At home during much of the pandemic, children and their parents immersed themselves in the wonderful world of books. And, industry insiders say, all of this portends a bright future for the European children’s book market.
While good news has been scarce on the ground in recent years, there has been a lot to shout about in the book world – children’s books in particular.
In fact, we may never have had it as good as in the past couple of years.
“We have seen big increases,” says Penny thomas at Firefly, a UK children’s book publisher. “For a long time children couldn’t go to school, and they couldn’t go out and see their friends. So they read. I think we’ve seen a real increase in the number of people thinking that children’s books are really important and good for their sanity at a time when they could at least read things when they couldn’t go out and do it on their own. ”
It is a feeling shared by Friederike Fuxen, director of rights for the German children’s book publisher Loewe Verlag. She says the market has seen “massive” growth since Covid first hit. “I’ve been in publishing for 10 years and I’ve never seen a period like the last 18 months,” she says.
Part of this reversal of fortunes, she thinks, is a renewed interest in the value of “story time” as a family activity. “Parents read aloud and spend quality time with their children,” she says. “I also think parents see books as a valuable way to occupy their children.”
In Finland, Saara Tiuraniemi from famous children’s book publisher Tammi, has also seen bedtime stories rebound in popularity. “It was a tradition that was dying out in Finland, and it has gone from 75% of families who have practiced it to only 30%. But now people want to spend time with books and books. read again with the family. ”
Children have high standards
The world of children’s books has never been so dynamic – and not just from a sales standpoint. With a seemingly endless array of colors, papers, and finishes, many children’s books today are as much “works of art” as they are reading material.
“Kids love really beautiful books,” says Penny Thomas of Firefly. “In the 8-12 age group, for example, we rarely had illustrations, but kids now really appreciate beautiful black and white illustrations with added features like spray edges and embossing. Kids have standards. very high. ”
Tiuraniemi cites the success of graphic design studio MinaLima’s new editions of the Harry Potter books as another example (Tammi was the company that translated JK Rowling’s classics into Finnish). “They are real treasures,” she says. “Very beautiful and collectable.”
This is a trend that has also manifested itself in beautiful picture books – “wordless books” as they are often called – where the reader is encouraged to use their imagination to flesh out the story. The Fuxen Publishing House has a slight variation on this theme – a range of books that are 90 percent pictures and 10 percent words, with the text only there to communicate what illustration can’t. not. “This is not a comic book or a graphic novel – although those are very popular,” she says. “It is a way of reducing the text to interest children in reading.”
Dragons, Scary Stories and Fact Books
One trend in which Tiuraniemi has seen a peak is that of books with a hint of nostalgia; parents and grandparents want to read books to their children that affect them personally. In addition to modern classics such as the Harry Potter series and old classics like The Famous Five, the story collections that were popular in the 1950s and 1960s are now significant in Finland. “These are grandparents who want to share with their grandchildren stories that were read to them when they were little,” says Tiuraniemi.
Other popular topics mentioned by the three book industry insiders included magic, dragons, Nordic black, spooky stories, activity books, and comedy. Fuxen, whose company is also a name to be reckoned with in children’s non-fiction, recounts his surprise that one of their books on bacteria and microorganisms has been a bestseller since early 2021. “You would never have predicted that three years ago,” she says, “but kids are interested in everything from small things to big ones, and they like to go over all the facts with their parents.”
Children today are perhaps more attuned to the world than ever before – as evidenced by the increase in the number of books featuring a diverse group of characters with varying abilities, says Penny Thomas, as well as the emphasis on sustainability and the environment.
“Everything from dystopian fiction where the world is inundated to animal stories,” she says. “We had an event at the Hay Festival the other week and there were 462 kids there and 63 other schools online. They all sat there for 40 minutes and listened to a lecture on a book called The Song That Sings Us, which really has a strong environmental theme, and they loved it. ”
All in all, this adds to something incredibly important for which we can perhaps thank Covid. Is it a blip, however? Will the rise of audiobooks and e-books (as well as non-literary media like Netflix and TikTok) soon spell the end of print books?
Our three industry experts don’t think so. In many cases, they say, children (or, more likely, their parents) actually buy the same books over and over again in multiple formats.
“I think the books are here to stay,” says Tiuraniemi. “When you watch a TV series or a movie, you can step into a different world for a while, and that’s great – but when you read a book, that world is within you. ”