The Buzz: Six months of children's books

For Christmas this correspondent received a subscription to Publishers’ Weekly, the Bible of the publishing industry.  This week, they published their quarterly listing of all children’s books to be published in the U.S. between 1st February and 31 July 2016. It seemed like a good chance to look at trends and themes in a market that bought 226 million children's books last year.

I started by looking through the list, which is in alphabetical order by publisher, for themes. This was a daunting task as it’s more than a hundred pages long, and  I gave up after 30 pages. My completely scientific list of the children’s book themes I found: 

Animals (real)
Animals (toy & talking)
Classics & Fairy Tales
Diversity [as a topic]
Emotions [as a topic]
Environmental issues
Family & Personal Problems
Fathers & Mothers
Food inc. Cooking
Friendship & Sharing
Geography & Places
Graphic Novels
How Things Work
Illnesses & Inborn Conditions
Immigration & Moving House
Love & Romance
Numbers & Counting
Poetry & Rhymes
Science Fiction & Space
Television & Film Tie-Ins
Time Travel
Words & Writing
World War II

As you can see, many of these categories overlap, but I was surprised how almost every book could be classified into one of them. It was also surprising to me, as an expat, how few books were “international” or talked about other countries. As usual, the historical books tended to be about the same few eras: World War II remains fascinating to children; the experience of racism is also a major topic of historical books, both fiction and non-fiction.

The Sleepy ABC was first published in 1953; a new edition is coming out this year from HarperCollins
For the youngest children, under three, there are books on going to sleep, giving up “binkies” or dummies, learning how to use a potty, and on animals, cars and trucks, emotions, colours, ABCs and numbers. Rhyming picture books are still being published! Parents and grandparents often appear. The next age group is the three- to five-year-olds, the age just before children learn to read. 

Here, animal friends both real and imaginary were the biggest draw, especially bears, mice, ducks, pigs and elephants–surprisingly few cats or dogs. Dinosaurs are popular, as are princesses–but fewer princesses than I expected, and they tend to be rule-breakers. Fathers make more appearances than mothers, often being silly. Books about machines, counting books, and activity books are also aimed at this age group.

Early chapter books for beginning readers ages five to eight are still often about animals, but the range of topics broadens. Fantasies show up: there are lots of monsters, witches, and pirates for this age, as well as stories about school (usually funny ones), and for the first time, biographies. Another theme is dealing with powerful emotions in a more grown-up way: there are books on feeling grumpy, being shy at school, friendship and sharing, but also more serious books on getting used to a new home or the loss of a grandparent or even a parent.

In Life Without Nico, coming out in April 2016, Maia has to deal with her friend's moving far away
Middle-grade, or the classic children’s books for 8- to 12-year-olds, are thriving. Funny books are very popular, and fantasies often involve alternate universes. In this age range, books on science, technology, sports, music, art, and history come in. (I was a bit disappointed to see the narrow range of books on history; there were probably more about World War II than all the other historical books put together.) 

World War II, Nazis, spies, boarding school, children in a haunted Scottish castle: classic themes are still around
Ghosts and mysteries are eternal favourites. Publishers are making a visible effort to have more diverse books and many biographies reflect this. 

Beetle Boy by M.G. Leonard, will come out in February 2016
In the 13+ age group, I was struck by the number of “daughter” books: quite a few princesses, of course, but also a magician’s daughter, a rock star’s daughter, a senator’s daughter, an executioner’s daughter, a charlatan-psychic’s daughter, John Milton’s daughter, a wedding planner’s daughter, etc. There are also many books where the young hero or heroine is the Chosen One. For the first time, romance makes its appearance; there are books about tough topics like drug abuse, major illness, crime, and serious family or personal problems. Dystopian fantasies don’t seem to be as prevalent as a few years ago. Technology, especially in the form of video games and hacking, is ubiquitous. 

Teens are reading more books that deal with gender and identity
Altogether it was inspiring to look at this long, long list and see how many books for young people are being published–each the work of several enthusiastic hands. It also made me understand why people in the publishing industry drum into writers' heads the importance of the question: "Where will your book be shelved?"

Julie Sullivan still remembers her childhood library card number.


  1. Thanks for sharing such an interesting overview.

  2. Really useful article, thanks Julie.

  3. Really amazing collection of the books and kids also like this type of book because its was full of joke with good moral and also this picture very awesome thanks for share it professional proofreading service .

  4. Our professional script writing is giving you an interesting writing services. You can write letters,novels & books. I love to read books.


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