Saturday, June 11, 2022

The Jerusalem International Book Forum and The International Writers Festival

 Every May, Jerusalem is host to the International Book Forum and The International Writers Festival. As with many events, this live gathering was highly anticipated. While there were many interesting sessions from which to choose, the one that caught my eye was "Where the Cool Kids Are: The Rise and Rise of YA and Children's Literature." As an aside, my former English teacher, Christopher Pomeroy Fearon, is rolling in his grave about a phrase ending with a form of the verb "to be" and with a colon after it. But I guess the "Cool Kids" don't worry about proper grammar.

This was the first YA panel ever presented at the Forum. The session was moderated by Rena Rossner, Literary Agent at The Deborah Harris Agency in Israel. Her first question to the participants was about what's happening in the market, and what's selling. Obviously, the pandemic had a huge impact on book sales, with increases across the board. Barbara Marcus, President and Publisher, Random House Children's Books PRH, US noted that even though the US industry is down eight percent, retail sales continue to grow. Books about Social Justice, Asian Americans, and the ever-popular Dr. Seuss were big sellers.

Thille Dop, Senior Publisher, Children's & YA Literature, Luitingh-Sifthoff, Netherlands, was a delight. Young readers in the Netherlands want to read in English -- Wimpy Kid, Story Treehouse, Dog Man are favorites. 

What is happening in Italy? Very impressive that during the lockdown, books were considered an essential good, like medicine and groceries, and bookstores remained opened. Marta Mazza, Editor in Chief, Mondadori Children's Books, Italy said the Heartstopper Series (a Queer romance graphic novel) was very popular. 

Natasha Farrant, a literary scout and author from the UK, commented that comedian David Walliams' book sold very well during the pandemic.

Finally, Belina Ioni Rasmussen, Managing Director of Macmillan Children's Book UK noted that the young part of the market grew. Sales of picture books and activity books increased significantly, and children's books accounted for 24.5 percent of the market -- bigger than the adult fiction market. She also talked about the phenomena of Marcus Rashford, a professional football (soccer) player for Manchester United. He is also an activist and very involved in charities that address food poverty. And, he involved with literacy. In 2020, he launched a book club and his book, You Are a Champion was published in 2021. The book club will distribute 50,000 free books annually, and hope to release two new books are year. 

All of the speakers noted two big trends in the YA market. The first is social media. Bookstagram and Book Tok, dedicated areas of Instagram and Tik Tok, respectively, are driving the market. People are posting loads of content about their favorite books. On the positive side, if people like the book, it will attract more readers. On the negative side, this content can also be negative and dissuade young readers from picking up the book. Readers are creating communities, and this organic growth of book lovers can make or break a book. 

The second is the rise of the physical book. E-books and audio are not so popular, but special editions are all the rage. On of the panelists mentioned Illumicrate, a subscription service that delivers a box of goodies that include a hardcover book with an exclusive cover design, and a variety of book merchandise that can include drinkware, stationery, bookmarks and tote bags. 

Here are the major trends mentioned:

  • Horror 
  • Graphic novels
  • Increase in sales of banned books
  • books about mental health/self-care/resilience
  • manga
  • the rise of the backlist
  • and poetry and other books to feed the soul

As for the Real Cats of Israel, exciting news from the Safari in Ramat Gan - a litter of five sand kittens was born on May 16th.

Sand cat kittens at safari
(Photo: Yam Siton)
Happy Reading!

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