Kids’ books look different these days
The children’s book market is turning over a new page.
Current events from the immigration debate to the #MeToo movement are changing the types of books parents buy their children and kids buy for themselves, experts say. Now, books with themes of girl power, diversity and inclusiveness are ruling the best-seller lists.
“It’s a big trend, and it’s national,” says Regan McMahon, the deputy editor, books, for Common Sense Media, which provides independent media reviews. “The publishers aren’t doing this just out of altruism: There’s a market for these books and they’re selling well.”
Seira Wilson, the senior editor of Amazon Books, notes that Amazon has seen “growing interest” from its consumers in children’s books that promote the empowerment of girls and young women, and numbers bear this out. In the past year alone, female-centric and girl power kids’ titles — which encourage girls to be anything they can be and stand up for their rights — are seeing big sales jumps, according to data that research firm The NPD Group/BookScan ran for Moneyish. Indeed, sales for the ‘girls and women’ category in kids books have increased 11% in the past 12 months, with 889,000 books sold — with the top book in this category being Chelsea Clinton’s “She Persisted.” And in looking at titles newly published in the past 12 months, two of the top 20 best-selling titles fit this bill: “The Confidence Code for Girls” by Katty Kay, and “Dear Girl,” by Amy Krouse Rosenthal, NPD Group/BookScan data reveals. Other best-selling books in this genre include “Princesses Wear Pants” by “Today” show host Savannah Guthrie and “I Am Enough” by “Empire” actress Grace Byers.
“The trend has been growing over the last two to three years, but it’s reached an all-time high this year,” Amanda Bruns, children’s reviews editor at “Publishers Weekly. “Every publisher seems to be putting out a nonfiction book about strong women across all formats, from picture books to graphic novels. And fiction across the board includes smart, capable female protagonists who demonstrate autonomy, from a female Beowulf retelling [“The Boneless Mercies,” by April Genevieve Tucholke] to a Pride & Prejudice reboot [“Pride,” by Ibi Zoboi] to a space opera graphic novel starring a cast of female and non-binary characters [“On a Sunbeam,” Tillie Walden].”
And it’s not just girls who are landing on the pages of kids’ books. As the immigration debate heated up over the past year — with everything from Trump’s insistence that he’ll build the wall even if he has to shut down the government to family separations at the border — children’s immigration-themed book sales rose dramatically. According to data from Barnes & Noble, which analyzed 25 immigration titles, sales of children’s books with immigration themes have increased by 33% in the past year.
Among the best-selling kids’ books titles about immigrants in the past year, according to Barnes & Noble: “A Long Walk to Water,” by Linda Sue Park, about two children living in Sudan; “Refugee” by Alan Gratz, about three different refugees, a Jewish boy in 1930s Nazi Germany, a Cuban girl in the 90s and a modern-day Syrian boy; and “Inside Out and Back Again” by Thanhha Lai, about a child who flees Vietnam for America. What’s more, Barnes & Noble says more titles like have just been published or are on their way, like “Dreamers” by Yuyi Morales, which was just published this week.
There are also more diverse faces coming to children’s books in other ways, says Bruns — a trend that started in earnest about four years ago with a viral campaign demanding diversity in childrens’ books. That trend is further driven by simple demographics: “There’s an imbalance between the kinds of books [published] and the children who are coming of age,” says Ebony Elizabeth Thomas, an associate professor at the University of Pennsylvania. Indeed, one study found that 90% of characters in children’s books were white, even as America is much more diverse.
And diversity doesn’t just refer to skin color: Very recently, Bruns adds, have come more books “that represent characters across spectrums of LGBTQIA, gender identity, ability, and neurodiversity … And we’re seeing this broader diversity in both subject matter and in general representation,” she adds. One of the more popular titles on this front right now: “A Day in the Life of Marlon Bundo” by Jill Twiss and Marlon Bundo, about two gay bunnies getting married. There’s also “If I was Your Girl” by Meredith Russo — which Barnes & Noble notes was “the first YA at a major house to be written by a trans woman, starring a trans girl, and featuring a trans girl on the cover, too” — and “When the Moon Was Ours” by Anna-Marie McLemore about a child assigned female at birth but who chooses to live as a boy.
Publishers are also increasingly trying to ensure that the authors of such books are people of color and women, McMahon adds — especially those who have experienced themselves what they are writing about. Among the titles Barnes & Noble has seen big sales for: “My Family Divided: One Girl’s Journey of Home, Loss, and Hope” by Diane Guerrero, about her life when her undocumented immigrant parents from Columbia were deported.
Of course, publishers have a long way to go before books reflect real life in America. White male authors still dominate best-seller lists, and characters are still often white. That’s why Kimberlee Bradshaw Archibald, an African-American mom of two in Ramsey, New Jersey, tells Moneyish she still struggles to buy the books she wants.
“I try to buy books with diverse characters that showcase girls, black and brown kids with imaginary and fantasy storylines, but they are not always easy to find,” she says. Rather than just pop into her local bookstore, which Archibald says rarely has diverse titles she’s looking for, she has to ask around on social media, Google things like “black boy dinosaur children’s books” or “girl scientist books” and then head to Amazon. “It’s harder to find the books I want [but] even though they might cost a little more or require more searching, it’s worth it,” she adds.
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