It's been a unique position from which to observe the two countries' children's book markets, and I want to share some generalizations (generalisations). Of course, I can think of numerous books which don't fit neatly into these categories, but this post isn't meant to be authoritative. Rather, I'd love to hear your observations, too, and thoughts about why these differences might exist. Also, my knowledge is focused around books for nine-year-olds and up, as that's what I tend to follow. Any knowledge of books for younger readers in the different markets is also welcome!
The American children's book market is more commercial, and drives trends, especially in teen fiction*: vampires, paranormal romance, dystopians. Lately I hear everyone is searching for thrillers.
The British market certainly follows these trends (Moira Young's Blood Red Road is the latest dystopian), but there's also space for a wider variety of books. British children's books can be more imaginative and unique (Patrick Ness & Siobhan Dowd's A Monster Calls). Perhaps because the British market imports so many books from the US, they're not as concerned about staying on trend.
They also are less rigid in age-grouping. Numerous books (Candy Gourlay's Tall Story, Chris Bradford's Young Samurai series) seem to overlap genres and age-groupings. In fact, the British market frequently places books on multiple shelves, children's and adult, sometimes even with different covers, to encourage cross-over appeal (trying not to be judgmental here, but goodness, I wish the American market did this!).
The American young adult market tends to be much grittier and edgier, more sex, more drugs, more dangerous and "adult" situations, more teen books in general. The British market, with the exception of a handful of authors (Melvin Burgess, Keren David), is gentler, and publishes more books for 9-12 year-olds (middle grade books). The British market is also more willing to publish books on hot topics such as the environment, immigration and refugees (Miriam Halahmy's Hidden), whereas the US market tends to avoid "issue-driven" books (not to imply Hidden is issue-driven, as opposed to character-driven, just that that stereotype tends to sink such books!).
The British market is also smaller, or at least more condensed, so there are more reviews in national papers (though still not a lot). There also seems to be more local awards from schools and counties, whereas the US tends to mostly favor national awards.
The British market has more recognizable (recognisable) big names, stalwarts in the field who have long careers under their belts (Michael Morpurgo, David Almond, Jaqueline Wilson).
However, the American market has few stalwarts, fewer of whom seem to be publishing regularly. Instead, its main draw is debut novelists, the new, bright potential hot things.
It's much more common to see American children's books being used in schools, but from my observation, British authors do a lot more school visits.
Goodness, I could keep going and going on this. The submission process, and the relationships authors have with their agents and publishers is different between the countries, too, but maybe I'll save that for a future post.
Questions, comments, and words of wisdom, as always, welcome!
Dude! I've barely had time to skim it, but I just discovered one of my favorite (favourite) British authors, Keren David, has just written a post about celebrating British (as opposed to American) teen fiction. Talk about fortuitous timing! Definitely give it a read.
*Note: The US and UK children's book markets don't even share the same terminology, though these distinctions are beginning to blur. British fiction refers to 9-12 books and teen books. American fiction has middle grade books and young adult books. Though Brits also have a newly emerging category called "young adult" which is older and edgier than teen fiction--I won't refer to that category specifically because it confuses even me!