Children’s Books Salon Market Insights: Canada, Finland, Germany, Spain

In Feature Articles by Porter Anderson

Several international participants in next week’s Children’s Books Salon—produced by the Frankfurter Buchmesse New York and Publishing Perspectives—speak to us about the children’s book sector in their respective markets today.
New York City children's book salon

Image – iStockphoto: ATaiga

By Porter Anderson, Editor-in-Chief | @Porter_Anderson

Insights from Canada, Finland, Germany, and Spain

As Publishing Perspectives has reported, some 30 international publishers, editors, and rights directors from nine nations will be in New York City next week for the inaugural staging of the Children’s Books Salon.

This invitational event on Tuesday and Wednesday (January 23 and 24) is organized by the Frankfurter Buchmesse’s New York office and Publishing Perspectives. The goal of the event is to give children’s publishers a chance to build more international relationships.

These international publishers will meet with each other as well as with US-based children’s book editors from publishers including Abrams, Candlewick, Holiday House, Little, Brown and Company, Sourcebooks, Sky Pony, and Sourcebooks.

The visiting publishing professionals will be at the Goethe-Institut on the first day of the program for meetings and presentations and a statistical briefing from the NPD Group’s David Walter, and on their second day will visit the offices of Scholastic and Penguin Random House.

The international participants traveling to the Children’s Books Salon come from markets including China, Finland, France, Germany, the Netherlands, Norway, Spain and Sweden, and we’ve been in touch with several for some brief insights into their appraisals of the children’s books scenes in their home markets.

Ahead of the event, we interviewed several participants for some brief insights into the children’s book segment in their home markets.

Canada: Group HMH / Hurtubise

As mentioned in our special magazine coverage on Canadian Publishing, family-owned Groupe HMH was started by Claude Hurtubise and comprises four publishing houses—Éditions XYZ, Marcel Didier (MD), Éditions Hurtubise, and Éditions MultiMondes—each with a distinct niche in the market.

Groupe HMH has long been recognized as a leader in the Québec book industry, and the fifth-generation publishing Foulon family that acquired the company from Hurtubise has been closely involved in guiding and structuring the market to strengthen its authors and fellow publishers.

Rights manager Sandra Felteau talks about the company’s children’s and YA publishing program.

Publishing Perspectives: What sorts of children’s books she finds selling well now in Canada?

Sandra Felteau

Sandra Felteau: Realistic novels and series about family life and everyday teenage life—those that explore a particular topic like school life, autism, mental health, sexual harassment, and so on. Some first novels, too, and we find that comic novels are also popular.

PP: Why do you think the children’s book sector has been so consistently strong in recent years?

SF: It may have to do with the appeal of series. Young people talk together, we get some good word-of-mouth going, and the schools and libraries then want to buy the books for teenagers.

Our editors take time to learn what young readers want to read and their authors are often strong communicators, accessible on social media. Young readers—teenagers and young adults—are asking for stories about different topics in a known universe.

They like some suspense too, and we find appropriate authors to develop on these topics. For us, I’d say that middle-grade and teen realistic series are the bestselling right now. 

PP: What are some of your new titles that you’re particularly excited about right now?

SF: Our Marie-Renée Lavoie books; Comme une chaleur de feu de camp–a first novel from Amélie Panneton; the series “Juliette” from Rose-Line Brasset; Dépourvu–a first novel from Victoria Grondin; and novels for young adults from Sarah-Maude Beauchesne.

PP: Why are you interested in visiting the US for the Children’s Books Salon? Is the US market a strong one for you?

SF: We’re very excited to discover the major trends in the USA and different successes related to young adult and teenage literature, both in America and from around the world. And of course, with its large readership and so many worldwide successes—including some in the French-speaking world, too—the USA is very appealing for us. Canadian culture seems close to American culture.

PP: How well do you find that Canadian children’s literature is “traveling” these days in terms of international rights sales and translations? Are there any specific challenges you’ve run into?

SF: We’re selling rights in France, English-language Canada, and some in the Spanish world or in other European countries. Having a partnership with a US publisher is a vital goal for us, but we find it very difficult to reach them.

This may be because the roles in the book chain in America vs. French-language Canada or France are quite different.

We have a more traditional approach to publishing and we don’t work as much with scouts and agents. So this event is a very interesting window for us, a way for us to network with US and international publishers as well as learning more about the market.

Finland: WSOY

Established in 1878, WSOY—Werner Söderström Ltd.—is among the best-known publishing houses in Finland, a part of the Bonnier Books group. It’s led by publisher Anna-Riikka Carlson and isn’t limited to children’s content. WSOY publishes both Finnish and translated works of fiction and nonfiction for all age groups.

In our exchange with WSOY’s publisher for children’s and YA books Paula Halkola, we started by asking what types of children’s books are selling well in Finland.

Paula Halkola

Paula Halkola: Humor has been a big thing in Finnish children’s literature for some time now. Especially humorous picture books and some that’s humorous but still realistic.

Domestic middle-grade series have been bestsellers for some time now. Our translated bestseller of last year was definitely the Wimpy Kid by Jeff Kinney.

Publishing Perspectives: Why do you think the children’s book sector has been so consistently strong in recent years?

PH: We have big brands that are selling steadily, but also really wide selection of different kinds of books, especially considering the size of our market.

PP: What are some of your new titles that you’re particularly excited about right now?

PH: We’re happy to notice that some really new kind of offerings are working well. For example, the heavily illustrated space adventure Kepler62 has now broken through for new and quite wide audiences from 7 to even 14 years old. The series is a Finnish-Norwegian collaboration between authors Timo Parvela and Bjorn Sortland and illustrator Pasi Pitkänen. The second season of this series begins this autumn.

PP: Why are you interested in visiting the US for this event? Is the US market a strong one for you?

PH: The USA is our strongest market in translated fiction. I’ve started my work as a publisher just last year, so I’m eager to get to know people and meet new contacts–and, of course, get to know what is happening right now on the US market.

PP: With so much fine children’s literature being produced in Finland and other Nordic markets, do you find that this increases competition when it comes to looking for international rights sales?

PH: I haven’t really met this problem. The Nordic connection—and how it defines us as part of that region—might even better than simply being a small country competing with everybody else. All Nordic countries have their own characteristics, but still we also share some kind of point of view, the Nordic vision.

Germany: arsEdition

Originally created as a house of religious prints and theological writings in 1896, Munich-based arsEdition GmBH is focused on the children’s book market and has been part of Sweden’s Bonnier Group since the year 2000.

The company’s material talks about special attention to well-balanced material that recognizes young readers’ needs for both education and entertainment. “Adventure, a lot of humor, and small and big heroes are at home” in its work, the company’s descriptive material says.

As with our other interviewees, we opened our exchange with managing director Michael Schweins by asking what’s selling well now in Germany.

Michael Schweins: Sticker books of all kinds; scratch books in which you scratch colorful patterns on a blank surface page; books with sound, books and stories for rebel girls: and books on nature and ecological themes.

Publishing Perspectives: Why do you think the children’s book sector has been so consistently strong in recent years?

MS: Parents still want to see their children grow up with books. This is related to still-existing educational standards in Germany, but that doesn’t automatically mean that the books themselves have to carry educational content.

PP: What are some of your new titles that you’re particularly excited about right now?

MS: We have on our list some books based on bestselling characters, such as Die kleine Hummel Bommel (The little Bumblebee) and some really strong and fast-selling titles in our Touch and Feel and Sound line.

PP: Why are you interested in visiting the US for the Children’s Books Salon?

MS:  We’re selling strongly into the US market, especially board books and activity books of all kinds. And we’re interested in new and exciting approaches in activity books as well as good and thrilling nonfiction for middle-grade, pre-teens and outstanding gift books.

PP: Germany produces a great deal of very strong children’s literature. Does this mean that the competition at times is daunting?

MS: It’s always a challenge.

Spain: Gemser Publications

Gemser Publications is a book packager specializing in illustrated children’s books and content. The company sells its content to other publishers. Sisters Georgina and Mercè Segarra worked as agents with other publishing houses before deciding in 1999 to establish Gemser. Today, the company has an international reach having sold content into more than 20 languages. and the company produces close to two dozen titles annually.

In our exchange with Georgina Segarra, we asked first for an up-to-the-minute snapshot of how children’s books are selling in the Spanish market, and we asked which international markets are particularly relevant to Gemser’s work.

Georgina Segarra, left, and her sister Mercè of the Barcelona-based Gemser Publications

Georgina Segarra: We are packagers. We develop projects in illustrated children’s books and we sell them to publishing houses all over the world. Gemser sells its products through other publishers, providing the printed books with the seal of the publishing company that acquired the distribution rights. Even here in Spain we work like this, we don’t have our own distribution.

This year, we’ve sold a book for little kids about feelings, and it’s going really well. Also we’re doing well with science books and drawing books.

Publishing Perspectives: And in markets outside Spain?

A title in Barcelona-based Gemser Publications’ popular ‘Big Little Heroes’ series

GS: Other markets that work well for us are the USA, Greece, Croatia, and China. Each country has its own particularities.

PP: What do you think has made the children’s sector so consistently strong for publishing in recent years?

GS: Nowadays, kids get hooked on screens, and parents are worried about this. Books give parents and kids a little breath.

PP: Could you point out to us any new titles you’re especially excited about at the moment?

GS: We have a new series title Little Big Heroes that handles issues of values through a nice story and beautiful illustrations from Heidi and Daniel Howarth.

PP: What makes you interested in visiting New York for the Children’s Book Salon? You’ve mentioned that the USA is a strong market for you, right?

children's book salon Gemser

Another title in the ‘Big Little Heroes’ series

GS: We’ve been in touch with many American publishers over the years. We’ve been working with different ones—for example, with Barron’s Publications—for more than 19 years. We see these American publishers at the different book fairs around the world, and we always come to BookExpo in New York City. We think this event is more personal. It gives us a new way to meet American publishers.

PP: And considering the breadth of the Spanish-speaking world, how easily do you find that the cultural issues and values in children’s literature can “travel,” say from Spain to the Latin American markets? 

GS: The Spanish language is huge in terms of culture and language. For example, when we sell a Spanish book for Spain and the same one in Mexico, the language is very similar but not the same.

Many words change and little things in the text have to be adapted to the different markets. For instance, we think of such cultural points as how, when we sell into the Caribbean market, kids pictured must be dressed in summer clothes.

However, the values are always universal and they can travel all over the Spanish markets. Our books are always thought of in global terms.

More information about the Children’s Books Salon from Publishing Perspectives and the Frankfurter Buchmesse New York is here.

About the Author

Porter Anderson

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Porter Anderson has been named International Trade Press Journalist of the Year in London Book Fair's International Excellence Awards. He is Editor-in-Chief of Publishing Perspectives. He formerly was Associate Editor for The FutureBook at London's The Bookseller. Anderson was for more than a decade a senior producer and anchor with, CNN International, and CNN USA. As an arts critic (Fellow, National Critics Institute), he was with The Village Voice, the Dallas Times Herald, and the Tampa Tribune, now the Tampa Bay Times. He co-founded The Hot Sheet, a newsletter for authors, which now is owned and operated by Jane Friedman.