The first six months of 2021 saw sales of adult fiction buoy overall print book sales week after week. Still, there was only one runaway bestseller in the first half of the year, and it’s a children’s book: the 10th installment in Dav Pilkey’s Dog Man series, Mothering Heights, which topped the year-to-date children’s overall bestseller list and has sold upwards of 867,000 copies since its March 23 release.
Another kids’ book, Dr. Seuss’s perennial bestseller Oh, the Places You’ll Go!, placed second overall, selling more than 584,000 print copies. This marked an increase of roughly 200,000 copies compared to the book’s sales last year at this time, when graduation ceremonies were not being held in person. (The decision by Dr. Seuss Enterprises, announced in March, to stop publishing six of the late author’s titles over what the AP called “racist and insensitive imagery,” also gave Seuss sales a boost.) Of the top five children’s bestsellers this year to date, three are by Seuss and two are by Pilkey.
The Four Winds by Kristin Hannah was the top-selling adult title in the first half of 2021, and its roughly 558,000 copies sold made it the third-biggest bestseller overall. Four Winds was followed on the adult list by backlist bestseller The Boy, the Mole, the Fox and the Horse by Charlie Mackesy, which pushed around 544,000 copies. Amanda Gorman’s The Hill We Climb, the book version of the poem she read at the inauguration of President Biden, sold nearly 456,000 copies—a massive number for any poet—and placed third. And though adult fiction sales were up 30.7% in the first six months, Matt Haig’s The Midnight Library was the only frontlist title other than Four Winds to crack the top 10 in the adult segment, selling nearly 357,000 copies.
In the YA segment, Leigh Bardugo has had a banner year, with three of her Grishaverse novels placing in the top 10 and selling a combined total of roughly 421,000 copies. Her books have benefited from the Netflix film Shadow and Bone, which was adapted from Bardugo’s book of the same name. Adam Silvera had the top seller in YA with They Both Die at the End. The novel, like a number of other YA titles, benefited from exposure on BookTok.
The takeaway is that there have been no real surprises on the bestseller lists in 2021, unlike last year, when sales for several juvenile nonfiction books (such as My First Learn-to-Write Workbook) skyrocketed as parents scrambled to buy educational titles for their children, and when numerous books on race and social justice hit the lists following the murder of George Floyd. No Trump exposés have made the lists either, unlike in the past few years, though many books on the former president’s administration will be released in the second half of 2021.
As these lists indicate, backlist continued to sell well in the first half of 2021, just as it did in 2020. Half of the top 10 adult titles were published before 2020, and such obvious perennial bestsellers as George Orwell’s 1984 (#18) were accompanied on the list by less-heralded backlist backbones such as psychiatrist Bessel van der Kolk’s exploration of PTSD, The Body Keeps the Score (#12).