According to the recent New York Times story, "Picture Books No Longer a Staple for Children," bookstores are reporting a buying trend away from picture books. The newspaper suggests that parental pressure on even the youngest reader to read more difficult texts is causing picture books to languish untouched on bookshelves. And since bookstores do not refute that the vocabulary in picture books may be more challenging than chapter books and plots are often more sophisticated, they are stumped as to why sales figures of picture books are dropping.
The Times reports that the "classics like Sendak and Seuss still sell well" but sales of books by newer authors are disappointing. It is possible that parents are overlooking high-quality literature in picture books. In their efforts to better develop their childrens' reading lives, they may be steering their kids into chapter books. Parents may not even realize that chapter books do not necessarily offer more complex reading experiences than their picture book counterparts. Maybe some do not realize how significantly picture books encourage and inspire young readers through the art contained in their pages.
Although publishers such as Scholastic and Simon and Schuster have reduced the amount of picture books they have produced over the last several years, things may not be as dreadful as they seem. Christy Estrovitz, member of the 2010 Caldecott Award Committee notes the overwhelming number of entries for the 2009 award for picture books was over 600. According to Estrovitz, "Only a handful of the books were truly distinctive in their visual storytelling experience and artistic execution." She also says, "It was a particularly gorgeous year for picture stories and a personal and professional dream come true to serve on this prestigious committee."
Perhaps choosy parents are simply choosing to buy less? Economics may play a large part in the purchasing habits of many readers. But it is completely logical that current buying behaviors indicate that parents are demanding more high-quality picture books. It makes sense that the fewer number of books purchased simply means that buyers are more selective.
We always want to challenge our children; however, aren't parents smart enough to know that we ought not deprive our younger readers of the imaginative and creative qualities of beautifully illustrated books in favor of "more text-heavy chapter books," as cited in the article?
Even if you don't buy books, go to the library and borrow the newest Caldecott recipients:
Most Distinguished, The Lion and the Mouse (written and illustrated by Jerry Pinkney);
and the two Honor Books: All the World (illustrated by Marla Frazee) and Red Sings From Treetops: A Year in Colors (illustrated by Pamela Zagarenski).
We can all do our part in keeping picture books alive.