Children’s Educational Books See Uptick in Sales Amid COVID-19 School Closures

Titles related to “home-life” subjects—like preserving and canning—have also experienced a boost in sales

Boy reading with his dog
Education titles are doing particularly well, with sales of children’s nonfiction education, reference and language arts books up 12 percent from the same period last year. Getty Images

At least 124,000 schools across the United States have shut their doors—some for the remainder of the academic year—to help curb the spread of COVID-19. Millions of students are now spending their days at home, and though some schools have shifted to online distance learning, many parents have found themselves charged with keeping their kids educated—and entertained. (See Smithsonian magazine’s roundup of virtual educational resources here.) It’s perhaps unsurprising, then, that sales of children’s books and games are on the rise, as Judith Rosen reports for Publishers Weekly.

Education titles are doing particularly well, with sales of children’s nonfiction education, reference and language arts books up 12 percent from the same period last year, according to NPD BookScan, which tracks data for the publishing market. During the week ending March 14, the aforementioned categories rose 38 percent. Among the most popular titles on offer are School Zone Publishing’s Big Kindergarten and Big Second Grade workbooks.

“With more schools closing temporarily due to COVID-19, and with many parents now working from home, we are definitely seeing an uptick in kids’ educational and activity book sales this week,” says Kristen McLean, books industry analyst for NPD, in a statement. “Leading topics include math, language arts, puzzles, sticker books, word games, geometry, study aids, and coloring books.”

Over the past two weeks, Workman Publishing has ordered reprints of around three million copies of its Brain Quest and Big Fat Notebooks series.

“This demand is at a level that we’ve never seen before,” Dan Reynolds, Workman Publishing’s chief executive, tells Alexandra Alter of the New York Times.

Overall book sales have increased slightly—by 0.7 percent—from the start of the year through March 14, but that week saw book sales drop by 10 percent over the previous week—likely because consumers have “adjusted their shopping behavior in the face of widespread social distancing directives,” according to NPD. Bookstores are trying to acclimate to the change while also taking advantage of the new demand for children’s educational resources. Grant Alden, owner of CoffeeTree Books in Morehead, Kentucky, tells Publishers Weekly that parents are calling in orders from the parking lot for curbside delivery.

The coronavirus pandemic has also fueled other publishing trends. U.K. publishing company Anderson Press said this week that sales of Tony Ross’ I Don’t Want to Wash My Hands, which teaches children about hand hygiene, have skyrocketed 2,000 percent. In the U.K., in fact, total book sales jumped six percent during the week ending March 21, “as readers find they have extra time on their hands,” reports Alison Flood of the Guardian.

In the United States, books covering “home-life” subjects—like preserving and canning, container gardening and general do-it-yourself guides—are also on the rise, according to NPD.

Hoping to help parents keep their children engaged throughout the day, some companies have started to make their resources available for free. Scholastic, for instance, eased restrictions on its books use, allowing teachers and authors to read titles aloud online. Audible has made hundreds of kids’ audiobooks available for free.

“[Parents] are not only suddenly having to wear a teacher’s hat,” Lauren Tarshis, senior vice president and editor-in-chief of Scholastic Classroom magazines, tells the Times. “[Y]ou’re managing enormous stresses and working remotely yourself.”

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