At the recent New England Independent Booksellers Association annual meeting, executive director Beth Ineson used one word to describe her plans to grow both NEIBA and its children’s advisory council, NECBA: “amplify.” It’s something she’s already begun to do with the children’s programming at her first trade show since she became head of NEIBA in January.
Breakfasts with Champion Authors
The 45th annual trade show, which took place from September 25–27 at the Rhode Island Convention Center in Providence, R.I., was marked by more educational opportunities for children’s booksellers and more opportunities to meet children’s authors. In addition to a children’s author and illustrator breakfast, featuring Jerry Craft (New Kid, HarperCollins), Monica Hesse (The War Outside, Little, Brown), and David Ezra Stein (Interrupting Chicken and the Elephant of Surprise, Candlewick), a second breakfast, typically reserved for adult authors included Jarrett Krosoczka. His latest book, a graphic memoir about his mother’s heroin addiction, Hey Kiddo (Scholastic/Graphix), has strong crossover appeal.
Both breakfasts were “great,” said Ellen Richmond of Children’s Book Cellar in Waterville, Maine, an endorsement echoed by others. And both elicited a gamut of emotions. While Krosoczka’s talk caused both booksellers and authors to tear up, Hesse had listeners Googling Crystal City (Family) Internment Camp, at her suggestion, to learn more about the hidden piece of history that had inspired her latest novel. The subject of kids in internment camps in the 1940s seems especially timely given the current crisis with immigrant children and images of them in cages.
Other authors used their presentations to vocalize their support of indie booksellers. On the adult side, Adriana Trigiani (Tony’s Wife, Harper) urged booksellers to “take care of yourselves and go see the world.” She also suggested that NEIBA should pull itself together and go someplace fancy next year like Greece. Expressing concern for booksellers’ financial stability and their ability to secure their stores for the long-term by buying their buildings, Walter Mosley (John Woman, Atlantic Monthly) announced, “I would be happy to belong to the Booksellers’ Credit Union.”
Given the timing for this year’s conference during the SCOTUS hearing for Brett Kavanaugh, politics served as both text and subtext. The opening keynote featured Barack Obama advisor Valerie Jarrett (Finding My Voice, Viking) in conversation with Valerie Holmes Ward, director of public affairs and community services and host of CityLine at WCVB Boston. Politics were also the subject of a panel on “Bookstores and Political Activism in the Current Climate,” which was moderated by David Grogan, director of ABFE, advocacy and public policy, at the American Booksellers Association.
Children’s bookseller Gibran Graham, who purchased the Briar Patch in Bangor, Maine, a year and a half ago, was one of three panelists who talked about politicizing their stores. Graham said that he keeps Trump’s ABCs (Fantagraphics) by the register as a conversation starter. While acknowledging that “our mission is to get books into people’s hands,” Gibran noted that like all booksellers, economic and space considerations meant that he does pick and choose what books he stocks. Although the Briar Patch carries some books by authors with substantial allegations of misconduct, Gibran donates the profits from those sales to related organizations.
Nor is the Briar Patch afraid to speak out on topics of special concern. Earlier this year, after calls for teachers to be armed to prevent school shootings, the bookstore posted a photo project called “We Are Already Armed.” It features the images of a dozen educators posing with their weapons: books, pens, and pencils.
Ruth Liebmann, v-p of account marketing at Penguin Random House, attributed politics to the show’s energetic feel. “The mood is good,” she said. “I wonder if the turmoil makes people want community.” Carole Horne of Harvard Book Store in Cambridge, Mass., added, “In terms of business, everybody’s feeling pretty good. I’ve heard a lot of people saying it’s a good fall for books.”
It’s also a particularly good fall for diverse kids’ titles, based on the 24-book list presented by the members of NECBA’s Windows Mirrors committee. The list doubled from 12 titles in 2017. This year’s selections range from Grace Lin’s A Big Mooncake for Little Star (Little, Brown) to Veera Hiranandani’s The Night Diary (Dial) and Tahereh Mafi’s A Very Large Expanse of Sea (HarperCollins), which was longlisted for a National Book Award for Young People’s Literature. The goal of the project is to draw on the expertise of the New England bookselling community to curate a list of books with strong literary merit and give representation to marginalized identities.
Committee co-chair Rebecca Wells of Porter Square Books in Cambridge, Mass., said that this year the group received 160 submissions. She noted that it was a strong year for picture books, but the group worked hard to create a list that was balanced by age levels, genres, and publishers. “You may think, where’s Jason Reynolds and Jacqueline Woodson?” said Beth Wagner of Phoenix Books in Essex, Vt. “These books are already being sold. We’re not choosing the best books. We’re choosing a representation of books.”
To help booksellers promote these titles, panelists recommended incorporating the books into thematic or other store displays rather than creating a single diverse books display. NECBA is making Windows Mirrors bookmarks available to place in featured books so that they stand out in displays and on shelves, allowing customers to find them more easily. The list will also be posted on the NECBA website. Windows Mirrors is one program that Ineson said she would particularly like to amplify by taking it national and reaching out to regions outside New England.
In addition to singling out books, NEIBA also uses the show to spotlight key book people. Long-time Random House Children’s Books sales manager Kate Sullivan received the 2018 Saul Gilman Award for outstanding sales representative in New England. Sara Hines and Mary Fran Buckley of Eight Cousins in Falmouth, Maine, accepted the Independent Spirit Award from the Book Publishers Reps of New England. Their bookstore, which has a strong kids’ focus, was lauded for its community involvement when a burst pipe in the apartment above the store destroyed much of the space and the books.
This year’s co-chairs of NECBA were named at the fall conference: Julia Hobart of the Bookloft in Great Barrington, Mass., and Nicole Brinkley of Oblong Books Music in Millerton and Rhinebeck, N.Y. New co-chairs were also selected for Windows Mirrors.:Clarissa Hadge of Trident Booksellers and Café in Boston and Alice Ahn of Water Street Bookstore in Exeter, N.H. The children’s alliance has also added an Instagram account: @NECBAbooks.
Next year, NEIBA will be back in Providence from October 2–4, possibly with a Greek banquet as a nod to Trigiani for her suggestions.