The first full-day’s attendance at the Northern California Independent Booksellers Association (NCIBA) Fall Discovery Show was “through the roof,” according to executive director Calvin Crosby, but an unexpected event ultimately kept attendance even with last year. The show was held October 3–5 in the Oakland Marriott City Center, one of the Marriott properties being picketed by more than 2,500 striking Bay Area hotel workers last week. On the final day of the convention, protesters banged drums and chanted slogans all day outside the venue, dampening attendance.

Despite the political interruption, children’s authors, booksellers, and publishing professionals delivered the same message throughout the show: empower kids with enthusiasm. Although many adults are feeling emotional and exhausted this election season, Clare Doornbos, the author/school liaison for Book Passage in Corte Madera, Calif., summed up the message well: booksellers and authors must double down with “enthusiasm” for the future. “When everything is about the real world and how it’s broken, there needs to be some sunlight in there as well,” she said. “These kids want some relief.”

On Thursday morning, NCIBA opened with an hour of children’s book picks from West Coast publishing sales reps. Amanda Barillas, a rep at Macmillan, pitched Dude! by Aaron Reynolds, illustrated by Dan Santat (Roaring Brook/Porter). “When I showed this book in the Pacific Northwest, they were like, ‘Okay, hmm, not so much.’ But California people understand Dude!,” said Barillas. The book tells the story of a platypus and beaver with only a single word: “Dude.” “It’s really great for emerging readers, with an emphasis on how we express with words,” Barillas said. She ended her presentation with The Echo Room (Tor Teen), another popular book at the show, written by Parker Peevyhouse, a staffer at Hicklebee’s Children’s Books in San Jose.

HarperCollins rep Jim Hankey highlighted The Light Between Worlds by Laura E. Weymouth (HarperTeen). “What would happen to the kids in the Narnia books after they return from that magical kingdom?,” asked Hankey, describing the premise of the book he called “a sophisticated story that is simply told.” The book follows children who leave war-torn London to visit a magical realm. Once returning from this fantasy adventure, the kids struggle with the post-World War II reality they left behind. The book shows characters coping with serious issues like depression, self-harm, post-traumatic stress disorder, and death.

Throughout Thursday’s programming, authors and booksellers told inspiring stories about how books can change kids’ lives. At the sold-out Author Lunch, Printz Honor author Andrew Smith shared a bit about his new novel, Rabbit Robot (Simon and Schuster). Smith earned a rousing ovation when he recalled an emotional moment with one of his high school fans during a school visit. “He said to me, ‘I don’t think I would be here today if it weren’t for your books,’ ” said Smith. “That was the universe trying to tell me that sometimes, as troubled as I get, my life really is magic and I’m very fortunate to be here.”

Later that afternoon, Stanford psychology professor Jennifer Eberhardt shared an insight for children’s booksellers and authors while discussing her forthcoming adult nonfiction title, Biased: The New Science of Race Inequality (Viking, Mar. 2019). The celebrated researcher described a moment when her then five-year-old son shocked her by making a casually stereotypical comment. “He looked at me with this really sad face, and he said, ‘I don’t know why I said that. I don’t know why I was thinking that,’ ” she recalled, explaining how biases can infect even the youngest minds. “They are in a world that is bewildering, frightening,” she said. “A world that influences them so profoundly that they—and we—don’t know why we think the way we do.”

Eberhardt expressed hope that bookstores could create “positive contact” between different social groups in their community space—one of the only proven ways to combat our biases and stereotypes about other people.

That same afternoon, author Jarrett J. Krosoczka had a moving conversation with Scholastic editor David Levithan, sharing an excerpt from Hey, Kiddo (Scholastic/Graphix), one of the most talked-about books at the show. The autobiographical graphic memoir describes the author’s childhood struggle with his mother’s drug addiction. The book includes a scene where Newbery Award-winning author Jack Gantos makes a visit to Krosoczka’s childhood school, leaving a lifelong influence on the boy.

Attendees Find Inclusion and Hope

The NCIBA exhibition floor was particularly lively this year, with a few dogs and a chicken sharing the room with attendees. Madison Killen, marketing manager at Chronicle Books, highlighted two aspirational books that empower kids to buck stereotypes and social limitations: The Dreamer by Il Sung Na and What Can A Citizen Do? by Dave Eggers and Shawn Harris. Last year, Eggers and Harris made waves at NCIBA with Her Left Foot, a timely book about the Statue of Liberty and immigration. “This is a much simpler concise rhyming picture book,” said Killen. “The message is that ‘a citizen is not who you are, it’s what you do.’ It’s a great message of inclusion. [Eggers’s] hope is that it will inspire kids to stand up and be activists.”

Attendees got a chance to meet the real-life chicken who inspired a new children’s book. Author Leslie Crawford brought one of her six chickens, Alice B. Toklas (named after the bohemian icon and partner of author Gertrude Stein), to the exhibition floor to promote her new book, Gwen the Rescue Hen. The book is the second title in Stone Pier Press’s Farm Animal Rescue series, telling the story of an ordinary chicken who escapes the confines of a factory farm to live an “extraordinary” life on the outside. “It’s her first event, but she’s a brave, calm chicken. She wants to go to public events!” said Crawford.

Other first-time attendees also found a warm reception from NCIBA members. “I’ve never been to this conference before, and it’s been great meeting with independent booksellers and getting some positive feedback,” said Sabrina Moyle, co-founder of the Hello!Lucky design studio and greeting card company. Her studio recently began creating children’s books, releasing Super Pooper and Whizz Kid: Potty Power! in August. At the show, Moyle most valued hearing stories of readers enjoying the book inside stores, a sign that its positive take on potty training is resonating. “People said it has been selling well, and parents will come into the store, read it to their kids, and laugh out loud. That’s promising!” Moyle said.

Insight Editions director of sales Julie Hamilton drew a crowd when she spread out A Pop-Up Guide to Hogwarts (Oct.) in the middle of the exhibition floor. “We think it’s probably the most complicated pop-up book ever made,” she said, as attendees stooped to explore the intricate book. “We sold rights in multiple languages, and we keep going back to press. It’s on its third printing in the U.S. market and we haven’t even gone on sale yet,” she said.

Taking the Enthusiasm Home

On Friday, a series of educational sessions gave booksellers a dose of enthusiasm to bring back to their stores for 2019. In the “Bringing Authors to Schools” panel discussion on Friday, speakers urged booksellers to establish relationships with local teachers, to encourage kids to read the book before an author visit, and to treat visiting authors like rock stars. Panelist and author Kathryn Otoshi agreed that this passion is contagious: “It makes a huge deal when booksellers are enthusiastic. It makes the kids excited, too.”

Panelist Doornbos of Book Passage recalled how she helped raise funds to bring author and former First Daughter Chelsea Clinton to a low-income school in 2015. “It was huge for the whole community,” said Doornbos. “Somebody famous was willing to come see them. It showed them that they are worth that visit.”

In another Friday educational session, Samantha Schoech, the San Francisco-based director of Independent Bookstore Day, shared some news about the annual celebration of indie booksellers. For the upcoming fifth anniversary of IBD, next held on April 27, 2019, the celebration will tie in with the 50th anniversary of Sesame Street through a special-edition book. In addition, Random House Children’s Books will provide free event kits for stores.

Schoech revealed some encouraging statistics from IBD 2018, revealing how bookseller events have a tremendous impact on communities around the country—sparking enthusiasm in young readers and their parents. Last year, the movement that began in California counted 507 participating stores in 48 states (Hawaii and Arkansas were the only holdouts). Booksellers ordered 35,555 items, and the average participating store saw a 126% increase in traffic compared to a regular April Saturday. The event generated 440 articles in local and national media. “We place a lot of stories,” said Schoech, “and the story that gets the most traction is the story that bookstores are vibrant, that they are thriving, and they are still here. That’s the story that keeps getting told every year.”