If you thought the children's books market had reached peak celebrity then look away now for there is a veritable deluge coming in 2017. This includes, though is by no means limited to, David Walliams, David Baddiel, Tom Fletcher, Clare Balding, Adrian Edmondson, Julian Clary, Christian O'Connell, Mo Farah, Greg James, Chris Smith, Dermot O'Leary, Miranda Hart, Danny Baker, Dara O Briain, Fearne Cotton, Jessica Ennis-Hill, Chris Hoy, Isla Fisher, Gemma Cairney, Frank Lampard, Chris O'Dowd, Brooklyn Beckham, various YouTubers and rather curiously, George Galloway.
In a culture where celebrity sells I understand why publishers go down this route. The phenomenal success of David Walliams has put every publisher under pressure to have their own chart-topping version. Celebrity authors are a ready-made PR story, they have existing fan bases, social media followers and famous friends to endorse their books. When celeb books work they can be hugely lucrative which, in theory at least, means profits can be invested in nurturing new talent.
For me the big positive is that celebrities can be such powerful advocates for books and reading. In our publishing bubble it's all too easy to forget that vast numbers of families don't own books and never visit bookshops or libraries. Research by the National Literacy Trust revealed that in 2016 25% of eight-11 year-olds used their World Book Day token to buy their first ever book. A celebrity title can be a really accessible gateway into books, an endorsement that reading is a cool thing to do or perhaps less intimidating if you simply don't know where to start. Do I believe that someone like Walliams has created new readers? Absolutely yes.
Which brings me to the books themselves. I keep an open mind here; I've read some good celebrity books, I've read some terrible ones. Some celebrities can write, have big imaginations and comic timing, many don't and need a talented editor and ghost writer. However, some of the formats favoured for celebs are starting to look pretty lazy. Illustrated comic middle-grade feels utterly saturated, magical young series fiction somewhat less inspiring than the famous names on the covers. I urge publishers to take a more creative approach to how celebrity can be used. Choose your celebrities carefully and consider what makes that person so special and how you can translate that. I love Gemma Cairney's Open, an inspirational life guide, her personality and passion evident on each page; Julian Clary's sense of humour is cleverly matched with David Roberts' illustrations in The Bolds series; Nadiya Hussain's warmth and love of food and family makes Nadiya's Bake Me a Story really charming; I'm intrigued by Dara O Briain's forthcoming non-fiction Beyond the Sky inspired by his space obsession; Lucy Worsley has the insider knowledge to make her historical teen fiction authentic.
If good celeb books can expand the market and entice non-readers then bad ones undermine the craft of the author and indeed the value of books themselves. Let's not give kids the message that books can be churned out. Be transparent where ghost or co-writers are used and credit illustrators on the jacket. Look at any David Walliams book and you'll find a double-page spread of thank yous at the beginning, applauding everyone from his agent to designer and desk editor.
Finally, I'd love to see more celebrities who write children's books use their platform to promote reading and other children's books more widely. Zoella's Book Club has been so influential in introducing her followers to new YA authors, wouldn't it be a wonderful thing to see picture books or children's fiction attract a similarly high profile champion?
Fiona Noble is The Bookseller's children's previewer.