What’s selling? Does anyone know?

UPDATE ON OUR WOZA WOZA POEM: Yesterday we got skunked. Not a soul advanced the Woza Woza cause after we added Sandy’s brown-clad creatures. As your host I will take it upon myself to add a 5th line to keep us on track. See what you can do with it and send me some 6th lines. Thanks!

Today I saw something I’ve never seen before,
A sea of cinnamon swirls surfing the forest floor.
Leaves you say? And well you may, but more it seemed to me,
Tiny brown-clad creatures surfed that swirling sea.

Tiny brown-clad creatures wearing leather hats

We’ve settled into a poem told in couplets with hexameter lines (six beats per line) composed in mostly iambic meter. Who wants to add the second line of the new couplet?

Hello everyone,

Let’s have a little talk about the market for books these days. This Wednesday you’ll read an article by our friend Ken Slesarik about a recent experience of his regarding the poetry market. In anticipation of Ken’s piece and the general conversation it will generate, I’ll kick things off today with some notes about picture books.

One of the sites I follow is CCBC-Net, a listserv encouraging awareness and discussion of ideas and issues critical to literature for children and young adults. CCBC-Net members explore a wide range of topics in contemporary literature for youth, including multicultural literature, translated books, outstanding, and award-winning books, equity themes and topics, the book arts and book publishing, and more.

A theme during the first half of November is: A Paucity of Picture Books. I quote: “We can see it on the shelves: fewer picture books are being published. A recent New York Times article (http://www.nytimes.com/2010/10/08/us/08picture.html?_r=1 ) says that the picture book ‘is fading,’ noting that not only are fewer being produced but also stating that fewer parents are turning to picture books, especially for school-age children. But production costs and bookstore sales can’t tell the whole picture book story. During the first half of November on CCBC-Net, we invite you to share your stories and observations about current picture book publishing and its impact on children, schools and libraries, as well as your thoughts on the importance of this singular literary form.”

Normally I read these conversations without commenting on them but now and then I venture forth with an opinion. That was the case here. This is my response.

Regarding a Paucity of Picture Books:

I think there’s more than parental pressure and price involved in the equation for the drop in picture books. There seems to be a societal shift in the nature of what sells. I noticed a change in the way children responded to their picture books between my first title in 1969 (The Boy With a Drum) and my 1980 offering, Detective Bob and the Great Ape Escape. Detective Bob was written with the television generation in mind. The missing ape, which Detective Bob would never seem to see, appeared in every scene. The story was essentially a visual joke that appealed to children raised on laugh tracks and quick solutions.

Now I think we’re suffering from the effects of computer games that demand even quicker solutions, tons of action, and a cacophony of noises. Kids don’t think they’re having fun unless their eyes and ears are being bombarded with a fast and furious stream of stimulation.

Give such children a picture book that doesn’t shout or move, the old-fashioned sort that stimulates their imagination, and I fear that many of them are quickly bored. The buzzword among editors these days is “quiet.” As in, “Loved your story but it’s a little too quiet for today’s market.”

The noisy/action factor may be changing the paradigm so that traditional stories, no matter how finely spun, are being ushered out of the market — in part because of the pressure from schools and parents to achieve at a greater rate scholastically — but also by an electronic industry, which is supported in large measure by those same parents and other adults who tend to shop elsewhere these days for recreational activities for their children.

If you have thoughts or comments of your own, I hope you will share them. Thanks in advance.