As the spring selling season gets underway, Lauren D’Alessio, children’s book buyer at Wellesley Books in Wellesley, Mass., sheds light on new and tried-and-true titles that are selling well at her store.
We’ve noticed that our middle-grade and YA readers are moving away from high fantasy, dystopian, and vampire stories, though fantasy still reigns in graphic novels. We’ve seen a resurgence of interest in historical fiction and more realistic novels. Not necessarily super-sad books like John Green’s, but realistic fiction more along the lines of Sarah Dessen’s.
Three books that are huge for us right now are Pax by Sara Pennypacker, illustrated by Jon Klassen, about a boy and his pet fox who are separated during a war and have to survive without each other. It is a beautiful and heartbreaking story that reveals the effects of war through the perspectives of both of these innocents. The book appeals to a lot of parents as well as kids, especially those who loved Wonder and The Thing About Jellyfish, since it has similar heart, and really speaks to readers. I’ve had kids come back and tell me that Pax was amazing, and unlike anything they’ve ever read.
Another very popular historical novel is Salt to the Sea by Ruta Sepetys, which is based on a true story. It takes place in 1945, on a German ship filled with refugees hoping to find a better life. Their stories converge, and the novel represents so many viewpoints. It’s a very emotional read and a fantastic crossover to adults. This book appeals to anyone interested in stories focusing on human interactions, and also to kids who like nonfiction.
And another wonderful novel set in the same time period is Anna and the Swallow Man by Gavriel Savit, which is about a girl who meets a mysterious man after her father goes out one day, saying he’ll be right back, but never returns. This is by a first-time author who seems to have helped build the buzz for the novel, which is so different and so emotionally charged. We’ve had a very positive reaction to this book, and it’s selling well without us having to do anything. People are sold on it after picking it up and reading the back cover.
We find that interest in fairytale retellings for older readers is winding down, with the exception of Marissa Meyer’s Cinder, which is so inventive. The author brings a lot of new things to the story – for one thing, Cinder is a cyborg – and sales of this book remain very strong for us.
In middle grade and early chapter books, familiar series like Magic Tree House and Geronimo Stilton continue to sell very well. And the Bad Kitty chapter books are very popular – kids read them hundreds of times and still find them so funny – and the humor appeals to parents as well. We’re seeing Beverly Cleary having somewhat of a renaissance, especially the Henry Huggins series and some other newer books that parents who loved Ramona may have missed reading themselves as kids.
In picture books, of course The Day the Crayons Quit and The Day the Crayons Came Home are still super popular with kids and parents – and it’s fabulous to see that level of excitement. We’re very excited about handselling Mother Bruce by Ryan T. Higgins, which we passed around when it first came in and the entire staff was immediately crazy about it. This is another book that parents love – they get it on one level and kids get it on another level. We’ve seen a lot of excitement about this book – it’s an easy grab.
And we are also having a lot of luck with a completely different kind of picture book: The Night Gardener by Terry Fan and Eric Fan. It’s a lovely story that came out under the radar, but I picked it up one day and said, “This book has to be featured.” It’s about people who wake up each day to find that trees in their town have been shaped into animals, but they don’t know who is responsible. It brings the whole town together and makes people very happy. And the pencil drawings are so very beautiful that you just want to reach in and touch them.
On the seasonal side, we’re seeing strong sales of Jan Brett’s The Easter Egg, which is a perennial favorite, since it has a beautiful cover and interior illustrations – and of course it’s Jan Brett. And we’re also doing very well with Sweet Pea & Friends: The SheepOver by John Churchman and Jennifer Churchman, a true story about bringing a sick sheep back to health. It was initially self-published and then Little, Brown picked it up, and we tell people that story, since we always like supporting that kind of effort. This book has been selling off our Easter display like nothing else. And of course we’re seeing the usual interest in books featuring chicks and bunnies, but sales of those spring-themed books seem to wind down after Easter. And then it’s on to summer!