Indie Booksellers Bring Enthusiasm, Excitement to Seventh Annual Children’s Institute

Printer-friendly versionPrinter-friendly version

The City of Pittsburgh welcomed 330 children’s booksellers from 230 indie bookstores, 70 authors, and numerous publishers and bookselling friends this week for the seventh annual ABC Children’s Institute (Ci7), hosted by the American Booksellers Association and supported by 63 industry sponsors.

From Wednesday, June 26, to Friday, June 28, the DoubleTree by Hilton-Green Tree was bustling with activity as booksellers networked, attended education sessions, and celebrated some of the best and brightest authors in the children’s book arena.

Ahead of the Wednesday evening opening reception, booksellers hopped on buses to take full-day and half-day tours of indie bookstores in the greater Pittsburgh area, stopping at Mystery Lovers BookshopSpark BooksCity of AsylumWhite Whale Bookstore, Classic Lines Bookstore, Riverstone BooksThe Tiny Bookstore, and Penguin Bookshop.

For those not on the tours, the Events University offered a daylong look at in-store and offsite events hosting as well as book festivals. Dozens of other booksellers took to the field to try their hand at a rousing game of quidditch, and the IndieCommerce team began meeting one-on-one with booksellers looking to grow their business with e-commerce options.

At the Welcome Desk, booksellers dropped off more than 125 books to be donated to Pittsburgh’s OASIS Intergenerational Tutoring Program, which pairs high-need children in first through fourth grades with readers over the age of 50 in order to help them learn to read at grade level.

The First-Timer Orientation & Mentor/Mentee Meetup gave booksellers new to the event a chance to get their bearings, as almost half of Ci7’s attendees were first-timers to the institute, and more than 70 percent were not present at this year’s Winter Institute in Albuquerque.

“What we wanted to do this year was to create an opportunity both for the first-timers and for mentors and mentees to have a chance to chat before we actually get started,” ABA CEO Oren Teicher said in his welcome to booksellers. “The mentors who are in this room are experienced booksellers who are in the position to answer your questions, as are all the other booksellers who are here. And one of things about this business that I trust most of you know is that we really want to be collaborative. We really want to figure out how to work together, so don’t ever hesitate at any point over these next few days to stop and ask questions.”

Senior Program Officer Joy Dallanegra-Sanger introduced ABA’s Member Relationship Managers, Daniel O’Brien and Liz Roberts, who were on hand throughout the institute to answer member questions. Then, ABC Children’s Group Manager Gen de Botton kicked off the event by throwing out two icebreaker questions: “What was your favorite children’s book growing up?” and “If you could be any book character, who would it be?”

Later, at the Ci7 Welcome Reception and Book Character Costume Party, Teicher recognized the approximately 330 attending booksellers from 44 states. “We know that the real secret sauce of this meeting is all of you, and the enthusiasm and excitement you reflect — we can feel it up here,” said Teicher.

Teicher also welcomed Vice President and Children’s Book Editor Diane Roback of Publishers Weekly to the stage, who cheered children’s booksellers and spoke about how vital the children’s book business is, before kicking off the costume contest, which was judged by Sergio Ruzzier, Henry Winkler, Lin Oliver, and Innosanto Nagara.

The grand prize went to Avery Peregrine of Third Place Books in Seattle, who dressed as Julián of Julián Is a Mermaid by Jessica Love (Candlewick). The prize package includes a storefront illustration by Elisha Cooper (Scholastic) and an Epic Reads tote bag prize pack filled with a YA for Life poster, a DVD of The Hate U Give, a CD soundtrack of Dumplin’, and more (HarperCollins).

Best solo costume, which came with a HarperKids prize pack, went to Joan Trygg of Red Balloon Bookshop in St. Paul, Minnesota, who dressed as Robert Sabuda’s Believe: A Pop-Up Book of Possibilities (Candlewick).

Best group costume, which came with a movie theater gift card, went to the Powell’s booksellers who dressed as characters from BOOM! Studios’ Lumberjanes series: Erica Peralta, Britney Taylor, Madeline Shier, Rita Glendinning, and Kim Tano.

The best animal costume went to Community Bookstore’s Philipp Goedicke, who dressed as the Richard Scarry’s Lowly Worm character, which earned him a visit from the Mercy Watson costumed character (Candlewick) to the Brooklyn store and five signed copies of Alien Superstar by Henry Winkler and Lin Oliver.

And the best classic costume went to the March Hare from Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. Sallie Sue Lavigne of The Storybook Shoppe in Bluffton, South Carolina, won a Sesame Street prize pack (Random House Children’s) and a $100 gift card from Penguin Young Readers.

The judges also awarded a special prize to Charlie Vlahos, son of Tattered Cover’s Kristen Gilligan and Len Vlahos, who was the only young person to go up on stage, and he did so dressed as Harry Potter. Winkler offered him $20 and his badge.

On Thursday, June 27, the day began with an opening keynote with author Ann Patchett, whose new children’s book, Lambslide, features a group of farm animals that lobby to have a slide installed in their barnyard. During her inspirational and witty talk, Patchett spoke about how owning independent bookstore Parnassus Books in Nashville has opened up so many opportunities for her, such as writing a book for children, and how it can do the same for others.

Just before Patchett took the stage, ABA President Jamie Fiocco of Flyleaf Books in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, recognized the bookseller members of the ABC Advisory Council for their work in making the institute possible, then welcomed Baker & Taylor Publisher Services Sales Director Dan Verdick. “Children’s lives are changed by books, communities are strengthened by independent bookstores, and families are strengthened by them,” he said. “Here’s to you.”

Two blocks of education sessions on Thursday morning covered topics like the shelf life of a series, working with Title 1 schools, talking productively about content issues in children’s literature, buying non-book for the holidays, marketing events to ensure success, and more.

Booksellers also visited the Galley Room, which was piled high with books for young readers of all ages, and the Consultation Station, which this year featured 11 vendors who talked with booksellers about their services.

This year’s event offered two ways to take a break: the first a quiet room open throughout the entirety of the event, and the second a 30-minute coffee break, where booksellers gathered to chat and grab a cup of joe.

Lunchtime featured a round of Rep Picks Speed Dating, which was followed by the first-ever Children’s Institute Town Hall. Among other topics, booksellers talked about the types of education they’d like to see at future events, how to make bookstores and bookselling more sustainable, and how to raise the perception of children’s books and bookselling in the industry and among consumers.

At the start of the lunch, Teicher welcomed bestselling author James Patterson to the stage present him with a plaque in appreciation of his support of independent bookstores through his annual Bookseller Holiday Bonus program and other initiatives.

The day rounded out with the new Mix & Mingle program, which offered booksellers time to talk one-on-one with publishing representatives, and the ever-popular Author Reception. Sixty authors, including J.J. and Chris Grabenstein, Jerry Pinkney, Brittney Morris, Brendan Wenzel, Meg Cabot, Cece Bell, and Susan Patterson dotted the ballroom while booksellers picked up signed books and chatted.

The night closed with the Kick Off the Summer at the Scholastic After Party, where booksellers enjoyed sweet treats and appearances by Elisha Cooper, author and illustrator of River; Tim Tingle, author of Doc and the Detective; Sharon Robinson, author of Child of the Dream; and Rosiee Thor, author of Tarnished Are the Stars.

On Friday morning, June 28, booksellers gathered in the GreenTree Ballroom to hear from the authors and illustrators of the 10 Summer/Fall Indies Introduce debut picks for young readers. During the event, the Book Industry Charitable Foundation (Binc) held the Heads or Tails game, which concluded an institute-long fundraiser that collected more than $2,300 for booksellers in need — double the funds raised at last year’s Children’s Institute. Suzanna Hermans of Oblong Books & Music in Rhinebeck and Millerton, New York, took home the $250 prize.

Throughout the day, booksellers headed to three blocks of education sessions, which looked at selling books in translation, how to get teens to show up and shop, conducting a diversity audit, author event grids, customer loyalty programs, utilizing co-op, bookselling as activism, and integrating your POS system with IndieCommerce.

In between the learning hours, booksellers stopped by to chat with small and mid-size publishers at Meet the Presses, and visited during the Publisher Office Hours, which featured the publishers who presented at the Rep Picks Plenary Lunch earlier in the day. At the end of the Rep Picks lunch, a number of booksellers won pieces of original children’s book art as part of a raffle to benefit the American Booksellers for Free Expression and Every Child a Reader.

As a special event, this year’s Children’ Institute offered a workshop with Well-Read Black Girl book club founder Glory Edim, who is partnering with ABA to bring book club meetings to independent bookstores nationwide with the goal of amplifying diverse voices and supporting emerging writers of color. During the workshop, booksellers gathered to share ideas and discuss the issue of diversity in booksellers’ stores and communities.

The afternoon keynote featured National Book Award winner Elizabeth Acevedo, author of The Poet X and With the Fire on High (both HarperTeen), and the event closed with a keynote presentation from activist and actor Alyssa Milano (watch next week’s BTW for more on both keynotes).

For one last goodbye before the institute officially ended, booksellers will gather to catch a special screening of the recent documentary about Pittsburgh native and children’s TV favorite Fred Rogers of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood.

Alexa Butler of Beach Books in Seaside, Oregon, was a first-time attendee of Children’s Institute and worked with Tegan Tigani of Queen Anne Book Company as her mentor for the show; she told BTW that Tigani was warm, helpful, and a delight to talk to.

Butler said she had a good experience her first time in Pittsburgh and found a lot of hidden gems in the city. “When you travel around the country going to these shows and you meet these high-profile authors, it gives you that inner confidence” you can bring back to your store, added Butler.

Abilene Hagee of The Trail’s End Bookstore in Winthrop, Washington, another of Tigani’s mentees, agreed. Traveling to conferences and meeting authors “legitimizes your store and it legitimizes you as a bookseller to your customers,” she said.

As far as the content of this year’s Institute, both Butler and Hagee loved Ann Patchett’s breakfast keynote. Butler enjoyed meeting Hafsah Faizal, author of We Hunt the Flame (Farrar, Straus and Giroux Books for Young Readers) at the author reception, and is looking forward to seeing the friends she made at Ci7 at the next PNBA regional show.

Hagee said she loved the desserts at the Scholastic party, and her favorite education session was “Programming and Partnerships: Working with Title 1 Schools.”

“What I was able to take away from that session was invaluable,” she said.

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