above – some of my current favorite picture books
My previous posting, BlogAgony, provided a lot of emails and comments. At least for me to try and keep up with. And I didn’t mean to say that I’m not inspired by other peoples work. I try to post favorite books from time to time on here, even favorite animated films.
Lately the books I am most impressed with seem to be coming from Britain, Australia or somewhere in Europe. I don’t know if it’s just me, but the energy and excitement I see in the British picture book market is amazing. There are lots of great books from everywhere, but lately, every time I pick a picture book up and think ‘Wow. This is really different and engaging.’ It’s been a book from a British illustrator.
It may be that I am seeing only the ‘cherry-picked’ work in this country. The best of the best. But it seems like they take more chances with the material. I’m not an expert on international trade publishing. For all I know Britain has ALWAYS produced the best picture books…(“Oh darling! How can you not know that!?”)
Or perhaps they are just a tad more removed from the licensing deluge that engulfs book store shelves in this country.
I mean no disrespect to the licensed materials – the Sponge Bob books. The Mickey Mouse and Dora materials. I even like some of the shows. But the last time I was in a Borders I noticed the majority of shelf space was given to the licensed stuff. I know publishers pay for shelf space, so I understand that Borders is mainly stocking shelves with what they get paid to stock shelves with. Theoretically this in turn generates larger sales for the material with the most shelf space, especially when the characters are familiar to people from TV, underwear and diapers.
I also see a trend where a lot of original American picture books look and read like licensed material. They don’t take a lot of chances or seem to take the paper seriously. What do I mean by, “Take the paper seriously”? It’s just my shorthand for illustrations that accept the medium of marks on a 2D surface and use it to it’s best effect. To be painterly and engaging in a way that makes you want to touch and feel the book. Even a lot of the narratives feel a bit too Disneyfied. Not that there’s anything wrong with that! But at my last visit to a big picture book section I’d say 4 out of the 10 books I took time with were oddly self conscious of being books.
To put it another way, I don’t think deepfried Snickerbars are the only dessert. They may have the most sugar bang per dollar, but that doesn’t mean they are the most satisfying.
I don’t remember the percentage but it’s only a tiny percentage of picture books that arrive in the big stores, and an even smaller number that get presented with the cover facing out.
But really, who cares about that aspect of the business? I think it’s worth paying brief attention to, but I try and not think about it. Much like the blogs from around the world with amazing art. At a certain point, you have to put on the blinders, put on the earphones and do what you can with what you’ve got.
List of books from above:
Mam Robot - by Davide Cali and AnnaLaura Cantone
Captain Flinn and the Pirate Dinosaurs Missing Treasure -by Giles Andreae and Russell Ayto
The Great Paper Caper -by Oliver Jeffers
The Story of Everything – By Neal Layton