Another day out and about trying to do some research. My husband wanted to spend some book tokens so we went into Harrogate and called at Waterstones. I was armed with my notebook and headed for the children’s section where an assistant spent a good half an hour chatting to me and was extremely helpful. The shelf space was divided into a number of categories. Again, pre-school had a good space but instead of placing characters, toys and games separately, they were interspersed with relevant books on shelves labelled ‘Animals’ or ‘Things that go’ etcetera. Things that go were noisy books about machines and vehicles.
The age categories were split into ‘5-8′ and 9-12′ and 12+. The 9-12’ section, getting double the space of ‘5-8’, having 4 bookcases. There were also two table tops with books on ‘offer’ from both categories. The age categories were displayed differently. The younger age group had several book covers on show to attract readers whereas the 9-12 and over were shelved alphabetically by author. The most popular books in the 9-12 section at the moment is the ‘Tom Gates’ books by Liz Pichon. The covers give the impression of a school exercise book with lots of doodles and drawings and the theme is continued inside with lots of comic like scribbles and pictures. The assistant said that it appealed to most 9-12 year olds because it didn’t look as daunting as tackling a full length novel. She said it was the child’s equivalent of what an adult called ‘a light read’ and encouraged readers of lower ability to pick it up and ‘have a go’.
In the 5-8 age group, she said that one or two classics were still very popular, like The Magic Faraway Tree and other series by Enid Blyton. Paddington Bear had become very popular since the film was released last year. Fairy books were the main favourite with girls in this age category and boys looked for dinosaurs or monsters.
Both genders liked books in the ‘Adventure’ category and ‘Fantasy’ category. The author David Walliams was read by both genders. ‘Series’ books were very popular in all genres as children enjoyed reading about the same characters once they had bonded with them and had developed a need to remain loyal.
When asked about the Michael Morpurgo books in the 9-12 category she felt that they were aimed at the higher end of that category and they were often read by teens and young adults. She did qualify her statement by adding that it would always depend on the maturity of the reader in the end as some 9 year olds were particularly mature when it came to reading ability and preference.
From the bookshop, I went to the local library. The children’s section was in a separate room on a different floor to the main library. The librarian was very helpful and told me that lots of mums used the library before and after school and they had provided a large seating area to accommodate them. The pre-school children could access books in large, low boxes in and around the seating area. There didn’t appear to be any categorising. The books on the shelves were only categorised on one shelf labelled ‘Early Readers’. The librarian said that all other books were shelved alphabetically by author. When asked which books were ‘borrowed’ most often she said that Enid Blyton was still very popular but other classics like The Wind in the Willows was rarely ‘out’. They didn’t have any Beatrix Potter books on the shelves which suggested that wasn’t asked for either. She said that ‘Adventure’ books were borrowed by both genders and boy’s favourites included the ‘Beast Quest’ series by Adam Blade. (I haven’t read him but he’s now on my list.) Most girls chose the ‘fairy’ books.
I am sure in both visits that many more contemporary books are bought/borrowed but it is telling when both markets suggest very much the same genres and authors when asked the same questions.
I wondered if the lack of commercial value and no requirement to sell the books as such made the library feel it wasn’t necessary to draw the children in by using the same strategies as the book shops? Is it perhaps a lack of funding that dictates these things. Libraries are being closed up and down the country. Is it because of access to e-books? Do many children prefer to read e-books? My seven and nine-year old grandchildren read physical books every day but they also like to listen to audio books together. Their favourite audio books at the moment happen to be Enid Blyton’s famous Five series. Mmm! I see a pattern forming.