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Writing for Kids : A Look at Current Trends

Writing for Kids

A Look at Current Trends

By Laura Backes

In the constantly-changing world of children's book publishing, it's often hard to keep up with what's hot. While strong writing and an author's passion for the subject will always prevail, here are some areas where editors are currently buying:

Poetry is more prevalent than in years past, especially collections from a single author with a theme or hook. Check out Behind the Wheel: Poems About Driving by Janet Wong (McElderry) and An Old Shell: Poems of the Galapagos by Tony Johnston, illustrated with photos by Tom Pohrt (FSG). The latter also falls under the multicultural and nonfiction categories.

While the market appears to be saturated with folktales, story collections are still popular (such as Grandmothers' Stories: Wise Woman Tales from Many Cultures by Burleigh Muten and Sian Bailey, from Barefoot Books) and folktales from less-familiar cultures (Aaron Shepard's Forty Fortunes: A Tale of Iran, illustrated by Alisher Dianov, from Clarion Books).

Board books and picture books with short texts for children under five years old are booming in both fiction and nonfiction.

Picture books for ages four to eight are still going strong, especially silly, wacky stories. Despite what you've heard recently at writers' conferences, talking animals seem to be back in style, as long as the characters have very strong, distinct personalities (realistic and humorous stories about bears are the most popular).

Stories with dragons, wizards, gnomes and other mythical creatures abound (possibly because of the success of the Harry Potter books). I've seen several books about fathers and their relationship with their children. Also, books that combine fiction and nonfiction are a new way to teach subjects such as history, biography or art (as with Neil Waldman's The Starry Night published by Boyds Mills Press, about a boy who meets Vincent Van Gogh in Central Park).

Historical fiction is still big for middle grade readers, though lengthy series seem to be giving way to single titles and shorter series (three or four books). Biographies, humorous contemporary stories, and mysteries (especially historical or adventure/mysteries) are always hot. I think fantasy for this age group will be the next big trend.

Young adult fiction is stronger than it has been for years, with time-travel, fantasy, adventure, problem novels, and realistic contemporary fiction topping the list.

Editors have expressed a need for more creative nonfiction for all ages. Board books and young picture books favor subjects from children's everyday life (pets, backyard nature, how their bodies work). For all ages, instead of covering a broad subject, focus on an interesting or unexplored aspect of the topic.

Examples of creative nonfiction include Bananas! by Jacqueline Farmer, illustrated by Page Eastburn O'Rourke (Charlesbridge, all ages), Lost Treasures of the Inca by Peter Lourie (Boyds Mills Press, age 8-up), and One-Room School by Raymond Bial (Houghton Mifflin, ages 8-12). •

Next: Turn Personal Struggles into Books for Children »

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Laura Backes Laura Backes is publisher of the Children's Book Insider, the publication for Children's Writers. More »

Updated 1/5/14