2017 was an unsettling year for all sorts of reasons, and change looks set to be the theme of 2018. What will the new year bring for the world of children’s books? Books for Keeps asked those in the know for their predictions.
Nicky Morgan, Interim Director, Children and Young People, Arts Council England:
We’re really excited to see what 2018 brings for children’s literature and libraries in general. As we start the new year, our main concerns in this area focus on the falling sales of literary fiction, and local authority funding for libraries. However, in April, our largest ever group of arts and culture organisations will be beginning their four year funding journey with us, which includes seven library services, 48 literature organisations and the Society for Chief Librarians.
We’ll support these organisation to create compelling experiences and innovative projects to instil a love of books and reading in young people, which will last throughout their childhood and into adult life and we will continue to work with the Society for Chief Librarians on a wide range of programmes including Baby Bounce and Rhyme sessions for pre-school children, Reading Hack activities for teens and the ever-popular Summer Reading Challenge.
The introduction of our Artsmark Partnership Programme will also see more cultural organisations, including libraries, engage and support schools working towards their Artsmark award- bringing a richness of arts and cultural experiences to thousands of children across the country.
Emily Drabble, head of children’s book promotion and prizes Book Trust
There’s been a lot talk for so long now about how to make children’s books more diverse in terms of representation in books as well diverse backgrounds of authors, illustrators and people in the children’s books industry. It feels like we are on the cusp of zeitgeist change in terms of ethnicity at least, and there’s some really positive action. I keep hearing about exciting new iniatives and publishers with bright ideas (I’m really excited about Knights Of for example) so I’m feeling optimistic. However there’s still a long way to go for the kind of diversity of ALL types that I’d love to see reflected in children’s books.
Aimée Felone, Knights Of
Representation, in our industry as well as in the books published, will continue to be the topic of discussion for 2018. 2017 saw an increased awareness of what the industry is not doing and who isn’t being served and this conversation will continue in 2018. As we have seen, independent publishers and agencies are able to implement business models and structures that place representation and inclusion at the forefront of their company – to effective results. The success of these indies will continue and authors and large corporate publishers alike will increasingly look to them as part of the solution, hopefully leading to both increased support and permanent change.
Teresa Cremin Professor of Education, The Open University
Will 2018 herald many changes in the world of children’s reading? I doubt radical shifts are ahead of us, but the renewed educational attention we’ve seen of late to reading for pleasure will remain central, especially since the recent PIRLS (2016) results show England lagging well behind internationally in this regard. So awareness of the profession’s legal and moral responsibility for reading for pleasure will continue to grow. Supported by new initiatives such as the Egmont Reading for Pleasure Awards and the Open University’s Research informed website, this will begin to encompass much more than standalone initiatives and new reading areas and will, I hope, include increased awareness of children’s identities as readers. In particular teachers will become more open to personal interests in reading and as a result the persistent focus on fiction will begin to diversify, with increased attention to the pleasures to be found in non-fiction and poetry. However the professional thirst for children’s literature will remain and the use of graphic novels will also increase, although rather more slowly, alongside enhanced awareness of world literature and authorial diversity. Although the lack of primary phase librarians and budget cuts will significantly reduce the scope of these developments, on balance I think 2018 looks inviting.
Louise Johns-Shepherd, Chief Executive, Centre for Literacy in Primary Education (CLPE)
At CLPE we are definitely going to be talking a lot about the importance of books for children that reflect the reality of our diverse and changing world. Both in terms of the characters and stories and in terms of authorship and creation. We’re beginning an exciting new project where we are creating the first survey of ethnic diversity within UK children’s literature. Our intention is to make visible data that will support all those who work in and with the children’s publishing industry to make sure children’s literature meaningfully reflects the realities of its readership. Our colleagues at Book Trust are also collecting data about the representation of BAME authors and illustrators as creators of children’s literature and there are many other important projects and programmes from other organisations that will begin or embed in 2018. We are looking forward to 2018 being a year of action, particularly around positive and authentic representation of our population in children’s books and where new voices, new publishers and new characters will find powerful new places.
Julia Eccleshare Head of Policy at the Public Lending Right
Reading the fast-sellers of 2017 list showed the massive dominance of just a handful of authors. It’s not that I begrudge these authors their success but how can ‘newer’ (and often that’s authors who’ve been in print for 5 years!) get to a bigger market – in particular to teachers?
Too much pressure on authors to publish two books a year in an attempt to crack the above problem. Quantity is important but quality matters even more.
Too many books which are ‘like’ someone else’s book. The best authors – Philip Pullman, Elizabeth Laird and Sarah Crossan all spring to mind and there are many others – write something different and surprising not only to other people but also to themselves every time.
Closure of libraries! Libraries are vital to children and to children’s authors. Year after year borrowing figures show that children still use libraries A LOT. How will this generation of children and those who come after them learn to browse a range of books and find the books they really like without a library to go to?
Shoo Rayner, the Society of Authors
As the new Chair of CWIG (the Children’s Writers & Illustrators Group) of the Society of Authors, I’m made well aware of the ever-diminishing earnings of authors. Some stories I’ve heard recently have been quite alarming. Find out how authors get paid – or not – here.
This year will see the CWIG Reading For Pleasure Award roll out. So often authors are really inspired by the work some schools do to inspire children to read for pleasure and want to let those schools know that their good work has been noticed. The award is a simple way for us to say ‘Good job!’
Tony Bradman Chair of ALCS, the Authors Licensing and Collecting Society
The biggest issue by far in 2018 will be a simple one – how can we stop the seemingly relentless decline of our public library service? The figures for budget cuts, closures and restricted opening times make very depressing reading. Readers of Books for Keeps will know just how important libraries can be in the development of reading for pleasure in children – indeed, with the decline of school library provision, it’s getting harder to see how children in some areas can get access to books at all. Ask most children’s writers and they’ll tell you that libraries played a central role in their choice of career. Let’s hope there will be a change of heart at government and local level on the subject – but I have a feeling that will only come about if we keep banging on about it!
Jake Hope reading development and children’s book consultant.
It will be exciting to see the outcome of the ongoing CILIP Carnegie and Kate Greenaway Diversity Review. I personally hope that this might create momentum and help to lobby for change that becomes wider than the awards alone. For change to be effected, and indeed effective, every part of the sector needs active involvement. With a global political canvas that appears to be shrinking, there’s great incentive behind achieving this, ensuring the industry at large embraces the breadth of lifestyles, experiences and backgrounds that make-up the many facets of our society. These need to be reflected and represented not only in the illustrators and authors being published, but through every stage of agents, publishers, booksellers, librarians, teachers, reviewers, awards and – of course – readers themselves. There has often been idealised discussion around the republic of reading, to be a true democracy we have to ensure equality and representation for all.
Joy Court, Chair: CILIP Carnegie & Kate Greenaway Medals; Reviews Editor: The School Librarian Journal
I cannot help but think that the issue of diversity in publishing will rightly continue to be a major focus in 2018 with publishing for children and young people going from strength to strength as a result of new talents and voices coming through. Certainly as Reviews Editor the parcels that I have been unpacking over the last year and increasingly for books to come in 2018 have revealed some blistering new talent from diverse voices of many kinds. There is much positive work on improving representation and diversity in the industry and I’m optimistic that we will see real and lasting change. These are long-term challenges and everyone involved in children’s books has a responsibility to do all they can – but I see the commitment to getting it right throughout the chain of creating and commissioning, to production and sales, and then appearing in bookshops and libraries. We all want all young people to become avid readers and find the books that excite them and open up new opportunities.