the branded book
In a reflection of Katherine's post on the paper she gave at Imperial last month, I thought I'd give some overview of the recent one I gave at her department, which discussed the use of branding in children's non fiction.
I came to the subject of branding because I was looking for ways to consider the notion of series within children's non-fiction. Many non-fiction children's books come in series form, for example the Horribles (pictured) or Eyewitness Guides.
There is little about series books in children's literature studies. What there is tends to be exceptions which prove the rule that children's literature studies sees series books as popularist trash, undeserving of research. As one critic put it, they are the "literary equivalent of junk food". The biggest problem for me is that the small amount of work there is talks almost exclusively about fiction. This gap in the field got me thinking about what exactly the series was in non-fiction. There is little sense of change over time, no feel of narrative whole in completing the series. It's not characters which are repeated as much as symbols, icons and styles. I started to wonder if we'd be better off thinking of Eyewitness or Horrible as "brands" rather than "series".
I also think we need to address that these books are marketed as brands. There are "spin off" products for the Horribles (Katherine's last post is an example of one, there are also toys, magazines, activity books). Such branding is as true in fiction as it is non-fiction. I once saw a Jacqueline Wilson taxi-cab; pink with the tagline "every girls best friend" emblazoned over the roof. Children's books are marketed commodities and I think children's literature studies would do well to critically reflect on this.
My paper was very much a "work in progress". In my further work on this area I want to consider the implications of branding media - branding a soap is one thing, but media carries ideas and information. Do we require our knowledge to come with a stamp of some form of trustworthy organization? I also wish to consider the formation of identity which comes with branding, ideas of "brand loyalty" and membership of a group of users of a particular brand.
I'll leave you with some links to examples of branded children's non-fiction books. I think they all use branding in different ways.
- Scholastic's Horrible Science (a CD rom of which you can currently get free with cornflakes), these are also part of a broader, Horrible Brand.
- those with the name, even photograph of a famous person in the front, generally famous for something other than writing children's books, e.g. Robert Winston's body books
- The DK series linked to google or with museums.
- Baby Einstein
As I said earlier, this is still work in progress - it'd be interesting to hear anymore about what people think on the topic.