Inspiring children to read can be hard work, and the Women's National Book Association rewards such inspired booksellers with its annual Lucile Micheels Pannell Award. The award recognizes "the work of booksellers who stimulate, promote and encourage children's and young people's interest in books." Every year at BookExpo America, the WNBA honors two bookstores—a children's specialty bookstore and a general bookstore—by presenting each with a cash prize of $1,000 plus a framed piece of art created by a children's book illustrator.

The 87-year-old, all-volunteer WNBA established the bookselling awards in 1981. The organization named the awards after Lucile Micheels Pannell, a founding member of one of the WNBA chapters who managed the Hobby Horse Bookshop in Chicago's Carson Pirie Scott department store from 1943 to 1953. Her enthusiasm and love of books made the store a favorite destination for parents, children and Chicago school field trips.

Doing It for Themselves

The 15 women who formed the WNBA in 1917 were booksellers who, because of their sex, were barred from membership in the all-male Bookseller's League. The women met at Sherwood's Book Store in downtown New York City and formed their own organization.

"Some people think it was a dowdy group of women, but it was an activist group," said Jill Tardiff, currently national president of the WNBA and the New York City chapter president. "Not only was this during World War I, but it was a period of strong union formation. Activism was a legitimate way to organize back in 1917." After World War II, she added, the WNBA became less of an activist group and took on more of a professional focus.

The organization has more than 1,000 members, in nine chapters. "The composition of the group depends on the region," Tardiff told PW. "Boston is mostly writers; Washington, D.C., is mostly authors and those involved with government publications; Binghamton [N.Y.], Dallas and Detroit are mostly librarians. Which is our strength; we're not just women in publishing." Besides New York City, there are also chapters in Los Angeles, San Francisco and Nashville.

For the Pannell award, "We call for nominations, gather entries, and choose and prod the five-person jury, which is a mix of different perspectives from the industry—publishers, distributors, booksellers, etc.," said Eileen Hanning, chair of the WNBA's Pannell Committee. Although Hanning spent a brief time as a children's bookseller in the distant past, she said she didn't know much about the Pannell Award until she joined the WNBA. "When I volunteered to organize the award, I came to understand how powerful it is in the children's book world and how meaningful it is to the recipients. And the illustrators [who contribute the art] are honored to do it."

Winners' Ways

The 2004 awards went to Hicklebee's Children's Books in San Jose, Calif. (children's specialty) and to UConn Co-op in Storrs, Conn. (general). The art prize was contributed by Denise Fleming and Mo Willems.

In addition to the Pannell Award, the WNBA's award and grant program consists of one other award and one grant. The WNBA Award (formerly the Constance Lindsay Skinner Award) is given to a book woman for "meritorious work" in her special field, and the Ann Heidbreder Eastman Grant is awarded to a librarian to take a course related to the publishing profession. Together, Tardiff said, these "cover three major areas in the book community: bookselling, individual accomplishment and librarians."

Anne Irish, executive director of the Association of Booksellers for Children (ABC), told PW, "[Although] we recognize an ABC member every year for their energetic support of ABC, we look to the Pannell as the award for recognition as a bookseller. We feel that that's the pinnacle of awards, and everyone aspires to win it."

Hanning said the committee was surprised to see UConn Co-Op as a contender. "It's a university bookstore, and we didn't expect a university bookstore to focus on kids. But shame on us for being so surprised. They have the space and ability to offer many programs for kids, even in the summer. A large portion of the faculty and staff are grandparents, so when they notify them that their course books are in, they add, 'And by the way, we have these children's titles you might be interested in!' They also have a dedicated phone line where a kid can call any time of the day or night and hear a story read aloud by a community figure. What a neat thing for the town to do!"

Hicklebee's was praised for several programs: its baby registry; the press conference format it uses to attract a record crowd of YA readers to an author event; its Book Bonus Program, which raises funds for schools to buy books; and its museum-like collection of author memorabilia throughout the store. During ABC's annual meeting at BEA, Hanning said, attendees "asked the folks from Hicklebee's about their experience with the Pannell. The meeting ended up being a teaching workshop where they talked about competing for the Pannell. It's great publicity, but also helps other booksellers to be better businesspeople."

The award committee started keeping a running list of "jury highlights," some of the nominees' innovative bookselling methods that impressed the jury during its review process. "These are things that make us say, 'Why didn't I think of that?' That way, folks can look at the list and say, 'We can do that—it's not that hard!' Why not learn from the best?"