Saturday 1 October 2022


It's the first of October today, and the start of a month that ends in spookiness, grinning pumpkins and skellingtons. Lots of fun, but I am still thinking on a twitter thread* about children's publishing I read mid-September.

An established UK bookseller was commenting on Middle Grade fiction. They were not ranting but using a calm and resigned voice of sensible concern and. although - they said - publishers were putting out plenty of new titles, there was a difficulty. 

 Too many titles and too many almost the same.

Publshers were creating a problem for children's booksellers and, eventually,  the disappointment for many once-hopeful authors.

The reason was simple, the thread suggested. Far, far too many of the MG titles were the same genre: fantasy. The children are offered stories about magical powers, enchantments, curses and quests. They meet imaginary characters: a host of dragons, witches, wizards, talking animals. fairies & other beings and more. All very interesting and exciting, if you are a young reader who loves the adventure of being inside those imaginary worlds.

However, the thread suggested, not all children are as deeply into fantasy. Some would rather have books about real, everyday life than the escapism of magical worlds. Some , they suggested, might even be turning away from books altogether.

"Real life" fiction must surely be a problem for publishers. The big companies work with a global market view, assessing world rights sales and other economic factors. They want stories that have huge universal appeal, A child's rea life experiences, however, are often specific to a time, place and culture.

Does a book's real life culture  need to be "translatable" for publication? Or even transportable? For example, Jacqueline Wilson was once seen as the queen of "real life fiction" her in the UK, but how popular were her books in the States? 

Right now, there are highly praised "real life" MG titles by authors like Cath Howe, Catherine Bruton. Jo Cotterill and others. How hard a fight did those real-life stories - and others - have before being accepted for publication? And does something important about "ordinary" lives - no matter who or where - get lost or diminished in a drive for fantasies, especially those with future screen & CGI potential?  

Yesterday, as I looked across the MG tables in a large booksellers, fantasy titles dominated - but maybe not all children fall under that genre's spell. What do you think? What kinds of books do the children you know choose to read? Do children's books need a little less magic?

Penny Dolan 

*If I was better tech-taught, perhaps I could have saved or tracked down the thread. Apologies. Meanwhile, I'm on twitter @pennydolan1


Polly said...

I'm a Canadian children's librarian, and although we (in North America) have tons of fantasy, I wouldn't say there's a lot less realistic fiction for kids. We have slightly more kids in my mid-size town who like fantasy, but realistic is doing just fine here, and we're getting so many amazing new and diverse realistic books from both Canadian and American authors. So I don't know if that's a UK vs US/Canada divide, or if it's just a difference of opinion, but I don't find the markets I buy in at all limited to fantasy.

Penny Dolan said...

Hello Polly. Thanks for responding. Do you have any Canadian childrens authors or MG books you'd recommend?

I remember being very impressed by the children's and the adult library when I visited Hamilton years ago.

Polly said...

Hi Penny,
Well, for real-ish world adventure, you can't do better than the Seven Series, written by seven fairly major Canadian children's authors and which has sequels and prequels (but I like the original series best): Orca (the publisher) has long been marvelous for hi/lo realistic fiction (content for older but reading level lower), and is branching out into wonderful non-fiction and some good series middle grade, like Seven. Phillipa Dowding is probably my favourite current Canadian writer for kids (but she does mostly write fantasy-ish stuff), she writes exactly the kind of books I would have wanted to read as a kid, and she's so much fun in real life. Deborah Ellis writes wonderful books about other countries and cultures, but I'd say she's more loved by teachers than kids mostly. And I love this blog, which is all Kids Can lit: I could go on forever, but that's a good start, I think!
Oh, and Tim Wynne-Jones for the kind of children's and teen books that are really best for adults, mostly. Although his picture books are wonderful for primary kids. He's also a lovely (and originally British) man.