10.27.2011

A Challenge From Picture Book Illustrator and Author Matthew Cordell to REAWAKEN YOUR LOVE FOR THE PICTURE BOOK

First a Proclamation and now a Challenge. It's been an exciting week for picture books.

Matthew Cordell, author and illustrator of one of my all time favorite picture books (click title for my review of Trouble Gum) has written an eloquent, impassioned plea to the buyers and readers of picture books which he has generously allowed me to reprint here. It can also be read directly on his blog, which you should visit anyway for sneak peeks at his latest projects.
Toot Toot Zoom! by Matthew Cordell: Book CoverTrouble Gum by Matthew Cordell: Book Cover
Why all the hubbub about picture books? If you read around the blogosphere or the New York Times, you might have noticed some hoopla surrounding the supposed demise of the picture book as a staple of childhood. And you may have also noticed stories (like a response at Publishers Weekly) trumpeting the opposite. As a longtime children's bookseller, I have noticed a drop in sales of picture books and the corresponding reaction by the bookstore I work for. The direct results of this have been a reduction in the number of titles carried as well as a shrinkage of shelf space for picture books. On top of this, as a mom and story-time-lady at work, I have also noticed the paucity of quality picture books to read to my (and other people's) children. Or, perhaps I have just been noticing the large number of subpar picture books published over the last few years that resulted in the need for a proclamation from picture book authors and illustrators in the first place. I hope that the drop in sales of picture books will eventually lead to quality over quantity in the publishing world. I think that the actions of dedicated artists and writers (and those who are both) will ensure this, which in turn will invigorate the publishing world, bookstores and book buyers when readers (re)discover, as Matthew Cordell says, "how spiritual the picture book experience is to both children and adults."
Toby and the Snowflakes by Julie Halpern: Book CoverLeap Back Home to Me by Lauren Thompson: Book CoverRighty and Lefty: A Tale of Two Feet
But, the bottom line is that without a demand the supply will wither. Those of us with the funds to do so need to buy (or continue to buy) picture books for our kids and even for ourselves. For all the reasons why you should buy picture books and read them to your kids, please, PLEASE read Matthew Cordell's words below and PASS THEM ON to friends and family. I realize that I might be preaching to the choir, carrying coals to Newcastle and selling refrigerators to Eskimos here, but if you already read and love picture books then you are the PERFECT person to spread the word about their importance. 

And, finally, as a person who works in an actual brick and mortar bookstore, I thank Mr Cordell heartily for encouraging people to GO TO A REAL BOOKSTORE and read picture books (rather buy them on line...) Please, come on down and take these books for a test drive! I know that the train table and the increasing number of non-book items (ok, fine, TOYS) makes it hard to get the little ones to look at books, but my bookstore really is a fun place to hang out. Maybe there will even be a story time going on!
Return to Gill ParkLike Pickle Juice on a CookieJustin Case: School, Drool, and Other Daily Disasters

Reawaken your love for the picture book.

The children's picture book is not doing so well. People aren't buying it like they should. I don't have all the facts and numbers (I'm not that guy), but I know enough to tell you that. Maybe it's because of tough economic times. Maybe it's because of e-bookery or general gadget-y (short attention span) distractions. Maybe it's because parents aren't reading to their kids enough. Maybe it's because education is accelerating young readers at a newer, faster pace, and rushing them over the picture book form. Maybe it's because it's been forgotten how important, irreplaceable, and (when stars align) how spiritual the picture book experience is to both children and adults.

If you think enough about it, you'll see the importance of and need for picture books. For one thing... reading to your kids is going to make them better. Period. It's going to build some solid ground to a solid person. It's going to build up their vocabulary, and make them smarter and more fun and more interesting to be around. And you'll be all the more prouder (of yourself and of them). That's the common sense thing. But beneath the surface is the more subtle stuff. Reading to your kids is going to make you better. Shared reading is an experience no parent or child should do without. A special bond between Mom or Dad and baby girl or baby boy that will never, ever be forgotten. And of course there's art appreciation. Picture books are painstakingly composed by writers who really, really, REALLY love what they are doing. Manuscripts are written and re-written, and thrown out and re-written and revised and picked apart and picked apart again so that every line counts, every word counts. And they are visually realized by artists who really, really, REALLY love what they are doing, developing characters, and sketching and re-sketching and re-sketching, and testing drawing approaches, painting approaches, digital illustration options, creating color palettes, and newer better color palettes (and throwing those out and creating the best color palettes). And then they are designed and typeset and polished and shaped and assembled and proofed and press-checked and assembled by people who really, really, REALLY care about the finished visual dynamics of the thing. Writing, art, design, printing, binding, packaging... to make just one perfectly produced book ready to digest and enjoy. (This visual distinction and quality control of image and package from top to bottom is why picture books can never truly translate to e-books, if you think about it. But that's another rant.)This is my challenge to you, dear readers. Go into a book store (not a website, but a store with a roof, walls, people, books you can hold and browse over) and spend some time in the children's book section. Find something incredible (it ain't hard). Then, when you're all filled up, buy just one picture book. And in a week's time, repeat. Buy one picture book a week for your kid(s), some other kid(s) you love, or for yourself or some other grown-up you love. I can identify that it's hard to get, at first, but adults can also enjoy reading picture books. And if you absolutely can't swallow that concept, you can't escape appreciating them for the amazing artwork alone. It's like buying amazing art that can sit on your coffee table (or wherever you keep your favorite books with your favorite images) for, like, 16 bucks or whatever. Someone you know needs more picture books in her/his/their life/lives. You need to experience, again, what you loved when you read picture books as a kid.(Okay, okay.... if you absolutely, seriously, truthfully can't get to or find a brick and mortar book store, buy your books online. But try this first.)If you can't do a pic book a week, make it a pic book a month.And if you can't do that (understood, times are tight).... Go into your most excellent local library and check out 10 picture books a week. If you can't do it every week, do it once a month.Challenge issued. Is this more preaching to the choir? Maybe so. But I'm not sure there's enough preaching going on. The picture book should be preached. It should be testified. We have to do  more. We have to talk more. I can't do without it. And if you think about it, neither can you.P.S. If you take this seriously, and I hope that you do, and you happen to be on Facebook, pledge to me, to yourself, and to everyone around you that you will do this by liking this Facebook page. Here. Now.

Some very exciting books on the horizon from Matthew Cordell in 2012, including Another Bother, which just received a starred review from Kirkus.
Another Brother by Matthew Cordell: Book Cover



Bat and Rat by Patrick Jennings: Book CoverForgive Me, I Meant to Do It: False Apology Poems by Gail Carson Levine: Book CoverItsy-Bitsy Baby Mouse by Michelle Meadows: Book Cover

4 comments:

Brimful Curiosities said...

We try to do our part! I consider each picture book in our collection a work of art, something to love and cherish.

Tanya said...

I read your blog and I know you do! Your words describing how you feel about picture books are lovely. Share your passion with others, repost on your blog!

Donna said...

Cordell's plea almost brought me to tears. When I think about the infinite amount of joy reading to my children has brought me and them, it breaks my heart that others don't see it that way. You should see the look of disappointment from both parents and kids when I purchase books as gifts. When I am asked by others for gift suggestions for my own kids, I always say, "books please." The requests almost always falls on deaf ears. If it is not an electronic gadget, it might as well be invisible to many people. Yet those same people are amazed that my children from a very young age can sit for extended periods of time on my lap or beside me reading picture book after picture book and then beg for "please, read just one more story."

Tanya said...

Donna - Eloquently stated. The disconnect between the value of a (picture) book and time spent with a child versus the ease of plugging a child into an electronic gadget is truly depressing. It really bothers me to have to sell products like LeapFrog at the bookstore where I work. What happened to sitting with your kid and reading to him/her as a way of teaching literacy?