This year looks set to be another stellar one for children’s books, and Irish young adult (YA) in particular will blaze a trail in 2016. There are new titles from brand names such as Julia Donaldson, Eoin Colfer and Derek Landy, plenty of interesting debuts and some intriguing books from ‘grown up’ bestsellers Cecelia Ahern and Sheila O’Flanagan.

Eoin Colfer

Eoin Colfer

Children’s Laureate Eoin Colfer’s Iron Man novel for children comes from Marvel in autumn – and according to Colfer, the billionaire playboy Tony Stark is set to get the Dublin treatment. Puffin’s lead title this spring is Dave Rudden’s The Knights of the Borrowed Dark (March), the first in a trilogy featuring Denizen Hardwick, a boy who doesn’t believe in magic until he’s ambushed by a monster created from shadows. HarperCollins is very excited about Cecelia Ahern’s debut YA novel, Flawed, set in a society where perfection is everything (March); while Hachette will be publishing The Crystal Run, Sheila O’Flanagan’s fantasy debut for age 10-plus, in May. Gill and Macmillan presents its first YA novel ever in April, from Eilis Barrett, a writer who is a teenager herself. Her book, Oasis, is set in the future and follows a group of teen outcasts.

Little Island has been making waves with its strong fiction list, and looks set to do so again in 2016. First up in February is Needlework by Deirdre Sullivan, for young adult and adults, a novel about child abuse and its aftermath that I read in one sitting. An important and beautifully written book.

Also from Little Island for older teens is Anna Seidl’s No Heros (March), the story of a school shooting and its aftermath, a publishing sensation in its native Germany; in May it launches The Best Medicine by Belfast writer Christine Hamill, about a 12-year-old boy whose mother has breast cancer.needlework

Kim Hood’s debut YA novel, Finding a Voice was shortlisted for the YA Book Prize in the UK last year and her second novel, Plain Jane, is out in April from O’Brien Press. The story of a 16-year-old girl whose sister has cancer, it’s one I’m looking forward to as I love her vibrant writing voice.

The Square Root of Summer by Harriet Reuter Hapgood (Macmillan, May) follows physics prodigy Gottie Oppenheimer as she navigates a summer of both grief and rips in the space-time continuum; while The Girl in the Blue Coat by Monica Hesse (Macmillan, April) is a World War II story set in Amsterdam about a girl who gets involved with the resistance. Puffin Ireland editor Claire Hennessy’s YA novel, Nothing Tastes as Good, is published by Hot Key in July and is already creating quite a stir. Annabel is a recently deceased anorexic teen who is assigned as a ghostly ‘helper’ to Julia, another girl with an eating problem. Brian Conaghan’s The Bombs That Brought Us Together (Bloomsbury, April), dealing with terrorism and war, sounds very promising; and Derek Landy is back with the second book in his Demon Road trilogy, Desolation (HarperCollins, March).

For readers aged nine-plus, there’s book three of Shane Hegarty’s Darkmouth series, Chaos Descends (HarperCollins, April); and also the latest novel by Brian Gallagher (O’Brien Press, April) called Arrivals, a Canadian murder mystery set in 1928. Ger Siggins is to publish another book in his popular sport series, Rugby Flyer (O’Brien Press, February); and Matt Griffin tackles a war between humans and fairies in Stormweaver (O’Brien Press, April). It’s great to see Corkman Kieran Crowley back with The Mighty Dynamo (Macmillan, May), about a boy who dreams of being a footballer. I’m currently reading the exquisite Anna and the Swallow Man by New York-based Gavriel Savit (Bodley Head, January), set in World War II. And finally for this age group, the US writer Kate DiCamillo returns with Raymie Nightingale, a novel about a friendship which changes lives forever (Walker Books, April).

Poolbeg will add Maebh Banrion na Troda (February) and Sceal Naomh Padraig (March) to their Nutshell library for younger readers; and the ultimate staying-between-the-lines challenge has to be Where’s Wally? The Colouring Book, from Walker Books in June. Sarah Bowie’s picture book Let’s See Ireland (O’Brien Press, April) has striking artwork; and finally, Julia Donaldson’s Detective Dog, illustrated by Sara Ogilvie (Macmillan, June), about a dog with an extra keen sense of smell, sounds as if it will make both children and parents smile.

This piece first appeared in the Sunday Independent.


On Monday I attended the Bookseller magazine Children’s Conference in the Barbicon, London and here is what I found out. I hope you find it interesting and/or useful.

1/ Underestimate Digital Brands at Your Peril

16% of book sales come from digital brands – Minecraft, Zoella etc

55% come from ‘traditional’ books – Harry Potter (before the movies), Jacqueline Wilson etc

14% come from tv brands

8% from film brands

7% from toy brands

(Stats from Egmont’s Cally Poplak based on Egmont’s extensive consumer research in the UK)

For many children books based on digital/tv/movies/toy brands are a way into books and reading. Most parents are happy that their children are reading at all.

All reading is to be encouraged I say!

2/ Children Have a Passion for Print

The Egmont research proves that 75% of children prefer print

I can’t tell you how excited I was to hear this. From talking to hundreds of children in schools all across Ireland I was convinced that this was the case and it was brilliant to hear that this is indeed the case in the UK.

3/ Heritage Brands are Big Business

Walker Books increased the sales of Guess How Much I Love You threefold in 2015, the 20th anniversary of Antrim man, Sam McBratney’s outstanding picture book, illustrated by Anita Jeram.

Last year they doubled sales of We’re Going on a Bear Hunt by Michael Rosen, illustrated by Helen Oxenbury.

Irish publishers should be celebrating anniversaries too – 10 years of Alice and Megan, 10 years of Artemis Fowl etc.

 3/ All Brands are Big Business

24% of book sales come from the top 20 children’s brands – Minecraft, Lego, Peppa Pig, Frozen etc

Books give voice to a brand and bring characters to life.

 4/ Information Books are on the Rise

Wide-Eyed Editions and Nosy Crow both talked about their excitement about the non-fiction market.

Wide-Eyed are all about Wonder, Discovery and Innovation – and aim to produce books that capture all three.

a/ They talked about books being immersive, tactile reading devices.

b/ They said ‘books aid mental navigation and memory retention.’  Even the spine helps a child navigate through a book – they described them as ‘mini steps through a landscape’.

c/ They said books build concentration and encourage critical thinking.

d/ Reading print discourages children to do other things (unlike reading on a tablet).

e/ Books knit families together – with shared experiences.

As you can imagine, as a print lover, I adored all this positive print-ness.

They also talked about involving a child in a book – using the Chinese proverb here:tell me and i'll forget

 6/ Children’s Sales are On the Up and Up

There was a 8.9% growth in children’s sales in 2015 in the UK.

Children’s books are a whopping 27.8% of the UK book market.

Julia Donaldson has sold 1.2 million books to date this year – she is a consistent bestseller and not to be underestimated.

David Walliams is the biggest author in the UK at the moment (after Julia Donaldson)

 7/ German Readers Love Fantasy and Horses

There was a most interesting talk on trends around the world from Rights Manager,  Clementine Gaisman. She said German publishers are very keen on:

a/ Middle Grade (age 8/9 to 12)

b/ Fantasy adventure – Derek Landy and Eoin Colfer were both mentioned

c/ Love stories

But they do not like steam punk apparently!

Brazil is an emerging market and they like:

a/ YA books –they love John Green (who doesn’t?)

Scout Helen Boyle said contemporary books (family/friendship dramas) are still strong but need a hook. Like Geek Girl.geek girl

She said ‘Good quality storytelling and distinctive voices are always of interest.’

According to Helen, publishers are also looking for:

a/ Magical realism – mermaids etc – middle grade

b/ Adventure with fantasy – Eoin Colfer and Derek Landy

c/ Books with horses in them (esp Germany)

 8/ Bookshops in Schools – Why Not?

Tamara MacFarlane from Tales on Moon Lane Bookshop talked about her new project – a bookshop in a school. I found this most interesting and a very exciting idea.

 9/ Snapchat is Growing Fast

Facebook is for ‘old people’ apparently, according to children and teens. (I love Facebook!)

You Tube is also growing fast and that’s where many readers go to look for book recommendations and information.

It was suggested that writers and people in the book trade should take their books where ‘teens are’ – ie You Tube.

 10/ Generation Z Loves Stories and Books

Generation Z were born between 1995 and 2000 and will drive change according to Emma Worello of Pineapple Lounge – a very savvy and well spoken young lady who has made it her business to talk to teens and young adults for years, finding out how they see the world.

She said ‘Stories are fundamental to Gen Z lifestyles’ and it’s how they engage with the world. They are fans, they follow things. And they love cool formats – collectable books – and the idea of family story hubs and family time with a home library. This is excellent news. When Gen Z become parents, they will definitely build wonderful libraries for their children, full of amazing books!

Lots of great, great news for writers, booksellers and publishers – books are here to stay and long live print!

Yours in books,

Sarah Webb XXXSarah + songbird2

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