Summer is a key selling season for children’s booksellers, as parents look to fill their children’s free time with a virtuous activity and teachers troll stores for new reading material and inspiration for lessons. The shift in seasons is very welcome at Red Balloon Bookshop in St. Paul, Minn., where owner Holly Weinkauf reported that the “first couple of months [of 2018] were terrible for us: the weather was not our friend,” though things turned around in mid-April, have been good since the weather improved, and sales are only down 5% over last year.
This year, the bookstore is introducing new book-themed summer camps, which should help boost sales. As for hot titles, Weinkauf reports that there is plenty of excitement around the debut releases in the new Rick Riordan Presents imprint from Disney-Hyperion, including Roshani Chokshi’s Aru Shah and The End of Time, a book that has “been selling briskly,” and J.C. Cervantes’ The Storm Runner. Another hot title at the store is the YA novel From Twinkle with Love by Sandhya Menon, which she called “a cute summer love story,” and the finale of the Penderwick Chronicles, The Penderwicks at Last, by Jeanne Birdsall (Knopf), which she said is likely to sell well through the summer.
As for picture books, Weinkauf is championing Julián Is a Mermaid by Jessica Love (Candlewick) and the Fan Brothers’ Ocean Meets Sky (Simon Schuster). “They’re both so beautiful, so unique, and they tell fun and interesting stories,” she said. Finally, Weinkauf also has high hopes for the 5 Worlds series of graphic novels by Mark Siegel and Alexis Siegel (the second one, The Cobalt Prince, was just published by Knopf).
Another Minnesota bookseller who is a fan of Julián Is a Mermaid is Angela Schwesnedl, co-owner of Moon Palace Books in Minneapolis. “We have not been able to keep it on the shelf,” she said, adding that the University of Minnesota Queer Student Cultural Center sponsored a “drag story time” featuring this book and 80 people showed up. “It was a blast,” she said.
Schwesnedl adds that children’s book account for 25% of the store’s sales. “Teen sales have been slow for us for the past few years, except for The Hate U Give [by Angie Thomas],” she said, adding that two other YA novels, I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter [by Erika Sánchez] and Akata Warrior [by Nnedi Okorafor] also are selling briskly. The store recently moved YA novels from the children’s section and placed them next to adult books, which may account for the bump in sales.
Further south at Page Palette in Fairhope, Ala., children’s fiction is also front of mind. In addition to all things Rick Riordan, manager Erica Estes expects to sell plenty of copies of Victoria Aveyard’s War Storm (HarperTeen), the fourth in the Red Queen series, and Legendary by Stephanie Garber, the sequel to Caraval. “I’ll be pushing that one,” she said.
At Square Books, Jr. in Oxford, Miss., where children’s books account for 25% of overall sales, children’s buyer Jilleen Moore is banking on Claire LaGrande’s Furyborn (Sourcebooks) to be a hit. For picture books, she believes Everything You Need for a Treehouse by Carter Higgins, illustrated by Emily Hughes (Chronicle) “should do well,” as should Misunderstood Shark by Ame Dyckman, illustrated by Scott Magoon (Orchard), which she said “in light of current politics, is really funny.”
Another of Moore’s favorites, Calling All Minds by Temple Grandin (Philomel), is not a book that is going to sell particularly well at the store, she said, though “it’s one of those I wanted them to have and I want to put it on the front shelf. “But,” she continued, “I have to gauge it out in terms of what is going to sell as opposed to what I’d like to sell. It’s a struggle—I want a strong woman picture book section, [have] certain books face out in nonfiction, and we all have to wrestle with each other over what is most important—and the bottom line is still the dollars.”
Up north in Homer, Alaska, at the Homer Bookstore, parents are often inclined to buy their children books to keep them occupied on long car trips from town to town. Accordingly, children’s books account for 17% of overall sales. Sales in this category have also gotten a bit of a boost due to the closure of the local toy store. Though bookstore partner Jenny Stroyeck didn’t note any specific titles, she did say that YA “continues to be a very strong category” for the store.
Another retailer that is seeing more action in its children’s section is Mysterious Galaxy in San Diego. “We’ve hired staff with enthusiasm and interest in the section,” said events coordinator Maryelizabeth Yturralde. “We’ve split out our Young Readers, Kids’ Graphic Novels, and Middle Grade titles within the section.” The store launched a new Young Adult Book Club in April and this summer is featuring The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue by Mackenzi Lee (HarperCollins/Tegen), Lifel1k3 by Jay Kristoff (Knopf), Roar by Cora Carmack (Tor Teen), and Anger Is a Gift by Mark Oshiro (Tor Teen).
On the opposite coast, at The Briar Patch in Bangor, Maine, owner Gibran Graham finished his first full year as owner of the 30-year-old children’s-focused store in April. Sales since Christmas have been good, he said, in large part due to the store’s use of pre-curated lists and the increased marketing materials and support that come with them. “We’re really pleased with how well we’ve done with utilizing the [American Booksellers Association’s] Kids’ Indie Next List,” Graham said, “so we’ve been pushing people toward a lot of titles.”
The bookstore’s bestselling book for the year has been Arlo Finch in the Valley of Fire by John August (Roaring Brook). “It has been an instant, easy sell for everyone we’ve talked about [it to],” Graham said. He is also looking ahead to the paperback release of Jack Cheng’s See You in the Cosmos (Puffin), which sold well at the store in hardcover.
Along with expanding its adult books section from 2% to 10% of the store over the last year, Briar Patch has also had success with attracting more YA readers. “When you’re a teen, you don’t want to go into a kids’ bookstore,” Said Graham. In order to overcome the challenge, he created a YA “store” within the store, called Thorn. It has an independent Facebook page and about 20% of the shelf space in the 2000 sq. ft. store. He said he expects Wildcard Marie Lu’s sequel to Warcross (Philomel), to be one of his strongest YA sellers this fall.
The Ivy Bookshop in Baltimore, a quarter of the bookstore’s sales are children’s and YA titles; increases in sales have kept pace with the store overall, which is up 10% over last year, said owner Ann Berlin. To supplement this, the store recently launched a series of children’s writing workshops where kids can meet an author for a reading, write a story of their own, and get a signed book and journal. The series began this spring with a workshop for ages 12 and up, called “The Idea Generator,” with Antipodes author Michelle Bacon. Around 20 kids attended the workshop. A June workshop for first to third graders is called “How to Write a Really Boring Book” and will be followed by another summer class on writing, “Fractured Fairy Tales.”
Unsurprisingly, several stores reported they expect Goodnight Stories for Rebel Girls (Timbuktu) to continue pulling in customers. “It’s been our number one bestseller since last year,” said Nina Barrett, owner, Bookends and Beginnings in Evanston, Ill. Children’s books account for a quarter of all sales at the store and, unusually, the store sells children’s books in some 28 foreign languages. The team is looking to expand the section even further and is building a special wall display to make the books more prominent.
As for other titles, Barrett cited the picture book Today by Julie Morstad (Simply Read) as a particularly appealing title. “It’s so easy to sell this book,” she said. “Everyone loves it. It’s a beautifully illustrated picture book of the choices you get to make as a child, like what to wear, what to eat for breakfast. It goes through the whole day. It sweetly communicates the idea that children have the power to present themselves in a certain way, and that every day is a blank canvas.”
She also raved about the Little Feminist Board Book Set by Galison and Emily Kleinman, illustrated by Lydia Ortiz (Mudpuppy). There are four books in a set, covering four categories of women who have made an impact on the world. Each page features a different woman and a description. “It’s really adorable,” she said.