With another successful event concluded, the American Booksellers Association’s Children’s Institute, a smaller, kids-focused edition of Winter Institute, has earned a place on booksellers’ and publishers’ spring calendars. Held this year from June 21 to June 23 in Orlando, Fla., the fourth Children’s Institute (CI 4) drew 228 booksellers from 39 states, Canada, and Australia and 56 authors. In her closing keynote, Julia Alvarez, author of the upcoming picture book Where Do They Go? (Triangle Square, Sept.), called it “a very heartening” conference.
The enthusiasm was fueled, at least in part, by the number of booksellers in attendance who have new stores, including DeAndra Beard, who opened Beyond Barcodes Bookstore in Kokomo, Ind., earlier this year, and Deserea Russell, founder of the online children’s bookstore and book fair company, Imaginations, who plans to open a physical store in Columbia, Md. A few booksellers, such as Sally Sue Lavigne, recently purchased existing stores, in her case South Carolina’s only children’s bookstore, the Storybook Shoppe in Bluffton. Sandy Loomis, who plans to open Enchanted Passage, a children’s bookstore in Sudbury, Mass., was one of several attendees who are about to open stores.
Former ABA staffer Kristen Gilligan, the new owner of the Tattered Cover Book Store in Denver with her husband Len Vlahos, was enjoying her return to bookselling. She was drawn to this year’s institute, she said, for the education and networking opportunities. “Because of what I’m doing with schools and outreach for the store, I need to absorb every single moment,” she noted.
“Children’s Institute is ideal for making and reestablishing connections around the country,” Anna-Lise Sandstrum, national accounts manager at Chronicle Books, said. Sandstrum said that she was pleased to hear firsthand about what’s happening in children’s bookstores and to thank indie booksellers for their business. Mark von Bargen, senior director of trade sales for children’s books at Macmillan, said he especially valued the multiple children’s programs offered at Children’s Institute, which had 10 education sessions, three keynotes, and three featured talks. Allison Verost, v-p of marketing and publicity for Macmillan Children’s Publishing Group, added that the timing was “fantastic.” The June date meant that many booksellers were already familiar with titles presented at the rep picks session. Last year the institute was held in April.
The meeting had a number of mood shifts throughout the 45 hours. ABA CEO Oren Teicher noted in his opening remarks, “As we begin this celebration, we are all reminded that there are people in Orlando tonight who are not celebrating and likely won’t be able to celebrate for a long time to come. On behalf of all of you, we want to remember them these next few days and dedicate ourselves to reject violence and hate—and to join together as Americans to build a society where acceptance and understanding are the norm.”
Kate DiCamillo opened the first full day with an emotional keynote titled “Owning the Power of Stories, Harnessing the Power of Connection,” about learning to connect with readers. Kristen McLean, director of new business development at Nielsen Book, shared sales data for books for children ages five to eight, which she said accounts for “the lion’s share” of children’s units and dollars, almost 40% for each. Her research showed that even though “avid-reader parents” are important for book sales for this age group, buying 39% of the units and 55% of dollars, “social-omnivore parents” are not far behind. McLean urged booksellers to market to them.
But based on another set of numbers from the ABA, many booksellers are already finding the best ways to market children’s books. Teicher said that the ABA has seen growth in bookseller sales for the first half of 2016. And for those who aren’t experiencing that growth, he said, “We’re committed to work with you. The best days of children’s bookselling are ahead of us.”