Saturday, March 14, 2009
I guess the answer to the above question is fairly obvious - 99% of the time, adults buy picture books. Parents, grandparents, teachers and librarians. And then small children get to read those picture books with the adults. And then eventually by themselves. But the person with the money in their hand gets to decide what goes on the bestseller lists, simply by virtue of the $$ they spend. What interests me is how the same old books end up on those lists, year after year, when I know there are absolutely wonderful new picture books being published every week.
One of my current favourites is Wolves by Emily Gravett. Check out her website, too. And Mo Willems' books are great. But there are many picture books that never seem to get a look in, because adults are too busy buying into nostalgia (literally). There seems to be a whole market now for picture books that appeal to adults, that are reprints of the books they had when they were little, or are books that have a definite adult perspective (e.g. stories about harrassed mothers with kids that never give them any peace). I guess I understand why The Very Hungry Caterpillar is still around after 30+ years - it's a simple story with a great concept to engage littlies (the holes in the pages, the rhythm of the words).
But I don't really get why Possum Magic is still selling heaps after 20 years (sorry, but I don't - it's a nice story, but...). And although Where the Wild Things Are is certainly a classic, I know plenty of littlies today who hate the pictures. Now I hear that not only are they bringing back Captain Pugwash, but also Horrid Henry! Come on - surely there are plenty of great current picture books that would be just as good to promote, if not better?
Except, of course, I'm forgetting about the person with the money in their hand. The parent for whom Captain Pugwash was a favourite when they were little. And Horrid Henry? Hilarious! I remember reading that ... well, no, I didn't actually read either, nor did my daughter. No, our favourite was The Paperbag Princess, and that has als
o been reprinted, but I still have our copy. I have to admit I have asked people who work in bookshops the "oldies on the bestseller list" question, and received an answer that dismayed me - lots of people have no idea about books for children. They roll into a bookshop, look puzzled, and ask for help. And because most booksellers in large stores are not familiar with kid's books, they inevitably recommend the ones they recognise themselves. Thus perpetuating the cycle.
I listened to a talk recently by a person from the Australian Booksellers' Association. It was great to hear her talk about training booksellers in how to find out about children's books in order to sell a wider range, but it sounded like her training sessions were reaching about 2% of the staff in stores. How can we encourage buyers to try new authors and illustrators? To give all those wonderful new picture books a chance? Any ideas?