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Boom in children's books

14 February 2005

Children’s books are booming.  For many years the children’s publishing business has seemed like a poor relation of its adult counterpart, with lower advances, less marketing spend and scant attention from the press.  Now all that has changed and the children of today are reaping the benefit of a flowering of children’s writing of all kinds, such as we have never seen before.

Those of us who are old enough to have grandchildren will be able to contrast what was available for our own children to read and the few treasured books we remember from our own childhoods with the feast now awaiting our grandchildren in bookshops and libraries.  The rest of us may not be aware what a fantastic growth there has been in what is available, and how often it is brilliantly illustrated by a whole raft of fabulous illustrators who bring the magic of the stories to life.  Even non-fiction books are often bedecked with wonderful artwork, enticing even the most reluctant child into making the effort to understand the subject matter.

The international nature of children’s publishing pre-dates the huge global upsurge in interest in English language reading matter.  Foreign rights have long been an essential part of the equation.  Children’s publishing most closely resembles general illustrated publishing in its dependence on building an international print-run to make the necessary economies of scale to get the books off the ground.  The Bologna Book Fair is key to this, but children’s publishers work closely together year-round.

British publishers have long played a key role in this, well-known for their creativity and for their story-tellers and illustrators.  J K Rowling is just the latest in a long line of great British children’s writers to build audiences all over the world. Jacqueline Wilson, fabulously successful with 20 million books sold, has once again just been declared the most-borrowed author in British libraries.  Philip Pullman has an international audience for his terrific novels. And that’s without mentioning some of the wonderful picture book authors, such as Shirley Hughes, Quentin Blake and the Ahlbergs, and many sparkling newcomers.  This really is a flourishing area of publishing, and one which many aspiring authors, with good reason, are trying to enter.

Next week News Review will look at some recent success stories in children’s publishing.