Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Thoughts on Today's Picture Books

After attending a weekend soccer tournament in LA, I was dying to get to a bookstore. There had been a really big Barnes & Noble next to the hotel, but I had no opportunity to sneak over to browse. So after driving over 2 hours home and making dinner, I jumped in the car again and drove 45 minutes to the nearest Barnes & Noble in SLO. Now, it’s not one of the bigger stores, but it was a bookstore nonetheless.

I grabbed a stack of picture books - old and new - and read through them, uninterrupted, peaceful. Of course, I selected most of the titles because of illustrations that appealed to me and a few others because of authors/illustrators. Unfortunately, they did not have the most recent Caldecott winners on the shelf.  And, honestly, I found myself a little disappointed by several of the books I read.  I won’t say that the stories were “bad.” There just seemed to be something missing, or they just fell flat in the end.

I've always enjoyed Karma Wilson’s "Bear" books, so I was interested to check out The Cow Loves Cookies.  While I thought it would make a great storytime book, it seemed reminiscent of many other sweet humor featuring repetitive phrases - almost formulaic, now. So, although it was enjoyable, it was quite familiar.

Cover Image
The illustrations and the concept for Children Make Terrible Pets grabbed my interest right away. It started out promising, but it really fizzled toward the end - this fun and clever idea deserved an equally creative conclusion. Instead, I found it rather uneventful - anti-climactic.

On the other hand, I read some Caldecott winners from years past - the stories really stood apart. Zelinsky’s Rapunzel attempted to retell the original tale complete with the story’s unpleasant or tragic aspects - there was drama. And Wisniewski’s Golem dealt with a very intense situation, difficult questions, and with characters from Jewish history and tradition. I was completely engaged throughout both of these stories (unlike with any of the new releases I found).

Thinking back on my years at the bookstore, it seems to me that A LOT of the picture books these days lack even a crumb of drama or intensity.  Of course, I know that Golem would not make a nice bedtime story for a small child.  I just wonder why publishers seem to be putting out the same type of book again and again. There is definitely a place for books about cows that eat cookies, but the vast majority of picture books that I’ve read in recent years are rather superficial, sugar-coated stories devoid of any real depth, excitement, surprise, emotion...

I do enjoy reading the sing-song rhyming stories to my kids - they’re fun and appeal mainly to young children.  I've even had some illustration ideas for my own picture books that would fall into that category. However, picture books can appeal to a wide variety of ages - even adults - and I think it's a subject worth considering.  If the introduction to books that we offer our kids repeatedly consists of cute critters looking for hugs, making friends, learning manners, etc., then it’s really no wonder that children quickly turn to exciting, adventure-packed video games (especially boys). 

Like I said, I do enjoy many of those books.  But, perhaps the picture book market is over-saturated with them.  But, maybe I’ve just missed those titles (the bookstore has been closed for over a year now). Maybe they just hadn't made it to our smaller-town shelves. I’d love to hear about any recent picture book recommendations that you all have where the stories have some degree of “impact” on the reader.

1 comment:

Books for young Children said...

ha ha ha lolz.. its a a new ideas for attracting people. and this is very helpful way for giving own reviews..