What We Read This Year: Israeli Publishing Year in Review (2018)

What We Read This Year: Israeli Publishing Year in Review (2018)

Ahead of Hebrew Book Week, the National Library Presents the Israeli Publishing Statistics for 2018

This year a special section is dedicated to examining the attitude toward disabilities and special needs in children’s and youth literature, from the establishment of the State to the present day


Highlights of the 2018 report:

  • An increase in publishing (879 more titles were published in 2018, as compared to 2017).
  • The increase in publishing for the past decade stands at 35% (6,326 publications in 2008, as compared with 8,571 in 2018).
  • Over 400 biographies were published this year- an increase of 20%, as compared to the previous year. In addition, 22 biographies were published specifically for children and youth- many of them focused on women.
  • Most of the non-religious literature intended for ultra-Orthodox readers was written by women (80%).
  • In the past year, 430 new e-books and 550 audiobooks were received at the National Library.

This year, the National Library's publishing report includes a special chapter examining the attitudes toward people with special needs in children's literature throughout the country's 70 years, with the aim of examining whether children’s and youth literature reflect the changing norms and values of cultural discourse and whether different groups in Israeli society are given expression or not.

Part I – Data on Books Received at the NLI in 2018

8,571 books were published in Israel in 2018, as compared with 7,692 in 2017. This book count does not include doctoral dissertations, e-books, audiobooks, and periodicals. This is a 35% increase in the number of titles that were catalogued at the National Library one decade ago (6,326 in the year 2008).

91% of the books catalogued at the National Library in 2018 were published in Hebrew. Publications in other languages of note include: English (3.9%), Arabic (2.9%), and Russian (1.1%). All told, a total of 22 languages, including among others German, French, Dutch and Romanian, were represented among Israeli publications.

85.6% of all books (non-fiction, prose, instructional, etc.) published in 2018 were original works. This signifies a slight increase from 2017’s 84%. Of the translated books published in Israel this year, the majority language of origin was English (62.6%). Other languages of origin include: German (4.1%), French (4%), Arabic (1.1%), and Swedish (1%). The remaining 27.2% portion of translated publications is made up of 30 different languages - most of them European languages.

In 2018, 1,280 books of prose and poetry were received at the National Library. This represents a slight increase from the previous year’s 1,247 books of prose and poetry. Of this year’s 1,280 books, 844 titles fell under the prose category, 88 were short story collections, and 348 were poetry books.

Of the prose and poetry books published in 2018, 840 were Israeli originals - similar to the number of Israeli originals published the previous year (849). The vast majority of books in this subcategory were written in Hebrew, but there were also prominent Israeli publications authored in Russian, English and Arabic. 440 translations of poetry and prose represented a 17% increase, as compared with 376 in 2017. Most of them were translated from English (303) and French (24). Other prominent languages in 2019 included German (16) and Spanish (15).

Within the books of prose, both in the Israeli originals and translations, is a wide representation of themes and genres. 193 books (20.7%) shared the common theme of the relationship between men and women, 84 of which were defined as romantic novels. Often, this is only one of the topics dealt with in the book, while the main story touches on other areas such as espionage, finance, historical affairs, and more. This subgenre also featured 22 novels concerning the Holocaust, describing everyday life during and after the war.

At least 50 books of prose targeting an ultra-Orthodox audience were published in 2018. Almost all of them (94%) were original books written in Hebrew. 78% of these books were authored by women, while another 6% were written by authors using non-gender specific pseudonyms. The relatively high percentage of titles by authors using pseudonyms may indicate unwillingness on the part of writers to expose their true identities to their own communities. These publications are what could be called "secular literature", targeting ultra-Orthodox women, as opposed to "sacred literature," which is written mostly by men. The main topics among books written for ultra-Orthodox populations are family and parenting (26%), suspense (12%), poetry (10%), the relationship between men and women (8%), the Holocaust, and historical fiction centered around biblical figures (each 6%, respectively). Although the number of books of prose intended for the ultra-Orthodox community is small, relative to their proportion of the population, it is an indication of a growing phenomenon that has been steadily expanding since the 1980s.

In 2018, 1,045 books for children and youth were received at the National Library, as compared to 1,056 in 2017. Not surprisingly, an overwhelming majority (93%) of children's books were published in Hebrew. 4.2% of children’s and youth books were published in Arabic, and the rest were written in English and Yiddish.
Many of the children's books published in Israel are not Hebrew originals, but books translated from foreign languages. Here there is an important distinction made between children's literature for the general public and children’s literature for the ultra-orthodox community - In children's literature for the general public, 65.6% of the titles are original books written in Hebrew and the rest are mostly books translated from English. In regards to children’s literature for the ultra-Orthodox community, 93% of the titles are original Hebrew books.

This year, there were also 86 books published for infants and toddlers. These books are the starting point for the parent-child reading experience and include first words such as the names of objects, animals, and more.

A trend that has gained footing in recent years is the proliferation of science fiction and fantasy books, perhaps due to a growing focus on this genre in various other media, including television and computer games. In 2018, 73 books were published in the genre of science fiction and fantasy, most of them written for youth (89%). The overwhelming majority of these books (79%) were books translated from foreign languages. In addition, 87 comic books were published, 64% of which targeted the ultra-orthodox community.

Children's books can be used as educational and bibliotherapeutic (book therapy) tools. This year, 57 books dealing with emotions and the possibilities to express them were published in Israel. The vast majority (92%) are intended for ages 4-8, helping parents and educators to encourage their children to identify and reflect on their own feelings through books. Two of the most prominent issues dealt with in these books were divorce, and entering a new schoolroom setting.

A relatively new phenomenon is the publication of biographies specially adapted for young children, up to third grade. In the past, biographies were written mainly for older children and youth (ages 9 and over). This year, 22 biographies for children were published, most of them in book series that offer children exposure to historical leaders and figures who influenced humanity in general and Israel in particular. The purpose of many of these biographies is to emphasize the importance, impact, and contributions of influential women in Israel and around the world.

The majority of non-fiction books published in Israel deal with the subject of Judaism. This subject includes Jewish thought, Torah, Jewish law, biblical and academic research, as well as rabbinical literature. At least 1,330 books on Judaism and Jewish thought were published in 2018. Independently funded projects lead the field, and private individuals published more books on these topics than any particular publishing body (36%).

Biographies are also a relatively popular genre in Israel, with over 400 biographies published in 2018. 48 of them tell the stories of Holocaust survivors. Most of these books were written by the second and third generations of the survivors’ families. Other biographies were written by people documenting their family roots and their family members’ journeys to the Land of Israel, along with the settlement period in the country. These figures represent a 20% increase in comparison to the previous year (320 biographies). This is a significant uptick even in comparison to the entire past decade, with an average of 300 new biographies published each year.

Although Israel is considered a leader in the fields of natural and exact sciences, only 58 Hebrew language books on nature and popular science were published in Israel in 2018. This is compared to 130 publications on law, taxation and insurance. 487 books were published on the study of the history of the Land, State and People of Israel, as well as the Arab-Israeli conflict.

In an age when most information is available on the internet, it may be surprising that there are still a great deal of hobby books published, including cookbooks, hiking guides, fitness guides, self-empowerment books and self-help manuals of different sorts. This genre has performed consistently over the years.

In 2018, 276 books were published in this category. They are divided amongst a wide array of topics: 73 hiking and travel guides, 34 cookbooks (with a wide variety of subgenres: healthy food, fast food, vegan cooking, etc.), 47 books on empowerment and self-help, and a variety of other fields.

The physical collection of e-books is a complex matter, but there has been a significant increase in the capacity and scope of the National Library’s collection. In 2018, the National Library was able to receive and catalogue both new e-book releases as well as e-books released in previous years. In the last year, 1,058 e-books were received at the National Library, 430 of which were published in 2018, the rest were from previous years.

550 audiobooks (recorded by iCast) were received at the National Library in 2018 - double the amount of audiobooks received in 2017. 383 (69%) of these were intended for adults, 66 for youth and 98 for children. 3 poetry books were also recorded.

About 40% of the audiobooks were originally published by small publishing houses. The main genres in the audiobooks category were fantasy novels and romantic novels. Many of these audiobooks were part of various audiobook series, such as: The Mortal Instruments, The Gypsy Brothers, and the Eva Etzioni-Halevy series. The marked increase in audiobooks may be a testament to the desire to maintain a connection to books in a changing world by modifying methods of consumption and reading.

Part II - The Attitude Toward the “Other”

From the Establishment of the State to the Present Day

This year, the National Library has devoted a special section of our annual report to examining the changes in children’s and youth literature and its attitude toward people with disabilities and special needs, from the establishment of the State of Israel to the present day.

Literature is a reflection of the norms, attitudes, and values that authors have tried to instill among young readers over the years. In many ways, changes in the content of children's literature reflect the changes experienced by Israeli society in terms of its ability to include and accept groups and individuals who, in one way or another, have been classified as "others".

In the early years of the young state there was hardly any literary recognition of children with disabilities, children on the autistic spectrum or children with various other disorders. On the contrary, there was a conscious attempt to create a homogeneous cultural corpus that reflected a uniform set of values and way of life. There was, in fact, an effort to hide those who were considered different and to "correct" non-functioning individuals in an effort to make them "normal." The few attempts to write about “different” children were those in which the exceptional child had to attempt to integrate into normative society. Israeli children's literature only began to truly address the subject of special needs children in the late 1970s in books such as Ani Etgaber ("I Shall Overcome") by Dvora Omer and The Blue Rose by Gerda Weissmann Klein, which was translated from English in 1980.


A significant change was seen from the year 2000 and onwards. Since then, 78 children's books have been published whose primary focus is on children with physical and cognitive disabilities. This upward trend has doubled since 2010, and in the past eight years at least 52 books in which the main character is a child with special needs have been published. 11 such books were published in 2018. This is an astonishing figure when compared to only 10 such books that were published in all of the 1980s.

The difference is not only numerical, it is also apparent in the content. Books in recent years reflect the changing attitude of society to children with disabilities. They do not try to "correct" those children, but rather explain and describe how disorder or disability is manifested and how these children cope with it. In some books, the dualistic attitude toward the “other” still exists. These books may touch on how people with disabilities are often excluded and how some sections of society recoil away from them, but the general trend is to help accept and integrate these children into society.

The National Library's publishing report, summarizing the year 2018, points to a moderate increase in the amount of books published in Israel, which occurs on an almost yearly basis across almost all literary genres. The report also shows that despite the millions of Israelis for whom Hebrew is not the first literary language, or even the preferred one, an absolute majority of the books published in Israel appear in Hebrew. Only 8% of books are intended for Arabic, Russian, English or French readers.

Additionally, data from this year's report points to some interesting developments that are evident as we near the end of the second decade of the digital age. A constant and steady increase in the publication of non-fiction books and instructional books is noticeable, despite the proliferation of similar information on the internet. Although there has been a significant increase in the publication of e-books and audiobooks, there has not been a decrease in the number of printed books. In fact, it seems that the opposite is true - most genres have seen an increase in publishing figures.
The National Library’s report also shows that the subjects of the books published in Israel and their diversity are a reflection and expression of the processes and changes that are currently being experienced by Israeli society as a whole. Prose, poetry, non-fiction, magazines, and newspapers have always been considered major cultural intermediaries and significant sources of knowledge in the quest to understand trends and changes in Israeli society. An in-depth examination of changes over many years can also reveal profound societal changes, such as Israeli society's treatment of the disabled and people with special needs.

The director of the National Library, Mr. Oren Weinberg, explains that the cooperation of publishers in transferring all books and publications to the National Library enables the Library to greatly improve its ability to study and evaluate the important information which is received, as well as to make it accessible to the public.

"By correctly analyzing the patterns of publishing, we can trace different patterns in Israeli culture. Changes in the ways that literature is consumed attest to changes in the interests of Israeli society. Other aspects may indicate changes in publishing trends, which may affect the authors, the publishers, the shops, and ultimately us, the consumers," says Weinberg.