Sunday, May 4, 2008

Bring on the Illustrated Novel!

Back in the mid-90’s I remember hearing that illustrated picture books were experiencing a lot of growth in the publishing world. These books certainly showcased some real talent – both written and visual. I think the illustration seed was planted in my mind at that time, however it went ignored for quite a while.

Now, working in a bookstore, I wonder if the picture book genre has slumped a bit. I don’t know the statistics or the trends, and I still see some great books come into the store. But, from a booksellers perspective, our hardcover children’s books don’t really sell that well.

Perhaps it’s the economy or the demographics of this particular area. While people are more willing to pick-up a paperback, I can’t say we sell many of them either. The $16 hardcovers just sit, for the most part (holiday books being an exception). Even bargain priced titles aren’t moving.

On the other hand, the beginning readers, chapter books, and young reader novels do much better. Of course, kids are required to read these types of books for school, so the demand is automatically there.

Anyway, I’m thrilled to see the upswing of young reader novels with illustrations. I’m not talking about the illustrated diary format like the new and popular “Wimpy Kid” books or the decorative chapter header. And, of course, I’m not referring to manga (which I’m really not a fan of overall). I’m thinking of those books that have a handful of well executed and artfully done illustrations dispersed throughout the book.

Brian Selznick’s “Invention of Hugo Cabret” has received much attention for its illustrations, so I don’t need to say more on that. But, books like Kate Di Camillo’s “Tale of Despereaux” and "The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane” both include beautiful imagery by some talented artists. The Edward Tulane book in particular (illustrated by Bagram Ibatoulline) even includes the occasional color plate, reminiscent of older classics that are saved and passed down through families.

I noticed a new book come into the store the other day called “The Underneath” by Kathi Appelt. It jumped out at me because the illustrator’s name – David Small – was also prominently featured on the front. I don’t know much about the story at this point, but I thumbed through to check out some of the artwork.

I don’t know if this is a growing trend or not, but I sure hope it is! Novels don’t necessarily need to be illustrated to the degree that Selznick’s book was, but it sure is nice to have at least one image in each chapter. I just think – as a visual person – it’s a great way to draw people into the story that much more. In addition, it does its part to turn a good story into a treasure of a book.

1 comment:

Sean Ashby said...

Yep, and I'm just the person to be excited by that very trend =) I'd love nothing more than to write that sort of heavily illustrated chapter books. Some favorites of late: Alan Snow's "Here Be Monsters", Philip Ardagh's "Eddie Dickens" trilogy, Paul Stewart & Chris Riddell's "Edge Chronicles".

In fact, I can definitely see your style of tight pencil drawing working quite nicely in a chapter book.