Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Picture Books in Peril

I recently read Roger Sutton’s editorial in Horn Book about how the picture book is in trouble. Sales are down. Parents are shunning picture books and reading chapter books to their preschoolers instead. Sutton believes that “there is a disconnection between what is in our hearts and what we are publishing for children.” I wonder if part of the problem is the demise of the picture story book. When I started in this business twenty plus years ago, the average length of a picture book was 1200 words. And it was common to have picture books of over 1500 words. But current editorial wisdom says that families with two working parents are too busy to read such lengthy books. The cut-off for picture book manuscripts keeps getting shorter and shorter. Jennifer Laughran, agent at Andrea Brown Literary recently wrote on her blog that 300-550 words is the “sweet spot” for picture books. She advises her clients not to submit books over 800 words. Now talented writers have been able to create incredible works of art within these tight constraints. But some stories need more elbow room. And while 300-550 word stories may be fine for the three year old, many that are being published today don’t have the depth to hold up to hundreds of readings by a five or six year old. I imagine parents in these tough economic times flipping through a book with a dozen words per page and wondering if it’s worth $16.99. Perhaps it’s time to bring back the picture story book. In a culture that is so visually oriented, wouldn’t it be wonderful to create longer, richer texts with luxurious illustrations that can bridge the gap between the short picture book and the chapter book. As for those busy parents, surely if they have time to read a chapter to their preschoolers, they’ll find time to read a 1200 word picture story book.


Cheryl Kirk Noll said...

I would have to agree with your thinking, Linda, although I'm afraid you're preaching to the choir.

Interestingly,Anita Silvey had a similar response to the same topic just this week:

Let's just hope that editors and marketing exec's are reading this stuff!

Linda Crotta Brennan said...

Indeed! Maybe they'll listen if Anita Silvey speaks.

pat thomas said...

I'm with you, Linda. I don't know why the gods of publishing have decreed that PB readers stop reading at age 8, and from that point on we must have chapter books and/or MG novels. I would think that today's culture--visually oriented and geared to narratives wrapped up in concise packages (as in a 60-min.TV program)--would latch right on to MGPB. Oh for a lottery win to push my own publishing program on this!
Pat Thomas

Linda Crotta Brennan said...

Thanks, Pat. Well said!