In which Annie (high school teacher, mother of two young girls and a younger boy) and her aunt Deborah (children's bookseller, mother of two young women in their 20s) discuss children's books and come up with annotated lists.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

In Praise of Picture Books

Dear Annie,

I've spent the weekend up to my ears in books again, setting up the new store in McLean, Virginia.  Most of the shelves arrived on Thursday, and we're all trying to get the goods in the right places.  Opening day is this coming week.  With books, the big sections are pretty straightforward: Early Chapter Books go in this aisle, Board Books have their own nook, Mysteries in the back, near regular Fiction.  Should Potty Books have their own section, or can they exist in one area with Manners and New Siblings?  Religion fits well on this particular shelf, but does it work right next to Humor? 

Picture books have been a particular challenge.  The store is in a location which has had a toy & book store before, so we have reason to expect that hardcover picture books will sell well there.  I ordered more hardcovers than the other stores stock.  The obvious place to put them is in the back of the book section, and today I figured out which shelves to put them on which will make them visible across the entire store.  I have lots of face-out shelves -- they look quite lovely.  Books like Where the Wild Things Are, Make Way for Ducklings, The Lion and the Mouse, and of course Grumpy Bird are all beckoning across the shelves.

So imagine my -- not surprise, exactly -- exasperation at a New York Times article last week pronouncing picture books "no longer a staple for children."  What planet is that paper on?  Speaking as a former journalist, I can say that trend articles are almost always instigated by an editor who has had one conversation with another person, and they tend to be low on documentation and high on dumb quotes.  This one is no exception.  MotherReader, an excellent site ("The heart of a mother. The soul of a reader. The mouth of a smartass.") to which we link, skewered the article very nicely.  And before you get furious at the woman quoted in the article as saying she and her husband keep their six year-old from reading picture books because he should be reading longer ones, read her blog entry titled, "When quotes are taken out of context."

Very few adults read only one genre, and the same can be said for kids.  They start out with grownups reading them picture books.  Then the appetite for longer stories grows, and kids jump to listening to chapter books -- as Eleanor has been doing.  But it's my distinct impression that chapter books haven't stopped Eleanor from enjoying the many different levels of picture books.  The genres all get mixed up together, creating a warm surrounding cloud of books/stories/words.  Which, of course, is what we all want.



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