Checking the Facts
Although the total number of children’s nonfiction books in print has
remained steady for the past two years
at 55 million, some nonfiction categories are “popping,” according to
Kristen McLean, director of new business development at Nielsen Book/
Nielsen Entertainment. At a presentation at Children’s Institute in
Orlando, Fla., last June, she said that
children’s graphic novels, including
nonfiction, saw a 62% increase in
units from 2014 to 2015. In fact,
graphic novels for kids have become
so popular that the book industry
recently added two new BISAC subject codes to separate juvenile graphic
novels from YA: one each for graphic
novel YA fiction and nonfiction.
After then-president-elect Donald
Trump criticized author and congressman John Lewis on Twitter earlier this month, sales of Lewis’s YA graphic novel March trilogy
(Top Shelf), about the civil rights movement and his role in it,
moved to the top of many bestseller lists. The series, written
with Andrew Aydin and illustrated by Nate Powell, will likely
stay there following the third book’s performance at the
American Library Association’s Youth Media Awards last
week—it received the Coretta Scott King Award, the Michael
L. Printz Award, the Robert F. Silbert Informational Book
Award, and the YALSA award for YA nonfiction.
Active nonfiction that helps kids learn to make and do
things, which includes books on coding, is also “popping,”
McLean said at Children’s Institute, noting that the number
of titles in print jumped 295% between 2014 and 2015.
“What we’re really seeing here,” she added, “is kids driving
interest in nonfiction that reflect their interests.” Several children’s nonfiction categories have begun to increase over the
course of 2016, according to recent Nielsen BookScan data,
including history, sports, people, and places; education and
reference; holidays, festivals, and religion; biographies and
autobiographies; and social situations, family and health.
At Parnassus Books in Nashville, Stephanie Appell, manager
of books for young readers, has brought her skills as a former
SEPARATING FACT FROM
BY JUDITH ROSEN
As children’s publishers increase the number of nonfiction books they release each year and new imprints enter the
market with visually appealing titles,
booksellers have begun rethinking their
children’s sections and reexamining the
best ways to promote nonfiction titles.
Though nonfiction doesn’t account for a
large share of children’s inventory at most
independent bookstores yet—it’s 15% of
children’s books at Elliott Bay Book
Company in Seattle, 10% at Square
Books, Jr. in Oxford, Miss.—it is poised
to take off.
Even before 2009 and the beginning of
Common Core, some booksellers were
seeing narrative nonfiction and informa-
tional books take off. Carol Moyer, man-
ager of the children’s book department at
33-year-old Quail Ridge Books in
Raleigh, N.C., says that she’s observed
sales of nonfiction children’s books grow alongside the spread
of digital content. “Yes, kids can use a keyboard, but they still
want a book,” Moyer says. “Maybe it gives them more space to
explore and more context.”
When Quail Ridge moved to a new 9,000-sq.-ft. location last
July, Moyer was able to give the store’s history and biography
sections more room and to maintain its commitment to an
extensive science section. The Who Was series (Grosset), which
Moyer credits with “exploding” the field of children’s biog-
raphy, now has its own shelf. Picture book biographies are
shelved together, because their physical size is so different.
Last fall when the much newer Little City Books in Hoboken,
N.J., which opened its doors in 2015, added the 800-sq.-ft.
space next door to create a children’s annex, owners Kate Jacobs
and Donna Garban decided to devote a 10 ft. x 15 ft. room to
nonfiction. “We love hard science, history, biography, and art
with good writing mixed with good illustration, “Jacobs says.
“We have a whole bright sunny room with loads of face outs.”
She adds that one wall is reserved for face-outs of large-format
books. Jacobs attributes the growth of nonfiction at Little City
to “the growing aversion to the Internet and children spending
endless hours on screens.” She notes: “We have an engaged,
educated parent community. They are always looking for stimulating information for their kids.”
Guy Fruge, age eight, peruses the kids’ nonfiction section
at Square Books, Jr. in Oxford, Miss.