Thursday, October 14, 2010

The Demise of Children's Picture Books - Say it Ain't So

 The Demise of Children’s Picture Books – Say it Ain’t So

I love children’s picture books.  There, I’ve said it.  I’m 57 years old and still love the look and feel of a good children’s title. Show me rich illustrations and I will show you 50 children who will pore over them for every nuance of meaning and will tell you of the wonder they feel when they hear the story that goes with the pictures.   
            A recent New York Times News Service story by Julie Bosman that was reprinted in the Columbus Dispatch on October 14, 2010 covered the changing scenery for children’s picture books.  It seems there are a few factors conspiring to affect this treasured gift to children.  Our busy lives have pushed reading to a lower priority position.  Publishers have scaled back the numbers of new titles released each year because sales have slowed - they have stuck with the tried and true authors and illustrators.  The economic downturn has hit families hard (libraries are the easy answer to this problem). 
The fourth reason and the one that I find most baffling is that parents are urging their kindergartners to bump up to chapter books so they will ace their standardized tests and one day get into fabulous Ivy League schools. East coast booksellers have heard parents admonishing their children who are drawn toward picture books, telling them they can do better than that.  Egads!
      I finished reading the article and headed upstairs to the bookshelf where my sons’ childhood books are still stored.  My sons are 28, 26 and 24 now, but I can’t part with the books. I began pulling books from the shelves, selecting ones that had particular meaning for our family.  My stack grew and grew and I realized that I wasn’t quite sure why I was piling them on the floor.  Was I creating a mound of books to prove their demise had been overstated?  Was I planning a march to the east coast to wave picture books in the faces of crazed, pushy parents who are missing the entire point of childhood?  Or was my stack an homage to a dying breed; the potential dinosaur of our times? 
All I know for sure is that the death of children’s picture books would be a tragedy of epic proportions.  There is so much to be gained from the combination provided by this particular format.  It almost seems ludicrous to even attempt to explain the necessity for this type of literature.  If you don’t get it, you just don’t get it. 
So, here are a few of the books that our family loved.  Strega Nona written and illustrated by Tomie de Paola; Old Bear written and illustrated by Jane Hissey; Fireflies, written and illustrated by Julie Brinckloe; Abiyoyo, written by Pete Seeger, illustrated by Michael Hays; I Have to Go written by Robert Munsch, illustrated by Michael Martchenko; Feelings written and illustrated by Aliki; Ira Sleeps Over, written and illustrated by Bernard Waber; No Jumping on the Bed, written and illustrated by Tedd Arnold; The Great Kapok Tree written and illustrated by Lynne Cherry; any book written and illustrated by Chris Van Allsburg, and anything written and illustrated by Shel Silverstein.  There, I feel a lot better.  My list has, hopefully, created a dam against the tide of naysayers. 
I treasured the time I had with my children when they were young as we curled up on the couch together, read a good book and laughed or worried over the evolving story.  We talked about big and small things – things that were evoked by the story and pictures – precious moments.  I bet you’ve had a few of those too.
If you love good books for children, then go to the library, go to a bookstore, buy a book for your child or a friend's child, read to a niece or nephew, volunteer to read at a kindergarten, request that your local bookstore carry a larger variety of children's picture books and then buy one.  We can each do something to make a difference. Just reading is a very good start.


  1. I read this article in the NY Times too! And I, too, immediately thought of some of my favorite picture books and authors (Shel Silverstein and Patricia Polacco are high on that list). This is a wonderful post because not only do you reflect on the importance of picture books, you encourage us to do something about it!

  2. I also saw this article and was heartbroken. I just don't know what childhood is turning in to- it seems rushed and full of technology & gadgets. At the children's museum, picture books were a huge part of our educational curriculum and every program I wrote was based in a book. The kids loved it, so its not that they don't want to read, its just that people won't let them.

  3. Thanks Brynn and Amber for your comments. I'm really hoping the article was overstating how bad it is, but I fear there is a real decline. Our American way of life is getting too competitive. We need to slow down and reclaim some of our time for enjoying simpler things (but not less important things). I know that good books for kids will never disappear.

  4. That really was a sad article. I have wonderful memories of picture books, many of them at your house!

    If it was done right, I would actually appreciate fewer picture books being published - as a parent I find the selection even at the library to be completely overwhelming and while there are some treasures, a lot of the books just leave you thinking, why would anyone publish this? or at least, who was responsible for the editing here? Unfortunately, I don't think it's being done right.

    And the chain book stores are miserable now - the kids sections seem to have more shelves devoted to toys than to books and half the books are character-driven sticker "activity" books. It's depressing.

    I have some ideas for my own, but not much time to pursue them right now. ;)

  5. Someday, Shannon, you will write a wonderful children's book. I can't wait to see what you come up with.