Following the Bear for 40 years

Working as a children’s bookseller in 1980, it was very exciting to be at the start of an amazing 40-year journey by Walker Books, a still wholly independent publisher founded by Sebastian Walker. Helen Oxenbury’s baby board books, among the first titles, went on to become firm family favourites with nieces, nephews and my own children. I’m delighted I can now introduce my small granddaughter to the wonderful array of Walker books.

Jane Winterbotham, Walker Books Publishing Director writes:

"From Walker Books’ start in Sebastian Walker’s home 40 years ago to the busy Vauxhall offices now, Walker has been making books that children will want to read again and again: We’re Going on a Bear Hunt, Maisy, Where’s Wally?, Owl Babies, Five Minutes’ Peace and Guess How Much I Love You are just some of the classic picture books that established Walker Books’ reputation for quality and genuine child appeal.  Guess How Much I Love You, which marks its 25th anniversary this year, has alone sold over 47 million copies worldwide, making it one of the most successful children’s books ever."

Forty years on, Walker continues to attract the best talent to the list and to work to reflect all readers in our books, with exciting newcomers Angie Thomas, Galdem and Sophia Thakur headlining our lists in recent years. In 2020, authors Atinuke, Mac Barnett, Smriti Prasadam-Halls, Ben Bailey Smith, Maya Leonard and Maggie O’Farrell, and illustrators Jon Klassen, Jarvis, Jaime Kim, Yasmin Ismail, Ben Mantle, Sav Aykuz and Petr Horacek represent the wide diversity of creative talent in our picture books. Books matter, as they can help to give a child the confidence to be themselves as seen in Jessica Love’s Julian Is a Mermaid, a joyful celebration of self-expression: this October we look forward to its happy sequel, Julian at the Wedding.       


Meanwhile, the Walker candle burns brightly over the fiction list. Twenty years ago, Anthony Horowitz blazed a trail with the first Alex Rider story, Stormbreaker, kicking off the series that got a whole generation of readers into books. Now the teen super spy is back in a thrilling new adventure, Nightshade, the 13th book in the series. For younger readers, two new sparky heroines are bursting onto the scene – small but mighty Too Small Tola from Atinuke and illustrator Onyinye Iwu, followed in the autumn by Sona Sharma, Very Big Sister by Chitra Soundar, illustrated by Jen Khatun. At middle-grade, Thomas Taylor follows up the huge success of Malamander with Gargantis, and Joseph Coelho’s hilarious Zombierella kicks off ‘Fairytales Gone Bad’, illustrated by Freya Hartas. For older readers award-winning Patrick Ness takes us into a world of cults and dragons in Burn, while Neal Shusterman tackles mental illness in Challenger Deep. 


Walker’s Read and Wonder series pioneered narrative non-fiction in the 90s. Grow, a picture book exploration of DNA by Nicola Davies and Emily Sutton, continues that tradition, while cycling Olympian Chris Hoy’s Be Amazing! will be an inspiration to all young readers with the message that nothing is impossible.   


Finally, Michael Rosen, one of Walker Books’ best-loved authors, joins fellow former Children’s Laureates in two stunning new collections: On the Move, powerful poems about migration, with drawings by Quentin Blake; and Honey For You, Honey For Me, a first book of nursery rhymes, exuberantly illustrated by Chris Riddell. What better way to celebrate 40 years of children’s books!  

Walker Books and the School Library Association

As part of the celebrations to mark this significant anniversary, Walker Books are funding 40 memberships for schools of the School Library Association.

From the SLA website:

Karen Lotz, Walker Group MD, said: “For forty years, we at Walker have aspired to create a nurturing environment where our authors and illustrators can feel valued and inspired to create their very best work. We pride ourselves on the quality of the list our creators have produced and on the integrity of the program’s conception and execution, from editing and design to manufacturing. 

The most critical step, however, is getting the right book to the right child at the right time.  We are deeply aware of the profound role that a school librarian has in building a safe environment and curating a high-quality collection where each child is able to discover a love of reading for themselves. In recognition of your invaluable partnership with Walker over the decades, and as a way of thanking the library and educator community, Walker Books are delighted to sponsor 40 free memberships to the School Library Association for one year. We really value everything you do and hope that this gesture allows 40 schools and numerous children to benefit from the many resources that this wonderful institution provides to its members.”

SLA CEO Alison Tarrant said: “It’s a wonderful birthday gift from Walker; and a lovely way for them to show their appreciation for all the brilliant work that school library staff do. We work to ensure every school is supported in their use of the school library and all the amazing work and activities which that encapsulates. This illustration of appreciation for the important work of school library staff is particularly appreciated during these uncertain times.”


Applications closed on 12th June and I’m sure there is much anticipation amongst those waiting to hear if they will be one of the lucky ones!


Article by Jayne Gould