Wednesday, October 13, 2010

R.I.P. PB?

Hey, all you PB writers out there, I bet you read—or at least heard about—last week’s downer of an article in The NY Times, “Picture Books No Longer a Staple for Children.” According to Julie Bosman’s article, a poor economy aside, parents are another big factor in the growing pb sales slump. As Bosman writes, feeling pressured by the kid-eat-kid world of standardized testing in schools, parents are “pressing their kindergartners and first graders to leave the picture book behind and move on to more text-heavy chapter books.”

As a result, more pbs are collecting dust on bookstore shelves. This shift away from pbs toward older kid genres—from chapter books on up, in particular, those blood-thirsty YAs—was confirmed by some key booksellers and kidlit publishers, who say they’re buying fewer pbs because of it.

Of course, cyberspace was abuzz with reactions from anyone who had any connection to the pb world, from school teachers to booksellers to parents. Most defended pbs for their challenging vocabulary and ability to “force an analog way of thinking,” among other traits.

But here’s my question for you PB writers: After reading articles like this, writing for and landing sales in the pb market sounds more challenging than ever. Does discouraging news like this make you think twice about continuing to write for this genre? Does this article make you want to jump the sinking ship Picture Book and swim over to the YA lifeboat? Or do you just try to ignore whatever The Old Gray Lady and her fussy friends say about the state of kidlit, so you can keep on doing what you do best, writing and hopefully selling your next and best PB?


  1. I won't believe the picture books are dead, ill perhaps, but not dead. BENNO is going into his second printing. Granted, that's not a typical pb, but still, it's a pb.

    As for continuing to write them . . . YES I am. I spent the last three days working on two picture book mss that I'm going to send in for my VCFA January workshop submission, all with the goal of publishing.

  2. Standardized tests, my left foot. Even if this article is accurate -- which the quotes from the mom, for one thing, are not -- standardized tests are not the reason for a PB slump. So much of what's wrong in education has been blamed on things that have happened since 2000 when actually the seeds were planted in the 1960s.

    Here are factors I think drive the slump, assuming the news is this bad, which I'm not sure it is: -Fear that our kids have horrible economic futures unless they can get into "the best colleges." -The claim from every parent extant that their kids are "very bright" and "way above average." -Harry Potter, heavy tomes not at all "written down," yet gobbled up by millions of nine-year-olds. -Your Baby Can Read. -Overall ignorance of and disrespect for children's books. -Wanting a book that's going to last 3 or 4 nights instead of 10 minutes, for that kind of money. -Considering art a frill, but reading a necessity.

    I'm not a PB writer, so I can't actually speak to the questions you raise. But if I were one, I'd not swallow this article whole.

  3. I think one of the reasons that my daughter is such an advanced reader is the abundance of PBs in our house. It will swing back.

    I am still writing them!!!

  4. BTW, should I be looking for any of you ladies at Rutgers this weekend?

  5. Even years ago when I was an elementary school librarian, I despaired at the number of parents who pushed aside picture books as "baby" and wanted their kids to have books with "chapters and lots of print on the page."

    The pressure to excel is even worse now and also many can't or won't buy a $17 or $18 book.

    But if I want to write one, I will anyway!

  6. I hated it when my boys totally moved on to chapter books and no longer wanted to snuggle up with Mommy and picture books. I had so loved that ritual. Of course, it was they who introduced me to middle grade and hooked me for life!

    And Corey, I'll be at Rutgers!

  7. Funny - I wrote about this on my blog today too. It's the hot topic of the week!

    I will keep writing them because it's what I need and want to write right now.

    I also want to write YA and adult novels one day, but not yet. By the time I get there, those will probably be in decline - lol!

  8. Well, the YA lifeboat is leaky, please don't pop over here, you'll swamp us. (kidding!)(sort of!)

    I think it's sad news because picture books are truly an art form. At the recent SCBWI Carolinas conference I attended a breakout session - rather reluctantly - about visual storytelling given by Laurent Linn - Art Director at Simon & Schuster BFYC. (I say reluctantly because I don't write PBs, it was 4:00PM and I was on info overload) I'm so glad I went because it was by far one of the best breakout sessions on PBs that I've ever attended. He took us through Jane Yolen's The Scarecrow's Dance, and while I kind of knew how much thought and work goes into illustrating a book...seeing it first hand, how many different revisions an illustration has to go through to evoke a certain emotion - was enlightening. So losing PBs is really losing something that is seemingly simple to the naked eye, but is really a sophisticated marriage of words and pictures. Some of which are far more thought provoking than any of the chapter books that are gracing the shelves right now. I think it's a loss of touching deeper emotions and higher thinking on a level we might not even be able to understand. Even though my daugher is newly graduated to chapter books...we still dabble in picture books (Bats in the Library by Brian Lies a particular favorite!) and I hope we will for awhile.

    As far as writing - I'm not sure we choose what we want to write, rather it chooses us. News in publishing is dismal...period. If you take too much of that in...why write at all?

  9. Hi commenters: Sorry it's taken so long to comment on your comments, but I've been busy scouring bookstores, snatching up as many pbs as I can!

    Meg: Congrats to you and Benno on your second printing and good luck with your new mss.!

    Marcia: As a parent whose kids are in the throes of the standardized testing years, I agree that that argument seems like a stretch. I can also say that while I'm guilty of at least one of the points you made concerning parents--but my kids really are way above average!--it hasn't stopped me from buying pbs for my kids, now 8 and 10, whenever a title grabs them. In fact, I'm thrilled that my eight-year-old still reads pbs on the sly, despite the fact that his third-grade teacher seems to prefer chapter books for his reading logs.

    Corey and Gale: Great points, and we're all looking forward to that backward swing. (p.s. Corey, please let us know when Ninja Pigs is released.)

    J.A.: Why couldn't you snuggle up with your boys and read MG? Was it the boys...or the books? Ha.

    Julie: File under great minds? I'm going to pop over to your blog...

    Robin: Thanks for sharing what sounds like a great breakout session. I wonder how many civilian parents realize what goes into making a pb great.

  10. Hi again, all: My kids' school principal read The NY Times article too, and sent this note home to all the parents today:

    "Attached is a link to an interesting New York Times article about the importance of picture books at all grade levels. Please take a moment to read the article, and then read a picture book with your child this weekend!"

    She's so great!