Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Worth a Thousand Words

A couple weeks ago, the New York Times published an article saying the picture book was fading. Sales are down, orders are down--and while the article cites the down economy, it suggests that some of the lag is due to parents rushing their kids into chapter books early to get them ahead. As the parent of a three-year-old, I was dismayed to learn that I was stunting my child's intellectual growth through Grumpy Bird, but have promptly cast it aside in favor of Anna Karenina. I've found it helps to pretend all the main characters are bunnies.

But now the author of the Early Word Kids column suggests I might want to reconsider trashing the Scieszka for Solzhenitsyn. Picture books, it turns out, are actually useful to children's development. She cites a number of reasons, including the relative sophistication of the verbal and visual content of picture books as opposed to early chapter books.

It's never fun to open up the newspaper and discover the thing you've devoted your life to is languishing. (I mean, this is how newspaper reporters feel every day.) But trends come and go in publishing. Get in your time machine and go look at the YA section of the bookstore six years ago. Go ahead, I'll wait. And, really, the economy can probably explain a lot--including, as the blog Mother Reader points out, an early entrance into chapter books. ("I can understand," she writes, "the mindset of an economizing parent who, when purchasing a book, wants to find one that will last a little bit longer. Hey, we do it with shoes and it works.")

The picture book will come back and it will be the dystopian novelists who are reading articles about the fading market and think the world is ending. So, get back to work.

And now, a word from our sponsors at Hamline's MFA in Writing for Children. The deadline for applications for the January term is Nov. 1. If you're curious about the program, you can try a mini-immersion--one residency and one semester. For more details, and for pictures of the handsome student body, please see the website. Please note that handsomeness is not a requirement for admission, and may in fact be an effect of the program.


  1. When I started publishing (1995) "they" pronounced the YA novel dead. Picture books were peaking. The world couldn't get enough of them--shelling out for hardbacks. Said it was like buying the art as well. My editor wouldn't even breathe on my contemporary realistic manuscript, so I happily, joyfully did picture books. Ten years later I gave the same YA manuscript to the same editor and he offered a contract right away, and for another YA, too. Now all I want to do is picture books again, and my publisher has strictly said NO, WRITE A ZOMBIE NOVEL instead.

    Anne is right, it all comes around. Or as another sage Hamline colleague once said, "sometimes you're on top of the game, and sometimes you're under it."

    (by the way, I found that article completely lame it had nothing to do with books, and it's about two years behind.)

    (and also, by the way, I am not writing a zombie novel--in fact I have a new publisher and a pic book coming out.)

  2. Dystopian zombie bunnies.

    That would make an AWESOME picture book.

  3. "it's how newspaper reporters feel everyday..." and it's even worse if said reporter has traded in their profession for the one cited in that article.

  4. Peter Rabbit being chased by a zombified Mr. McGregor, maybe?

  5. Anne, funny you should mention it. I do feel more handsome since joining the faculty. Maybe we need a group photo shot next residency to show off all our sex appeal, zombielike or not.

  6. I would also like to add, I'm a little late on this thread, that the forgotten piece to all of this is that p.b's are the literature to thousands of kids who are visual learners. I have two daughters, one who at a young age listened to books with no pictures at all, and one who will only want books with pictures. I wonder if we couldn't go back to the olden days when p.b.'s were allowed to have more than 800 words. They told a story and had pictures. I know it's a crazy idea...I would think this is a marketing question too. How are these books marketed? And do the marketers understand the value of them. I would suggest they do not, but every single teacher in America does.