Kidlit at BookExpo: Focusing on Learning and Tough Topics

Programming at this year’s BookExpo fell into 5 tracks: independent bookselling, marketing and engagement, business of publishing, readers and authors, and global insight. While the bulk of the programming seemed to be for readers and authors, particularly on Friday, there was a smattering of panels about business and networking. But really, the big focus of Friday was on readers, authors, and librarians. Given the chance to roam the floor and panels as I might, I wandered where I am always most likely to: to see what the younger readers will be reading later this year.

The Middle Grade Editor’s Buzz was the best place to get the lowdown on what’s going to be big in middle grade this year. The books featured were:

  • Auma’s Long Run, by Eucabeth Odhiambo. Edited by Amy Fitzgerald of Carolrhoda Books
  • The Witch Boy by Molly Ostertag. Edited by Amanda Maciel of Graphix Books
  • Greetings from Witness Protection! by Jake Burt. Edited by Liz Szabla of Feiwel & Friends
  • The Stars Beneath Our Feet by David Barclay Moore. Edited by Nancy Siscoe of Knopf Books for Young Readers
  • The Unicorn Quest: The Whisper in the Stone by Kamilla Benko. Edited by Sarah Shumway of Bloomsbury Children’s Books

The themes were in line with what I’ve been hearing middle grade recently: tough topics. Auma’s Long Run deals with AIDs, a death in the family, and the “realization that adults don’t have all the answers,” said the book’s editor Amy Fitzgerald. And then there’s graphic novel The Witch Boy, about a boy witch in a town where girls are witches and boys are shapeshifters — except for Asher who much prefers witchcraft to shapeshifting. The Stars Beneath Our Feet is about a boy who uses Legos to cope with his brother’s gang-related death. Editor Nancy Siscoe praised the book’s main character, Lolly, for “choosing creativity over violence,” and praised the author, David Barclay Moore for acknowledging that Lolly will have to make that choice over and over again.  The remaining two titles — Greetings From Witness Protection! and The Unicorn Quest: The Whisper in the Stone — both deal with the desire to belong, and struggles with family.

Later that day there was a panel celebrating  graphic non-fiction books for children. Rocco Staino kicked off the panel by celebrating some of his favorite illustrators and photographers in children’s nonfiction. He was followed by illustrator Roxie Munro, who “gamifies” content in her books to encourage children to learn. Munro likes this technique in children’s books because “you trick the child into learning” with search and find, mazes, guessing games, puzzles, and other activities. Munro’s visuals are not only beautiful and fun, they help children learn concepts more deeply. Munro noted that readers retain 10-20% of written or spoken information, but 65% of visual information.

Christopher Lloyd from What on Earth Books, a series of graphically-driven books that teach children a concept through visual timelines, spoke about the magic of the truth, saying that since the world is still so new to children, often the truth can be more amazing than fiction. That’s the principle he operates under while publishing his graphics-heavy timelines, hoping that the images in his books “easily allow children to learn through their interests.”

Children’s books are always going to be an important part in the industry, whether it’s fiction or non-fiction. Books that subtly help educate kids books are a perennial favorite, since parents still dictate many of the books that end up in their kid’s hands, and yet kids still pick out a lot of books for themselves. And whether they’re picking up puzzle books that teach them about Shakespeare or a graphic novel about a boy witch defying the norms of his world, BookExpo 2017 reinforced that kids are always eager to learn about their world in many ways.

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One Comment

  1. Jun 7, 201711:25 am
    George Howard

    “Often the truth can be more amazing than fiction”

    That is a concept that I believe “children” could identify with. I had never thought of that before.

    Good insight

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