Picture books are often amazingly exciting forms of fiction. But picture books are also odd beasts, as those of us involved in their creation know too well. Part poetry, part meditation, part joke, part cultural artifact and usually filled with emotion.
I’ve been paying special attention to them for 8-10 years now. Taking monthly strolls through bookstores, reading the stacks of them at my house, going to the library and looking at the new arrivals.
I’ve seen fads that fill shelves until it’s hard to breath when you walk through the bookstore – and just as quickly dissipate like breath on a freezing morning.
I’ve watched as kid’s TV shows storm their way into every publishing market possible (because we all know it’s so hard to get kids to watch TV) with add-ons and novelizations and repurposed animation art and I always ask myself, is there really enough money in that to make it worthwhile? Isn’t the TV show enough? But in this age, in this culture, we are taught that enough is never enough when there’s more. So be it.
And video game characters too…and let’s appreciate that for a moment. Licensing video game characters into the literary realm because again, we all know it’ so tough to get kids to pay attention to video games (I have a ten year old, I’m being sarcastic!)
And the response is always the same to these happenings, “At least it’s getting kids to read.”
I’ve seen trends they defy logic and surprises so grand they leave me thrilled to be a reader, even of books meant for 8 years olds.
Right now we have had a big run of books with jokes on last pages and of course ‘diaries’.
The ‘soap opera’ reimagined and reformed has found it’s audience!
At the Barnes & Noble recently they had 5-7 tables dedicated to Harry Potter merchandise in the kid’s book section.
They had dismantled the usual picture book table to hold various versions of the Harry Potter books that I didn’t know existed. Coloring books, graphic novel adaptations (!?), napkins…And I’m not complaining. More power to them that they have something to sell. I don’t let my love or hate of Harry Potter color my amazement at how many ways they have found to sell stuff with that branding. It’s almost like the books were crafted for this modern marketplace, again nothing wrong with that.
So as we enter 2017 I ask myself what’s next? I look through my picture book manuscripts in progress with eyes colored by more and more experience in the market and it’s more difficult than ever to find something new to talk about. The genres are established: ‘I want a pet’, ‘bath time’, ‘first day of school’, ‘two oddly paired animal friends’, ‘the I just want the election to be over with’ books…well that last one is more an internal issue for me right now…
I hope the new year finds me in higher spirits and provides opportunity to spend time listening to those things that can’t hardly be heard. The elements that haven’t formed together yet to create these monsters of genre and cliche. Something new, something exciting.