Children’s books podcasts turn up the volume to address lack of media coverage

Children’s books podcasts turn up the volume to address lack of media coverage

In the past six months, there has been a boom in podcasts promoting children’s literature, with fresh shows coming from Scoop Magazine, marketing agency Rocket and author-illustrator Liz Pichon, as well as a new team taking over established radio show and podcast “Down the Rabbit Hole”.

Scoop Magazine, which is aimed at children aged seven and older who love reading, launched podcast “The Scoop” at the end of 2020. It is presented by radio producer, artist manager and writer Joe Haddow, who on the show talks to children’s authors and illustrators about their books and inspirations. He approached Scoop about starting a podcast after writing for the magazine, and its director and co-founder Clementine Macmillan-Scott “jumped” at the opportunity. She explains: “Podcasts are so close to what we do in the magazine. Both are about connecting with an audience in a way that is at once intimate and also sparks thought and conversation. We also wanted to collaborate more with authors and illustrators, and this was the perfect way without having to add pages to the magazine.”

“The Scoop” is intended to be “a listening experience for the family”. Macmillan-Scott says: “We have listeners from six years old to 78-year-old grandparents. One of the most exciting things is that our audience is now all over the globe.” The show aims to “give an insight into how and why wonderful books are created” and it also asks children to send in questions, which Macmillan-Scott describes as “a wonderful way for them to connect to authors and illustrators, especially when so many real-life events have been cancelled”.

Macmillan-Scott decides the schedule and content for “The Scoop” with Haddow. She says: “We do one show every three weeks and that seems to be the right frequency for our audience. We try and make sure there is a balance for different ages. We are still testing things out, but the audience numbers tell us we are doing something right.”

Monthly radio show and podcast “Down the Rabbit Hole” was launched in 2014 by author Katherine Woodfine, editor Melissa Cox and agent Louise Lamont. According to Lamont, it was created because “we were really beginning to feel the loss of children’s coverage in national newspapers and we wanted to create a place to discuss books, and to give authors and illustrators space to talk about their craft, and champion their peers.” Woodfine says that it was “clear straight away that there was a huge appetite for hearing authors and illustrators talking knowledgeably about children’s books”.

At the start of this year, Woodfine and Lamont stepped down from the show (Cox had already left). They handed it over to a team of four new hosts: award-winning children’s author Sam Sedgman (pictured); Scholastic senior publicity manager Hannah Love; Charlie Morris, marketing manager at Macmillan Children’s; and (full disclosure) this reporter. Woodfine says: “I loved the idea of ‘handing on the baton’ to a new group of children’s books enthusiasts, who could bring fresh energy and take it in new directions. I’m excited to see what happens next, and also to see more children’s books podcasts flourishing in the future.”

Sedgman, who previously produced and presented the “National Theatre Podcast”, says of his new show’s revamp: “We wanted to stay true to the conversational spirit of the old show but find a way of making it fresh. Our main change has been to shift the focus of each episode away from which books are coming out, and towards a monthly theme. It lets us talk more broadly about interesting topics in children’s fiction and take a wider view of where books fit on the shelf.” He identifies the existing core audience of the show as publishing professionals, but adds: “We are keen to broaden the appeal to any grown-up who likes children’s books.”

Chapter books

In May, marketing agency Rocket and The Bookseller launched a new industry-focused podcast, “Chapter and Verse: The Art of Selling Children’s Books”, presented by The Bookseller’s children’s editor Charlotte Eyre. It broadcasts every fortnight, with each episode featuring an author talking about an aspect of their work, as well as an industry expert.

James Erskine, c.e.o. of The Rocket Group, and Sophie Thirlwell, who leads The Rocket Audio offering, were excited by the opportunity to “understand the creativity and the science behind children’s books”. Eyre was keen to get on board because “there is not enough media coverage of children’s books in the UK, so a podcast for the trade seemed like a fantastic way of talking about how authors and publishers launch successful titles”. There has been much interest from publishers and authors pitching their titles for further episodes. Rocket reports that within five days of launching the podcast, the inaugural episode, featuring actor and author Ben Miller talking about fairytales, received 104 listens; after two weeks, this had grown to just under 170. While 75% of listeners for the first episode were based in the UK and 14% came from the US, Rocket predicts this will change depending on who the guest author is.

Eyre says that while the intended audience for “Chapter & Verse” is “anyone who is interested in children’s books”, there is a particular focus on people working in the children’s book business and children’s media at large. Erskine adds: “We are not looking for mainstream appeal with thousands of listens. This podcast offers a niche that is not elsewhere available. We aim for the podcast to have just the right amount of depth to get into the story of writing and selling children’s books from two perspectives: the author and the industry expert.”

This month, author-illustrator Liz Pichon is introducing a “Tremendous Tales” podcast for children aged seven and above, and families, to celebrate the 10-year anniversary of her Tom Gates books. It is presented by Pichon and produced by her husband Mark Flannery, a sound engineer and music producer. The podcast will be available on various podcast platforms and Pichon’s website, and it will be promoted on her publisher Scholastic’s social media channels, as well as her own.

The idea for “Tremendous Tales” came from Pichon’s publicist, Rachel Phillipps, but the author had “already been thinking about doing one and had lots of ideas ready for what we could do”. While many children’s literature podcasts focus on the content of books and the process of making them, Pichon wanted to “jump from subject to subject in the same way my Tom Gates book events do”. As such, the 20-minute episodes include funny stories, musical idents and themed segments that Pichon feels will be “perfect to dip in and out of”. She adds: “I would love this podcast to fire up children’s imaginations by hearing different illustrators, authors and creatives discuss where things began for them. I would love the listeners to find out something they never knew about each guest—and have a laugh with us too.” 

The perfect format

Considering the potential of podcasts as a platform to promote children’s books, Lamont and Woodfine both feel they are “perfect format”. Woodfine expands: “They provide a great space to explore and be playful, as well as to talk about books in-depth and relish all the details.” Eyre believes authors and illustrators are “eloquent, interesting people and podcasts enable them to connect with their readers”. She also cites recent statistics from Statista Research Department showing that there are 15 million podcast listeners in the UK, with that figure expected to rise. “Children’s publishing should absolutely be part of this revolution in media,” she says.

Thirlwell say the “spaces of shared listening”, where children and gatekeepers (such as parents) can access content together, are “useful to anyone looking to market children’s books”. Sedgman agrees: “As a children’s author, I find it very interesting that the product we make isn’t sold directly to the consumer. Really, grown-ups are the target audience for children’s books, and podcasts are a great way to reach them. My friends ask me all the time to recommend books they can give to their children or relatives. I think a half-hour show about children’s books is exactly what they are looking for.”