The cataclysmic events of September 11 obviously rocked the world, but how, in the days immediately following and in the subsequent weeks, have the terrorist attacks impacted sales of children's books? For an answer, PW conducted an informal survey of booksellers in various pockets of the country.
In the immediate aftermath of the tragedy, cash registers in children's stores were likely to ring with sales of picture books addressing the topics of trauma, death and peace--if those registers rang at all. "It is amazing how a tiny children's bookstore in Philadelphia could be so affected by this event," comments Chris Saad, owner of Chris's Corner: Books for Kids & Teens. "We had a little flurry of shopping for books on peace and the importance of getting along, and then business really fell off until Thanksgiving."
Titles that sold well for Saad following the attacks included Hands Are Not for Hitting by Martine Agassi, illustrated by Marieka Heinlen (Free Spirit), and A Terrible Thing Happened: A Story for Children Who Have Witnessed Violence or Trauma by Margaret Holmes, illustrated by Cary Pillo (Magination).
Saad admits that she was at a bit of a loss when a mother came in and asked what book might address her kids' question, "Why didn't God just put out his hand and stop those planes?" She says, "Of course there really isn't any book that explains that," yet she ended up selling the woman Love Is by Wendy Anderson Halperin (Simon & Schuster), which adapts the apostle Paul's definition of love in I Corinthians 13.
"At first, we had many people coming in requesting books that showed peaceful solutions to problems and conflicts," notes Carol Moyer, children's buyer at Quail Ridge Books in Raleigh, N.C. She recalls requests for Peace Begins with You by Katherine Scholes, illustrated by Robert Ingpen (Little, Brown). Clearly, her customers were not the only ones clamoring for this title. The publisher reports that sales of the 1994 paperback jumped 315% during October and November, necessitating a ninth reprinting that brought the in-print total to 70,000 copies.
"In the beginning, we sold a tremendous number of books on death and dying, but now I'm seeing more of an interest in books on other topics that will comfort children," observes Lisa Dugan, children's book buyer for Koen Book Distributors in Moorestown, N.J. "Our sales of classics, like Where the Wild Things Are, are better than ever. Parents seem to be looking for books that are fun, funny and capture the imagination." Dugan predicts that tried-and-true titles--such as Goodnight Moon and the poetry collections of Shel Silverstein--will be the strongest holiday sellers for her company.
A book that sets out to reassure youngsters who have experienced the loss of a loved one was the sole title cited by Jenie Carlen, manager of public relations for Borders, when asked if children's book sales in that chain's outlets have been affected by the events of September 11. "We really haven't witnessed increased sales in any children's category," she says, "but we did see a peak in sales of Maria Shriver's 1999 release What's Heaven? [Golden/St. Martin's], which has also happened after other tragedies." The publisher confirms that this title did, indeed, experience a significant increase in sales during the fall; after a 17th reprinting in November, there are now more than 600,000 copies in print.
At Book Vine for Children, a national distributor to schools and institutions, president Isabel Baker received a phone call on the morning of September 13. On the line was a representative from the Pentagon, who requested books on tragedy, death and separation for a trauma center the government was setting up at a nearby hotel. "All day I worked, gathering books to send to the Pentagon," she recalls. "It suddenly occurred to me that I could not send out books on these topics without balancing them with books about all that is good in this world. So I included in the shipment a number of titles that look on the positive side of life. And I included a note with the shipment thanking them for letting me do this. So many of us felt so helpless after the tragedies that it was a gift to be able to do something positive."
Positive is indeed the note sounded by a variety of books celebrating the U.S.A., a category that has been prominently displayed in bookstores across--and beyond--the fruited plain. The majority of retailers polled report that sales in books with patriotic themes have soared in the past three months. "In terms of our sales, patriotism is one topic that has carried through this fall," remarks Moyer at Quail Ridge.
Titles in this category selling very well for her store include two from Scholastic, The Pledge of Allegiance (80,000 copies in print) and America the Beautiful (30,000 copies in print). Another strong seller for Moyer is Purple Mountain Majesties: The Story of Katharine Lee Bates and "America the Beautiful" by Barbara Younger, illustrated by Stacey Schuett (Dutton). Bates's paean to this country is also featured in another title that is experiencing brisk sales: America the Beautiful, with art by Neil Waldman (Atheneum), a 1993 book of which the publisher has sold as many copies in the past two months as it usually sells in an entire year.
From California to the New York islands, another book centering on the lyrics of a patriotic song is selling well for retailers. Saad at Chris's Corner says that her store has sold a significant number of copies of This Land Is Your Land, presenting the lyrics and music of Woody Guthrie's ballad with art by Kathy Jakobsen (Little, Brown/ Tingley). According to the publisher, sales of this book for October and November represented a leap of 575% over the previous months. With a recent reprinting, there are 95,400 copies of this title in print. Saad included it in a window display she created this fall featuring books with American themes, which had the desired effect: she comments that "we sold virtually everything that we put in that window, and even sold out of some of the items."
The emblem of the land we love is also encouraging books sales this fall. Several retailers mention the popularity of The Flag We Love by Pam Muñoz Ryan, illustrated by Ralph Masiello (Charlesbridge), and figures from the publisher bear this out. This year's sales of this 1996 release are up 140% over prior year, and 77% of this year's sales have occurred since September 11.
Booksellers remark on their success with another Charlesbridge book, Hail to the Chief: The American Presidency by Donn Robb, illustrated by Alan Witschonke, released in 2000. The current commander in chief is saluted in another strong seller, George W. Bush: A Biography of Our 43rd President by Beatrice Gormley (Aladdin), released just after the winner of the election was finally announced. Fueled significantly by orders from mass-market outlets and school book fairs, sales of this book have skyrocketed 200% in the three months since the terrorist attacks.
Spotlight on the Middle East
Books about countries far beyond these shores are also capturing the interest of kids, parents and teachers, according to retailers, many of whom have created displays of titles about the Middle East and Islam after the outbreak of war in Afghanistan. Beth Puffer, manager of Bank Street College Bookstore in New York City, reports that her store devoted an entire wall to books on the subject of Middle Eastern cultures, peace and tolerance.
Among the titles Puffer is handselling to customers are I Am Muslim by Jessica Chalfonte (Rosen); What Do We Know About Islam? by Shahrukh Hussein (Peter Bedrick); Caravan by Lawrence McKay Jr., illustrated by Darryl Ligasan (Lee & Low); and Afghanistan in Pictures, edited by Camille Mirepoix (Lerner).
A wall map of the Middle East is selling very well in her store, and Puffer is stocking up on globes for the holiday buying season, predicting that "with all that is going on, parents are going to be more interested in working with their children on learning geography." Similarly, Dugan at Koen has witnessed a surge in sales of atlases.
Picture books or novels depicting children whose lives have been affected by war in Middle Eastern countries have, for obvious reasons, been selling well for retailers. Mentioned most frequently were two picture books, Sami and the Time of the Troubles by Florence Parry Heide, illustrated by Ted Lewin (Clarion), which centers on a 10-year-old boy enduring civil war in Beirut; and The Roses in My Carpets by Rukhsana Khan, illustrated by Ronald Himler (Holiday House), the story of a young Afghani refugee living in Pakistan. Also high on booksellers' lists of timely titles is a middle-grade novel released just last April, Deborah Ellis's The Breadwinner (Groundwood), set in Kabul during the early years of the Taliban regime. After the attacks, the publisher pushed up the pub date of its paperback reprint of this novel (originally due next spring) to October; after two subsequent reprints, there are now 35,000 copies of that edition in print.
Like other booksellers, Moyer at Quail Ridge reports an interest in "books that show Middle Eastern cultures in a positive light." Her store's display of books on such topics, she notes, "was very effective in terms of sales and was really appreciated by our customers." Moyer has also seen "a demand for books that explain the basics of Islam to kids. And in fact we had adults requesting these books for themselves, saying that a children's book would probably be all that they'd need to improve their understanding."
Among the books with religious themes that retailers cited as selling well were One World, Many Religions: The Ways We Worship by Mary Pope Osborne (Knopf) and Magid Fasts for Ramadan by Mary Matthews, illus. by E.B. Lewis (Clarion).
Despite parents' and kids' interest in gathering pertinent information, few booksellers queried failed to mention the importance, in these unsettling times, of books that provide some much-needed comic relief. Dugan at Koen notes that sales are brisk for Lemony Snicket's Series of Unfortunate Events titles (HarperCollins) and Dav Pilkey's capers starring Captain Underpants (Scholastic/Blue Sky). She muses that "with their rather dark and twisted humor, maybe these series provide a different kind of escape for kids."
Similarly, Moyer has seen some parents gravitate toward books that are not focused on recent events, but rather provide reassurance through humor. Asked to name specific titles in this category, she replies, "One comes to mind instantly: Ian Falconer's Olivia Saves the Circus. That is a very easy book to turn to in these times."