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.
I visited the White Rose Book Shop in Thirsk yesterday. They have sections for all age categories in chikdren’sl books but also have spaces for promotions. They use the seasons to promote books and the window display was Autumn and Halloween. Books on foraging and colours and spooky themes were hung on broomsticks, laid on autumn leaves, hanging in spider webs etc.. . They covered a good range from picture books to educational to adult recipes, making sure they captured the widest audience.
The store has a cafe on the ground floor which is located towards the back of the shop. The tables and chairs were interspersed by wide square pillars that provided a perfect space for displaying themed books. One pillar was covered in Halloween books with colourful and spooky covers aimed at young readers.
In the cafe there were several young mum’s and In full view of the diners with young children are six wide, floor to ceiling, bookshelves aimed specifically at pre-school children. The first shelves were filled with games and characters relating to the books on the subsequent five shelves. The other five were clearly marked at the top in large letters. ‘ First Books’ ‘Once Upon a Time’ ‘Stomp Stomp’ ‘Roar Roar’ and ‘Here come the dinosaurs’. The shop had even provided an outdoor eating area with a Wendy House and a sand pit which completed the picture on what was their most lucrative market.
I was disappointed to find the age category books on the first floor where I didn’t meet another person apart from a mother taking a child for a nappy change in the facilities provided. This floor had five separate, floor to ceiling, bookshelves which were split into ‘6-8 years’ ‘9-11 years’ ’11+ – A to Z of Fiction’ and ‘Young Adults’. I wasn’t convinced with this space and felt it was not well sign-posted from downstairs.
The lady on the till said that they changed themes regularly so it will be interesting to go back in a month and see what is different. She also said that early years was the best seller although I didn’t get to find out any specific titles. She said the least popular was teenage fiction as “It’s very hard to get teenagers to read these days.” I wondered if that was due to digital media, kindle, android etc. Is most reading by teenagers done on-line? A quick google when I got home reveal lots of links to articles on teenage reading habits. I need to decide which of these sites may have more dependable information before I take on board their comments but most seem to headline The decline in teenage readers.
I haven’t answered all my research questions yet but I feel as though I have made a good start.,
While researching childrens books online, I found that my search results kept bringing up what i considered to be ‘Adult’ books. e.g
Clan of the Cave Bear by Jean. M. Auel
Roots by Alex Haley
The Thornbirds by Colleen McCullough
These are all books I read in my twenties.
It took a while to realise that children’s book are categorised right up to the age of eighteen. Funny how I always think of children as being pre-teen. maybe it’s because my grandchildren are pre-teen at the moment. It started me thinking about HOW publishers classify books by age. It is mainly done for educational reasons at the outset to help children learn to read through not only appropiate words that meet school curriculums but also using pictures to enhance the storytelling. As a child gets older, the pictures are used less and the words become more important to increase vocabulary, paint the pictures in the mind. It seems that this is also the point where decisions are made about which words are appropriate for each age category.
I read Private Peaceful by Michael Morpurgo as my first set book. i borrowed it from my 9 year old grandson. I can’t believe it is for his age group. Perhaps it is my age that makes me think that QUOTE ‘ You want to get your nuts blown off, Peaceful?’ Does Michael Morpurgo decide on the age classification or is that the publisher’s job? Looks like more research to be done.