Doodles and diaries - and why children love them!

Wimpy Kid started the bandwagon, but series like Dork Diaries, Tom Gates and The World of Norm soon followed and now also boast growing sales figures. So what is it about diaries and doodles that is getting children hooked?

The success of the contemporary 'diary' genre was discussed recently at The Bookseller Children's Conference with publishers from Scholastic (Tom Gates), Simon & Schuster (Dork Diaries) and Puffin (Wimpy Kid) trying to establish why children have taken doodling and diaries to heart.

Captain Underpants and the Horrible Histories series, both published by Scholastic, were among the first popular series to offer this 'mixed literacy' approach where children can read both text and images. Horrible Histories have sold 12m copies to date in the UK - and probably helped to account for many lifelong readers in its time says Lisa Edwards, publishing director at Scholastic.

The readership of the Horrible Histories books is roughly 60% reluctant boys and 40% reading girls, largely aged eight to 12 years although the age range has widened on the back of the television series.

Series like these may have done the groundwork for the newest crop of diary-based bestsellers and the rise of the author / illustrator, such as Liz Pichon with the Tom Gates series. The latest Tom Gates book, Genius Ideas (Mostly) was published in September.

Edwards says, "These author / illustrators are working on the very appealing idea that you can create your own book with some text and doodles. Their series are based on believable worlds, about everyday things like days in school, teachers and lunch boxes. They are funny and, quite often, silly."

She also asks the question, are there so many comic strip books today because of falling literacy levels? Or is it that we "finally giving children what they want?". Perhaps the prevalent view that visual literacy is somehow inferior needs to be overhauled, she adds. "Are reluctant readers really readers who don't get what they want from publishers?" And the other 'gatekeepers' - parents, librarians, booksellers and teachers?

She adds, "Why are we so keen to wean children off pictures into 'proper' text when we spend our adult life looking at text AND pictures?".

The Dork Diaries series by Rachel Renee Russell was launched by Simon & Schuster in 2010 and filled the gap in the market for a diary series with a girl protagonist. This has helped drive sales to some 1m copies to date in the UK; book five, Dear Dork, was published this month, October. Editorial director Venetia Gosling says, "Girls love diaries, they love writing their own and they like reading them. We feel you can deal with more difficult subjects in quite a direct way, as well as keeping them funny and authentic."

"Humour works for both sexes", says Vanessa Godden, senior marketing manager at Penguin, which publishes Wimpy Kid. "All young people understand the 'why me?' question and those pre-teen injustices. They recognise that world of embarrassing mums, dorky friends, first love and annoying siblings." Parents are also reading and enjoying the Wimpy Kid books - not surprising given that Kinney originally wrote the books for an adult audience reminiscing on their teen years. The seventh book in the series, The Third Wheel, is out on 14th November.

11/10/2012Doodles and diaries - and why children love them!
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