This time last year we were faced with war in Europe and a cost of living crisis. Not much seems to have improved for 2024 but are there reasons to be cheerful looking ahead? Books for Keeps asked those in the know for their plans and predictions for this new year.
Author and campaigner, Frank Cottrell Boyce
I can tell you what I’ll be talking about in 2024 – making sure that ALL children have a choice when it comes to reading. I’m haunted by the story that Cressida Cowell told me about a little girl she met who loved reading but was in fact reading the same book over and over again because she had no access to more books. We surely all know by now the enormous benefits of reading for pleasure in terms of educational achievements and in terms of helping build the apparatus of happiness in a child. But if a child is going to enjoy reading the child must be able to choose the right book for them. There is no book – not even one of my books – that will please every child. Children must be given the opportunity to browse, pick, cast aside and pick up. That means more books in schools but it also means more coverage. Over the last few years it’s been cheering to see publishers begin to seek out new and more diverse voices. But publishing them is only half the story. People have to know about them. So a bigger, louder more engaged national conversation about childrens books please.
Dawn Woods, Member Development Librarian, SLA
Listening to the news for the past year has been gloomy. Conflict in Europe and the Middle East and the cost of living have hit families hard. Both these factors have been reflected in books published this year and I see this continuing. Children need books which help them cope with the reasons and feelings of people forced out of their homeland and to (try to) understand why conflict happens. Many books do not necessarily mention specific places, helping children take what they need from the story and adapt it to their circumstances. Books depicting living on the breadline reflect the lives of many children and call for understanding for children who cannot go on the school trip or cannot afford new clothes for every party. Among others Tom Percival has a new Middle Grade title to be published next year, sensitively exploring poverty in The Wrong Shoes.
To counterbalance this gloom, fantasy titles allow the imagination to soar and there have been an abundance of fantasy titles, continuing into next year. Abi Elphinstone is a master and with Ember Spark and the Thunder of Dragons her new fantasy, adventure series starts. Hopefully children can use books to take themselves away from the reality of the world adults have created.
Pam Dix, Chair, Ibby UK
During 2024 IBBY UK will be working on the selection of books to nominate for the 2025 IBBY Outstanding Books for Young People with Disabilities. We hope to find a similar rich and diverse selection as we had for the 2023 collection. We are also looking forward to more in-person events including our annual conference in November which will look at environmental themes.
I hope 2024 will see non-fiction publishing continue to flourish and be radical and challenging, both in content and style. What an exciting time it must be to be writing or working in children’s non-fiction when there is a sense of an explosion of new subjects to explore. New ways of looking at the past, finding the voices of those previous erased from history, looking at well-known topics from different perspectives, all of these give scope for great creativity. And this will certainly lead to new readers, excited to engage with the past in ways that are more meaningful for them. There are new publishers on the scene and exciting imprints like Kumusha at Harper Collins.
One of the most exciting books I read last year was Shelina Janmohamed’s Story of Now: Let’s talk about the British Empire (Welbeck Children’s Books). This is aimed at the 10 plus age group, but I found I learned so much that was new to me even though I have read widely on this subject. How great it would be to have a fully illustrated version. It deserves it and it is so good to see that illustrated non-fiction is becoming more widely accepted across the age ranges. Janmohamed writes in a style which is personal and interrogative, and I suspect we may see more of this too.
I have also been thrilled to see writers like Satnam Sanghera and David Olusoga producing children’s versions of their books. These are writers who talk about their archival research making it attractive and more accessible.
I always look for translated titles and I am really pleased that this year there were more translated non-fiction books. I hope this will continue as some publishers, like Thames & Hudson, seem to have a commitment to publishing one or two titles a year.
Barbara Hayes Executive Director and Chief Executive. ALCS
At ALCS we care deeply about literacy and its ability to improve lives. In 2024, we would love to see UK libraries flourish. Firstly, by ensuring more children have access. Libraries play a vital role in supporting literacy, encouraging curiosity and providing a safe and quiet space to learn and develop. These invaluable spaces should be available to children equally across the UK; however, research has found that 1 in 7 primary schools in England do not have a library.
That’s why we have pledged our support to the Primary School Library Alliance, which aims to transform 1,000 primary school libraries by 2025, giving them the books, staff training and support they need. It looks like 2024 will be an election year, and whoever is in government, we will call on them to match the private funding of programme, which would enable the scheme to reach more schools and help boost literacy and learning, both of which were badly affected by the pandemic.
We also want to see funding increased for the vital Public Lending Right (PLR) scheme. PLR compensates authors when their books are loaned for libraries, providing a much-needed source of income while allowing their works to be freely accessed.
Increasing PLR funding would help sustain those writers whose works aren’t bestsellers but populate library shelves up and down the country. This is vitally important for ensuring new generations remain exposed to a wide range of books. Libraries are a vital resource for families and the wider public and we really hope the coming year will see them thrive!
Miranda McKearney, founder of EmpathyLab
Right now, it can be hard to feel hopeful, but from the standpoint of my involvement with EmpathyLab, I have three reasons to feel optimistic about 2024.
- In the face of a growing need, publishers are creating more and more books which help children deal with turbulent emotions and troubling world issues. The teachers we work with say these are a key tool in supporting children with anxiety, and building the social and emotional life skills which so many were denied the chance to develop during the pandemic.
- Key education bodies including the Education Endowment Foundation and Department for Education are recognising literature’s role in equipping children with life skills. The Department’s recent Reading Framework highlights how stories help children learn about lives different from their own: ‘this begins to break down a sense of otherness that often leads to division and prejudice.’
- EmpathyLab is working with a range of book, education and psychology bodies on a book-driven empathy movement, and this is really gaining momentum. 47 children’s publishers are part of an Empathy Builder scheme to develop Empathy Day into a force for change – it’s working! Last June saw a real increase in the number of children benefitting from the chance to learn more about empathy, and have creative literature-linked experiences. One teacher fed back: ‘I believe developing empathy in children is one of the most important things we can for the future of the human race and our planet.’
Professor Teresa Cremin, Co-Director, Literacy and Social justice Centre Open University
In recent years, children have benefitted from a wider range of texts that reflect their diverse realities and that consider issues of contemporary relevance. For instance, we’ve seen an increasing number of books positively representing (dis)ability, linguistic diversity, gender equality and that are LGBTQ-inclusive, as well as books foregrounding matters such as poverty, climate change and the experience of being a refugee. When well-researched and underscored by quality writing, such books offer young people rich tools to think with. However, I think (and hope) that 2024 will also herald some less ‘heavy weight’ texts, and we’ll see more adventure stories – both real world and fantastical – as well as poetry, joke books and graphic novels that offer young people a higher degree of humour and delight. These also offer rich tools to think with.
Children love to laugh, and take pleasure in comical texts of all kinds, in word play, nonsense and parody as well as in zany characters and ridiculous events that trigger laughter and a sense of the carnivalesque. Part of their enjoyment is in the sharing of these texts. This can be socially motivating and contribute to the strengthening of relationships, and even an enriched sense of wellbeing and self-esteem. So, my sense is both the profession and publishers will be talking more about both ‘the funnies and the feelies’, to quote Georgie Lax’s Year Two class. In particular, teachers who are seeking to nurture volitional reading- that is reading for pleasure – may be seeking a better balance between the serious and the humorous as they listen to and learn from the desires and delights of their young readers.
Fiona Evans, Director of School Programmes National Literacy Trust
It’s a new year and it’s all change. At National Literacy Trust we often hear from our young people that they feel change is the only constant. Changing identities. Changing circumstances. Changing schools. Changing relationships. Growing up and moving on. And they feel keenly how this is mirrored in the world around them; a world shifting constantly around and beneath them. My prediction is that children and young people will continue to be seeking out both fiction and non-fiction books which explore climate change, the environment, social justice issues and identity. They will continue to demand stories from different perspectives and different lived experiences. But, perhaps we will also see an increasing appetite for fantasy and escapism, for time spent in worlds that are very different from our own, for time-travelling adventures and for characters with enviable powers. There are some great upcoming titles for all ages that will take the reader out of this world, many of which will also be available on audio. How brilliant to be able to plug in the earphones, drown out the noise of this world and slip into another…
Natasha Ryan, Education Manager, the Poetry Society
In the year ahead, I’m looking forward to new collections by lots of well-known and emerging poets, including Caroline Bird’s Ambush at Still Lake and Isabel Galleymore’s Baby Schema (both Carcanet), Charlotte Shevchenko Knight’s Food for the Dead (Penguin), Rachael Allen’s God Complex (Faber) and the late Gboyega Odubanjo’s Adam (also Faber), to name just a few. Several poets will release their debut novels, including Phoebe Stuckes (Sceptre) and Kaveh Akbar (Pan Macmillan).
The relationship between humans and the natural world looks like it will continue to be a key theme in both adults’ and children’s books alike. Exciting new children’s books from Otter-Barry Books in 2024 will explore biodiversity themes, including Ken Wilson-Max’s Aqua-Boy and Catherine Barr’s Wildlife Crossings. Similarly, the list from Nine Arches Press will include the latest poetry collections from Caleb Parkin, Wendy Pratt and Tim Tim Cheng, all exploring, in different ways, the relationship between the body and natural landscapes.
Young readers should keep a look out for Spin!, an anthology of poems by ten debut poets from diverse backgrounds, selected by Children’s Laureate Joseph Coelho. And in August, beloved poet Valerie Bloom releases The River’s A Singer (Macmillan), a selection of her best poems for readers aged 7+.