Children's Literature Trends in 2013

Father reading to children
Getty Images/Liam Norris

Each year, I interview the president of the Association for Library Services to Children (ALSC), a division of the American Library Association (ALA) to find out the latest news and trends in children’s books. Just in time for the beginning of 2013, I interviewed Carolyn S. Brodie, the current ALSC president. Brodie outlined the current trends in children's literature that year. 

What are the trends in children’s literature in 2013?

Picture books continue to represent a wide range of themes, approaches and artistic merit.

And, picture books and beginning readers that make us laugh will continue to be welcomed by young audiences. For older students there continues to be great interest in series of all kinds whether they are fantasy, mystery, or science fiction based. Timely topics in children’s literature include bullying, survival and nature stories.

Books about bullying: The Bully Blockers Club and Oliver Button Is a Sissy, which are picture books; The Hundred Dresses and Jake Drake, Bully Buster, juvenile fiction for grades 2-4, and Bullies and Bullying in Kids' Books for Middle-Grade Readers and Teens.

Are there particular print formats (picture books, beginning reader books, graphic novels, informational books, etc.) increasing in popularity or broadening their audience?

With the adoption of the Common Core State Standards by 45 states, the emphasis on nonfiction that aligns with these standards will likely continue to broaden this emphasis area for children’s book publishers, particularly related to science, biographies, and history.

And, with the celebration of the 75th Caldecott Medal, 2012-2013 there has been an emphasis on the artistic merits of the picture books and the history of the award and honor books.

Related resources: The Robert F. Sibert Informational Book Award, Current Sibert Award Winners, The Randolph Caldecott Medal, The Scientists in the Field Series, 101 Science Experiments

What are the themes and subjects that are gaining popularity with various age groups (preschoolers, beginning readers, older readers 9 to 14 years old)?

Animals tend to always be a hit with the younger set and this past year it has seemed that picture books with bear characters were everywhere. As children grow older they are interested in school stories that provide various aspects of others as they go about their daily lives. And, at any age, intriguing nonfiction that provides information, tells a story and grips the reader is always popular with young people.

Nonfiction resources: Best Narrative Nonfiction for Middle Graders, Amelia Lost: The Life and Disappearance of Amelia Earhart

Are children’s librarians seeing an increase in requests for children’s e-books from parents or kids? For what age groups (6-10 years old, 8-12 years old, 9-14 years old) are librarians getting the most requests?

With the gaining popularity of e-readers among adults, children also want to model the e-reading habits of their parents, not to mention that they are drawn to what the technology has to offer. In public libraries, it, of course, depends on the availability of what the library has to offer in e-reader selections and formats.

Children continue to visit the public library and browse book shelves for selections as do the adults who care for them.

It is a balance. Library practices regarding children’s e-books are still being defined in many areas and not available at all in some. It will be interesting to watch the next several years as this format continues to be increasingly available and as libraries change and grow with their young patrons.

More about eBooks and eReaders: The International Children's Digital Library, Where to Get Free Kindle Books for Kids, In Praise of Audiobooks for Kids

What about audio books for kids? Are they still popular, and with what age groups?

Children’s audiobooks are popular in many libraries from the picture book accompanied by CD or tape to the digital downloads of novels from upper elementary onward.

Schools use them as teaching tools for learning to read and building vocabulary, families often select audio for long road trips or quiet times at home. Children learn information and about language in different ways. Audiobooks can also be a key to the improvement of a child’s listening skill. Audiobooks (in whatever format) provide an additional learning tool for young people.

The Association for Library Service to Children (ALSC) and the Young Adult Library Services Association (YALSA) jointly name the ALSC/Booklist/YALSA Odyssey Award for Excellence in Audiobook each year. This annual award is given to the producer of the best audiobook produced for children and/or young adults, available in English in the United States.Recommended audiobooks are also some of the selections on the ALSC Notable Children’s Recordings list each year.

Since research has shown that boys tend not to be as interested in reading, what recommendations do you have for parents of boys who are reluctant readers?

There has been much written professionally regarding boys and reading. But, one simple way to begin encouraging boys to read is to talk with them about what they like and then purchase materials they are interested in…from hobbies to sports to graphic novels to comics. When I was a middle school librarian in Arkansas several years ago, one particular group of boys didn’t check out books from the library. After talking with them, I found out they liked horses and cars. I began to order related magazines and informational books and soon won them over as readers.

A helpful website in this area is titled “Guys Read”, founded by children’s book author and illustrator Jon Scieszka, the First National Ambassador of Young People’s Literature and sponsored by the New York Foundation for the Arts. The site has a mission of “helping boys become self-motivated, lifelong readers.” And, included is research study information and links to professional resources along with numerous book suggestions for boys.

Additional resources: Librarians Recommend Books for Boys, Resources for Reluctant Readers, and Spotlight on Jon Scieszka

What do you recommend for parents who are looking for good books to read aloud to preschoolers, beginning readers and middle-grade readers?

Your first step should be to ask the children’s librarian in your community. They have been taught to connect children’s books with the developmental stages and with your child’s interests. But, don’t dismiss good browsing time in the library with your child. They often surprise us when they decide on books they love the most. And, this is a perfect time to talk to them about what they want read aloud to them and why.

For suggested reading aloud lists provided by libraries, check out the Multnomah County Library with suggestions divided between younger, intermediate and older listeners or from the Indiana Library Federation.

Jim Trelease is a name synonymous with reading aloud to children. Understand why reading aloud is so important at all age levels by reviewing his pamphlet about the topic.

Reading aloud resources: The Read-Aloud Handbook by Jim Trelease, Reading Magic, How to Read Aloud to Your Child

How can parents keep their kids reading during their active tween and young teen years (8 to 14 years)?

Children tend to follow in the parent’s footsteps and if they see you reading then they are likely to place value on reading. Reading silently is excellent modeling behavior, but also reading aloud together can be even better. Reading aloud provides quality family time and a good time discuss not only what is being read, but other things that are happening. For instance, when reading aloud a book with school setting there might be an opportunity for the parent to talk with the child about events in daily school life. A book can build a bridge to conversation and understanding.

A home that includes reading materials readily available for children is also very important…certainly children should have books of their own, if possible. And, they should especially own their favorites that they re-read and treasure. Of course, regular visits to the public library can open their world to so many new possibilities. The library can provide a child in the age group of 8 to 14 years old with the opportunities to expand what they would like to learn more about or provide an interesting read like the latest in a fantasy series.

Related resources: Summer Reading Resources for Kids and Teens

Since some YA fiction is suitable for mature kids 10 and older who read and comprehend well and other YA fiction is definitely geared to older teens, what are recommended reading lists or other resources to help parents identify good YA books for tweens and young teens (ages 10-14)?

ALSC made the new annual Tween Award Booklist in February 2012. It is a compilation of ALSC award winners most of interest to tweens, ages 10-14. Watch for the announcement of the 2013 list coming soon in February.

I love public libraries and often write about the resources they offer. Is there anything else you’d like to add?

Our public libraries are the source for the latest in children’s literature, but also they have the classics. Librarians are often asked by parents for books they enjoyed themselves as children and now wish to share with their own child. Plan a visit and learn about new recommended titles for children. Also, the Association for Library Service to Children (ALSC) has ​links to notable children’s lists and awards. Included are links to the latest in “Book and Media Awards” and “Children’s Notable Lists” for these lists that provide recommendations for birth through 14 years old.