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Children Are Reading Fantasy

Tuesday, March 31st, 2009 | Posted by Judith Berman

There’s recently been a bit of discussion here about kids reading sf/f. I spent some time this morning looking up sales figures for children’s and YA speculative fiction, to discover that the most detailed information is in market reports that you have to pay for. Still, a few points.

First, no argument that gaming is a huge and growing market. I recall hearing recently that it has now surpassed movies in the entertainment hierarchy, but whether this was in terms of total dollars or percentage of people who consume, I can’t now remember.

The percentage of kids who read is still in decline, though I haven’t seen recent figures. As population grows, the total number of kids who read seems to be going up, however, or the kids who do read are reading more, as book sales are rising.

“In recent years, children’s books have emerged as a welcome bright spot in the world of general bookselling”; children’s books are helping to keep indy bookstores afloat.

And here is relatively recent publishing market data: “Total unit sales fell 6.7% in the week ended Dec. 7, 2008, compared to the week ended Dece. 9, 2007, according to BookScan. The adult segment had the worst week; adult nonfiction units were off 20.9% at the outlets that report data to BookScan. Juvenile fiction continued to be the strongest segment, with units up 24.1%.”

The most recent overview I could find was a couple of years old; the gist is that kids are not getting tired of fantasy and in fact are demanding more. “HarperCollins children’s publisher Susan Katz points out what she sees as a key difference. ‘It’s not our experience that the kids are saturated [with fantasy],’ she says. ‘It’s more that book buyers are.'”

The most recent children’s bestseller lists show a bunch of fantasy titles in every number category. Of the top 16 hardcover bestsellers, I count half as fantasy or sf, the Patterson and Colfer books falling in the latter category. The Maximum Ride books are about winged kids whose genes were admixed with bird DNA; Daniel X features aliens; and the Colfer title is self-explanatory.

300,000+
1. Breaking Dawn. Stephenie Meyer. Little, Brown/Tingley (6,051,981)
2. The Tales of Beedle the Bard. J.K. Rowling, illus. by Mary GrandPré. Scholastic/Levine (3,577,183)
3. Brisingr (The Inheritance Cycle). Christopher Paolini. Knopf (2,604,642)
6. Percy Jackson and the Olympians, Book Four: The Battle of the Labyrinth. Rick Riordan. Disney-Hyperion (1,000,000)
11. The Final Warning (Maximum Ride). James Patterson. Little, Brown (519,444)
12. The Dangerous Days of Daniel X. James Patterson. Little, Brown (517,918)
14. Artemis Fowl: The Time Paradox. Eoin Colfer. Disney-Hyperion (406,687)
15. Eclipse (Special Edition). Stephenie Meyer. Little, Brown/Tingley (345,669)

A question I’m currently facing with my own kid is what happens when avid young readers start to hit the adult shelves in bookstores and libraries. Looking at even mega-hits with an eye to what a kid will like reveals gobs of tedium.

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