore members. “But more and more we’re seeing expanded kids’ sections in general bookstores. The children’s specialists who work in them do an incredible job.” On the show floor, the children’s exhibitor booths were buzzing. Anne Seaton of Hicklebee’s is excited about the upcoming holiday sales season. “Last year was killer for us, and we’re keeping up with similar numbers this year,” she said. “More teachers and librarians are shopping with us now, too.” Cinda Meister and Brad Jones of BookSmart in Morgan Hill mentioned Jim Carrey’s How Roland Rolls; Star Wars: Jedi Academy by Jeffrey Brown; and The Dream Thieves, second in Maggie Stiefvater’s Raven Boys series, as a few of the books they expect to be store bestsellers this year. “Our customers have already started shopping for Christmas,” said Meister. “I’m sure we’ll be up from last year.”