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Easter reviews (and why children’s book reviews help)

Leigh-Hodgkinson-illustration-in-Sunday-Times-Easter-round-up.jpg-3787.jpg

We’d a nice presence in the broadsheets over the Easter weekend.

On Saturday, Julia Eccleshare’s round-up of Easter reading for The Guardian featured The Baby That Roared written by Simon Puttock and illustrated by Nadia Shireen. Kate Burns wrote about its publication in a recent blog post. The Guardian placed it nicely as a witty story for new siblings:

“Love them or loathe them, babies are sweet. At least, that’s what Mr and Mrs Deer think. They long for a baby of their own, so when one is left on their doorstep they do not hesitate to bring it in. But this little baby does nothing but ROAR. And when relatives start disappearing, Mr and Mrs Deer have to ask some serious questions about their new baby. With no happy-ever-after ending, this is a deliciously entertaining story that takes a fresh look at the arrival of a new baby and the problems it can bring.”

On Sunday, Nicolette Jones included two Nosy Crow books in her Sunday Times round-up of Easter reading.

The first was Goldilocks and Just the One Bear by Leigh Hodgkinson. The book, says the Sunday Times, “gives a novel twist to a familiar fairy tale as a lost bear causes mayhem in a city apartment, before the (human) family comes home. After the “somebody’s been…” routine, the mother turns out to be Goldilocks, now grown up, and the bear is the former Baby Bear. This happy reunion is remarkable for its witty, chatty update reminiscent of Lauren Child, with comical, detail-rich illustrations in vivid retro greens, oranges and pinks.”

The second was The Secret Hen House Theatre, by debut novelist Helen Peters whose publication Kirsty wrote about in this recent blog post.

The Sunday Times piece said:

“A variation on the always popular let’s-put-on-a-play-in-the-barn story, The Secret Hen House Theatre… adds depth with its theme of dealing with grief and a plot about saving a farm. An engaging tale about family and friendship for 10+.”

Well over 100,000 books are published in the UK each year, and I think around 10% of them are children’s books (I have a figure of 8,000 in my head, but I may be making it up or it may be out-of-date, and Google has been unhelpful in verifying it). Let’s assume it’s right, and then let’s assume (wrongly) that roughly the same number of children’s books is published in each month, and that Easter round-ups draw on the previous two months of publishing. That would mean that these books were competing with over 1,300 other books to be featured in reviews. While this arithmetic isn’t exact, it does give a sense of how tough it is to get a review of a book in a major UK paper.

Last year’s Books and Consumers survey suggested that reviews and recommendations drove only 5% of children’s fiction book purchases. However, browsing remains the biggest purchase prompt and covers remain significant, driving 39% of sales between them. One of the things that reviews sometimes provide is a few key words to put on the cover of the next reprint of the reviewed book that, we hope, draw the eye of the potential reader (or parent or teacher of the reader), and support the browsing and cover-based selection process.

Reviews also help us position future books by the author/illustrator with retailers: we include review extracts in the information sheets about our books that we supply to retailers and in our catalogues. In fact, we’re working on a catalogue for the London Book Fair, and I was emailing through the key words from the reviews of the three titles mentioned above for the designer to incorporate into the final tweaks to the catalogue as I was reading the reviews. A good review won’t salvage a book that a retailer doesn’t think that they will succeed with in the first place, but it might reinforce a selection that they are part-way to making… which means that the book will be available for the browsing and cover visibility that accounts for the 39% of book purchases.

The picture at the top of this blog is an illustration from Goldilocks and Just the One Bear in The Sunday Times round-up… with an Axel Scheffler illustration from his first picture book, You’re a Hero, Daley B, that is being reissued and that I mentioned in this recent blog post.

(Twelve Minutes to Midnight author Christopher Edge’s event with Philip Pullman and JD Sharpe at the Oxford Literary Festival about the influence of Charles Dickens on children’s writers was also mentioned in The Sunday Times: “Asked what his first encounter with Dickens was, Edge rather shamefacedly confessed, ‘The Muppet Christmas Carol’.”)

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