From the Authors’ POV
From children’s book authors’ and illustrators’ perspective,
booksellers’ willingness to stock more nonfiction is good news.
“ I think kids have always loved true stories; they crave them,”
says Tanya Stone, whose latest book for teens, Girl Rising:
Changing the World One Girl at a Time (Random/Lamb, Feb.),
was inspired by the girls featured in the documentary of the
same name. She has three picture books about little-known
women in history, which will begin appearing in 2018, as well
as a longer work like Courage Has No Color (Candlewick).
“ I write true stories and I call them that,” Stone says. “ I use
every tool that I would use in fiction, except I don’t make anything up. What I want is for a kid to be engaged in the story.”
But she is not happy with the trend of shelving nonfiction
picture books by subject. As a parent herself, she says that many
parents follow particular authors and illustrators and would
prefer to search for them in a single picture book section.
Author and illustrator Jason Chin, a former bookseller at
Books of Wonder in New York City, got his start at the same
time as Common Core was getting underway. Neal Porter at
Roaring Brook bought the first book that Chin wrote and illustrated, Redwoods, and published it under the nonfiction Flash
Point imprint in 2009. “My intent was to write picture book
stories,” says Chin, whose heavily researched and beautifully
constructed books usually feature a girl or boy who launch the
action. He says that he was influenced by both The Magic School
Bus and the Magic Tree House series. “There’s a fictional story,
but you learn some history,” says Chin. He uses a similar technique for his newest title, Grand Canyon (Roaring Brook/Porter,
Feb.), which he describes as a “double picture book” because of
its 56-page length.
With plenty of different types of nonfiction stories to choose
from and kids’ excitement about reading nonfiction, the conditions are right for kids’ nonfiction to grow. “Our nonfiction
section has at times past been an albatross, as young adult
fiction once was,” Moore says. “Thankfully, people are beginning to think again.” ■
While many works of nonfiction, particularly those with beautiful illustrations from
trade houses, are resonating with children
these days, the bookseller jury is still out
on young readers’ adaptations of bestselling adult books, such as The Boys in the
Boat (Viking), Hidden Figures
(HarperCollins), and Unbroken
“ I’m conflicted about them,”
says Kelsy April of Bank Square
and Savoy. “ I like the option of
having them. I always make it clear
that it’s not going to be as violent
or intense [as the original].” On the
other hand, she sells a number of
copies to schools.
At Elliott Bay—which has seen its
biggest burst in children’s nonfiction sales
from middle grade titles such as Winifred
Conkling’s Radioactive! (Algonquin) and
Caitlin Alifirenka and Martin Ganda’s I
Will Always Write Back (Little, Brown)—
many of the people buying young readers
editions are picking them up as ESL titles, notes buyer
Quail Ridge, which has done particularly well with
young readers titles, has also had a number of adult buyers
for the book. Not that that’s a problem for Carol Moyer:
“A well-written nonfiction book for children can introduce
an adult to a topic.”
At Parnassus, Stephanie Appell has gotten a lot of
questions from customers about how young readers books
are adapted and about whether or not the author is involved.
She would like to see more transparency from the publishers
about how the books are written.
And some readers would like to know more about how
publishers select books and why. Last fall when Delacorte
published a YA edition of Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code,
it ran into some blowback on Twitter; one young woman
wrote, “ I’m an adult now, but I read the original when I was
12 so inner-teen-me is raging.” The decision to create a
more kid-friendly version appropriate for younger teens
was something that the author, whose parents were teachers,
had long wanted to do. He was especially interested in
getting young readers interested in digging into history.
As for sales, they can be mixed as well. “[Young readers
editions] did well in 2015, but there wasn’t really a big one
for us last year,” says Oblong’s Suzanna Hermans. On the
other hand 2017 could be better. Now that the movie is in
theaters, she is starting to see Hidden Figures move. —J.R.
DO YA ADAPTATIONS
Jason Chin talks with students at the Founders Memorial School in
Essex Junction, Vt.