Fall Children’s Books
At the neighboring Bardstown Road store, which she also man-
ages, children’s nonfiction took up only a shelf or two. By contrast,
the kids’ store’s nonfiction area is large enough to break out into
categories like biography, history, religion, animals, and “weird
Although Kentucky was the first state to adopt the Common
Core State Standards, Estep says that she has never heard a
parent come in and specifically mention Common Core when
they’re looking for a book. Carmichael’s Kids does best with
Minecraft titles and the Who Was? series and its spinoffs, What
Was? and Where Is? “We carry so many of these. Kids come in
and eat them up,” says Estep, whose own 10-year-old son is a fan.
She thinks their short length makes them less intimidating for
some children than two-inch-thick novels.
When Hooray for Books, in Alexandria,
Va., doubled its 1,500-sq.-ft. floor space
at the end of April, manager/buyer Erin
Barker swapped the fiction and nonfiction
sections. With the change, nonfiction now
runs along the walls of the store, and
there’s more room for faceouts. The bookstore also changed the way it organizes
nonfiction and is now one of the few stores
to do it by age rather than category. As a
result of the shift, Barker says that the nonfiction for six- to eight-year-olds is doing
well. Those titles had been hard to find
amid the older nonfiction.
Barker is not worried about young readers’ editions, which
are often on the borderline between middle grade and YA, like
Unbroken or Daniel James Boon’s The Boys in the Boat (Viking,
Sept.), finding their audience. But she does wonder about price
affecting sales of titles like the young readers’ edition of Malala
Yousafzai’s I Am Malala (Little, Brown). “[High schoolers] are
reading the adult version. There’s only $1 difference in price,”
Barker points out.
At Nicola’s Books in Ann Arbor, Mich., children’s bookseller
Linda Goodman says, “Nonfiction is [doing] pretty well. I’m
not going to say it’s sharply risen. We hold steady, and we do
well.” Two nonfiction favorites at her stores are Marilyn Nelson’s
memoir in verse, How I Discovered Poetry (Dial), and Paige Rawl’s
Positive (HarperCollins), written with Ali Benjamin. “You’d
think it was fiction, but it’s not,” she says of Positive, an account
of the bullying Rawls endured when other students found out
that she was HIV-positive.
Similarly, at Secret Garden Books in Seattle, nonfiction is
“perking a bit,” according to owner Christy McDanold. “We’ve
always given it a lot of space, the same amount as hardcover
picture books. We’ve made a big commitment,” she notes.
Although McDanold didn’t do well with the young adult
edition of Eric Schlosser’s Fast Food Nation, which was published for kids in 2007 as Chew on This, in the intervening years
she’s sold a lot of the young readers’ edition of Unbroken as gifts.
She anticipates similarly strong sales for the junior version of
The Boys in the Boat.
McDanold has been pleased with National Geographic’s publishing program for kids. “It’s fabulous,” she says. “They’ve
taken that yellow [used on the magazine] and bordered all the
books with it.” One of her favorite National Geographic series
is the fact-based Just Joking riddle books.
The one area that’s just not working for her is sports
biographies. “Publishing into the ‘right now’ is hard to do,”
McDanold acknowledges. “What kids want in sports is what’s
happening. As soon as that sports person falls off, that book is
Book Passage in Corte Madera, Calif., expanded its kids’ non-
fiction sections a few years ago. When the buzz around Common
“ I have to say,” Kunhardt notes, “that
while sales of nonfiction have gone up
somewhat, the increase has been modest.
A good chunk is thanks to the Who Was? series and to
Minecraft.” At school book fairs last fall, Kunhardt says, “It
seemed riots might break out over some of the Minecraft titles.”
A few recent stand-alone nonfiction titles that have sold well
for Book Passage include Steve Sheinkin’s Newbery Honor–
winning Bomb (Roaring Brook) and Kate Schatz’s Rad American
Women A–Z (City Lights), illustrated by Miriam Klein Stahl.
Like McDanold, Ellen Mager, owner of Booktenders’ Secret
Garden Children’s Bookstore & Gallery in Doylestown, Pa., has
long had a large nonfiction section. She explains that it’s because
she “loves” nonfiction and wants to provide an alternative to
the way that many textbooks present information. Like many
of her colleagues, Mager interprets nonfiction broadly and
includes the Thea Stilton series (Scholastic), because the books
contain lots of specific information about different cities and
countries. She also counts in historical fiction based on truth
like Pam Muñoz Ryan’s Echo (Scholastic Press). In science, the
Curious George Discovers series (HMH), based on the PBS
series, is working well at her store.
While some parents are challenging the Common Core, one
thing they haven’t questioned is the value of having a broader
selection of narrative nonfiction for their children to read. The
strength of certain series, along with publishers’ repackaging
efforts, could keep the interest in kids’ nonfiction strong even
if Common Core goes away. ■
Becky Taylor, a media specialist in the Charlotte,
N.C., area, with Francis Faraway, host (aka “The
Smartest Person in the World”) of the Who Was...?
Insanely Awesome Trivia Show.