Refer Autumn 2014: Joint Issue with YLG London


Table of Contents

Why Children’s Reference Services are Important

Barbara Band, The Emmbrook School and CILIP President 

Engaging Schools for Higher Education: University for the Creative Arts Library & Student Services Engagement Programme

Nick Ross, University for the Creative Arts

More than the Sum of its Parts: Answering Children’s Reference Enquiries

Philippa Rose, King’s School, Canterbury

Taking the Pain out of the DDC

Matthew Imrie, Farringtons School

Conference Updates: Booksellers Conference 2014 and Nosy Crow Conference 2014

Helen Edwards and Jonas Herriot

Opinion: What Publishers Want

James Catchpole, Children’s Literary Agent

Building Tulay: Researching the World of DragonChild

Gill Vickery, Author

Popular Reference Titles: Top 10 by Dewey Category

Jonas Herriot, Richmond Lending Library


Reference Awards 2014

Amanda Duffy – Chair Awards Judging Panel

Report for ISG of the 80th IFLA WLIC held in Lyon, 2014

Jane Weller ISG IFLA Representative and RISS Secretary


Refer, the journal of the Information Services Group of the Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals (CILIP), is published three times a year and distributed free to members of the Group.

This is a joint special issue with YLG London on reference services for children and young people

Editors: Helen Edwards and Jonas Herriot

Editorial team: Lynsey Blandford, Thuy Bui

Contact: Helen Edwards 07989 565739;

Copyright © The contributors and the ISG 2014



Why Children’s Reference Services are Important

Barbara Band, The Emmbrook School and CILIP President

As a school librarian, I deal with questions from students all day long, relating to their information needs. Without me as a connection in the library, several would not be able to find what they were looking for or would go away with something unsuitable. Yet many question the necessity of children’s reference services; a point of contact where professional librarians can direct them to appropriate material and offer advice. After all, in today’s information-rich and technologically saturated environment, they have everything they need online … don’t they? The problem with this presumption is that it assumes children know what they want, where to find it, and when they have found it.

Ignoring the fact that many do not have access to the internet – with 11 million people in the UK being offline, some of these must include households containing children, there are several factors that need to be taken into account before we can dismiss the necessity of children’s reference services.

  • Children are often unaware of their information needs or they know they have to find out something but cannot state this clearly. A professional librarian is the first step in any research process able, through appropriate questioning, to interpret those needs. By being aware of the curriculum and which topics are studied, I can often make an “educated guess” as to what a student is looking for once I have ascertained their year group and subject. Being aware of the information needs of my community enables me to provide a more targeted service.
  • Children are unacquainted with the range of resources available to them; their first and only choice usually being Google or Wikipedia. Not that there is anything intrinsically wrong with Wikipedia but, as children do not have the information literacy skills needed to assess its entries for accuracy or authority, it may not be the best option for them. This means having a wide range of stock that has been evaluated and is appropriate for their level, and directing them to something more relevant, often an alternative resource to the Internet.
  • As children do not have the proficiency required to evaluate results, inappropriate information is often selected; a student, sent to the library to research the Duke of Wellington, also known as “The Iron Duke”, printed off several pages she had found on a website detailing sailing times and freight information regarding a ship of the same name! They also tend to give up searching if they cannot find something quickly, which is often the case considering the amount of information available today, and this is true for both print and online resources. Librarians are able to help children efficiently find resources.
  • The focus of their information needs is often very specific. If they want a book on clouds, they may be able to find the section containing weather books but, if there is not a book with that keyword in the title, many will assume the library has no relevant information, not connecting general weather books with their topic. Likewise, their search terms may be too broad making locating resources tedious. A librarian will be able to guide children through the arrangement of stock, making finding information easier.
  • Professional librarians can help children to become independent learners through example. Children will often seek help from an adult in a situation and good interactions will build up relationships and trust, ensuring repeat visits. If there is no librarian to ask for help, then their visit to the library may be unsuccessful and they will often not bother returning.

Children’s resource needs are different from adults – in content, language and appropriateness – and it requires the intervention of a trained professional to ensure that children find the resource to match their requirements. That is not to say that many adults would not benefit from such services but it is important to remember that information literate children become information literate adults and, until information literacy skills are an embedded requirement of the curriculum, children’s reference services, both within school and public libraries, remain a necessity.

(Driving Digital Inclusion )

Engaging Schools for Higher Education: University for the Creative Arts Library & Student Services Engagement Programme

Nick Ross, University for the Creative Arts

A new scheme initiated by Library & Student Services working with Academics, Widening Participation and the Outreach Department introduced free library membership to local Art Teachers, School Librarians and Careers Advisors to improve access to its collections for the local community, engage young people in creative arts and promote its courses to potential students.

The background to this scheme resides in much of what the WATER: walk in access to E-resources project report (SCONUL / M25, 2013) identifies as the changing demands of HE institutional strategies for individuals outside of education wanting to access specialist materials. These include raising university profiles in local communities and aspirations through widening participation agendas. There is also another important “collaborative” aspect to wanting to offer non HESA registered users access to library resources which involves working to include graduates and Alumni, collaborative research projects from different organisations and sectors, prospective researchers preparing proposals and potential students. In UCA’s case, we also validate courses and are associated with external HE institutions whose students may want to access library resources.

WATER looks at the growing demand to provide visitor access to e-resources in HE libraries and identifies from a survey the main driver as increasing dependency on e-resources (66%). Additional factors were listed as:

  • Provision of service to the wider community
  • Walk-in access benefits everybody
  • Demands from external users
  • Alumni access needs.

The key driver for the school engagement programme is the institution’s profile in the local community and ensuring that education professionals in secondary education are aware of UCA, its courses and the specialist resources that can be accessed and utilised by their pupils. With this objective, Library & Student Services set out to enrol key decision makers in young people’s lives – teachers, careers advisors and librarians – to one of the four campus libraries based in Canterbury and Rochester in Kent, and Epsom and Farnham in Surrey. Research also indicates that these education professionals are unable to deliver key information skills training that would prepare them for university and “that there seems to be a clear need for university librarians to help provide support for students, teachers and librarians in schools” (Anderson and Bull, 2014 p. 44).

In June 2014 UCA’s Outreach Department used its 2000 plus list of education professionals to mail out an invitation to experience our degree shows, alongside a Library membership form with the free joining offer and the promise of activities for young people and professional development for themselves.

Library taster days for schools and colleges

The Library taster day for schools and colleges encourage art teachers to bring groups of young people to experience an academic Library. Sessions focusing on school course work, linking relevant resources and special collections are provided. An example was a visit of 20 pupils from Simon Langton Girls’ Grammar School’s Art AS Level class who were working on a Textiles project. They explored the current exhibition of textiles work in the gallery which was supported by the back issues of fashion journals held in university library collections. Visually creative projects spring from browsing for inspiration and by enabling access to the past 80 years of Vogue Magazine we created a real and engaging experience that demonstrates what a specialist collection can elicit.

Annual events for Education Professionals

A planned annual event to be held in July from 2015 will focus on Careers Advisors, School Librarians and Art Teachers and is set around an agenda of art workshops delivered by Academic staff using photography, sculpture, printmaking, architecture, and fashion as a way of introducing the courses we offer to key education professionals who influence the decisions of the young people within their institutions.

UCA is geographically spread across two counties and employs around 150 Library & Student Services staff, so engaging our own colleagues in support of this scheme was a priority. Promotion was delivered through workshops focusing on how staff preferred to learn using Howard Gardner’s model of learning styles (Gardner, 2014) with the objective of embedding the schools programme and getting suggestions for how to teach young people about library resources. The outcome of these sessions highlighted that a broad and flexible approach to engaging young people is required and this will be reflected in future planning.

At this early stage of the programme, the focus is now on getting the educational professionals to recognise that university librarians have a key role to play in their own and their pupils’ development. The University for the Creative Arts Libraries provide one of the most comprehensive visual arts resources in the region and plays an important role in supporting and encouraging the creative industries in our local communities. Opening up access to young people in the local community through this free library membership scheme hopes to grow and establish a model that will benefit the wellbeing of its communities and secure the next generation of creative professionals who will in some cases choose to study at UCA.


SCONUL / M25 Consortium of Academic Libraries. 2013. WATER: Walk in Access to E-Resources. Providing visitor access to e-resources: guidelines and advice. JISC.

Anderson, L. and Bull, S. 2014. The creation of a university library outreach programme to develop the information literacy of further education students: an interactive approach to support student transition. Journal of Information Literacy, 8 (1), pp. 42-57.

Gardner, H. 2014. Multiple intelligence theory by Howard Gardner. Available at [accessed 15 September 2014]

More than the Sum of its Parts: Answering Children’s Reference Enquiries

Philippa Rose, King’s School, Canterbury

It might seem obvious to say that there is more to reference than a reference, but having moved in to school libraries fairly recently, it is an issue that I have found myself returning to afresh in response to the distinct nature of my library. It wasn’t until I really asked myself what it was that made school libraries different to other library environments, what that meant for delivering a better service, and why it was so important to get it right, that I realised there is so much more that I can do when answering reference enquiries.

Now, I don’t profess to having all of the answers, but I’d like to share with you some ideas about how I try to add value at the enquiry desk.

Sitting on the teacher-librarian fence

The school library empowers learning and it is my job to facilitate that process for each and every user, and non-user, in the school. I am often asking myself what side of the teacher-librarian fence I end up working from with a child’s reference enquiry. I don’t have the golden ratio, if there even is one, but I do think that a good grounding in how children learn is key to understanding the approach required for each child’s reference enquiry (Vosniadou).

There are three glaring and interconnected issues that I encounter with pupils’ work: their lack of synthesis in the information gathering process, the misunderstanding of what an original piece of work should look like, and the overall shallowness of much of today’s ‘learning’. With the current educational system there is little time to address these issues in the classroom, so I’d like to consider the possibility of both demonstrating and teaching these missing skills at the enquiry desk.

Building knowledge by joining up the dots

The whole point of the process that we call ‘learning’ is the assimilation and application of knowledge. Learners must take the information they have acquired and incorporate it into their own work so that new ideas can be formed and the process can begin again. But we don’t often learn in discrete blocks. We build knowledge on a scaffolding of previous learning. Assimilation means incorporating new information with pre-existing information to build a more complex understanding of the world.

How can we, as librarians, better support this aspect of the learning process when responding to reference enquiries?

I’d like to suggest one way of approaching this problem. Intertextuality (Kristeva, Barthes) is a concept that has come to describe many different ways of constructing meaning, and which I take to represent, here, as the notion that the meaning of a text does not reside in the text alone, but is produced by the reader in relation to both the text and the complex network of other texts invoked in the reading process.

What could this mean in practice…? Well, examine the subtext of Du Maurier’s ‘Rebecca’ and you find (intentional) reflections of ‘Jane Eyre’, but also unintended parallels with later works by Agatha Christie and even in Sylvia Plath’s late poems. This network of connected texts, particularly in the direct relationship between ‘Rebecca’ and ‘Jane Eyre’ forces us to re-examine our assumptions about both novels. Our reading of ‘Jane Eyre’ is affected as much by our reading of ‘Rebecca’ as it is of Rhys’s ‘Wide Sargasso Sea’ or even of Charlotte Bronte’s life, and the themes of identity and doubling can be found throughout both later literature and the reader’s personal experience. My point here is not just about contextualisation, but is a broader (Barthesian) view of intertextuality. As learners, we are typically taught to read influence on a book from the perspective of authorial intent, but opening this up to pupils as something that can also be understood as the unique experiences that they bring to their relationship with the text can proliferate the possibilities for assimilation and a deeper, personal, intensified connection with the text.

Acknowledging the importance of both a historical contextualisation, and a personal frame of reference in interpretations of literature can stimulate meaning-making and originality rather than a regurgitative approach to learning. This is something that can be demonstrated and encouraged at the enquiry desk when building a picture of what material is available on a particular topic.

Intellectual technologies: finding the right fit

Moving beyond the straightforward question of what information can be delivered by the library service, is the ever-increasingly important consideration of what form it could, and should, be delivered in.

The web offers an extraordinary opportunity for information accessibility. The amount of, often previously hard to find, information almost instantaneously at our fingertips; the exposure to the lives and views of an expanding number of people and communities; and the stimulating connections with previously uncharted domains is unprecedented. IQ levels are now higher than they have ever been, but our ability to find solutions to today’s pressing issues is not improving. We have a wealth of information and statistics on global issues such as peace, security and radicalisation; the spread of infectious diseases; the world’s climate and energy crises; and equality of human rights and resources; but we lack the quality of judgement to address them in meaningful and long-lasting ways. One explanation for this, not without its critics I hasten to add, relates to neuroplasticity and the way in which today’s intellectual technologies influence our behaviours and ultimately the way we think (Carr, Greenfield, Wolf, Johnson).

Research is only beginning to explore the effect that new technology is having on our capacity to gather, store and exchange information. One line of thought that I’d like to explore here is that the click and flick, skimming, scanning and scrolling that the web encourages, termed ‘the eco-system of interruption technologies’ (Doctorow) is having a profound and insidious effect on our intellectual behaviours; replacing attentive, contemplative, conceptual thoughts that characterise rich and distinctive thinking, with multi-tasking, distracted, superficial and fragmentary thinking.

How can we utilise the wealth of piecemeal information available on the web without compromising deep, broad, conceptually rich thinking?

I don’t want to argue for a return to a world without the web – far from it. But I would like to highlight the, perhaps over-simplified, binaries of two very different information distributors. Just because the brain can process information found in a particular form, whether that is a book, the web, or other media, does not mean that it is the optimal way to receive that information, or that the result of processing the information will be the same using different media. Now, we know that different people learn in different ways, but what we also need to consider is that perhaps, different media promotes different kinds of learning. When faced with answering a pupil’s reference enquiry, perhaps we should not only consider what kind of information we deliver, but the manner in which that information is going to be received and internalised, and the repercussions of the practice of attending to information in a certain way.

Explaining to pupils the ‘absorption characteristics’ of a particular form of the information they are seeking will help to not only broaden their vision of the information landscape, but also to develop evaluative skills.

Unmasking the magician-librarian

Why is it so important to provide more than a reference?

Well… perhaps one of the best ways to educate pupils on the skills required to build knowledge in today’s intellectual environment is to demonstrate those skills at the enquiry desk, creating group behaviours by consistently embodying the academic practices we expect our pupils to develop skills in. Instead of creating a cloud of mystery about research and the workings of reference enquiries; by making the process transparent and easily replicable, by encouraging pupils to feel that creating original research is as much about their own personal relationship with the focus of study as the academic communities’, and by promoting an awareness of the range of intellectual thinking supported by today’s technologies, perhaps we can inspire confidence, a richness of attentive thinking and an ability to exploit the opportunities we have to build knowledge about ourselves, our histories, and our future.

Find out more…

On models of learning: Vosniadou’s booklet ‘How Children Learn’, published in 2001 by the International Academy of Education is still one of the most accessible and relevant introductions to learning and includes many references to further reading. You can find it here:

On intertextuality: Sally Beauman’s postscript to Du Maurier’s ‘Rebecca’ discusses the novel’s use of intertextuality and is a great starting-point for this topic. For more in-depth, critical studies of intertextuality I’d suggest you read Julia Kristeva’s ‘A Semiotic Approach to Literature and Art’, or Roland Barthes’ ‘The Death of the Author’, both of which require attentiveness, deep thinking, and possibly some strong coffee. To get a feel for the intellectual scene that Kristeva was responding to you might like to explore Saussurean or Bakhtinian theories. For a much more accessible introduction to authorial intent, you may enjoy John Green’s short open letter in Crash Course Literature #1 on the Crash Course Youtube channel:

On cognition and intellectual technologies: Nicholas Carr’s book, ‘The Shallows’, explores the intellectual and cultural consequences of the web and the effect that different intellectual technologies can have on the way we think. For a brief overview of the main themes in ‘The Shallows’ this Youtube video is an accessible and relatively short exploration of the book. Carr also blogs at:, where you’ll find him developing material that will often later be expanded into articles, essays or more formal publications. Susan Greenfield takes a neuro-scientific approach to new technologies and creativity, and a simple Youtube search will return a number of similar talks by her on this topic. Maryanne Wolf’s book ‘Proust and the Squid: the story and science of the reading brain’ explores what might happen if we replace traditional reading skills with digital screen-based skills. Steven Johnson offers an alternative view in his book, ‘Everything Bad is Good for You: how popular culture is making us smarter’, in which he argues that attending to mass culture, including online media, is in fact making us smarter. His illustrated Youtube video promoting another of his books, ‘Where Good Ideas Come From’ is an excellent critique of the kinds of arguments put forward by Carr and Greenfield, and interestingly includes serendipidy in the research process, though is perhaps not providing the whole picture in relation to knowledge-building as opposed to idea formation: Cory Doctorow examines ‘Writing in the Age of Distraction’ in Locus Magazine: For a classic study on technology and culture, you might like to consider Marx’s prescient ‘The Machine in the Garden’: a piece of literary, and arguably cultural, criticism from 1964.

Taking the Pain out of the DDC

Matthew Imrie, Farringtons School

cards2Card game

The Dewey Decimal Classification System is a brilliant classification system that is in use across the world. It has been in use since 1876 and its function in being able to find a book quickly and easily has made it the go to classification system for library services around the world. Along with my fellow stereotypical Librarians I love Dewey and what it does, but will admit that to the casual user it can seem a bit complicated and confusing in places.

Teaching students how Dewey works can be a painful exercise, often for the librarian as well as the students, for apart from being an incredibly useful tool to classify and find books, Dewey can be incredibly boring to learn and teach.

With that thought in mind I have been tinkering with ways of teaching the Dewey to my students in a manner that does not make their eyes glaze over. So far I have come up with a card game that although started with a simple aim of introducing students to Dewey has become rather popular with friends and colleagues around the UK as well as in other parts of the world.

The game is designed be used from Year 7 and up but can be played with younger students.
It is currently called the Dewey Decimal Classification Card Game but that lacks a certain je ne sans quoi, so if anyone comes up with a blinder of a game name please let me know!

I made test prints to see what they would look like and decided that the cards were a bit too stubby, so I lengthened them slightly to better resemble playing cards.

Each picture card is unique and has been created with posed Lego minifigures, it has a corresponding Dewey Card.

I am currently creating supplementary cards which I will make available as soon as I am able.

The game rules are as follows:


Each game set should have two decks, a Dewey Deck and a Picture Deck consisting of 32 cards each.

There should also be game rules. Please note that players are welcome to adapt the game to the players.

Players encountering the Dewey for the first time can play the game using the main classes at the top of each card and at the end of the game get an extra point if they match up the Picture Card with the correct Dewey Card.

Advanced gamers and Librarians can play using the subject specific Dewey Numbers at the bottom of each card.

Game Rules

Card Game:

The game can be played with a minimum of two players, but is more interesting with more.

Shuffle the decks but keep them separate.

The aim of the game is to have no cards from either deck by the end of the game.

Deal out both decks to people playing the game.

The Picture Decks must remain face down in front of the players.

All players must hold their Dewey cards.

The person on the left of the dealer flips their first Picture Card face up.

If the player to the left of the player that flipped the Picture Card cannot match it with a corresponding Dewey Card they must pick up the card and place it in the middle of their Picture Cards.

If the player can match the Picture card with a Dewey Card then the two cards are placed face up next to each other in the middle of the player circle.

This continues until a player runs out of Picture Cards.

When this happens the Player with no Picture Cards must put down a Dewey Card and gameplay starts to go anti-clockwise.

At this point players must swap their Picture Decks for their Dewey Decks.

If the person to the right of that player cannot match a Picture Card to a Dewey Card then they must pick up the card.

If a player runs out of Dewey Cards then the game reverts to the clockwise direction using Picture Cards.

Gameplay can continue until all the cards are used or until a player runs out of both types of cards.

Book Hunt:

This game uses only the picture cards.

Deal random cards from the Picture Deck to students and ask them to find a relevant book that will match up with the card.

The winner is the student that finds the most books.

Memory Game:

Place both decks of cards face down on a table.

Flip one Picture Card and one Dewey Card.

If you can match the Picture Card and the Dewey Card put them together, if not flip them face down again and try to match another two.

Please note: the game is still in active development and but the game is stable enough to play, the rules and cards may change with little to no warning.

Soundbytes from Librarians:

Best library thing you’ll see all year.

By far the best Dewey gamification I’ve seen!

This is a great game –a fun and geeky way to actually play with the profession.

Conference Updates: Booksellers Conference and Nosy Crow Conference 2014

Booksellers Conference 25 September 2014

Jonas Herriot

Thursday the 25th of September saw ‘The Bookseller Childrens Conference 2014’ take place on Southbank in London, at The Queen Elizabeth Hall. Bringing together publishers, booksellers, authors, and librarians along with a over 200 professionals in related fields, the day was designed to highlight what experiences and lessons had been learnt, and how this related to what was – or wasn’t – working in the world of children’s books.

Rather than give a rundown of who said what, and how they thought this was important, this review will focus on how the information and best practice talked about on the day can be related to libraries and in particular children’s reference issues. This will be divided into several interrelated strands: book sales, children’s literacy, social media, and discovery tools.

One of the most interesting points which came up in many of the talks was that this year seems to be a very good one for children’s publishing. John Lewis from The Bookseller talked about how the charts so far indicate record sales by the end of the year if they follow the current trend. Sales of new books from several top authors including David Walliams, are backed up by strong sales from backlist titles, again from key authors such as Julia Donaldson. While fiction sales are increasing, figures prove that non-fiction is also selling very well. While a large percentage of this is driven by sales of books relating to pop-culture themes such as Minecraft and Lego, school textbooks and study guides are up 5% on last year. This shows that the market for books which can be used to support reference enquiries from children is strong, meaning there are good reasons for publishers to continue producing books for it, and that their focus isn’t just on fiction, and chasing the large blockbuster sales in this area.

Another key theme of the day was that of children’s literacy and how this can be increased, and the gains from this not only in book sales and increased revenue (unsurprisingly a popular area among attendees) but also the cultural impact and benefit this brings. As Ann-Janine Murtagh pointed out while the format is important, it is the content that does the work. Indeed producing good quality printed texts can more important than trying to create e-books and digital media formats, and this was backed up by evidence that shows that younger readers still prefer printed books, although the gap is decreasing and digital sales are increasing year on year.

Many of the speakers chose to talk about the success and in one case failure (Tim Collins from The Beano) of their attempts in using social media to connect, inform, and direct their customers. While the big players – Facebook, Twitter, and Youtube – were talked about in depth, the more interesting experimentation focused around some of the smaller ones such as: Snapchat, Popjam, Tumblr, Pinterest, Vine and Instagram. While some of these are already well known, what the speakers showed was that relying on one or two of these media channels was a mistake, and instead to be successful there was the need to diversify and use the unique elements and features of each to complement and support each other. Alongside this is the fact that these newer channels are becoming more popular among the younger users, and by utilising each of the different social media channels they were able to not only reach a larger audience, but show their relevance and highlight their ability to connect.

Michael Acton Smith from Mind Candy talked about how they had developed Moshi Monsters, and the problems they faced getting it off the ground. He highlighted how one of the key changes they made was incorporating safe social features for its users in their online environment, and how the games incorporated into it are based around learning. The use of games to support children’s knowledge development is one which has been touched on before in ideas about gamification and its place in libraries, but it always interesting to see it done so commercially, and with a strong financial result. He also talked about the importance of creating social media sites aimed at younger users, and how when done properly and filled with the right tools can become sandboxes for children to use to create their own content.

Extrapolating this information showcases the need for children’s reference librarians to actively seek out and promote the information they have access to through new means, and to connect with potential audiences they might be missing. While in public libraries we face the problem of councils not allowing free rein when it comes to new social media channels – indeed many have only just managed to join Facebook and Twitter – there is a need to highlight the success others are achieving by moving beyond this, and to build a fact and evidence backed business case which can then be referred to in the effort to expand our skills and services online in the digital age.

Also connected to social media is the need for good quality discovery tools to allow readers/consumers to find books. A key issue here was that, despite arguing about the problems with relying on old fashioned window displays or book reviews to promote new books, and the need to find new ways of reaching audiences, there was no mention of libraries and their roles in this. Although this conference was by “the Bookseller” – and not “the Booklender” – it seems rather remiss that the largest network of localised points of contact, backed up by trained staff able to deliver this, was ignored. While it is possible that we are not a visible key driver of sales, there are many opportunities for better integration with librarians and library based projects.

The day finished with a panel comprising an author, agent, reviewer, publisher, bookshop owner, and librarian. Focused around sharing what worked for them, and how this could be used by the others, this discussion was the only example of a voice from libraries being on the main stage. This highlighted the power of engagement that libraries can wield when uniting readers with authors, and the events that they run. If next year’s conference could feature more of this, and build upon what we saw this year, it would be a worthy addition to the conference field for more librarians to attend and be heard.

Nosy Crow Conference: Everything you always wanted to know about children’s publishing (but were afraid to ask) 13 September 2014

Helen Edwards

Children’s publishing is a dynamic area in which to work. Children take naturally to new media. I recently saw a small child trying to enlarge a picture in a printed book by pulling with her fingers at the edges as if she were using an iPad – and experiencing some frustration when this didn’t work. At the same time even parents who are screen fixated themselves often value print for their children. This conference looks at recent trends from the perspective of the publishing industry and book trade.

Nosy Crow is a fairly new entrant to children’s publishing. In its three and a half years of operating it has published around 200 books and 14 apps.   Although the conference focused primarily on publishing fiction, there was also much of interest and relevance to the nonfiction and reference markets.

  1. The market for children’s books

Charlotte Eyre, Children’s Editor, The Bookseller

Nielsen Bookscan figures for 2013 show a fall of 3.5% from the previous year for children’s books. However 2014 looks better and, if sales continue at the expected rate, could be the best children’s year ever since Bookscan started in 1998, at a projected £337 million. A sizeable proportion of the market is made up of big names such as Julia Donaldson and branded series such as Peppa Pig and Lego. The hugely popular video world building game Minecraft accounted for 6.6 million in sales. Although many Minecraft users invent their own random worlds to play in Minecraft can also be used for real information. The complete OS map of the British Isles down to the level of individual houses is now available to download as a free app

The British Museum is also planning to create itself, with all its exhibits, within Minecraft although this project is still in an early stage

Florentyna Martin, Buyer, Waterstones Children’s New Titles

Waterstone’s stock around 4000 titles, 35% of which are new books. In addition to established series such as those by Usborne and Eyewitness, there are some interesting new titles in children’s reference. Big Picture Press specializes in “visually intelligent” books aimed at readers of all ages, abilities and nationalities. Maps (2013) by Aleksandra Mizielinska and Daniel Mizielinski was bestseller in the 2013 Christmas market. This year Big Picture Press are offering Anamalium (2014) by Katie Scott and Jenny Broom, the first in a new series of virtual museums.   Another example of a visually appealing new children’s reference book is Tiny, the Invisible World of Microbes (2014) by Nicola Davies, author of The First Book of Nature (2012).

Young adult nonfiction is also a potential area for expansion. A typical Waterstone’s shop will only have about a shelf devoted to this compared to a substantial section at a branch of Barnes and Noble in USA. Titles attracting new readers include the inspirational autobiography I am Malala (2013) by Malala Yousafzai with Christine Lamb; The Pointless Book (2014) by YouTube sensation Alfie Deyes; and Popular: Vintage Wisdom for a Modern Geek (A Memoir) (2014) by Maya Van Wagenen, which describes how the author used a 1950s etiquette book on a year long mission to become more popular at school.

  1. Trends in Children’s Publishing

Kate Wilson, Managing Director, Nosy Crow

  1. Competition: The competition for children’s attention is hotting up. Books and reading now have to compete on the same devise and on the same screen as other activities such as youtube, videos and games.
  2. Amateur: The audience is becoming more fragmented as everyone can now become a publisher using self-publishing sites such as Lulu.
  3. Personalisation. Internet sites such as Me Books make personalisation easy.   Children themselves can be inserted into stories by adding their own text, pictures and audio. This is advertised to parents and teachers as a way of engaging children more deeply with reading.
  4. Multimedia: The prevalence of multimedia provides both the opportunity and need to provide more support for young readers. Illustrations are more important for older age groups than previously. There is a whole new category of illustrated fiction for 8 – 11 year olds. Some books now include QR codes that enable stories to be read aloud. However the kind of support sites sometimes provided around adult books have little traction in children’s publishing.
  5. Interactivity: At its best interactivity can extend the opportunities for genuine support of learning. The Nosy Crow app Franklin Frog – aimed at 3 to 5 year olds – makes it take several attempts for the child to release the tadpole from the frogspawn to illustrate the reality of the hatching process.
  6. Gamified: Games can be big business in children’s publishing as the success of Minecraft shows.
  7. Resilient: In the children’s market print is still surprisingly resilient. Even parents who are heavy screen users themselves still like print for their children. Reading is still recognized by everyone as critical for academic success.

Opinion: What Publishers Want

James Catchpole, Children’s Literary Agent

What makes a new book potentially a children’s classic or – to be less ambitious – the kind of book which publishers are interested in promoting?

These are the questions I’ve been set, and they seem good ones. They’re nicely complementary. The first is the big one, that we’re all asking in children’s publishing: what do kids really want in a book? The second seems more especially geared to an agent: what do publishers want? And I should probably have a ready answer to it because my job, as an agent, is to sell stories to publishers, not to children or their parents.

But actually I find myself better equipped to answer the first question than the second. Putting my worst foot first, I’ll start with the question about publishers.

One side of an agent’s job is to keep an ear to the ground (or to the phone, more prosaically) so as to stay abreast of the zeitgeist and ahead of the trend, to know what kinds of stories editors are looking for, the better to provide them and be rewarded with a healthy percentage of a sizable deal: a big advance, and lots of publicity. After all, a big fuss in the industry press and a considerable investment from the publisher in the advance all but guarantee continued efforts on their part to promote and sell the book. (The problem only comes further down the line, if that advance isn’t recouped.)

And perhaps the best way to get a big offer for a new book is to make sure it’s just what the publishers are looking for. There are strong tides in publishing just as there are in all areas of culture, and you can try to catch a wave and ride it, or at least paddle in its wake. Even the smaller waves have surfers: an editor told me she’d overheard one rights seller open their pitch to a foreign publisher at the Bologna Book Fair with ‘and this is our Werewolves-On-The-Titanic book.’ It’s the ‘our’ that makes that stick in the memory, the implication that everyone else already had theirs.

Thinking about it, I realise I don’t actually worry too much about what publishers want. I may have a certain editor’s particular preferences and talents in the back of my mind when it comes time to take a new story to market, but that’s secondary. The story itself – the story that needs to be told – comes first.

I find I’ve always been more attracted to another side of being an agent: the side that involves eyes and screens more than ears and phones. For me, the true joy of this job comes when a story arrives in my inbox (sometimes of 60,000 words, sometimes of 60 words, sometimes with pictures too) which manages to tap into something powerful and universal, into an idea no doubt conceived by countless authors countless times before, and yet which manages to take that old idea and tell it afresh. That’s the joy of storytelling. And as for children’s storytelling, the principal’s the same, but the stakes are so much higher: a children’s story has the chance not just to captivate and enthral, but to help form a child’s as-yet-unformed view of their world and their life within it, a world only lately encountered, a life only lately begun. What an opportunity!

So that’s the bottom line, in fact. A powerful, universal idea, told afresh. That’s what makes a really good story, and that’s what I look for, as an agent. If the idea is powerful enough, and the telling is fresh enough, then I’ll be able to find an editor for it. And if the editor can show me she wants the story and she has a vision for it, and if I think she’ll be able to communicate that vision to her colleagues, then the author and I will talk about selling the rights, and the wheels of publication will begin to grind.

As for whether the publisher will then publish it well, and promote it, and succeed in putting it in front of the readers so that it has the opportunity to sell and become a children’s classic…that’s subject to a whole host of factors largely beyond my control. So far, though, I’ve found that the most important factor in whether a publisher continues to invest in a book, or quietly shelves it, isn’t the razmatazz around the initial deal, with figures for the size of advance alluded to in The Bookseller, but the simple expedient of enthusiasm: the editor’s love for the book, and whether or not that love proves to be infectious. And that’s ultimately down to the quality of the story.

All of which means that, when it comes to the question of what publishers want, and what children want, my approach is wilfully simple, even simplistic: publishers want what children want, which is good storytelling.

So that’s the theory, anyway. What about the practice? I should give some examples of what I think of as good storytelling. It’s impossible to communicate the all-important voice in which an author tells a story, when summarising it in a few words, but here at least are the ideas behind some of the stories I’m proud to have helped come to fruition.

Little Celeste by Dawn McNiff, Hot Key Books

Little Celeste

Shelley, who’s been brought up to be a good girl and not make a fuss, suddenly finds herself forgotten by her mother, who’s off chasing her horrible boyfriend. Shelley’s Mum’s not bad, she’s just lost the plot a bit. But Shelley’s not ok, and doesn’t have the words or the voice to say so. So when she finds a baby on her bed – a magical baby no one else can see – she finds a welcome distraction her from her loneliness. And what’s more, this baby can teach her something just by doing instinctively what she can’t, which is to cry for its mother.

Hoot Owl, Master of Disguise by Sean Taylor, Walker Books

Hoot owl

The gap between Hoot Owl’s perception of himself as a fearsome, ruthless predator and the reader’s view of him as (basically) a toddler lost in a dressing-up box is thankfully never quite closed, as no matter how incompetent he is with his schemes and his disguises and his metaphors (‘the night has a thousand eyes, and two of them are mine’), there’s finally one quarry, one helpless prey, who ‘doesn’t stand a chance.’ (Albeit it’s a slice of cold pizza).

The Unbelievable Top-Secret Diary of Pig by Emer Stamp, Scholastic

Secret pig

Pig loves Farmer, because Farmer gives Pig slops and special backscratches and calls him special names like Roast Pig and Sausage. Unfortunately, Pig doesn’t speak Farmer, so fails to grasp the full meaning of all this. But Duck, Pig’s best friend, is happily fluent in both Pig and Farmer, and after much steeling himself, sets Pig to rights. Pig is not happy. In fact, Pig’s heart is broken in little pieces, and yours will break too. But it will also soar, when Pig takes his revenge!

Shouty Arthur by Angie Morgan, Egmont


Some small boys are so full of energy that they can’t seem to help themselves from running, jumping, climbing and shouting, even in the rare instances when they really, really want to keep still and quiet, like for instance, when they’re trying to spot wildlife: ‘“Come out, you old rabbits!” shouted Arthur. But there were no rabbits to be seen.’

Blood Donors by Steve Tasane, Walker Books

Blood donors

Peoples keep dyin’ in The Finger, the scuzzie old tower block where they put us antisociable families. Authorities say it dirty smack goin’ round, but them bodies ain’t all users…an’ they look like they die screamin…

Marshall O’Connor lives in The Finger with his mum and lil bro. Dad’s in prison, school kicked him out, and the bedbugs are driving him crazy. But it ain’t the drugs that peoples should be worryin’ about, ‘cos them bloodsuckin’ bugs have grown some, and they ready for a bigger feed.

Told in an inventive, funny, fizzingly energetic, inner-city teenaged voice, this story invents a new literary genre: the Splatterfest with a Social Conscience.

There’s a Lion in my Cornflakes! by Michelle Robinson, Bloomsbury


What if the special offers on the side of cereal packets could be taken literally? Save up enough tokens and you’ll get a lion. Not a toy lion, that is – a lion. Well, great. But what if you saved up all your tokens, posted them off, and waited and waited, but no lion came, and meanwhile all the other kids already had theirs? You’d get mad, is what.

Phoenix by SF Said, Random House and David Fickling Books


Lucky dreams the stars are singing to him and reaches out to touch them…and wakes to find his sheet has burned to ash. This is perhaps the most unusual and ambitious story I’ve sold, simply because of the epic scale of its core idea: a boy who becomes a star. Not a celebrity, you understand, but a giant burning ball of gas in space.

Little Answer by Tim Hopgood, Random House


Kids like to ask questions. There’s a great deal they need to know, after all. And if truth be told, they’re often more interested in asking the questions than hearing the answers. So what if there was an answer that needed to find a question? Surely everything must be the answer to something