A front-page article in today’s The New York Times, written by Julie Bosman, highlights the decline of picture books.
Picture books are so unpopular these days at the Children’s Book Shop in Brookline, Mass., that employees there are used to placing new copies on the shelves, watching them languish and then returning them to the publisher.
“So many of them just die a sad little death, and we never see them again,” said Terri Schmitz, the owner.
The shop has plenty of company. The picture book, a mainstay of children’s literature with its lavish illustrations, cheerful colors and large print wrapped in a glossy jacket, has been fading. It is not going away — perennials like the Sendaks and Seusses still sell well — but publishers have scaled back the number of titles they have released in the last several years, and booksellers across the country say sales have been suffering.
The economic downturn is certainly a major factor, but many in the industry see an additional reason for the slump. Parents have begun pressing their kindergartners and first graders to leave the picture book behind and move on to more text-heavy chapter books. Publishers cite pressures from parents who are mindful of increasingly rigorous standardized testing in schools.
“Parents are saying, ‘My kid doesn’t need books with pictures anymore,’ ” said Justin Chanda, the publisher of Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers. “There’s a real push with parents and schools to have kids start reading big-kid books earlier. We’ve accelerated the graduation rate out of picture books.”
The article is worth a look, so just click like crazy and it will magically appear. The big news about the story — which is mostly old news to folks in the business — is that over-eager parents are taking some of the blame. And it’s probably true, to some extent.
As a father, it’s something I see all the time: Parents who are in a big hurry to see their kids take the next step. This isn’t limited to reading. I see it in sports, where my comment is usually, “The worst thing that ever happened to youth sports is that image of Tiger Woods, at age two, with a golf club in his hand.” Now everybody thinks, Ah-ha, that’s the answer! More, and sooner.
So it only makes sense we’re seeing it with reading. Everybody, give your seven-year-old girls copies of The Hunger Games!
On a personal note, I came into this business through my love of picture books. That’s what turned me on, and it’s always what I’ll love the most, the purity of a picture book. As an author, I’m well aware of how quickly books slip from the shelves. Those sad little deaths come faster than ever. And even when a book enjoys some success, like A Pirate’s Guide to First Grade — with great reviews and media attention — you’d likely be shocked at the quantity of books printed.
Where it will go, nobody knows. But I’ll always love my picture books.