March 18, 2018

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Robots, Early Learning on the Rise: What’s Trending in Kids’ Books

While ebooks have stalled, the outlook for the children’s book market looks fairly rosy. That data and coming trends—including a persistent demand for nonfiction content childrensbooksummitand relevant digital engagement—were presented at the Nielsen Children’s Book Summit.

With the theme “Books in the Age of Kid Empowerment,” the October 27 event underscored the growing influence of child-driven taste across our culture. And a great deal of that converges on YouTube. Representing the number one brand among kids and teens, “YouTube is one of the most important platforms that publishers should be looking at,” David Kleeman, senior VP, global trends, Dubit Limited told the audience at the fourth annual Summit, held in New York City.

This year’s genre

Sales of ebooks across publishing categories declined 10 percent between 2014 and 2015, while print sales in the same period saw a three percent gain, according to Nielsen’s Children’s Book Market Report.  Meanwhile, 2016 is shaping up to be a great year overall for children’s books, said Kristen McLean, director, New Business Development, Nielsen Book, who presented the report findings.

Reflecting a general swing back in the direction of hard-copy reading, all print formats in children’s books have experienced growth since 2013–2014, outperforming the adult market. Among the most rapidly growing formats is board books. What’s driving parents to buy them? McLean credits an emphasis on early literacy.

YA, the hot genre in 2013–2014, is flattening, with marked slowdown in “e.” Growth is trending instead toward the youngest consumers. Board books have grown from 17 million units to 31 million units sold from 2010 to 2015, per Nielsen, making the sturdy reads the fastest growing format in all of publishing. These are not all classics or derivative titles, “but really interesting, original works in this area,” she added.

“Active nonfiction”

Kids’ nonfiction continues to trend up, with 16 percent growth in 2016 compared to five percent growth in fiction. “Juvenile nonfiction is the biggest story right now,” stated McLean. Notable are “active nonfiction” categories, which encompass kids’ activities, more frequently determined by kids themselves than parents and teachers these days. Among those books, Minecraft remains popular—until the next big thing comes along. In technology, Nielsen is seeing more coding books. Robots are the leading topic in juvenile fiction, growing 160 percent since 2013–14.

Comics and graphic novels are also selling, with the top 20 titles in this category made up of mainly new releases. Additionally, this year has seen a shift toward strong girl characters, which is helping drive popularity of the genre, according to Nielsen. Dork Diaries (Simon & Schuster) 10 and 9 by Rachel Renee Russell were the top selling titles in the genre, followed by Raina Telgemeier’s Drama, Smile, and Sisters (all Scholastic).

Overall the top 20 publishers account for 89 percent of children’s book sales. Penguin Random House alone commands 31 percent of the market.

Source: NIelsen BookScan Q3 2013-Q2 2016

Source: Nielsen BookScan Q3 2013-Q2 2016

Keep them reading

Kleeman helped unpack Nielsen’s survey results around how children consume media. In an interesting drill down, kids’ reading on a daily basis is down, weekly is up. There are differences by age; kids aged 9–12 are heavy readers (defined as 45 minutes a day). Perhaps not surprisingly, time spent with books—along with everything else—drops as kids grow older and texting dominates their waking hours. But across age groups, very few don’t read at all. “It’s the occasional reader that’s the important variable” observed Kleeman.


Source: Nielsen Children’s Deep Dive 2016

Larger trends are both measured and determined by YouTube. Family blogging is popular now on the video-sharing site, as well as Minecraft, said Nadine Zylstra, head of family and learning entertainment, YouTube Originals, speaking in a Summit session on big tech’s littlest users. “And anything Elmo goes to the top.”

Indeed, ebooks are a steady business for Sesame Workshop, according to Betsy Loredo, executive editor/content producer, Sesame Workshop. But even for a major brand, discoverability is a challenge, and she reports there’s been a slowdown around Sesame Workshop’s apps.

It’s an effort to keep pace at YouTube, where they constantly monitor Tubefilter, said Zylstra. Seeing kids’ interest in viewing kinetic typography (text integrated with movement), she decided that “kids are actually reading here.” These clips were then adapted for YouTube’s #readalong campaign. The American Library Association was a partner in the June initiative.

YouTube was the focus of another summit panel, this time peopled by kids and parents and not industry professionals. How-to videos were popular among the child panelists, for sure, but the greatest enthusiasm was reserved for cute puppies.

Citing an overheard conversation, Kleeman tweeted:

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Kathy Ishizuka About Kathy Ishizuka

Kathy Ishizuka ( on Twitter) is the Executive Editor of  School Library Journal.



  1. Great information here! I guess it’s not that surprising that robots are trending. Also, another not that surprising statement, that reading time goes down as texting goes up. Make them put the phone down and pick up a book! :)