The New York Times reports that children’s picture books have become “unpopular” and that publishers have “gradually reduced the number of picture books they produce for a market that had seen a glut of them.” Jon Scieszka reports that his royalty checks have been “shrinking.” At the same time, the Young Adult market has been flourishing. The reporter, Julie Bosman, attributes the decline to parents pressing their young children to leave picture books behind and move on to chapter books.
I wonder if picture books really are on the wane. Sales of Sendak and Seuss are evidently going strong, suggesting that the winner-takes-all syndrome may hold especially true during an economic downturn. Picture books are expensive, and I suspect that many parents are turning to the robust secondary market in used bookstores and on Amazon.com. And why not set up a swap system with other parents or with relatives when a book can cost up to $25? For chapter books, the price point is quite low, and it doesn’t really pay to buy a book that costs $5-6 on the secondary market, since shipping charges are $3.99. In short, I don’t doubt that sales of picture books are down, but I am skeptical about the assertion that parents are making the transition to chapter books sooner than they once were. I have a clear recollection of my own resistance to chapter books (like Alice, I wondered what the use was of a book without pictures and conversations), and I doubt most children will stand for being rushed into chapter books.
Here’s my recommendation: Go to the Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art in Amherst, Massachusetts, and browse through their incandescent collection. Ask for Andy, who will match you up with the exact book(s) you want. He pulled Sarah Moon’s Little Red Riding Hood off the shelves for me, along with a few other volumes that were just what I wanted. Try Ruth Sanderson’s radiant Goldilocks, which ends with a recipe for blueberry muffins, or Jane Yolen’s hilarious Sleeping Ugly.