How many words SHOULD a picture book have? Obviously there is no RIGHT answer. Editorial and educational trends have sway as does the changing culture, for good and for bad.
I used to believe that the downsizing on the number of words in a children’s picture book is an unhealthy trend. Perhaps due to declining attention spans of children and lowered expectations from young readers. I moderated my thoughts appreciating that the visual culture we live in exudes ever greater power on children and many of the low word count books are destined for what I call VERY young readers. In past decades kids weren’t reading at the young ages they do now. It makes sense for 18 month olds to experience something different from what we expect to engage a 3 year old.
But I have developed new appreciation of low word count books, and perhaps it is because of parental low attention span. In my case a disorder I have named- Too Tired To Read 4,000 Words (or TTTR4W).
With a daughter entering prime picture book age and weekly trips to the library scheduled for the next 4 years already, I have started to base book picks on the fact that the book doesn’t seem overwhelming to read at 8:00 every night when you put so much energy (a precious commodity by a Thursday night!) into getting your child ready to sleep and recharge (do kids really need to recharge?). The thought of a 4,000 word picture book is frightening!
Maybe it won’t be so scary to contemplate big word count books as my daughter gets older and reads on her own more and starts to pick literary directions that interest her. But I have developed a great love for picture books that have about 20 words on a page.
I love the bigger stories I grew up with (Except maybe Pokey Little Puppy…is that not the oddest story ever?!) and hope that as my daughter ages she will like longer Fairy tales and adventure stories. But that means I better build up my energy. It’s far easier to find where you were when you fall asleep reading a 32 page picture book then a 128 page adventure story.
I am crafting most of my new manuscripts to fall in the 300 – 800 word range. It’s a challenge. It’s frustrating as a writer to take on yet another editing goal. But the books appeal to me, they keep my daughters attention, and as an illustrator tend to offer even great freedom.