Friday, October 8, 2010

Picture Books

There has been a lot of talk today in the kidlit industry about a recent article in the New York Times about parents and kids venturing away from picture books. I don't necessarily agree with the article. I buy a lot of picture books, both for my kids and myself. My boys are 10 and 8 and we still enjoy reading picture books as well as chapter books. You can click the link above if you want to check the article out for yourself.

Like I said, I don't agree with it. Many of my friends still buy picture books and age appropriate books for their children. However, I am skeptical to think this story originated out of thin air. Someone, somewhere had to have felt this way for them to publish this story. There was another article recently about a certain percentage of kids polled said they'd prefer to read books on electronic devices. So, with that in mind, I do believe there is some truth to the story. Some parents may be pushing their kids into books geared for older children or more advanced readers -- just as some other kids might prefer an e-book over a traditional one. It all comes down to personal preference and what's made available to them.

On another note -- I've been pretty vocal in the past about picture books costing so much. I know that's upset some of my writer and illustrator friends. Now, don't get me wrong. I'm not trying to make anyone mad. I'm just trying to look at it from both sides of the coin. As a writer, I totally believe an author/illustrator should be paid well for their hard work. There's no doubt about that. As a parent on a budget, I do have a hard time dishing out $25 for a picture book. I will, mind you, but it will have to be one we simply can't live without. I understand the business though and I know how much work and cost is involved in creating these books. I get it.

I read one comment today about the cost of a picture book is the same as going out to dinner or buying a new pair of jeans. Yeah, it is. Sadly, I can't remember the last pair of jeans I bought. That's my problem because I'm not rich. I can't afford to buy all the books I would like. I would love nothing more than to be able to afford every single of my writer/illustrator friend's books to support them and their efforts. I wish I could do that, but I'm not made of money. I know, how sad is that? Poor pitiful me -- boo hoo.

But seriously, I've found work-arounds. We go to the library and check out books. I search thriftstores and yardsales. I can usually find some good ones. And then there's Amazon. I just bought Frightful's Mountain by Jean Craighead George yesterday. A used copy cost me a penny, plus $3.99 for shipping. Believe me, I would love to buy every book brand new so all the profit went to the author and illustrator, but I can't do that. It's not because I'm a cheap, tightwad (which I am), but simply because we buy TOO MANY BOOKS as it is. So, to make up for that, I have to hunt for the bargains and I grab them when I can. Would I love for the cost of picture books to go down? Of course. Do I see that happening? No, and that's okay, too.

Back to the article -- if it's true that some parents push more advanced books on their kids, then I think that's not only a shame, but doing them a big disservice. Having taught 3 of my 4 children how to read, I understand the danger in pushing too much too early. All of my kids are avid readers. Nicole is reading the first Harry Potter book to my boys right now, but tells me she wants to wait awhile before reading the others to them. I haven't read them, so I trust her judgement. This just filters back to a week or so ago when I was upset that the world is making our children grow up too fast. I certainly don't have a problem with a child wanting to read a book for older kids, providing its age-appropriate for them. That's not to say they shouldn't still read -- and most importantly -- be ABLE to enjoy picture books. In order to do that, they have to be available to them. I mean, seriously, isn't reading anything better than reading nothing at all? Raise your hand if you read the back of cereal boxes when you were a kid -- I couldn't get enough of those.

On the other hand -- I can't also but help but wonder if maybe some of these parents are skipping the picture books and encouraging chapter books because of cost. Could it be that they feel PBs are too expensive if they're only read a few times? If they invest a lesser amount of money on a chapter book, are they getting more for their money, especially if the child might read it more than once? I don't know, but the thought did occur to me this morning when I read the article, which is why I brought up the whole cost issue. I'm not about to stop buying books, regardless of what type they are, especially when it comes to my kids. At the same time, I'm not about to push them into stories they aren't ready for or start exchanging all our beloved books for electronic versions. Just call me old-fashioned ...


  1. I buy so many picture books as do my friends. I find it sad if technology will affect this. Little kids don't need apps of books (maybe on vacation, in the car, or on the go) on a daily basis.
    I do think over $15 for a picture book is expensive. Have I bought picture books for more than than, yes, maybe one or two a year, but I can buy and enjoy MORE books if they are priced better.

  2. I have to look for the barganis too.

    Just because a kid may be able to read doesn't mean he/she is emotional/pschologically ready or be able to understand what's being read. I can clearly remember reading books when I was teen-ager that I didn't understand. Yet when I read them when I was older they made sense. Ability does not equal comprehension. Parents need to remember that.

  3. I think the cost factor is an important one to consider. Even when I was a child most of my books were from the "Little Golden Books" library and the like. How much are these purchases tracked? Also, what about the bargain book shelves and books purchased in discount stores.

    I would not think of a bookstore as my first choice for buying children's books because of the cost factor.

    The article mentions that the classics like Seuss and Sendak still sell. That is probably parents buying what they know and loved as children. Perhaps some of the traditionalism and quality of the older books isn't there today. Do kids really need books dealing with certain "relevant social issues"? I think content may also dissuade some parents.

    Finally, societal expectations and those coming from the schools themselves may discourage picture books as being lacking in substance to some degree. My wife, who is a kindergarten teacher, tells me that kids are expected to know their letters and numbers when they enter school and to be able to read and write rudimentarily by the end of kindergarten. Kids are being overwhelmed and what little imagination they might have left is sucked up by TV and video games. Who needs picture books when you have TV?

    The decline of picture books would be a sad thing, but the publishing industry needs to take a hard look and the facts and adjust if they want to continue to survive.

    Tossing It Out

  4. Thanks for your comments. Having so many picture book writer and illustrator friends, I wasn't sure how well this would go over. As I said, I wish I could buy way more books than I do. As it is, I spend too much already.

    Lee -- You certainly hit everything right on the head! I don't have an issue with the social issue books, but I don't think they should be required reading for every child. Just as some parents would rather not have their child read some religious or spiritual based books, I feel the same way about some social issue ones. There's a time and place for everything and I think the parent knows when that is for their child, not some executive sitting in a building somewhere or some teacher who thinks its important. But having said that, they do have a place, and a very important one.

    Thanks, again!

  5. You make SO many good points in this post, it's hard to know where to begin! We love picture books, we're still reading and re-reading favorites from years ago--and my babies are 6, 7 and 11 now! Reading picture books is HUGE for literacy development and kids get more "play time" out of a quality picture book than most toys we shell out money for. If money's an issue, there is always the library, but there is NO substitute for brilliant books.