In our latest guest post, Frankie Jones provides an insight into the world of children’s reading and the importance of getting the whole publishing package right.
Elaine McQuade, Children’s Publishing Consultant, had her audience as enraptured as a class of six year olds with a reading of the picture book Stick Man during this week’s publishing masterclass. Elaine, who worked in education for 12 years and children’s publishing for 20, posed the initial questions:
- What’s the point of children’s publishing?
- They don’t read books *for pleasure* anymore do they?
It’s easy to generalise a response: boys play violent computer games, girls spend the majority of their time online with virtual pets and virtual friends; neither want to read. The sad truth is that the generalisation is relatively true. In 2008 children spent an average of 5 hours 18 minutes watching TV, online or playing digital games each day in stark contrast to the statistics a year earlier showing that children spent, on average, 3 hours and 51 minutes *a week* reading for their own pleasure. Elaine pointed out that the unique aspect of publishing for children is the chance to change this; children’s publishers have the opportunity to increase the levels of literacy whilst increasing sales.
Despite the statistics, some children are reading a lot (yet sadly some are not). Elaine shared the encouraging news that in 2009 around 97 million children’s books were sold to a UK population of about 12 million children (that’s eight books per child). With an increasing number of adults also reading children’s and teenage books (think Twilight, Harry Potter and the His Dark Materials trilogy) the market is growing. Despite this Elaine feels there is even more room for growth.
The growth would ideally come from creating more young readers. The government is currently being pushed to support reading in schools by initiatives such as the Just Read Campaign, which seeks to encourage teachers, parents and children to promote reading for pleasure. The hope is that young readers will grow into adult readers who in turn raise children who enjoy reading. A wonderfully literate circle – who could refuse?
Elaine moved on to discuss how a physical book product and its content can encourage a child to enjoy and continue reading. She commented that the making of a 32-page picture book is “like creating a film”: the writer, illustrator, editor and art director need to focus on many aspects to achieve a successful book. As an example Elaine read us a few pages from Stick Man (from the author and illustrator team behind runaway bestseller The Gruffalo), a tale of misfortune in which Elaine demonstrated not just the relationship between words and pictures but the undeniable tension created by deferring the turning of a page. Leaving the audience with the cliffhanger of Stick Man on a fireplace she dryly remarked that “toddlers love misery memoirs too”.
Fiction for older children has to be just as gripping, as demonstrated by Morris Gleitzman’s fantastically titled Bumface, a particularly good title for boys because it’s funny (bodily functions kind of funny) with issues such as family and parenthood concealed behind the humour. So the content is good, but what really makes a child want to pick up a book in the first place is the packaging.
Elaine explained that children’s book jackets need to be just like Ronseal, the do-it-yourself company which trademarked the marketing line, “does exactly what it says on the tin”. Children need to know what the content will be like (funny or serious) and adults need to know if it will be appropriate. From Elaine’s own research, young girls like covers with “sad animals and magic ponies” on the front and lots of glitter; young boys like “action, bling, comedy and pants”. Elaine demonstrated the perfect packaging and branding of the author Cathy Cassidy, whose girls’ books promote supportive friendships, kindness and all things girly through their design.
Elaine’s humour and enthusiasm really reflected what an exciting and fun business children’s publishing is. The added bonus of doing something morally good – getting children to read – is the icing on the very pink cake.
Frankie Jones is a student on the MA in Creative Writing and Publishing at Kingston University. Her favourite childhood books range from Winnie-the-Pooh through to Goodnight Mr. Tom and The Harry Potter series (which she has followed through into adulthood).