The Children’s Book Council’s annual meeting drew a full house, as members gathered on September 25 in New York City for a recap of the year’s successes and a look ahead at continued programming and outreach efforts.
This year saw the addition of more than 20 new member publishers of varying sizes, which in turn brought a modest surplus to the CBC, according to treasurer Terry Borzumato-Greenberg, v-p of marketing at Holiday House. In other changes, Lauri Hornik, president and publisher of Dial Books for Young Readers, came to the end of her term and stepped down as chairperson; former vice chair Yolanda Scott, associate publisher and editorial director of Charlesbridge, has taken over the position.
Next, CBC and Every Child a Reader executive director Carl Lennertz took the mic to share some of the organizations’ 2019 highlights. For his talk, Lennertz focused on the theme of “people,” saying, “It’s about the people who make the magic happen.” Through a series of slides, he acknowledged the ongoing initiatives of publishers, teachers, librarians, booksellers, CBC staff and interns, and others in the children’s book community.
First and foremost, Lennertz said it’s essential to consider “Who Is the C in CBC?”—the children for whom the books are created. A CBC Forum series of the same title, which kicked off on September 16, is bringing together panels of young readers to share their reading habits and preferences with publishers. The second of the three-part series will be held on October 16 at the Goddard Riverside Community Center in Manhattan, featuring a dozen teenagers from the Options Program in a frank conversation.
Lennertz also discussed the CBC’s mission of expanding its reach to all children. As an example of this effort, National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature Jacqueline Woodson visited a number of schools and libraries in Alaska this summer, and has encouraged the CBC to create a Juvenile Detention Center Database, with the aim of helping to establish libraries in more than 600 locations.
Speaking of a wider reach, the 100th annual Children’s Book Week was celebrated by more than 1,300 schools, libraries, and bookstores—a new record—and the festivities will continue throughout the year, with a collaborative poster by acclaimed illustrators, and the “Creator Corner” series of 100 author and illustrator videos, produced in partnership with KidLit.TV. The theme of Book Week 2020, “Read. Dream. Share.,” will further emphasize the event’s spirit of inclusion.
Shifa Kapadwala, CBC publicity manager, then announced the winners of the second annual CBC Diversity Outstanding Achievement Awards, which are given in honor of children’s publishing professionals who have helped create and promote diverse books for young readers and foster more inclusive employment practices. This year’s winners are Andrea Davis Pinkney, v-p and executive editor at Scholastic; Namrata Tripathi, founder, v-p and publisher of Penguin Young Readers’ Kokila imprint; the Brown Bookshelf, launched in 2007 by Paula Chase and Varian Johnson; and Just Us Books, the publishing house founded in 1988 by Cheryl Willis Hudson and Wade Hudson. An awards presentation and conversation among the winners will be held on November 19 at the LGBT Community Center in Manhattan.
Following the business portion of the meeting, keynote speaker Philip Kurien, managing director of the Family Room, a family-focused research and consulting agency, spoke about how the tumultuous political and global events of 2016 “turned families’ emotional landscapes upside down”—and how publishers might find “seeds of opportunity” to reach their audiences in effective and meaningful ways. Kurien opened with a historical overview of other tipping points that transformed American family life, from the Great Depression to the civil rights movement and the Vietnam War. Through the Family Room’s Global Family Passion Point study, which began as a survey in the U.S. and grew to include four countries across four continents, the agency has proposed a “qualitative framework” for understanding the key passions or priorities of contemporary families.
Some of the “emotional territories” that Kurien and his team have tracked include family, education, play, health, protection and safety, money and savings. Over the course of four years, from 2013 to 2016, researchers found a significant reordering of family priorities, with “education” falling and “protection and safety” rising in importance according to survey respondents. In seeking to understand the shift, the Family Room suspects that hot-button issues and concerns such as terrorism, national politics, immigration, and the rise in gun violence are “changing childhood and the way we thinking about it.”
Facing such an unsettling cultural climate, families are increasingly turning inward in their leisure time with Netflix, board and video games, and other activities that bring parents and children together in low-stress ways. To illustrate that point, he shared that kids’ bicycle sales have fallen roughly 45% as compared to five years ago, presumably due to concern for child safety. A growing nostalgia for the comfort of classics and familiar brands also drives trends in the entertainment space.
What are publishers and other members of the media industry meant to take away from these findings? While Kurien didn’t offer specific applications for children’s books, he suggested that the industry keep the larger landscape in mind and consider the “emotional reasons behind reading choices” in order “to stay relevant.” He concluded by describing the power of books to build connections, and reminded publishers, “You’re not just providing a book; you’re providing an experience.”