Wednesday, May 29, 2024

What's Changed in Children's Publishing in the Last Ten Years? by Julie Phend


What's Changed Since the GROG Blog Began?

As part of GROG Blog's Ten-Year Anniversary Celebration, we're exploring what's changed in children's and young adult publishing since the GROG began. 

I asked four long-term Groggers, Kathy Halsey, Christy Mihaly, Tina Cho, and Todd Burleson to tell us:

  • What has changed for you personally as a children's author, teacher or librarian in the past ten years?
  • What changes have you seen in children's publishing?

Here's what they had to say:

Kathy with her book, Be a Rainbow
Kathy Halsey:
In ten years, so much has changed in this whirlwind business. Back in 2014, I was beginning my journey as a children's writer. In 2024, my first WFH book, Be a Rainbow (Kiwi Press) launched.

When most of the charter GROG members began this journey, we were optimistic and curious about writing for children. We wanted to share our questions and the answers we discovered with other kitlit writers and illustrators; hence the birth of GROG, an acronym for "group blog."

Todd Burleson, our founder, came up with the name and banner, which hasn't changed and may feel "old school" now. (There was no CANVA then.) Our GROG goals remain the same: assisting our readers, life-long learning, celebrating others' successes, and creating a better world for all children through books.

Traditional publishing has become harder: publishing houses merged, book productions costs rose, and long waits for everything is the new normal. Still, we're optimistic and committed to writing for kids. New, smaller publishers have emerged that interact more personally with their clients. Exciting new book formats grab more readers. Best of all, more kids see themselves in books now that publishing is more open to diverse writer once left out of the business. 

Kathy Halsey is a children's author, entrepreneur, former K-12 librarian, and Past President of OELMA. 

Kathy and Christy 
Christy Mihaly:
After a dozen years and forty books. I feel less like an imposter when I tell people I'm a children's author. I've also become much more comfortable making presentations at schools, libraries, and conferences. 

I've had the same agent, Erzsi Deak, for eight years, and it's been a real joy to be on this writing journey alongside a wise professional partner. In addition to finding homes for my manuscripts, she has helped me figure out how to evolve and grow as an author.

One of the nice things about having published nonfiction books is that I've had former editors suggest new topics or ask me to write a particular book they want to see. Yes! Give me an assignment, please!

Another great thing is that I'm still meeting wonderful new people in the kidlit community--other writers, illustrators, teachers, and librarians. We're all on a journey together, and I love how supportive the kidlit and education communities are. 

Christy presents at Children's Lit Festival
in Kirksville, MO
Regarding changes I've seen in the industry:
Everything feels slower these days. Writers are having more difficulty finding agents, and agents are finding it challenging to sell manuscripts. Editors seem overworked, and books are taking a long time to move once they're acquired.

The efforts of so many people in the industry to improve diversity in kids' books has had an effect. Recently published books have featured a wide range of cultures, identities, and social issues. On the other hand, there's the backlash of book banning and censorship--we live in interesting times.

Graphic novels (and nonfiction in a GN format) have taken off in the last decade. Kids have always enjoyed these books, but I think adults are taking them more seriously now. 

The landscape of conferences seems to be changing, as some are cancelled and others revised or presented online. I'm not sure where this will go, but there may be new opportunities ahead. I look forward to finding out!

Christy Mihaly is a children's author and poet who has published more than 35 books, primarily nonfiction, on topics from hayfields to free speech to Mel Brooks.

Tina Cho
Tina Cho:
So much has changed for me personally in the past ten years! In 2014, my family was living in South Korea. In 2024, we're living in Iowa, USA. In 2014, none of my books were published. I didn't have an agent yet. In 2024, I have a wonderful agent and five published picture books with two more on the way, plus a middle grade lyrical graphic novel. I'm blessed!

Regarding changes I've seen in the publishing world:
These days, it's harder to get published. With the pandemic, publishing slowed way down. Editors started working from home. Publishers laid workers off. Some publishers have combined into one house. Agents and editors are being very selective of the stories they publish, and the wait time to hear back from both has increased dramatically. Therefore, writers need to really know the craft of writing and put their very best unique work out there. It's a competitive and tough market right now.

Ten years ago, we didn't do virtual author visits. But again thanks to the pandemic, most of now have conducted visits virtually. To do in-school visits, I think security and the necessary paperwork have increased.

I've seen editors want and acquire more diverse stories. When I first started writing, there weren't many books featuring Asian characters. Now there are many, though still a drop in the bucket compared to those featuring white characters and animals. Books that deal with social and emotional learning have skyrocketed since the pandemic. Being cooped up for a year or more hit us all heavily. Now, we read books to children and adults to get them out of depressed states. 

Tina Cho is the author of numerous fiction and nonfiction picture books. She recently moved back from South Korea to her home state of Iowa, where she teaches and raises a family.

Todd Burleson was integral to founding the GROG Blog but is no longer a regular contributor. I asked Kathy to re-introduce him to our GROG readers. 

Todd has always been a leader, team player, and a technology innovator. No wonder he was our GROG leader! This anniversary has us reminiscing about how we met. We've never met in person, but we have much in common: we both have Master's degrees and 30+ years of experience in education and a love of nonfiction. We're both school librarians, Midwesterners, and even had the same agent. Todd's still shaking things up in the school library world as a creator and visionary. Welcome back, Todd!

Todd Burleson
Todd Burleson:
Holy cow! TEN years! I vividly remember when I timidly reached out via Facebook to like-minded writers and thinkers who wanted to create a blog about all things children's literature, curious whether there was a need. A handful of intrepid individuals responded, and the Group Blog (GROG) began.

In the ensuing years, my career as an educator and librarian hit all-time highs as I was given the honor of being chosen as the 2016 School Library Journal Librarian of the Year. This afforded me tremendous opportunities and experiences, including traveling around the world talking about books and learning, and meeting amazing authors, illustrators and librarians. 

Over the past decade, I've seen the children's literature world blossom. Movements like We Need Diverse Books, the explosion of graphic novels (New Kid even won the Newberry Award in 2020), and novels in verse have turned millions of young people into passionate and empathetic readers. The Last Stop on Market Street by Matt de la Pena, the first picture book ever to win both Newberry and Caldecott Awards, seemed to change the rules and open new horizons for writers and illustrators.

In my current work as a 5th and 6th-grade librarian, I'm encouraged by the powerful stories being written that help EVERY child feel represented, respected, and understood. Students are hungry for meaningful stories that entertain, inspire, encourage, educate, and challenge them.

At the same time, I'm seeing books banned across the country at a time when the world is ever more divided and in need of understanding one another. Books have the power to bridge that gap and heal those divisions, if only we allow them to reach our readers. In my opinion, there has never been a better time to be part of the children's literature world, and books have never been more impactful!
Todd Burleson

Thank you to all the writers on the GROG, past and present, for continuing to work and encourage those who create for young readers. It is an honor to be part of this fantastic group of people. I look forward to watching the GROG expand and grow in the future.

Here's to ten more years!

Todd Burleson is a 32-year veteran educator who is currently a 5th and 6th-grade librarian in Winnetka, IL, and is the author of The Green Screen Makerspace Project Book (2017). He was selected as 2016 School Library Journal Librarian of the Year and is a passionate advocate for the power of reading to change lives.

There you have it, folks. Thank YOU for following the GROG Blog and being part of our kidlit community.  


  1. What a fascinating post, Julie! I especially liked catching up with Todd. Thank you for helping us reminisce the past 10 years! Now to 10-20-30 more!

  2. Great post, Julie! I enjoyed the perspectives of the GROGers on what they have seen and experienced - and I was happy to be a GROG contributor for a few years, too! Thanks for the informative posts :)

  3. Great post! It's great to hear what others think of how the book industry has changed over the years.

  4. Great post, Julie! I love seeing different perspectives on how the industry has changed over the years.

  5. Thanks, everyone! This was fun to do. I love the optimism that comes across in everyone's comments!

  6. I am so proud of everyone who has been a part of/or continues to be a part of the GROG! Keep being awesome! Thank you Julie.

  7. The good, the bad... So much going on. I hope the next ten years sees many, many wonderful books for everyone. Go GROG! We love you.