Monday 27 February 2017

#CoverKidsBooks – One Year On

One year ago, #CoverKidsBooks launched a campaign to get more media coverage for children's books.  We presented research that showed children's books were getting just 3% of all book review space in national newspapers, despite accounting for over 30% of the UK book market.

Since then, their market share has continued to grow.  Children's literature – by which we mean the entire range of books for young readers, from the youngest picture book to the oldest YA, including fiction, non-fiction and poetry – now accounts for 34% of all print books sold in the UK, according to The Bookseller.

What about media coverage?  One year on, has that grown too?

For our first #CoverKidsBooks blog, Imogen Russell Williams counted the number of reviews and column inches given to children's books in UK national newspapers in August 2015.  Isabel Popple and Naomi Burt have done the same for August 2016.  Here are their findings.

Weekend Newspapers, August 2016

All Book reviews
Children's Book Reviews
Percentage Children's Book Reviews
All Book Reviews (inches)
Children's Book Reviews (inches)
Percentage Children's Book Inches
Sunday Times
Sunday Telegraph
Sunday Express
Mail On Sunday
Sunday Mirror

For comparison, here is the bottom line of the August 2015 data; the full table can be seen in the original blog:


The good news is that children's books now account for 7.7% of all book reviews, an increase on 4.9% last year. 

The bad news is that they still receive only 3.2% of all book review space, virtually unchanged from 3.1% last year.


Children's books now account for 7.7% of all book reviews.  This is heartening given the shrinking number of book reviews as a whole.  Every newspaper we surveyed reviewed fewer books in 2016 than in 2015, and in every newspaper we surveyed, the column inches given to books as a whole shrank as well.  Many newspapers announced cuts to books staff and space, while The Independent and The Independent On Sunday ceased to exist at all as physical entities.  But while it is a step in the right direction, 7.7% remains a massive under-representation for over a field that accounts for 34% of the market.


#CoverKidsBooks wrote an open letter to national newspapers last year, printed in The Bookseller, calling on them to commit to covering at least one children's book a week.  Back in August 2015, only two newspapers averaged one children's book review a week or more, and only one actually published a children's book review every single week.

By August 2016, the numbers had doubled.  Four newspapers now averaged one children's book review a week or more (The Times, The Sunday Times, The Guardian and The Daily Telegraph), while two of them (The Times and The Daily Telegraph) had a dependable slot every single week.  These are very welcome developments, and the editors of those newspapers deserve great credit for them. 

It should also be said that The Observer has just changed its policy, introducing a new Children's Book Of The Week slot on January 29 2017 – another hugely welcome development that should encourage all who care about children's literature.  #CoverKidsBooks would like to thank and applaud The Observer New Review's editor Jane Ferguson, its literary editor Lisa O'Kelly, and its arts editor Sarah Donaldson, and we urge all remaining national newspapers who have yet to commit to covering at least one children's book a week to follow their example. 


Despite these improvements, children's books are still receiving the same proportion of space, getting just 3.2% of all book review column inches.  Children's book reviews remain shorter than other book reviews, which is why the figure for column inches is smaller than that for the number of reviews.  For example, look at The Guardian's figures across the two years:

All Book reviews
Children's Book reviews
Percentage Children's Book Reviews
All Book Reviews (inches)
Children's Book Reviews (inches)
Percentage Children's Book Inches

14 children's books were reviewed in August 2016, a huge increase from 4 in 2015 – yet the space devoted to children's books has actually shrunk from 58 inches in 2015 to 37.5 inches in 2016.  This is because The Guardian has moved from printing a long review every week to just one long review a month, along with a monthly roundup.  The roundup has greatly increased the range of children's books covered by The Guardian.  But 13 of the 14 books reviewed received a mention in the roundup, rather than a full review of their own.  

The Guardian's current policy means that no more than 12 children's books can receive a full review each year.  Only 12 children's books are considered worthy of the space and critical attention given to other kinds of books. 

The field of children's literature is going from strength to strength, constantly expanding in size and increasing in quality.  The bestseller lists are full of children's books, with Harry Potter & The Cursed Child topping the 2016 list. 

Meanwhile, in libraries, the PLR figures are dominated by children's books.  65% of the top 20 most borrowed authors are children's authors.  The success of the field is snowballing, as more and more new writers are attracted to it, as the Waterstones Children's Book Prize and Brandford Boase lists demonstrate each year. 

There is every indication that the field will continue to grow in commercial and cultural significance.  Philip Pullman has just announced that his long-awaited follow-up to His Dark Materials, The Book Of Dust, will publish its first volume this year.  James Daunt of Waterstones estimated that this book alone would have a 2% impact on Waterstones' entire revenues, worth around £8 million. 

As Pullman himself told #CoverKidsBooks, in our writers & illustrators blog:  "There ought to be a space in the mainstream media, in the book pages, for coverage of children's books.  It's important that the general reader sees children's books being discussed intelligently."

Books cannot be discussed intelligently without space.  3% of space for over 30% of the market is simply not enough.  There is of course a lot of excellent children's books coverage online.  But print coverage remains vital.  Huge numbers of newspaper-reading adults need to know about children's literature: parentsteachersbooksellers, librarians, and all the other buyers and recommenders of children's books, as well as adults who read them for their own enjoyment.   

So while we are encouraged by the progress we've seen in the last year, and while we understand that space for books coverage in print as a whole is shrinking, we would like to see newspapers give children's books a fairer proportion of whatever space there is.  

#CoverKidsBooks calls on all national newspapers to make a clear statement that children's books matter as much as any other books.  We urge them to give children's literature a proportion of space that reflects its significance as the most dynamic part of the publishing industry, and a vital part of the nation's cultural life.  

#CoverKidsBooks invites you to join in a public conversation about children's books.  Leave a comment, write a blog of your own, or tweet about it using the hashtag.  Tell us why children's books matter to you, and what you'd like to see the media do to #CoverKidsBooks! 

Thursday 16 February 2017

Guest Post: Ally Kennen on what she loves about writing for children

We are big fans of Ally Kennen's here and can't wait to read The Everything Machine! We're excited to have her talking about what she loves about writing for children.

Do I love writing for children? Well, sometimes yes and sometimes absolutely not. On the ‘yes’ days the writing flows, the words tumble, I laugh at my genius jokes and amusing quips. Maybe it will distract some little soul somewhere. Maybe it will encourage a horde of naughty lads to go and read something richer afterwards, and then something else and then something else. Perhaps my wisdom and wit will entertain, guide, enlighten.. who knows?

On some of the ‘yes’ days I get to go visit schools and meet Actual Children. This is always humbling and makes me want to up my game. These kids are being exposed to my ramblings. I must sharpen up, make it for them, crack on with the story, don’t leave anyone out!

On other ‘Yes’ days I get to try out drafts of books on my own children. I have four of them. They’ve all had to endure first drafts and I am rewarded with their brutal X-Factor panel style judgements. But my eldest son is 9 and a half and DOES NOT WANT ME TO READ TO HIM ANYMORE (emojj’s of horror/terror etc) so I am sneakily writing a football book. He loves football and cannot resist a football story, so now I get to read to him again. AND I get to write a book with a guaranteed audience. (currently of one, but you never know)

Then there are the No days. When I’d rather scrub out the dustbin or clean the toilet than write another word. But I think this would be the case if I was writing for children or adults. Sometimes my brain doesn’t fire up, or it is clogged with too many distractions, or I am simply not inspired.

I don’t hold with the notion that writing for children is easier than writing for adults. There are plenty of glorious children’s books that are far richer and more elegant than any amount of books for adults. (and plenty that aren’t.. ha ha) We children’s authors also have to compete against a myriad of more immediate entertainments. How can we possibly make our stories more alluring than the latest must-have game, with all its addictive ploys and tricks? Maybe the children’s book is DYING! like stamp collecting and dissecting tadpoles for fun. (though book sales data seems to suggest otherwise, that lots of children still read hurrah hurrah)

And so my latest book (this is a Yes day now) is all about some kids who are utterly addicted to a computer game, MAZZO. But something arrives at their house which is even more compelling and fun.

It’s Russell, a state of the art, cutting edge, globally created, sentient 3D printer. It is The Everything Machine!

The Everything Machine by
Ally Kennen

Three kids let loose with a top-secret magical machine with a mind of it's own . . . What could possibly go wrong?

Olly, Stevie and Bird have just had a very special delivery. It's a machine that has a name, can speak and is able to print ANYTHING they want it to. How about a never-ending supply of sweets and a cool swimming pool in the shed, for starters?

But is getting everything you've ever wished for all it's cracked up to be?

Information about the Book

Title: The Everything Machine
Author: Ally Kennen
Release Date: 2nd February 2017
Genre: MG
Publisher: Scholastic UK
Format: Paperback

Author Information

Ally Kennen has been an archaeologist, museum guard and singer-songwriter. Her dark and thrilling teen novels have been nominated for over eleven literary awards. She lives in Somerset with her husband and four children.

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Tuesday 7 February 2017

Gareth P Jones On The Idea For Pet Defenders

Great to talk to a favourite author of ours, Gareth P Jones, on how he came up with the idea for the Pet Defenders series! Book 1, Attack of the Alien Dung - illustrated by Steve May - comes out on Thursday 9th February, published by Stripes.

Pet Defenders – The Idea

2017 sees the publication of my fourth book series. Following on from The Dragon Detective Agency, Ninja Meerkats and Adventures of the Steampunk Pirates comes Pet Defenders. You might think it would get easier. It doesn’t.

I first came up with this idea in 2011 for an experimental weekly online project. I wrote a synopsis then we filmed an introduction with comedian Marcus Brigstocke in a video produced by animation director Andy Walker (a very clever chap who does the animation for Tracey Beaker). I believe you can still find the end product lurking somewhere in a forgotten corner of the Internet.

It was an ambitious idea and never came to anything so my story fell back into my file of old ideas. All authors have these files. These are the stories that sit quietly gathering dust, biding their time, waiting for their moment.

In 2016, that moment came. I was looking for an idea for a new series. I came up with two new ones then selected Pet Defenders as the third. My wife, Lisa read all three. She liked Pet Defenders best. My editor, Ruth agreed.

And so, five years after I came up with the idea, I started work on a series of books about a secret organization of pets dedicated to keeping the earth safe from alien attacks.

What I had forgotten was how much I struggle with space stuff. The last time I tried it was with an MG science fiction book called Space Crime Conspiracy (Bloomsbury, 2010). I was pleased with how the book turned out but had obviously buried the memory of how painful it was to write.

The problem for me is one of believability. It’s easy enough to write “The Flot-holed Grubulling from Zingadinga One opened the large purple eye set in the middle of its belly?” but how do you make it believable? Writing is about creating worlds but when that world is an entire universe there are soooo many possibilities. For this reason, each book in the series has gone through countless redrafts (often complete rewrites) as even a minor tweak can cause an avalanche of ideas that leaves me sifting through the rubble to find the correct building blocks to complete the story.

Thankfully, with my ever-patient editor’s help and guidance I am delighted to say I have now completed three Pet Defenders books. I start work on the fourth soon. It’s been quite a journey so I very much hope readers enjoy the result.

Pet Defenders: Attack of the Alien Dung is published 9th of February. The second book in the series, Beards from Outer Space comes out in May, with the third (Escape from Planet Bogey) being published in September. The fourth will come out in 2018 once it has been written, rewritten, redrafted, rewritten again and redrafted etc.