The New York Times claims the picture book is dead. Depressing as the news is for those of us writing picture books, I’m taking it with a large grain of salt. My take on the subject?
1) It’s the economy, stupid. Picture books are quite expensive. Most run $18- $25 in bookstores, and few are released in a paperback edition unless they’ve become a “book club” book from Scholastic, et al. or are related to a movie, cartoon character , or other tie-in. When the economy recovers, so will picture book sales. What goes down must come up!
2) It ain’t over till the fat lady sings. Pundits have been predicting the death of print for several years now. Funny – still plenty of books, magazines, and newspapers in print. While the numbers of folks buying and using e-readers of all stripes is increasing, there are still many people who prefer print or can’t afford an e-reader. Which brings me to:
3) A library is a storehouse of medicine for the mind. While libraries have been testing e-books as a library resource both with and without the e-reader itself, they haven’t come close to replacing books as the main resource. And as long as libraries keep buying hardcopy books, even if they reduce the number of copies or titles, well, publishers will keep publishing ’em in print.
4) One picture is worth 1,000 words. A picture book is literally a work of art. A portable, affordable piece of original art. Various pressures may push children away from picture books, as claimed by the Times, but children – and adults – love to look at picture books. If the illustrations making up many of these books were created as individual pieces, many would be hanging in museums.
6) Don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater. If the main reason children are avoiding picture books is the impression that “they’re for babies,” perhaps the time has come to return to ‘picture storybooks.’ Picture books with plenty of words and rich language and a complex story that can’t be told primarily through the art. You know, the ones that authors are told now “won’t sell.” What’s next? Graphic novels get the boot, too? Hmm, seems they’re gaining in popularity. Guess what? Graphic novels are picture books all grown up!
My final comment? Stop pushing children into chapter books. You want to know why Johnny can’t read? You didn’t give him the time and space to learn. The belief that picture books are easier is erroneous; many popular picture books are actually written at a third-grade reading level. Picture books help a child gain critical thinking skills, which in turn helps them become more confident readers. Just because a child can read the words doesn’t mean they understand them. What’s wrong with a little artistic help? A little color? A little more nonverbal humor?
So, me, I’m still plugging away at my picture book manuscripts. And I hope my colleagues, published and unpublished, do the same.