This is the time of year when the seed and bulb catalogs appear, providing optimism for bright spring planting. My family and I have always pored over seed catalogs seeking ideas for color in the garden or, recently, ways to conserve water with xeriscaping.
I do the same with publishers' catalogs. Bright pictures and fascinating descriptions tantalize buyers with the newest and most appealing books for the coming seasons. It is relaxing and even warming to speculate on upcoming Easter books and Fourth of July titles.
Unlike the seed catalogs, however, there are limited repetitions in publishing; most titles go out of print quickly. There are "trends" that skirt through most of the catalogs, some predictable and others that reflect current social and artistic changes. Some topics left me shocked at the sophistication authors attribute to readers, in books labeled for tweens and young adults. But since editors seem savvy to what will sell and make "book-plantings" for the coming year, these are my observations for what's new:
Publishers reissue classics and old favorites that become the benchmarks to watch for in new catalogs. For example, Roald Dahl's works ("James and the Giant Peach," "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory") are being reissued in new covers. Also, "The Egypt Game" by Zilpha Keatley Snyder is celebrating 40 years in print with a new jacket. There are a few other notable celebrations of longevity, such as Golden Books highlighting the company's 65th year in publication and past licenses such as Curious George and Raggedy Ann.
Publishers promote forthcoming titles of award-winners as an enticement. Linda Sue Parks has a new book, "Keeping Score," and Lois Lowry's "The Willoughbys" is being publicized. David Macaulay follows his many award-winning architectural books with "Mosque."
Occasionally publishers find success with books by celebrities and use their notoriety as a selling-point. Thankfully I saw fewer of those this season but did note that HarperCollins will promote "Look in a Book" by Laura and Jenna Bush.
The most obvious trend in all catalogs is the graphic novel (sometimes called comic books). Manga has become big business internationally and there will be dozens of novels, adaptations of old classics and folk literature available in picture format this season. Examples are "Amulet" by Scholastic and Hyperion's "Thoreau at Walden," based on writing from Henry David Thoreau.
Editors are capitalizing on characters that have made their mark, such as the "Harry Potter" look-alikes, children succeeding on their own initiative, and those that exit for adventure to the "otherworld." Books in series format continue to be the rage, whether there are repeated characters ("Pendragon"), familiar settings ("Magic Tree House") or recurring mystery ("The A to Z Mysteries"). Science fiction themes (robots, time and body shifting and international terrorists) often appear in series format.
The traditional vampire is explained in historical nonfiction and explored in science fiction novels and picture books. Certainly these will be popular since the "Twilight" series by Stephenie Meyer is on every reading list! I noted with interest that the fourth in the series, "Breaking Dawn," will be released this fall in a celebration not unlike the unveiling of the last "Harry Potter" book.
While it seems there has been an overload of stories about dragons, this season's catalogs are again abundant in dragon books of every format. Robin McKinley's "Dragonhaven" is an example. Christopher Paolini ("Eragon," "Eldest") will add the third in the popular trilogy, "Brisingr."
Contemporary fiction (sometimes called problem novels) for middle and upper grades are the basis of most catalogs. Topics range from everyday problems to romance novels. I found titles about coming of age, school problems and gender relationships topping the list. Personal conditions of depression and physical illness are explored. Issues about families cover abuse, sibling rivalry and single-parent struggles. Again, as in past years, I saw too few books suggesting complete wholesome families, men as models and honest portrayals of grandparents.
Naturally, books dealing with political events are in abundance this year. They range from beginning readers to politically themed novels and biographies of presidents, past, present and possibly future. (Yes, there are quick biographies of most of the candidates!)
Global warming is the environmental issue in a few children's books. New and fresh nonfiction was limited, as was biography, except for the series on political figures.
Many publishers are promoting bilingual books, translating classics and contemporary titles mainly in Spanish.I wonder where the humor is with books on rhyme and nonsense verse? Maybe after we've had an election year and regain a sense of humor, we'll go back to the fun of reading for fun's sake.