Children's Booksellers Focus on Selling Outside the Box

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Thursday afternoon's sessions for children's booksellers at BookExpo America were sponsored by the Children's Booksellers and Publishers Committee: A cooperative committee of the American Booksellers Association (ABA), the Association of Booksellers for Children (ABC), and the Children's Book Council (CBC)

Mary McAveney, vice president of marketing for Simon & Schuster Children's Publishing, introduced the afternoon's topic, "Selling Outside the Box: The Power of Independents," and the three speakers -- Roaring Brook Press Marketing Director Lauren Wohl; Laura Vaccaro Seeger, a Roaring Brook author/illustrator and an Emmy Award-winning artist and animator; and Elizabeth Bluemle, owner of Flying Pig Children's & Adults' Books in Charlotte, Vermont, who is also a newly published children's book author (My Father the Dog, Candlewick).

Bluemle gave the large audience several tried-and-true marketing ideas in the form of acronyms. She based her suggestions on 10 years of bookselling experience at Flying Pig Books, as well as on her academic and vocational background in education and library science.

Bluemle's first acronymn was G.T.E., for Give Them an Experience -- a way to make a book come to life for the customer; the second, B.O.D., stood for Break Out Display. Bluemle described several possibilities for creative, accessible book displays and recommended that booksellers contact publishers for materials, including artwork. She also suggested that they draw on the talents of local illustrators when displaying their books. The third acronymn, T.O.S.S., refers to Think Outside Your Store Sales, which, Bluemle noted, could include sales to art classes, after school programs, and religious schools.

Vacarro-Seeger spoke about her work and showed her latest book from Roaring Brook, Black? White! Day? Night! -- A Book of Opposites, which provides readers with engaging visual jokes and tricks.

The Children's Book Buzz

The afternoon's Children's Book Buzz featured editors and marketing staff from a number of publishing houses who moved from table to table in a round robin format to present booksellers with their favorite forthcoming titles. Particular attention was given to titles by authors and illustrators with few, if any, previous books.

Among the titles introduced to booksellers at the event were:

Leonardo's Boy by Christopher Grey (Atheneum), which chronicles, among other things, the painting of The Last Supper through the eyes of an unskilled assistant.

Winner of numerous awards for her previous nine cookbooks, Rozanne Gold now has one for children, Kids Cook 1 2 3, illustrated by Sarah Pinto (Bloomsbury).

Other food-oriented titles presented included the nonfiction The Quest to Digest by science teacher Mary Corcoran, illustrated by Jef Czekaj (Charlesbridge); Burger Boy, a picture book and cautionary tale about over-eating by Alan Durant, illustrated by Mei Matsuoka (Clarion); and Frankenstein Makes a Sandwich by Adam Rex (Harcourt).

Jake the Philharmonic Dog (Walker & Co.) is written by Karen LeFrak, philanthropist, dog lover, and board member of the New York Philharmonic. Inspired by a stagehand's music-loving dog who became the real-life mascot of the New York Philharmonic, Jake is illustrated by Marcin Baranski.

Familiar names, but new ones to children's publishing, included comic actor Rhea Perlman, with the first in a series, Otto Undercover #1: Born to Drive, illustrated by Dan Santat (HarperCollins); and pop-culture royalty, Queen Latifah, with Queen of the Scene book and CD, illustrated by Frank Morrison (Laura Geringer/HarperCollins).

Other Buzz titles were: The Softwire: Johnny T and the Virus on Orbis by PJ Haarsm (Candlewick) * Endymion Spring by Matthew Skelton (Delacorte and Dell) * When God Made the Dakotas by Tim Kessler, illustrated by Paul Morin (Eerdmanns) * Melvin Beederman, Superhero: The Grateful Fred by Greg Trine, illustrated by Rhode Montijo (Holt) * The Astonishing Adventures of Fanboy and Goth Girl by Barry Lyga (Houghton Mifflin) * Sold by Patricia McCormick (Hyperion) * Deadly Invaders: Terrifying Tales of Emerging Viruses by Denise Grady (Kingfisher) * Breathe by Cliff McNish (Lerner) * Rabbit Ears from Listening Library * The Stone Light, Dark Reflections by Kai Meyer (Margaret K. McElderry) * Harriet Tubman, Secret Agent: How Daring Slaves and Free Blacks Spied for the Union During the Civil War by Thomas B. Allen (National Geographic) * I've Got an Elephant by Anne Ginkel, illustrated by Janie Bynum (Peachtree) * Toys Go Out: Being the Adventures of a Knowledgeable Stingray, a Toughy Little Buffalo, and Someone Called Plastic by Emily Jenkins, illustrated by Paul O. Zelinsky (Random House) * Sherlock Holmes and the Baker Street Irregulars by Tracy Mack and Michael Citron (Scholastic) * Fablehaven by Brandon Mull (Shadow Mountain) * Here There Be Dragons by James A. Owen (S&S) * Sorry by Trudy Ludwig, illustrated by Maurie Manning (Tricycle).

The Children's Booksellers and Publishers Committee programming was preceded and followed by special programming sponsored by ABC. In the morning on Thursday, ABC sponsored a discussion group, "Ideas That Work," followed by the ABC Annual Meeting. And the day was capped by ABC's Annual Secret Garden Silent Auction & Evening with Children's Booksellers at the National Geographic Society.

The 2006 Book & Author Breakfast

Friday morning's 2006 Children's Book and Author Breakfast featured both award-winning authors and booksellers. Bookstores from Vermont and Virginia were the recipients of the Lucile Micheels Pannell Awards for Excellence in Children's Bookselling, presented by the Women's National Book Association's Eileen Hanning and Jill Tardiff.

Northshire Bookstore in Manchester Center, Vermont, was honored as best general bookstore, and A Likely Story Children's Bookstore in Alexandria, Virginia, won in the children's specialty category. The two winning stores each received a check for $1,000 and a framed piece of original art created by two children's book illustrators, Graeme Base and Marla Frazee.

A Likely Story was recognized for its numerous specialized story times, snow day specials, summer camps for readers, and family nights. This is the second Pannell win for A Likely Story, which was honored for the first time in 1988. This is the first win, however, for Dinah Paul, who purchased the store in 2004.

The 30-year-old Northshire Bookstore was lauded for the particularly enthusiastic and welcoming environment it provides for teenagers in its store and new caf. Owners and founders Ed and Barbara Morrow have continually expanded and improved the store, particularly the second floor, completely devoted to books, music, videos, toys, crafts, and games for children and young adults.

Awarded an honorable mention by the Pannell jury, Changing Hands Bookstore in Tempe, Arizona, also 30 years old, was cited for its distinctive work with teen readers and with the Phoenix Zoo, as well as for its community-minded philosophy.

The breakfast's lively speaker roster began with humorist Dave Barry and crime fiction writer Ridley Pearson, co-creators of Peter and the Shadow Thieves (Hyperion Books/Disney Publishing). The two, who are also founding members of the literary band The Rock Bottom Remainders, were full of self-deprecating comments about themselves and glowing praise for children's booksellers. "We love you folks," said Barry, "Without you, we'd have to go out and get real jobs." He also spoke of the comfort booksellers provide when an author arrives for a signing and nobody shows up. "Don't feel bad," he remembered a bookseller once told him. "It's always dead like this just before Christmas."

Next, Laurie Halse Anderson, author of Speak (Puffin/Penguin Young Readers), drew a burst of applause when she offered her response to anyone who says teenagers don't like to read. "Teenagers don't like to read boring books," she said. Her novel, which deals with the aftermath of a high school rape, has sold over a million copies. Halse Anderson condemned the "destructive, wanton culture out there for teenagers" and implored booksellers to offer books that deal with contemporary issues in ways that are relevant to "the most alienated teenagers ... the ones who need us the most."

Describing booksellers as "passionate, overworked, underpaid, and slightly crazy," she said, "You are the hinge [between readers and books].... Without you, our work is meaningless."

Marc Brown, author of the 30-year-old Arthur series (Little, Brown) spoke passionately about books, bookselling, and the need to make dramatic changes in the status quo, in the publishing world and in national politics. He objected to the "Harry Potter effect," which, he said, had impelled young children to read the Potter books on their own. "We're making children grow up too quickly, those books [Potter and others] are too long and too violent for young children," he said. Describing the plethora of celebrity books on the market as being "not very good," Brown called for the dissemination of quality picture books for many ages.

He described one of his next projects as a book for children that deals with healthy eating and obesity, a "childhood epidemic."

Expressing his pleasure to booksellers who have recognized the amusing quality of his work, Brown told the audience that even after selling about 50 million books over 30 years, "My own children never found me to be very funny."

Chauni Haslet of All for Kids Books & Music in Seattle, a former president of ABC, told BTW that the Children's Book & Author Breakfast was, "a great venue for authors to be able to share their political views with diplomacy."

Referring to Brown's pointed criticisms of publishers and Washington's political figures, Haslet added, "I've never heard such an overtly political speech [at a BEA Children's Breakfast]. It's time we speak out. I agree with him that we are giving away our children's innocent years. Life is fast enough -- with television and packed schedules. They need picture books -- children continue to read and enjoy those books. I always quote Valerie Lewis of Hicklebee's [Hicklebee's Children's Books, San Jose, California]. She once said, 'Why are we punishing five-year-olds by taking away their pictures?'"

Margaret Neville of The King's English in Salt Lake City echoed Haslet's comments. "I'm so impressed that Marc Brown had the courage to say what he did," she said. "We need to be more selective about the books that are published [for children]." Referring specifically to his disapproval of children's books by celebrities, she said, "Are we, as children's booksellers, going to squander what little we have -- our cultural capital -- by pandering?"

Neville told BTW, "Our survival as bookstores is at stake. If we're not doing a good job [selling quality books] to little children up to teenagers, we won't have readers in the future." --Nomi Schwartz