Remember the original E-books? The E stood for easy, until smart librarians renamed the section Everybody Books because of the breadth of topics and language. In the past couple of years, there’s been an often-emotional debate about whether these original E-books are dead. The New York Times claimed “Picture Books No Longer a Staple for Children,” saying parents had turned to more heavily-texted chapter books because of increased standardized testing in schools.
When my children were young, we had “book parties” with all five of us sprawled out on our king-size bed. Picture books are written to be read aloud. And if the blogger in the New York Times article who said her son “…would still read picture books now if we let him because he doesn’t want to work to read” really looked at the reading levels in those picture books, she might be surprised.
And let’s not forget the pictures! Tracy Grant, in The Washington Post article “Are Picture Books Dead?” heard from Dara LaPorte, former manager of children’s books at Politics & Prose Bookstore. “Picture books expose children to unbelievable, world-class art… You’d have to go to different wings of the National Gallery to get the kind of exposure to styles of art that you can get from several picture books.”
The slump in picture book sales does not mean parents have stopped reading to their children. Library use is up, many used bookstores are thriving, thrift stores are turning over picture books at faster rates, and cheaper school book-order options are winning out. Families may be struggling financially, but they’re still reading to their kids.
What about those new e-books? Are they part of the so-called picture book demise? A later New York Times article “For Their Children, Many E-Book Fans Insist on Paper” says no. “…Sales of e-books for titles aimed at children under 8 have barely budged. They represent less than 5 percent of total annual sales of children’s books…”
Is that what we’re scared of? That ebooks will take over our beloved E-books? Maybe what we really need is to toss out the fear and find a balance, like Junko Yokota, director of the Center for Teaching Through Children’s Books. “It’s not really an either/or conversation for me,” Yokota said in a Valentine’s Day Publisher’s Weekly article, “but rather, it’s about which direction, print or digital (or both) is right for each title.”
Take a big breath and trust your instincts. Picture books aren’t going away anytime soon. Open one and cuddle up, or go all out and throw a bedtime book party.
Deb Lund is a past teacher and librarian, mom, and the author of Monsters on Machines, which the starred PW review says “…has just about everything a child could hope for…” and Harcourt’s celebrated Dinosailors and All Aboard the Dinotrain, which will become a dinothrillogy this June with Dinosoaring. She frequently presents at schools, libraries, and conferences. Visit Deb at www.deblund.com.