Are Picture Books Fading Away?

 http://www.nytimes.com/2010/10/08/us/08p…

The New York Times reports that children’s picture books have become “unpopular” and that publishers have “gradually reduced the number of picture books they produce for a market that had seen a glut of them.”  Jon Scieszka reports that his royalty checks have been “shrinking.”  At the same time, the Young Adult market has been flourishing.  The reporter, Julie Bosman, attributes the decline to parents pressing their young children to leave picture books behind and move on to chapter books.

I wonder if picture books really are on the wane.  Sales of Sendak and Seuss are evidently going strong, suggesting that the winner-takes-all syndrome may hold especially true during an economic downturn.  Picture books are expensive, and I suspect that many parents are turning to the robust secondary market in used bookstores and on Amazon.com.  And why not set up a swap system with other parents or with relatives when a book can cost up to $25?   For chapter books, the price point is quite low, and it doesn’t really pay to buy a book that costs $5-6 on the secondary market, since shipping charges are $3.99.  In short, I don’t doubt that sales of picture books are down, but I am skeptical about the assertion that parents are making the transition to chapter books sooner than they once were.  I have a clear recollection of my own resistance to chapter books (like Alice, I wondered what the use was of a book without pictures and conversations), and I doubt most children will stand for being rushed into chapter books.

Here’s my recommendation: Go to the Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art in Amherst, Massachusetts, and browse through their incandescent collection.  Ask for Andy, who will match you up with the exact book(s) you want.  He pulled Sarah Moon’s Little Red Riding Hood off the shelves for me, along with a few other volumes that were just what I wanted.  Try Ruth Sanderson’s radiant Goldilocks, which ends with a recipe for blueberry muffins, or Jane Yolen’s hilarious Sleeping Ugly.

4 thoughts on “Are Picture Books Fading Away?

  1. My wife was interviewed for the New York Times story, because our children started chapter books fairly early, and I’m sorry to say that at least for our part of the story, there was some selective quoting occurring (my wife was actually quite upset about it, there were people in the comments saying we should have our children taken away!). I have the feeling reading the article, that the reporter made her hypothesis, and then just looked to collect facts to show she was right, instead of examining to see if there was a better one.

    That being said, as a kid, I always felt like there were too many picture books, particularly because so many of them felt sort of cursorily put together, or like the author was condescending to children. Perhaps this is the market correcting itself. Most children I know are reading picture books until, maybe, 8 years old at the latest, so it would seem sensible that picture books WOULD be a narrow segment of the market. Smaller will, perhaps, leave the ‘cream of the crop’ – as a kid, particularly, I remember it being really hard to find a GOOD picture book, because there was so much stuff you DIDN’T want. But in the midst of that there are so many wonderful books: Strega Nona was one of my favorites on the fairy tales and folklore front!

  2. Good point about the glut of books, and I think you are right about the market correcting itself. And don’t get me started on the topic of celebrity picture books for children.

  3. I don’t think they are fading away, but they are certainly selling far fewer these days. Economics is probably the largest factor. But can’t libraries buy more? Apparently libraries are being used more and more in recent years. The thing with picture books is that there is really two age groups: the early PB for 2-5, and the picture storybook for 4-8.

    Instead of “graduating” from PB’s to early readers and then chapter books, we should change the terminology. In food terms, we don’t graduate from cereal to eggs and toast. We EXPAND our palettes to incorporate MORE tastes.

    I do think publishers, book store owners, and distributors are seeing a trend that less picture books are being published, but they are BETTER books.

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