Archive for the ‘Books and Reading’ Category

Recently I have noticed an alarming trend in children’s books. The words are gone. In many cases the illustrations now carry the brunt of the burden in telling the story, a huge change compared to most children’s books of thirty years ago. Not a problem unless you try reading a story aloud to a small group of children, and you find yourself having to ad lib to fill in the plot or the flow of words is so choppy each page feels unrelated to the previous one.

More and more I hear that picture book texts should be as brief as possible, that anything that can be shown in the pictures should be cut. No adverbs, few if any adjectives. But in my opinion, the balance between text and art has swung too far to one side. Texts have been whittled back until read alouds are often choppy and the reader finds they have to fill in the transitions. The writing is sterilize, the poetry in the prose slaughtered. That’s not to say less can’t be more, but it shouldn’t be at the expense of the oral presentation. Picture books, after all, are intended to be read aloud to a child. They should be pleasant on the eyes AND on the ears.

It’s no surprise really. That’s what publishers want because they claim that’s what buyers want. I understand that today’s children have short attention spans, but every child I ever knew was perfectly happy to listen to a story, or perhaps several, if it meant they could stay up longer or avoid another work assignment. So maybe it’s the parents, teachers, and librarians who have been crying out for shorter reads. I get it. Time in school is at a premium more than ever. Parents are tired after a long day doing the work of three people thanks to labor cuts, their time for parenting is over-taxed and full of demands. What has happened though is that the flow of texts and vocabulary has been dumped in favor of brevity.

Perhaps things will shift back again some day. Storybooks that emerged out of a strong oral tradition will return in popularity and the picture book market will once again tolerate the well-written but wordier story that is not only entertaining, but a song to the ear because of its rhythm, rich vocabulary, and thoughtful literary devices. There will be context to introduce listeners to new and marvelous words, and memories will be challenged to stretch in recalling favorite passages.

In my opinion there is a reason the words have traditionally come first and that’s coming from someone who started this business as an illustrator.


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Today I thought I would round-up a few useful sites dealing with picture books and related news.

A documentary I only recently learned about  called Library of the Early Mind: A Grown-up Look at the Art of Children’s Literature will be at this year’s ALA in New Orleans as well as several other locations around the country. The full-length documentary features nearly 40 authors and illustrators. To get a list of additional screenings visit http://www.libraryoftheearlymind.com/

A useful websites for authors, illustrators, teachers and librarians is Picturing Books which features news and information regarding picture books. It also has a database  of authors and illustrators that is worth checking out .

More picture book news can be found from the Huffington Post. Of particular interest is an article by Matt Cohen about using picture books to learn negotiation skills. It’s an interesting take on Mo Willem’s Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus.
Have any news about the world of Children’s Picture Books that you’d like to share?

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Last night on Celebrity Apprentice the challengers were asked to create a children’s book. The impression was that the book was written in one day and  illustrated almost simultaneously. To add insult to injury, the main character had to be based on one of the celebrities. What a surprise! Both teams insisted that the book should have a moral and squabbled over tired storylines that in the “real” world would have been turned down flat.

Once again TV has scewed reality so grotesquely that it is hardly recognizeable. The true reality is that writing a 32- page picture book requires long thought, craft, and an understanding of age appropriateness. Hitting children over the head with a moral is NOT art; it’s nagging. No child wants that.

What I found particularly amusing was that the network brought in illustrators to do the art as if to say anyone can write a  book for children, but not everyone one can illustrate one. Take it from someone who has spent years doing both, writing is no easier than drawing.

In the end, both books were proclaimed well-done and Donald Trump even offered to publish the winning title. The myth that anyone with a little name recognition should be writing for kids continues to be bought and sold. Sorry kids.

And sorry Donald Trump., but you’re fired.

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Cyberspace is brimming with sites devoted to bringing authors and readers together. Many encourage authors to create a profile and list books, and some sites even offer suggestions on how best to promote yourself and your book. Others are more of a virtual bookshelf, but are worth some attention and study. Below is a list of book-related sites followed by some useful social media sites that I have found to be useful.  (By the way, if you are wondering what happened to BookArmy which was owned by HarperCollins, it has closed due to competition.)

Do you have any favorite book-related sites you’d like to recommend?


Amazon Author Central- features an Author Profile and easily locates your titles, nice book to author connections allowing for simple purchasing

Authorsden – brings authors and readers together

Booktour – features an Author Profile and geared toward promoting books and author events, great site if you are touring your books

Filedby – focuses on promoting author and books, good all around features

Goodreads – social cataloguing website, more about what you are reading

JacketFlap – profiles the creators of children’s books, great site if you are a children’s book author

Librarything – social cataloguing website, more about what you and your friends are reading

Redroom – connecting authors to readers

SCBWI – membership required, but well worth it if you write or illustrate children’s books, but offers more limited exposure

Shelfari – social cataloguing website

Weread – social cataloguing site


Facebook – Personal and Fan Pages




YouTube – ideal for promoting book trailers

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Telling stories is one of the oldest art forms in existence.  Its roots began in oral tradition, but the methods of delivery have changed and never so rapidly as in recent years.

But why do we tell stories? Here are just some of the reasons:

1. To pass on traditions and beliefs
2. To entertain
3. To teach about our world

And for children in particular there are even more reasons:
1. To help them learn to listen
2. To increase their vocabulary
3. To increase the child’s knowledge of fact and fantasy
4. To encourage a love of words
5. To teach the art of story-telling
6. To teach a lesson

So, then the question is: does one form of story-telling do the job any better than another?
And my answer is:  No, but each method has it’s advantages.

If we’re talking vocabulary and fact acquisition or inspiring the imagination, both books and e-readers are on a fairly equal footing, but when an adult shares a book with a child, there is the kind of one-on-one time that encourages bonding and a sense of ritual that an electronic device is hard pressed to match. Electronic content conveyers may have the edge over books, though, when it comes to multiple options for magnification, interactivity, and storage. And then, of course, there is film, where total emersion in the story is a possibility, especially now more than ever with the advances in sound and 3-D imagery. 

I know many people are concerned that books will go the way of the mimeograph, icebox, and pony express, but I don’t think so. As long as books can continue to service the story, I think they will survive  just maybe in more limited numbers. I think what will be key is the artistry in which they are delivered.

I’m addicted to story and I’ll get them how I can. I love my Kindle, but that doesn’t mean I still don’t secretly smell books, open covers to study the end papers, or take note of font choices. Fortunately I have room for all methods. I suspect I’m not alone.

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