Apr 22, 2013

Debut versus Established Authors

I will be blunt, I often read children's picture books and immediately know it's not the authors debut book.  How do I know this?  Because the book is... terrible!  Significantly terrible books are usually written by established writers.  The day I get published, I will vow to only write equally good material for the rest of my life.  No junk!

In my opinion, a writers first book is probably genuinely good.  No, great!  Then, it seems because the agent/publisher thinks they have already made a name for themselves, they can just publish anything from that day forward.

In the past few months, I have read picture books, and afterward said, "You are kidding me, right?"  As a person who loves picture books and who will one day have children to buy for, I can't help but turn down most of the books on the market today.  They are just... boring and dumb, even for children.  It's true that authors today will ALWAYS compete with old picture books like Dr. Seuss books and Curious George books.  The oldies are still some of the best books on the market.

What do you think about the changing picture book market?

1 comment:

  1. Immediately I think of Dr. Seuss, Curious George, and the Berenstain Bears as episodic, classic picture books that tell good, simple stories, with an easily interpreted moral. The artwork is cartoonish without being outlandish, has a whimsical appearance that evokes nostalgia for any age of readers, and aids in the presentation by picking the key line from the story and emphasizing it. Everything was precise with one solid message.

    Modern picture books do the opposite, I think. Just like novels, agents/publishers want to sell picture books to as wide of a market as they can. Some of the modern picture books that I've read get chaotic with their presentation -- multiple pictures for the same section of the narrative, for instance, would make for a better children's "comic book" than for a picture book. They want to do too much in one book.

    Going back to my only example of a recent picture book, Pinduli by Janell Cannon: even though there's a primary picture on the right page to accompany the selection of text, there are black and white images included on the left page surrounding the text. It took me the longest time before I, an adult, figured out that the black and white pictures were of the mother hyena searching for Pinduli as the story's being told. There's no mention of that until the end, so I think those images were added as an afterthought by the publisher to present the image of the concerned mother, which was unnecessary. The writer's narrative is strong enough on its own to convey the mother hyena's worry when she's reintroduced at the end of the story.

    If I didn't get it as an adult, how can a child?

    The classics were better at telling one story, and telling it well. Modern picture books that I've seen want to take a page (ha ha!) out of television dramas, and have subplots! I give credit to children that they're smarter than we think they are, but successful children's television shows tell one story over a series of episodes, or they tell one episodic tale with a moral. Applying adult standards to children's picture books will not make them stand the test of time.

    But I suppose that goes back to the publisher, who's looking for the quick cash rather than the investment of a long haul.