Indie Booksellers Celebrate, Gather Inspiration at Children’s Institute

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Two hundred and twenty-eight booksellers from 39 states, Canada, and Australia gathered in Orlando, Florida, last week for the fourth ABC Children’s Institute (Ci4), hosted by the American Booksellers Association and the ABC Children’s Group at ABA.

This year’s event, which began on the evening of June 21 and concluded June 23, featured 10 education sessions, three keynote presentations, and three featured talks, all made possible by the support of lead sponsor Baker & Taylor and 40 publishers large and small.

Festivities kicked off on Tuesday with a meet-and-greet reception that connected more than 50 Children’s Institute scholarship winners with their sponsoring publishers. Immediately following, all Children’s Institute attendees were invited to the Welcome Reception and Backlist Book Swap Party, where they mingled over snacks and drinks and took advantage of an old-school photo booth and a table of props.

More than 200 titles were on display for the Backlist Book Swap, to which attendees brought their favorite backlist children’s, middle-grade, or young adult book to share with colleagues. A near-complete list of the titles brought by booksellers to swap is now available on BookWeb.

At the reception, ABA CEO Oren Teicher welcomed everyone to Orlando, noting, “Children’s Institute, like its bigger and slightly older cousin Winter Institute, has become a critically important part of the annual bookselling calendar.”

Teicher also addressed the recent tragedy at Orlando’s Pulse nightclub and made note of the opportunities coordinated by ABA for members to contribute to the community, including a blood drive at the hotel and a book drive for area schools and libraries.

Bestselling author and former National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature Kate DiCamillo kicked off Wednesday’s full day of programming with the breakfast keynote presentation “Owning the Power of Stories, Harnessing the Power of Connection,” in which she shared how she has come to understand the role of stories in shaping lives. Read more about DiCamillo’s speech here.

Booksellers broke for a round of educational sessions on topics including buying and selling graphic novels, literacy development, and stemming the summer slide before they joined Nielsen Book’s Kristen McLean for the featured talk “The U.S. Children’s Book Market: Where We Are and Where We’re Going,” which is covered in full here.

The Rep Picks Speed Dating Lunch paired up 34 Children’s Institute publisher sponsors with tables of booksellers, who had the chance to learn about upcoming titles.

In an afternoon featured talk, Dr. Dana Suskind, a professor of surgery at the University of Chicago and director of the Thirty Million Words initiative, presented “Thirty Million Words: Building a Child’s Brain,” which detailed how caregivers, policymakers, and booksellers can improve a child’s exposure to language in the first three years of life.

After a series of roundtable sessions, booksellers came together again to hear Jeff James, vice president and general manager of Disney Institute, who delivered the talk “Disney’s Approach to Business Excellence,” which looked at how Disney consistently achieves its mission of making people happy.

Wednesday evening’s author reception featured more than 50 children’s book authors and illustrators, including Mo Willems (The Thank You Book, Disney-Hyperion), Laurie Halse Anderson (Ashes, Atheneum/Caitlyn Dlouhy Books), and Jory John (Penguin Problems, Random House Books for Young Readers), in addition to keynote speakers Kate DiCamillo (Raymie Nightingale, Candlewick), Dave Barry (The Worst Night Ever, Disney-Hyperion), and Julia Alvarez (Where Do They Go?, Triangle Square).

Meeting authors and collecting books at the author reception was Sean Moor of Gatsby Books in Long Beach, California, who was one of the 162 booksellers celebrating their first time at Children’s Institute. “It’s a ton of fun,” Moor said about the institute. “People are excited about bookselling — there’s lots of optimism and hope.”

Sarah Cuadra, owner of The Storybook Garden in Weslaco, Texas, raved about the opening day of Children’s Institute, commenting on how inspiring Kate DiCamillo’s opening keynote was for her and how much she enjoyed the subsequent featured talks by Kristen McLean and Dana Suskind. “I loved the whole day,” she said. “I wish there were three of me.”

ABA Board member Valerie Koehler of Blue Willow Bookshop in Houston said, “This is so incredibly awesome. The speakers have been phenomenal in not just their inspiration, but in their ability to take it to the next level and give us something to take home.”

Scholastic closed out the night on Wednesday with a Meet & Treat reception featuring ice cream, cupcakes, and a variety of other desserts. Authors David Shannon (Duck on a Tractor), Christine Kendall (Riding Chance), and Jordan Sonnenblick (Falling Over Sideways) joined booksellers for drinks and treats.

Dave Barry launched Thursday’s events with many laughs in his keynote presentation “I Don’t Want to Grow Up,” during which he recounted his days playing with the Rock Bottom Remainders, a band made up of authors the likes of Stephen King, Ridley Pearson, Amy Tan, and Barbara Kingsolver, among many others.

Though Barry’s writing career has taken him down many interesting paths, writing for young readers has been a life-changing experience for him. “Kid readers are very different from adult readers, in a good way. They are incredibly honest. If they don’t like something, they just don’t read it,” said Barry. “They don’t care at all what reviewers have said about you, they don’t care what your process is, they don’t care if it’s being made into a movie. They just want to know more about the story, because they take the story very seriously. They believe in it.”

Thursday’s educational sessions focused on topics including creating a welcoming environment for readers with special needs, reaching reluctant readers, and hosting board game and other non-author events, as well as a special session on partnering with local libraries, co-presented by ABA and the American Library Association, which held its annual conference in Orlando immediately following Children’s Institute.

The Indies Introduce and Small Press Lunch on Thursday featured eight small press publishers who shared their top picks for the current and upcoming seasons.

In addition, bookseller panelists who helped in selecting the Summer/Fall 2016 Indies Introduce titles presented and interviewed five Indies Introduce authors: Sungju Lee, Every Falling Star (Abrams Kids/Amulet); Kate Beasley, Gertie’s Leap to Greatness (Macmillan Children’s/Farrar, Straus and Giroux Books for Young Readers); Sandra Evans, This Is Not a Werewolf Story (S&S Kids/Atheneum); Margot Harrison, The Killer in Me (Disney-Hyperion); and Wade Albert White, The Adventurer’s Guide to Successful Escapes (Hachette/Little, Brown Books for Young Readers).

Bestselling author Julia Alvarez brought the Children’s Institute to a close on Thursday afternoon with a powerful speech about her journey from being a child who failed every grade to her adult life as an avid reader and writer.

“I titled my talk ‘Amazing Grace’ because, looking back on my own childhood, it seems an amazing grace I became a writer invited to address a children’s institute filled with experts and aficionados of children’s literature,” said Alvarez.

Following Alvarez’s presentation, a dozen pieces of children’s book art, as well as some last-minute sketches by author and illustrator Kevin Sylvester (Super-Duper Monster Viewer, Groundwood Books), were raffled off. Proceeds from the raffle will support the work of the American Booksellers for Free Expression (ABFE).

Watch for additional coverage of the Children’s Institute’s keynote presentations and educational sessions in upcoming editions of Bookselling This Week.