We ran some data on our 30,000 reviews recently and there were some shocking results.
Actually, I’m kidding; there was absolutely nothing shocking. At least, not for anyone familiar with the industry. 90% of our adult reviewers are female (I love how, when I’m presenting this data to publishers, it’s often to a room where the audience is 100% female). And rather reassuringly, 20% of our readers had chosen to read that book because of its cover. Its cover. Not some fancy gizmo. Not because of the format. The good old fashioned, been around for hundreds of years, cover.
And yet, as an industry, there always seems to be a drive to innovate. That we’re continually waiting for the death of the book as we know it, and some exciting new thing, which is going to blow everything out of the water.
But from what I’ve seen of the reviews of children’s books submitted to us this year, looking at the books the kids are really enjoying, it’s less about all-singing, all-dancing innovation and more about innovative content.
iExplore Brain from Carlton Books
1. A new approach to non-fiction and reference
As a mum to a football-mad 9 year old, I was absolutely delighted to discover these two football series. Firstly, the Ultimate Football Heroes books from Bonnier Kings Road an accessible, engaging series of biographies of the most famous footballers and their journeys to stardom. They tap into the aspirations of any young footballer but they also show that it’s a hard slog and not all about fast cars and big paychecks. Likewise, the Football School series from Walker is great for those kids who aren’t into fiction. Using football to teach kids about the world around them, with chapters on biology, maths and history they’re quirky, funny and genuinely engaging. I can’t say that about many of the reference books from my childhood.
2. Books about gaming
I’m thinking here particularly of minecraft books, one of the most popular searches on our website. It seems counter-intuitive to be promoting books which appear to be encouraging MORE screen time but isn’t that what reference books are all about; getting kids reading about a subject they already love? Look out for more Roblox and Fortnite books coming soon.
3. Books which combine old-school format with new-school cool
Rebound by Kwame Alexander was a revelation this year, who’d have thought that a book in verse would be so popular. Throw in some basketball and a teenager dealing with grief and we have something truly contemporary and genuinely moving. And more importantly, our reviewers LOVED it. One ten year old described it as “my best book ever”. A book in verse. Please don’t tell me we need to dumb down for this generation.
4. Books which simply tell great stories
Whilst we’re on the theme of ‘old fashioned’, there’s also a new wave of books which don’t pretend to be anything other than a good, old-fashioned yarn. I’m thinking The House with Chicken Legs, Sky Song, Brightstorm. There was a time when these would be considered too ‘traditional’ for modern kids, now they’re celebrated. Pure escapism and if I may say so, all with stunning covers.
5. Books looking at mental health for kids
I have lost track of the number of people recommending You Are Awesome by Matthew Syed. An accessible, practical approach to helping kids develop a growth mindset. Likewise, Looking after Your Mental Health by Usborne is a book that kids can dip into when they feel like it. In the maelstrom of fake news, kids (and parents) are turning to books for properly researched, fact-checked, thorough analysis.
6. Books which make kids laugh
Whether it’s the Tom Gates books or The World’s Worst Children, kids do love a good giggle. Nothing new there, I hear you say but I think with increasing mental health issues, a good giggle is more valuable now than ever. Particularly, if the book is read aloud and you can have a shared giggle with family or classmates.
7. Books which encourage creativity using stuff you already have at home
For all the exhausted parents trying to keep kids busy on rainy days, empty weekends and long summer holidays those books that encourage kids to get creative with minimum effort or resources are really popular at the moment. See DK’s Outdoor Maker Lab or Backyard Explorer by Lonely Planet Kids. That’s the summer holidays sorted then.
8. Books by new authors
It is absolutely brilliant to see publishers supporting new talent like Boy Underwater by Adam Baron (HarperCollins Children’s Books) and Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi (Macmillan’s Children’s Books). Is this finally a backlash against celebrity authors? Who knows, but it does seem to be a return to supporting authors for just being authors.
9. Full-colour fiction
This is the reading stage we get the most enquiries about and with my own 6 year old just moving on from Biff and Chip, I really appreciate how much hand-holding is required at this milestone. So which are the books that are half a step on from picture books? Well, it’s the full coloured fiction series for new readers, and now, in addition to the classic series like Claude by Alex T. Smith, we have The Little Gems from Barrington Stoke and now a new full-colour illustrated, original fiction series from Little Tiger Press coming out in 2019.
10. And finally, books which tap into tech
Whilst many publishers have toyed with digital, few have done it as well as Carlton. iExplore is their Augmented Reality series, where readers can download a free app to bring the subject to life. In the iExplore Brain title for instance, users can hold the app over the book to see the sections of the brain and really get to understand how the brain works. Print and digital working together, to enhance the reading experience, rather than replace it.