Authors, publishers, and booksellers gathered for a Book Expo panel discussion called “Connecting Children’s Books with Kids: Community, Education, Awareness, Bookselling, Marketing, and Public Relations.” The speakers were Lara Starr, senior publicist at Chronicle Books; Michelle F. Bayuk, Children’s Book Marketing Consulting; Yvonne Brooks, children’s events manager at McNally Jackson Books; Kristin Freda, director of library services at Bank Street College of Education; and author-illustrator Sean G. Qualls. Susannah Greenberg of Susannah Greenberg Public Relations moderated the discussion. The presenters spoke about their efforts to reach children in their communities by networking with cultural institutions and schools, holding creative author and illustrator events, and connecting with parents and young readers through direct outreach.

Bayuk addressed the importance of “knowing and being part of your community,” and shared examples of community-building book events she has planned. Several years ago, Albert Whitman partnered with the Swedish American Museum in celebration of the Swedish series Flicka, Ricka, Dicka by Maj Lindman. The event enabled the Chicago-area publisher the opportunity to better connect with the region’s sizable Swedish population. Bayuk believes in the effectiveness of “events that work organically,” and that enable young readers to be the ambassadors for books they like with their own friends. “Kids booktalk books,” she said.

Calling McNally Jackson “an important part of the landscape, community, and neighborhood,” Brooks spoke about the significance of kids having a “tactile experience” to go along with hearing a story read aloud and interacting with an author or illustrator—whose books they are then more likely to seek out and recognize. McNally Jackson is not only a gathering place for young readers to meet children’s book creators, but also a space for them to explore their own creativity alongside their peers through craft-making and art activities. Brooks had some words of advice for individuals planning the type of hands-on events that McNally Jackson often holds: “Don’t run out of supplies,” she suggested. She also shared what she believes is the key to creating meaningful and memorable events for readers: “Remembering kids’ names.”

Kristin Freda next spoke about Bank Street’s Irma S. Black and Cook Prize awards, which are given each year through Bank Street and the Children’s Book Committee. The Irma S. Black Award is presented to picture books featuring illustrations and text that work in harmony, while the Cook Prize is awarded to books with STEM content. To select the winners each year, Bank Street and the CBC reach out to child readers who serve as judges for the final book selections. Children take pride in the process of judging the books and picking their favorites, and the awards serve to connect readers both to books as well as to Bank Street and its broader community of teachers, writers, and illustrators.

Qualls, the illustrator of Grandad Mandela (Quarto/Lincoln, June), spoke about his creative development and how he has long been inspired “by outsider artists.” These influences, Qualls believes, have led to his “more emotional approach” to art-making; Qualls is also very focused on connecting with the public even beyond bookstores and libraries. In order to reach readers and “bring communities together,” Qualls holds book launches at the same Brooklyn bars where he often spins records, and presents his books at street fairs, community gatherings, and at Open Studios events, where he particularly likes to connect with kids by sharing his artistic process. “Kids get a real sense of what an artist’s studio is like,” he said

Finally, Starr shared images and anecdotes from several author and illustrator events that she felt helped to build a sense of community. They included an event for Leo: A Ghost Story, during which author Mac Barnett held a knighting ceremony for attendees and, in 2014, multiple-city events featuring Hervé Tullet, paint, and a lot of plastic wrap. Chronicle partnered with museums, libraries, and the Library of Congress for the Tullet events, which invited readers to create murals. At an event for Sherri Duskey Rinker’s Steam Train, Dream Train, Starr played a hand in persuading illustrator Tom Lichtenheld to dress up like an engineer.

Her advice for publishers and others who plan events that celebrate books and community: “Don’t be afraid to come up with crazy ideas. Authors [and illustrators] might go along with it!”

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