With schools closed and parents working from home in the midst of the novel coronavirus outbreak, kids’ books, particularly educational titles, have been faring well. “We are definitely seeing an uptick in kids’ educational and activity book sales this week,” said Kristen McLean, books industry analyst for NPD. “Leading topics include math, language arts, puzzles, sticker books, word games, geometry, study aids, and coloring books.”
Children’s book sales in nonfiction education, reference, and language arts are up 12% for the year to date, according to data from NPD BookScan. Those same categories rose 38%, during the week ending March 14. And this trend continues to play out at stores that are still open, and sanitizing frequently, like Children’s Book Cellar in Waterville, Maine, and stores that are closed to the public but continue to do curbside pickup, like Second Star to the Right Books in Denver.
For Second Star, Ravensberger puzzles are the biggest seller, said owner Dea Lavoie, who is having trouble keeping them in stock. She is also doing well with informational pocket guides by James Kavanaugh about space and wildlife, as well as IQ Puzzler Pro by Smart Games, Mad Libs, crossword puzzles, and extreme word searches by Paragon Books. In addition, the store has sold “quite a few” learning-to-read leveled readers. To help customers choose books during the quarantine, the store is hosting an online chat, “Hang Out with a Bookseller,” every afternoon through April 15.
“Though we have gotten a few questions on educational materials for kids,” noted Hannah DeCamp, manager of children’s books at Avid Bookshop in Athens, Ga., “what I’ve really noticed is an uptick in the demand for materials that encourage creativity and emotional resilience, and engage kids sans screens.” Her topselling activity books that do just that include two titles in the interactive self-care series Mindful Kids, Hello, Happy! by Stephanie Clarkson and No Worries! by Lily Murray (Bonnier), as well as Lots of Things to Draw by Fiona Watt, an Usborne Activities book. The store is also doing well with two titles outside that area: Raina Telgemeier’s Guts (Graphix) and for younger readers, Laurel Snyder’s Hungry Jim (Chronicle).
Activity books and games are also strong at Politics and Prose, which has three locations in Washington, D.C. “We have been encouraging people to think about activity books and games that can be done alone or with siblings,” said Donna Wells, manager of the children and teens department. She encourages parents to look for activities that foster cooperative play. Some puzzle books and games that kids can do by themselves or with siblings that she recommends, and are selling well, are: Paper Peek: Colors by Chihiro Takeuchi (Candlewick Studio), Dreaming Up by Christy Hale (Lee & Low), and Who Am I? by Tim Flach (Abrams). Current word game and story card favorites at the store include Build-a-Story Cards Space Quest and Global Kids 50+ Games, Crafts, Recipes and More from Around the World both by Barefoot Books and Rory’s Story Cubes (Asmodee)
Wells also encourages families to consider books that can be read together and that stimulate conversation across ages. Among the titles that she is recommending are Corey R. Tabor’s Snail Crossing (HarperCollins/Balzer + Bray), Rex Ogle’s Free Lunch (Norton Young Readers), Lesa Cline-Ransome’s Leaving Lymon (Holiday House), and Jason Reynolds and Ibram X. Kendi’s Stamped: Racism, Antiracism, and You (Little, Brown).
“Our community is incredibly supportive, and we are so grateful,” noted Alie Hess, head buyer at Brookline Booksmith in Brookline, Mass. That support has translated into strong sales for puzzles across all age groups, activity/sticker books, and the first books in series for kids. She reported that the newest book in Lincoln Peirce’s [Big Nate series, Blow the Roof Off! (Andrew McMeel), is also doing well, as are Brain Quest workbooks from Workman and workbooks from Kumon and Scholastic. Flashcards from all three publishers have been selling, too.
Special Orders and Pickups: No Standouts
“I’ve had lots of people call or email with special orders, which has been lovely,” said Ellen Richmond, owner of Children’s Book Cellar. Among the requests were board games, including Scrabble and Monopoly, as well as cooperative games for children and jigsaw puzzles. On the book front, Richmond said that no particular titles stand out. The store is doing well with Brain Quest workbooks, along with whatever else she has on hand, including some older books with educational potential that she had planned to write off. Instead she filled a display table with them, posted it on Facebook, and offered the books at $1 apiece or $10 for a baker’s dozen, so that people in her community who are feeling the financial pinch can still get books for their kids.
At CoffeeTree Books in Morehead, Ky., books that parents already know have sold best lately, according to owner Grant Alden. That’s because many parents, with kids in tow, call in their order from the store’s parking lot for curbside delivery. So the booksellers don’t have a chance to talk directly with the kids about what they liked that they read recently or what they’d like to read. In addition to sales of books by Kate DiCamillo and the Goosebumps series, the store just sold its first copy of Christopher Paolini’s Eragon in a few years.
For Alden, who sees CoffeeTree’s biggest challenge as how to continue to be a community center without an online presence when the governor inevitably calls for the store and other nonessential businesses to close completely, it’s been difficult. But he’s certain that the store will make it, with a little help from a newly established site on Bookshop. “We’ve already survived a flood,” he said. “We’ll survive.”