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Not Your Kid’s Picture Book Anymore

19 March 2019

From Publishers Weekly:

There are picture books that engage, transport, amuse, intrigue, enchant, comfort, or even haunt adults, but that don’t connect with the children who are their purported audience. This would be absolutely fine—picture books are a unique and endlessly variable art form—but it can be hard to overcome customers’ resistance to buying them for themselves. As one of my bookselling colleagues said recently, people will spend $40 on glossy coffee table art books they’ll look through once or twice, but are reluctant to buy themselves an $18 picture book they can’t stop leafing through in the store.

I’ve had more than a few customers over the years pore through picture books, then sadly place them back on the shelves, saying, “I love this, but I don’t have little children in my life anymore.” Good news, my friends: Picture books are not just for children, especially now.

Why have we come to a place where picture books are relegated to the landscape only of the very young? It was not always thus. We didn’t used to hurry children away from picture books into beginning readers and chapter books at age six, the way most parents do now.

. . . .

Parents often dismiss picture books as an entire class—not registering their relative complexities, subtleties, and nuances. They don’t want to spend money on books they think are beneath their children’s intellectual capacities. Even in the span of time I’ve been a bookseller (22 years), I’ve seen word counts shrink and parents push their children out of picture books younger and younger. They may not understand that the language in picture books may be much more sophisticated than the chapter books they are eager for their kids to read.

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly

Here are some of the picture books mentioned in the OP. Each has Look Inside enabled to provide an expanded view of the images and design. If clicking on the cover doesn’t work, I’ve included a text link below each cover.


The Stuff of Stars

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The Fox and The Star
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The Journey

Children's Books

12 Comments to “Not Your Kid’s Picture Book Anymore”

  1. Nice try, PW.

    The complexity of what a given child is reading is usually governed more by what they want to read, what they are capable of, and what is expected of them in the classroom than by what some bookseller wants to push.

  2. “… but are reluctant to buy themselves an $18 picture book they can’t stop leafing through in the store.”

    If the picture book’s nothing to phone home about why would they do more than glance at it (for free) and then put it down as too overpriced to want to pay for?

    Besides, since many of us spend most of our time in front of computers, why would we want paper when we can find as good or better stuff (free/cheaper) on the web?

    I have an underutilized TV hooked to an old PC showing pictures of places gathered over the years, new ones added as I find them. Why a book when I have better displays all around? 😉

    • You’re missing the point. Books like that aren’t a throwaway read. A friend of mine collects children’s books for the artwork, for example. I keep books on hand not just for myself, but for the kids who show up unexpectedly. Other people’s libraries were a great pleasure for me when I was younger and my parents stayed up all night playing cards at various houses while we kids played together. Or rather, the other kids played and I read. If those folks hadn’t kept books on hand, I would’ve missed out on a great many excellent reading experiences, including children’s books.

      And the reasons for having children’s (and other) books in physical form go on and on. You don’t have to keep them if you don’t want to. That’s within your rights. Don’t denigrate those of us who treasure physical books simply because you don’t understand the urge.

      • “There are picture books that engage, transport, amuse, intrigue, enchant, comfort, or even haunt adults, but that don’t connect with the children who are their purported audience.”

        So, the OP is admitting that kids don’t connect with these books – “their purported audience.” So not really for kids but for adults to buy in the hope kids will spend time with them?

        “Don’t denigrate those of us who treasure physical books simply because you don’t understand the urge.”

        I’m not actually, but the OP seems to be bemoaning the fact that aren’t enough ‘I want/need my books in physical form’ types to keep them in business.

        My failing eyesight means a book I can’t change the font size on is sometimes more pain than a pleasure to try reading, and my last move forced my to get rid of more books than would fit in a minivan. So while I have a kindle I also do a lot of reading on the same computer screen I’m replying on, able to cut-n-paste anything hard to read to a editor that will let my change the colors and font type/size into something easy on my eyes. And carrying thousands of books on a micro SD card doesn’t strain my back in the least.

        MYMV and you find the path that works best for you.

  3. PG, the example books do not appear when I load the page into Chrome on my PC. This is nothing to do with my ad blocker (PV is white listed) but I am getting a message saying the page is trying to load scripts from an unauthenticated source.

    However, taking the risk of loading the scripts still did not show the book examples, though Chrome did report the site was now unsafe. What’s more the “trying to load scripts” message seems to be appearing on all PV pages.

    The books do appear in Edge (the first time I’ve fired this up for months) but Edge also claims to have blocked content sent over insecure connections.

    Anyone got suggestions as to why Chrome’s not showing the books (or what insecure scripts are being served)?

  4. *giggle* Sorry, the first thing that came to mind when I saw PG’s headline was a friend of mine’s Pop-up Kama Sutra. NOT a kid’s book, in part because the mechanism to make the illustrations move was so fragile.

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