The Children’s Media Foundation (CMF)

Children are Awesome

Children are Awesome

An article for the Children's Media Yearbook 2020

By Hazel Kenyon

Book Research Director, UK and Ireland,


Children’s nonfiction book-buying is diversifying, both in authorship and in subject matter. The latest data from Nielsen Book Research shows a continued increase in both the numbers of titles available and the volume sales of factual books for children, and within this there is a continued broadening of the subjects that are proving popular.

The children’s general nonfiction category is distinct from that which houses game tie-ins (Minecraft, Pokemon), branded product (Lego, LOL), and other ‘leisure’ titles, such as joke books. We can, therefore, examine the category’s performance to see the underlying trend for factual books without being impacted by large spikes produced by the latest kids’ craze.

In 2019 there were 25,000 different titles in the UK market in this category, which has doubled in value over 10 years to £22.3m today. This growth has been steady since records began in 2001 and can be seen relative to growth in the overall children’s market in the following graph (Graph 1) of print book volume sales over time.

If we then look at the most popular subjects in nonfiction as a whole in 2019 (Graph 2), we can see that a number of ‘core’ subjects, such as history and maths, remain popular (note that this category does not include school textbooks), as well as less mainstream subjects such as wildlife and poetry. The latter genre has shown a particular boost in recent times with top titles, including A Poem for Every Night of the Year and I Am the Seed That Grew the Tree: A Nature Poem for Every Day of the Year, which have lifetime combined sales of 100,000 copies.

Among the top genres in 2019 is that of Personal & Social Issues, an umbrella for a number of sub-categories, including Self-awareness & Self-esteem, Body & Health, Family Issues, and Racism & Multiculturalism. Most of these nonfiction categories have seen an increase in sales in the past few years; though, of course, this won’t be reflective of the entire catalogue available as many of these issues are dealt with in children’s fiction and picture book titles, such as those shown in Picture 3.

If we look at the largest sub-categories in Personal & Social Issues over the last five years, we can see that the long-term trend shows growth (Graph 4). In 2019, the bestselling children’s nonfiction book was You Are Awesome: Find Your Confidence and Dare to Be Brilliant, by Matthew Syed, selling 68.8k copies, which contributes to the large spike in Self-awareness & Self-esteem in 2019, and in 2018 (the year it was published) when it also topped the same chart, selling 139.2k copies.

This category has seen several high-profile titles sell in large numbers, but the growth has also come from strong performances in the list outside of the bestsellers (Picture 5).

If we look at these titles, we see they deal with a range of topics. Some give children the confidence and empowerment to try new things, something that perhaps the adults in their lives aim to do but don’t always get right. Other books explain changes children may be undergoing physically and mentally, or address anxiety and worries by helping them make sense of the world around them. The reviews of these bestsellers indicate that the key to a well-received book appears to be hitting the correct tone, explaining in a non-patronising way, and making the subject matter fun.

These books tend to be purchased predominantly by females, who have accounted for 65% of purchases of Personal & Social Issue titles in the last couple of years; this is in line with purchases of children’s books overall. We also see that 53% of Personal & Social Issue books are bought for a female end-user. This is the converse of what we see for general nonfiction children’s book purchasing, where 61% of titles were bought for a male end-user.

The success of titles in this category shows an increasing awareness among adults (who write, publish, market, and sell these titles) of the need for books aimed at younger people that address these types of subjects. It also mirrors the trends present in the adult market. Personal development as a theme is present across a number of categories, with guides on being happy and healthy in both mind and body performing well, as shown in Graph 6.

Interestingly, we see a number of books dealing with self-awareness  and self-esteem that have been around for many years, such as one of the 2019 bestsellers: What to Do When You Worry Too Much: A Kid’s Guide to Overcoming Anxiety, by Dawn Huebner from Magination Press. Although this title was published in 2005, it sold 15,361 copies in 2019 and was the 12th bestselling nonfiction book that year. If we look at the top titles in Personal & Social Issues in 2019, we find 64% of the value sales of these books were from titles published before 2018, which is even higher than for nonfiction books in general. This compares with the balance between older and newer titles in the category of Children’s Fiction, for example, where 46% of the value is from sales of older titles. So, older or ‘backlist’ titles have more than half the market share, showing the longevity of books written on this subject.

In the top 100,000 bestselling nonfiction, we also see the increasing presence of book titles containing keywords such as ‘anxiety’ (included in 44 book titles in 2019, compared with 19 in 2015), ‘worry’ (24 titles in 2019, compared with 13 in 2015) and ‘esteem’ (30 titles in 2019, compared with 23 in 2015).

If we look to the coming year, nearly 1,000 titles are due to be published with inspirational or positive messaging that have been given a Personal & Social Issues label. These range from The Amazing A-Z of Resilience, from David Gumbrell, and Big Ideas for Little Philosophers: Equality with Simone de Beauvoir … some heavy-hitting titles which I think us grown-ups could do with reading!


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