Posted by: Kathy Temean | October 12, 2010

Picture Books On Decline

This article came out  last week in the New York Times.  It was such a bummer, that I didn’t post it.  Even some best-selling authors are feeling the pinch.  I know a lot of you have already read this, but when the Stinky Cheese Man Jon Scieszka says things are bad, we really have to be aware of what is going on in the picture book industry.

Picture Book No Longer a Staple for Children

By JULIE BOSMAN
Published: October 7, 2010 NY Times

Picture books are so unpopular these days at the Children’s Book Shop in Brookline, Mass., that employees there are used to placing new copies on the shelves, watching them languish and then returning them to the publisher.

“So many of them just die a sad little death, and we never see them again,” said Terri Schmitz, the owner.

The shop has plenty of company. The picture book, a mainstay of children’s literature with its lavish illustrations, cheerful colors and large print wrapped in a glossy jacket, has been fading. It is not going away — perennials like the Sendaks and Seusses still sell well — but publishers have scaled back the number of titles they have released in the last several years, and booksellers across the country say sales have been suffering.

The economic downturn is certainly a major factor, but many in the industry see an additional reason for the slump. Parents have begun pressing their kindergartners and first graders to leave the picture book behind and move on to more text-heavy chapter books. Publishers cite pressures from parents who are mindful of increasingly rigorous standardized testing in schools.

“Parents are saying, ‘My kid doesn’t need books with pictures anymore,’ ” said Justin Chanda, the publisher of Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers. “There’s a real push with parents and schools to have kids start reading big-kid books earlier. We’ve accelerated the graduation rate out of picture books.”

Booksellers see this shift too.

“They’re 4 years old, and their parents are getting them ‘Stuart Little,’ ” said Dara La Porte, the manager of the children’s department at the Politics and Prose bookstore in Washington. “I see children pick up picture books, and then the parents say, ‘You can do better than this, you can do more than this.’ It’s a terrible pressure parents are feeling — that somehow, I shouldn’t let my child have this picture book because she won’t get into Harvard.”

Literacy experts are quick to say that picture books are not for dummies. Publishers praise the picture book for the particular way it can develop a child’s critical thinking skills.

“To some degree, picture books force an analog way of thinking,” said Karen Lotz, the publisher of Candlewick Press in Somerville, Mass. “From picture to picture, as the reader interacts with the book, their imagination is filling in the missing themes.”

Many parents overlook the fact that chapter books, even though they have more text, full paragraphs and fewer pictures, are not necessarily more complex.

“Some of the vocabulary in a picture book is much more challenging than in a chapter book,” said Kris Vreeland, a book buyer for Vroman’s Bookstore in Pasadena, Calif., where sales of picture books have been down. “The words themselves, and the concepts, can be very sophisticated in a picture book.”

They can, for example, be written with Swiftian satire, like “Monsters Eat Whiny Children” by Bruce Eric Kaplan, a new book about children who are nearly devoured as a result of bad behavior.

Each year, the coveted Randolph Caldecott Medal goes to the most distinguished picture book published in the United States. (This year it went to “The Lion and the Mouse” by Jerry Pinkney, an adaptation of the Aesop’s fable with luminous images and no words at all.)

Still, many publishers have gradually reduced the number of picture books they produce for a market that had seen a glut of them, and in an age when very young children, like everyone else, have more options, a lot of them digital, to fill their entertainment hours.

At Scholastic, 5 percent to 10 percent fewer hardcover picture books have been published over the last three years. Don Weisberg, the president of the Penguin Young Readers Group, said that two and a half years ago, the company began publishing fewer titles but that it had devoted more attention to marketing and promoting the ones that remain. Of all the children’s books published by Simon & Schuster, about 20 percent are picture books, down from 35 percent a few years ago.

Classic books like “Goodnight Moon” and the “Eloise” series still sell steadily, alongside more modern popular titles like the “Fancy Nancy” books and “The Three Little Dassies” by Jan Brett, but even some best-selling authors are feeling the pinch. Jon Scieszka, who wrote “Robot Zot,” said his royalty checks had been shrinking, especially in the last year.

Read the rest of the article.

Talk tomorrow,

Kathy


Responses

  1. Yeah, Kathy, I read this too (I think Anita posted it) and it’s SO sad. To think that parents are pushing their children away from picture books is ridiculous. Can’t kids be kids? UGH!
    Donna

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  2. Maybe I’m paranoid, but why do I feel the screens are behind this?

    Publishers, you need to fight back.
    Don’t you realize you are fighting big business?
    But you’re big business too.

    Go out and solicit more info and quotes like this one:
    “Literacy experts are quick to say that picture books are not for dummies. Publishers praise the picture book for the particular way it can develop a child’s critical thinking skills.”

    Now, go to all your connections—c’mon that’s what you want your authors to do to promote themselves, right? —and write, write, write, promote your picture books!
    Get the word out that picture books ROCK.

    Get teachers, parents, librarians, kids, and psychologists; get the research done and get an article of your own published in the NY Times.

    If the picture books die, the publishing industry has only itself to blame.

    Now, I’ve got to go. I need to read some picture books to my four-year old son.

    Like

    • YEA, Mimi!!!!!!!!!!!!!! This should actually be SENT to the publishers OR an article should be written and submitted TO the NY Times!
      Donna

      Like

  3. I’m not having success with a PB manuscript, and am thinking of turning it into a chapter book. Will that make me a traitor? I love and collects PBs, so I hope I hope this trend reverses.

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  4. That’s crazy!!!

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  5. I am truly saddened by this. Picture books plant the seeds of imagination and set the stage for reading readiness.

    Children are meant to be playful and imaginative. And picture books compliment this important phase of life.

    Perhaps if children were permitted to be children, there would be less adults who revert back to childish behaviors.

    Like

    • Camille, I LOVE that last line of yours!
      Donna

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  6. Donna Marie & Mimi Cross, you both are so right. We all need to fight back, get out the word and help create an exciting place at the local bookstore for children. Have SCBWI get out the word for all us to form together and fight for the child in all of us. Amen!

    Mary Nida

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    • Wow, Mary…I wonder if that could actually happen…you know, some “Picture Book Awareness” movement sparked/headed by the SCBWI! Hmmmmm….
      Donna

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  7. As a child reader of picture books and an adult reader of dry technical specification manuals, guess what I read for pleasure?…..picture books!! There are plenty of long, long, long books out there waiting for adults. Why rush it? I wish my specificaiton manuals had pictures. I need to ask my architect friends about that.

    All the comments here are right on!!

    Like

    • Rushing childhood has become a huge problem, I think. When we look around, so much of what we see younger and younger children doing, thinking and then acting upon is incredibly frightening! I don’t think children should be “babied”, but I DO think they should be allowed to be children first.
      Donna

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  8. This parental pushiness is nothing new. As a school librarian, I’ve seen it for years. I am more interested in talking about how the bookstores and publishing industry are contributing to this short-sighted approach to reading. I’ve written about this in my blog at http://booksofwonder.wordpress.com/
    Comments?

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    • Wonderful blog, Janice! Thank you! And I, too, have always felt they should print more picture books in paperback. I think they’d sell more too since hardcover is so pricey. NOT that many are not worth it, but honestly, I also feel that many are not. That’s one of the beefs I have with too skimpy a word count.
      Donna

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      • Thanks, Donna. I just started my blog last month and hope others will keep discovering it! Literature is one of the most powerful ways to nurture children’s imagination and values.
        I agree there are many books that don’t deserve to be purchased. And then there are other fabulous books that receive great reviews but do not get prominent displays in bookstores and therefore stand little chance of selling well.

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  9. I just wanted to urge anyone who read the full article to consider reading Amanda’s post at http://zenleaf.amandagignac.com/ (she says she’s keeping her October 7th response at the top of her blog for a few weeks). She was quoted in the article, but she was extremely upset to see the end result.

    And I’m sure someone has witnessed me pulling a picture book out of my child’s hands at the library. Would you like to know why? It is because said child picked out a dozen picture books at another library yesterday and we haven’t had a chance to read any of them yet, or some variation of this scenario. And you might even see me urging the child to choose a chapter book if perhaps that pile is getting very low (not READ it, just CHOOSE one for our pile at home, just in case). I never imagined how this might be viewed, and it saddens me that someone like that NY Times reporter may have passed judgment without knowing anything about the situation.

    Like

    • This is a perfect example of why you have to take, with a grain of salt, what you read in the papers . Having been married to a cop, I was privy to articles published that were skewed to sensationalize. It’s sad, but true 😦
      Donna

      Like


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