There’s been much handwringing in the publishing business over the plight of independent booksellers, the rise of Amazon and the relentless march of technology. But doom-and-gloomers forecasting “the end of books” probably haven’t strolled through the children’s section lately or considered what’s coming this fall, from picture books to titles for teens.
The season’s offerings span a wide variety of topics and suggest why children’s books have become the fastest-growing segment in publishing.
The magical spell J.K. Rowling cast over kid lit with Harry Potter found new blood with Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight saga and, most recently, Suzanne Collins’ fight-to-the-death The Hunger Games, creating a halo effect for the genre that doesn’t show any signs of going away. Last year, publisher revenues for children’s books were up 12 percent, to $2.78 billion, and e-books made astounding gains, according to BookStats, a service of the Association of American Publishers and the Book Industry Study Group.
It used to be that when readers finished a groundbreaking series, they struggled to find others with similar appeal. No more. The millions of readers who followed Bella as she pursued supernatural true love or Katniss as she navigated a post-apocalyptic U.S. can now find dozens of bestselling paranormal and dystopian series that will see further installments this fall.
Similarly, in the middle-grade space, Jeff Kinney’s Diary of a Wimpy Kid has opened up a whole genre of illustrated, humorous, confessional-style bestsellers, which will continue in the coming months.
That’s to say nothing of the increasing numbers of celebrities and well-known adult-book authors who are applying their talents to younger readerships this season — including Emma Thompson with a Peter Rabbit picture book and Elizabeth George with her young-adult debut — and legions of talented unknowns who are likely to score with their children’s book debuts, such as Stefan Bachmann and his buzzed-about fairy tale, The Peculiar, and Fiona Paul’s Renaissance murder-romance, Venom.
The young adult category is particularly healthy as a result of blockbuster franchises and strong crossover readership. Scholastic reports that 50 percent of the readers of The Hunger Games are adults. And more than half the readers of the bestseller Divergent by Veronica Roth are at least 25 years old, according to a HarperCollins spokeswoman.
The stigma of adults “reading down” with children’s titles is gone, said David Levithan, editorial director of Scholastic Press, which published the Harry Potter series in the U.S.
“Adults have no hesitation at all to buy young adult anymore, so it’s very easy to cross over,” said Levithan, who expects high adult readership for The Raven Boys, a mythological paranormal thriller kicking off a four-book series by Shiver trilogy author Maggie Stiefvater, another Scholastic writer.
Like The Raven Boys, many of the most anticipated titles for fall hybridize genres. Libba Bray’s Diviners, for example, is paranormal historical fiction that follows a young woman during the Roaring ’20s who becomes embroiled in an occult-related murder mystery.
Paramount has already optioned Bray’s book for film, which shows that readers aren’t the only ones interested in what’s coming.