While some children will be turning up to school this World Book Day dressed as Hermione Grainger or Willy Wonka, the sad truth is that 10% of schoolchildren don’t have a single book of their own at home. Children need books to encourage empathy and discernment, and the importance of representing them in multiple ways is manifestly vital, too. The challenge for anyone leading a children’s publishing business is to balance the need to publish successfully in a highly competitive space where the prizes for success are huge, with addressing the longer-term future of the industry.
At Hachette Children’s Group we are on a mission to get more children reading. I think we can all agree this is a moral responsibility; but it’s action that counts. Campaigning for universally high children’s literacy is the only course of action to ensure a sustainable future for publishing. Children who are read to, who see adults reading for leisure, are vastly more likely to become readers themselves. Every child needs encouragement, and the opportunity to not like a book knowing that there are plenty of others to choose from.
There are two parts of this: giving all children access to diverse and properly curated content; and promoting the value of children’s reading to adult readers, and government.
Last year we led an initiative with the Orion Publishing Group to engage more adults with children’s reading. We placed an advert in over 400,000 books by twenty-two of their authors, asking the purchaser to invest in the future of reading, by sharing, borrowing, buying or talking about a book with a child in their life to spread the love of reading. Ian Rankin, Joanne Harris, Ben Aaronovitch, Antonia Fraser, Mari Hannah and Victoria Aveyard were among the authors who supported us, and we hope to attract more authors and imprints and reach 1 million readers by the end of the year.
Committed adult readers have a moment for a Virginia Woolf and another for a Dan Brown. Why would anyone think children should be denied the same? In the past there has been too much prescription and exclusion around children’s reading, and the whole book community has been complicit in that. We are now challenged to do things differently and our response will determine the future state of the adult market.
At HCG we aim to publish in most categories. Our success is driven by sales across the genres for children and young adults. We’re always thinking in general terms about the ‘share a story’ message of World Book Day.
The best – and toughest – thing about publishing for children is that they won’t persevere beyond the first sentence if the writing doesn’t work for them. It’s wearying – and frankly astonishing – to keep being asked, "Is David Walliams actually any good?" Similarly, people have views about Enid Blyton who was a woman who knew the importance of story-telling and was dedicated to writing for children. Sales of her books are in excess of 500 million copies, and they have been translated into over 40 languages, the most translated children’s author in the world, according to UNESCO. Our role as her publisher is to keep these books fresh and relevant to today’s children – they are a gateway to reading in many other genres as well as reassuring, seamless and amusing. In short, children like them.
In 2019, we are reissuing the 12 Malory Towers books with new covers by Pippa Curnick and publishing New Class at Malory Towers, featuring new stories by Narinder Dhami, Patrice Lawrence, Lucy Mangan and Rebecca Westcott. All are set in the time and world of Enid Blyton's original books, with familiar faces as well as new characters. Patrice Lawrence commented: "Enid Blyton was one of the first authors to make me realise that those squiggles on paper can make you laugh, cry and clutch your chest in suspense. It's a magic that throws open your imagination – and a magic that's your absolute duty to share."
This World Book Day, share a story, buy a book for a child, help in a classroom reading scheme: anything to do your bit to ensure the future of reading.