ABC Children’s Institute: A Celebration of Diversity, Activism, and Kids’ Lit

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This week, more than 300 independent booksellers traveled to New Orleans, Louisiana, for the American Booksellers Association’s sixth annual ABC Children’s Institute (Ci6), an event that has become a favorite on the industry calendar.

In celebration of Pride month, booksellers picked up a rainbow “indies” button along with their badges and welcome bags the morning of Tuesday, June 19, then attended a variety of programming, including a literary walking tour of the French Quarter and a chalkboard lettering workshop, the Principles of Bookstore Finance seminar led by ABA CFO Robyn DesHotel and Cynthia Compton from 4 Kids Books & Toys, and one-on-one meetings with IndieCommerce staff to discuss e-commerce options.

The official event kickoff came in the form of a Mardi Gras celebration and backlist children’s book character costume party, at which author judges David Levithan, Andrea Beaty, and Daniel Ehrenhaft crowned Louise Marshall of Rakestraw Books the grand prize winner — a $250 staff party from HarperCollins and a gift bag from Drag Queen Story Hour were among the loot — for her costume as the lead character from David Shannon’s 1998 picture book A Bad Case of Stripes (Blue Sky Press).

Amidst the festivities at the opening reception, ABA CEO Oren Teicher welcomed the hundreds of booksellers, publishers, authors, and guests, noting that more than half of the booksellers at Ci6 — 187, to be exact — were at the institute for their first time. Bookseller attendees, he noted, came from 36 states, Washington, D.C., Australia, and Canada and represented more than 200 stores. In the hours after the costume contest, rumors swirled about it possibly becoming an annual tradition.

Additional awards went to the Princess in Black trio (Joan Trygg, Angela Whited, and Lily Tschudi-Campbell of Red Balloon Bookshop) for best ensemble costume; Jessica Tresp from Bibliobar for best solo costume for her rendition of Lilly’s Purple Plastic Purse; Francine Lucidon and her daughter, Kayleigh Reichman, of The Voracious Reader, who went as Coraline and her “other mother,” for best fierce woman costume; Kathy Ellen of Hicklebee’s for best literary animal costume as Charlotte and her web; and Sarah Holt of Left Bank Books, who dressed as the Pokey Puppy, for best interpretation of a character. An additional award for “most timely and most effective in its timeliness” costume went to Amie Mechler-Hickson of Boswell Book Company and Lisa Baudoin of Books & Company, who appeared as two of the protesting crayons from The Day the Crayons Quit.

Ci6 publisher sponsors offered up a number of coveted prizes for the contest winners, including a set of books by author Andrea Beaty from Abrams; a complete signed set of books by Jason Reynolds from Simon & Schuster; a boxed set of Harry Potter books signed by illustrator Brian Selznick from Scholastic; a Dog Man costume for an in-store appearance from Scholastic; gift cards from Hachette; costumed characters from Penguin Random House; a character costume rental, a prize basket of books and goodies, framed Kevin Henkes art, and signed and framed prints of The Golden Thread from HarperCollins; a goodie bag from Macmillan; and two prize packs from Random House Children’s.

The evening closed with a special screening (complete with popcorn) of the first two episodes of the Netflix original show Hilda, which is based on the popular graphic novel series from Flying Eye Books, the children’s imprint of London-based publisher Nobrow.

On Wednesday morning, June 20, ABA CEO Oren Teicher welcomed booksellers ahead of the opening keynote with Mallika Chopra, author of the forthcoming children’s book Just Breathe: Meditation, Mindfulness, Movement, and More (Running Press Kids, August 28), who encouraged booksellers to think about their intention for the rest of the event and led a practice meditation session.

For the eighth year in a row, Teicher said during his opening remarks, the number of ABA member stores has grown, now with 2,470 member locations representing 1,835 companies — a six percent increase in the number of locations and a 4.5 percent increase in member companies. “Since 2017, 128 new bookstores in 33 states and the District of Columbia have opened and joined ABA. We know many of those new stores are here and we’d like to extend a very warm welcome to you. The new stores include a range of new business models, including pop-ups, book busses, and collaborations with other businesses, as well as traditional bricks-and-mortar stores,” said Teicher.

“We’ve also seen growth in your sales. Based on the data we get every week from NPD/Bookscan, sales for 2017 among ABA member stores increased 2.6 percent over 2016, with a compound annual growth for the past five years of 5.4 percent. This year, sales among member stores are up more than 5 percent over 2017,” Teicher noted. “We know that every store and every part of the country has not seen these gains, which is why our efforts at the institute to provide the very best possible educational programming we can remains at the top of our priorities.”

Barbara Moffitt, senior vice president of sales for Ci6 lead sponsor Baker & Taylor, took the stage to share that her team had been looking forward to attending the institute and having the opportunity to hear bookseller comments. As a new grandma, Moffitt said, “I am so thrilled that not only do I have the joy and the pleasure of reading her the classic stuff, but I also look forward to so many more new children’s books that focus on the wonderful, diverse world we live in today. I want to applaud everybody in those efforts.”

ABC Children’s Group members attending Ci6 were entered into a raffle to win signed books from the institute’s keynote speakers. As announced by Kenny Brechner of Devaney, Doak and Garrett Booksellers in Farmington, Maine, the first prize went to The Odyssey Bookshop in South Hadley, Massachusetts. Additional prizes, presented by Margaret Lane from Baker & Taylor during lunch, were awarded to City of Asylum Bookstore in Pittsburgh and Anderson’s Bookshop in Downers Grove, Illinois.

The first block of Ci6 education sessions on Wednesday sent booksellers to learn about reaching underserved communities, Edelweiss+, social media, and planning and executing large-scale events; the second looked at expanding the YA audience, favorite bookstore forms, best practices for sending newsletters, and how to get involved in the greater book industry.

The morning’s featured talk with Allison Risbridger of NPD Book reviewed the most recent data on the U.S. children’s book market and the latest trends in genres, formats, buyer behavior, and more. Booksellers then broke for bookseller-to-bookseller discussion groups to talk about the latest findings from NPD.

During lunch, booksellers filled the Grand Ballroom for Rep Picks Speed Dating, while authors attended their own session with a panel of booksellers who shared best practices for creating events that benefit both stores and authors. Later in the afternoon, booksellers and publishers met for focus groups to discuss issues of mutual concern.

In between all of the activity, booksellers visited the Galley Room, which featured stacks of 150 different titles, and the Consultation Station, where 13 industry partners met with booksellers to talk about their products and services.

The evening’s Author Reception gave booksellers the opportunity to meet and have books signed by 67 authors, including Angie Thomas, Andrea Beaty, Tracey Hecht, Eric Fan and Terry Fan, and more.

At the Author Reception, Katherine Klockenkemper, a bookseller and children’s specialist at Parnassus Books in Nashville, Tennessee, said she was thrilled to be in New Orleans for her very first ABA conference. “It’s a lot packed into one day, but everyone else who’s here is doing the same thing, so there’s a camaraderie,” she said.

Klockenkemper, who specializes in putting on in-store children’s events, said she was excited to pick up a copy of adult mystery writer Laura Lippman’s first book for children, Liza Jane and the Dragon, illustrated by Kate Samworth (Akashic Books).

Earlier in the day, she attended the “Beyond the Bookstore” education session to learn more about how to get involved in the bookselling community; ideas she’s taking home from that session included offering incentives to colleagues to submit to the Indie Next List.

Heading to the Author Reception after a long first day, Sara Grochowski, a bookseller at McLean & Eakin in Petoskey, Michigan, told Bookselling This Week her tiredness was outweighed by the fun she was having.

“I’m only tired because it was such an action-packed day,” she said. “I think Children’s Institute is my favorite conference.”

The night closed with Scholastic’s “Power of Story” after-party, at which booksellers enjoyed drinks, desserts, and conversation with authors Mac Barnett (Mac Undercover), Rafael López (We’ve Got the Whole World in Our Hands), Daniel José Older (The Dactyl Hill Squad), and Kody Keplinger (That’s Not What Happened).

The breakfast keynote on Thursday, June 21, was packed with booksellers eagerly waiting to hear from Chelsea Clinton, the daughter of former President Bill Clinton and 2016 presidential contender Hillary Clinton and the author of the upcoming Start Now! You Can Make a Difference (Philomel), a middle-grade title geared toward young activists.

In conversation with Lissa Muscatine, co-owner of Politics and Prose Bookstore in Washington, D.C., Clinton talked about the books that she loved as a child, the women that have shaped her life, and her New York Times bestselling picture books She Persisted: 13 American Women Who Changed the World and She Persisted Around the World: 13 Women Who Changed History (both Philomel). 

Education sessions held throughout the day focused on LGBTQIA youth programs, brand-building, pop-up shops, marketing and selling STEM and STEAM books, book festivals, the creation of cover art, teen and tween advisory boards, virtual author visits, working with librarians, and what indie bookstore owners wish they’d known before opening their stores.

The mid-morning keynote “We Rise, We Resist, We Raise Our Voices!” featured Phoebe Yeh in conversation with Cheryl Willis Hudson and Wade Hudson, the editors of the upcoming children’s anthology We Rise, We Resist, We Raise Our Voices (Crown Books for Young Readers, September 4), and Kwame Alexander, a friend of the couple and a contributor to the collection. Watch upcoming issues of Bookselling This Week for more on the event.

At the Small Press and Indies Introduce lunch, Ci6 small press sponsors discussed their publishing programs and key upcoming titles; following the presentations, a number of Indies Introduce authors read selections from their debut books and signed galleys. Booksellers also had the opportunity to meet with small and mid-size publishers for informal conversations during Meet the Presses, and the Small Press Office Hours, immediately following the lunch, offered the chance for sponsors to meet with interested booksellers for further discussion.

At the start of the lunch, Teicher announced the Supreme Court ruling in favor of sales tax fairness, handed down that morning, which was met with enthusiastic applause from the very crowded room.

A highlight of the lunch hour was a fundraiser for the Book Industry Charitable (Binc) Foundation. Throughout the institute, attendees had purchased flashing New Orleans-themed pins to participate in the “Heads or Tails” game, then tried their luck at guessing a series of coin tosses until one bookseller remained. All proceeds went to Binc, which provides financial assistance to booksellers in need, and the winning bookseller, Kim Brock of Joseph-Beth Booksellers in Cincinnati, received a prize of $250.

The afternoon keynote featured Temple Grandin, scientist, inventor, engineer, autism spokesperson, and author of the forthcoming children’s book Calling All Minds: How to Think and Create Like an Inventor (Philomel, May 15), which was followed by a children’s book art raffle to benefit the American Booksellers for Free Expression and Every Child a Reader.

At press time, booksellers were lining up to catch the closing keynote by Angie Thomas, the bestselling author of The Hate U Give (Balzer + Bray), which will be covered in Bookselling This Week on June 27. And to help booksellers wind down after a full day of keynotes and education, ABA scheduled a post-Ci6 trivia party, complete with a story time from Drag Queen Story Hour, offering booksellers one final chance to show off their children’s book knowledge in a competition with their colleagues.

Stay tuned to BTW in the coming weeks for further coverage of Children’s Institute speakers and education sessions.