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  • Are Children's Book Publishers Changing the Way Children Read?A Panel Discussion
  • Daniel Hade, Lissa Paul, and John Mason


A panel discussion on the issue "Are Children's Book Publishers Changing the Way Children Read?" was held at the National Council of Teachers of English annual convention in Atlanta, Georgia, on November 15, 2002. Panelists included moderator Daniel Hade (Pennsylvania State University), Lissa Paul (University of New Brunswick), Ginee Seo (Editor, Atheneum Books), Stephen Roxburgh (editor, Front Street Books), Jane Yolen (author), and Roger Sutton (editor, The Horn Book Magazine). The starting point for the discussion was an article written by Hade published in the September/October 2002 issue of The Horn Book Magazine entitled "Storyselling: Are Publishers Changing the Way Children Read?" Discussion, as you might imagine, was lively and provocative. What follows are three of the presentations made at that session: Lissa Paul's historical perspective on children's book marketing, Daniel Hade's argument that book publishers are changing how children read, and John Mason's response to Hade.

  • Are Children's Book Publishers Changing the Way Children Read?A Pocket History
  • Lissa Paul (bio)

At least two of the motivating factors in publishing for children haven't changed: morality and money—the "m and m's" of publishing history. If the slogan for survival in academic life is publish or perish, in publishing it is sell or be sold. The conditions determining the flow of children's books into the marketplace are remarkably similar to those that existed in the earliest days of mass-market publishing for children in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. Publishing is now, as it was then, about balancing relations between instruction, delight, and toys. On the issue of whether or not children's book publishers are changing the way children read—the answer to that depends on the questions we ask.

My function here is to question what has changed in the children's book publishing industry over the last 250 years, to offer the historical glimpse. Without that, it is too easy to recede into a nostalgic Vaseline-unfocused blur, making pronouncements about what children are like, what books "they" like, what publishing is like, what sells, and what parents will buy.

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From A Little Pretty Pocket-Book

To simplify the identification of what can be defined as publishing for children, I'm going to stick to the traditional start date, 1744, the year John Newbery came up with his magical promotional slogan and gimmick for his first publication for children, A Little Pretty Pocket-Book: pincushion and ball to be sold along with the book, the content of which was defined as edifying and fun. Newbery is credited with inventing the holy trinity of children's book advertising: instruction, delight, and toys. It has worked well and without interruption in the children's publishing industry since its invention. Even today we would be hard pressed to find advertising for children's books that doesn't invoke it. Scholastic, for example (which defines itself as "the largest publisher and distributor of children's books in the world"), claims in its online mission statement that the "quality products and services" they design are to "educate, entertain and motivate children." Their claims are strikingly similar to those of John Newbery and other early publishers for children, including John Marshall (1783-1828), Richard Phillips (17671840), Benjamin Tabart (1767-1833), and William Godwin (1756-1836). Because I'm presenting a pocket-history of children's publishing here, I'm only going to address very briefly the "m and m" questions of morality and money in terms of three key issues: technology, morality, and toys.

1. Have changes in publishing technology changed the way children read?

Technology probably hasn't changed the way children read, but it has changed what children read, how books are produced, and who produces them. The technology question also raises one important, unchanging issue. It is expensive to publish books for children. It is [End Page 137] probably worth remembering that in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, when the children's book publishing industry, especially in England...


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