Parents push ‘big-kid books’

Sales of picture books are slipping, reports the New York Times. Ambitious parents are pushing children to switch to “big-kid books” at earlier ages. 

“They’re 4 years old, and their parents are getting them ‘Stuart Little,’ ” said Dara La Porte, the manager of the children’s department at the Politics and Prose bookstore in Washington. “I see children pick up picture books, and then the parents say, ‘You can do better than this, you can do more than this.’ It’s a terrible pressure parents are feeling — that somehow, I shouldn’t let my child have this picture book because she won’t get into Harvard.”

Picture books list for as much as $18, so parents may think they’re not getting enough words for the dollar.

As picture books lose shelf space, book stores are “expanding their booming young-adult sections, full of dystopic fiction, graphic novels and Twilight-inspired paranormal romances,” reports the Times.

Picture books are out, but graphic novels are in?

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  1. It’s lazy journalism. The reporter did not think to check library circulation figures, which have been up tremendously in the past couple of years with the recession.

    I still read my kids tons of picture books. However, my purchase/borrow ratio has shifted way towards the latter compared with a few years ago.

    Another factor is that U.S. births peaked in 2007 (again, probably due to the recession). In a number of states, the peak was even earlier, in 2005. So there are simply fewer toddlers and preschoolers around to read picture books.

  2. Yeah, this is another “pretend trend”.

  3. I agree that this anecdote is meaningless. I almost never bought a picture book for my own family – we got them all from the library or received them as gifts. Four year olds can easily listen to Stuart Little being read to them. The audio version in the library is fantastic.

  4. The NY Times article combines 2 pieces of info together that may or may not be connected- the lack of sales for picture books may be purely reflective of the economy. As many have noted, libraries are still the best-bang-for-the-buck in terms of parents saving money on books that children may quickly transition out of as their reading skills develop.
    That said, I have worked as a librarian the past few years, after a long career in elementary ed, and I have personally witnessed this trend of parents with children under 5 asking for recommendations for chapter books for their preschool aged children. One parent commented that she was tired of reading the same things over and over to her children. SHE was bored, not the child!
    The important thing is that parents have that cozy time of snuggling up together for a good story. It sends the message that time spent with books/reading is valued. A good story is important. Repetition is important for the young child- that is how they learn. So while it may be boring for the adult, the child has much to gain by hearing the same story over and over. I found many of the books parents wanted to read to their young child were simply over their heads- in terms of a 4 year old being able to appreciate the content.
    The other issue for me as an educator and a librarian is the poor quality of so many children’s books. It seems anyone with a modest claim to fame is hired to write a book for children. So many books today are sarcastic and snarky and the art work is not designed to enhance the experience for the young reader who needs simple, realistic art. Young children need stories that are honest, moral, fantastic, funny and hopeful- save the sarcasm and cool snarkiness for chapter books and graphic novels for the 10 and up set- they love that!
    There is a bizarre rush these days to treat 2-year-olds as adults and try to educate them the way one would a ten year old. it is the perfect formula for burning them out on having a lifelong joy for learning. As for me, I will always love Goodnight Moon, Madeleine, Grandfather Twilight, Frances and anything drawn by Maurice Sendak, and any child who’d like to hear me read to them is welcome. A great picture book can take you amazing worlds full of wonder and magic, and that’s what childhood should be about.

  5. I can get books for 50 cents at the thrift store. I just have to sort through a bunch of old Dr. Phil hardcovers and bodice-rippers to find the good ones. We have boxes and boxes of board books at home. I also have older children make paper books for younger children and read to them. 🙂

  6. Elizabeth says:

    An old post — so this comment’ll go unread, but on the to-do list is making a call to the children’s librarian to ask about/complain about their picture book selection: a dozen copies of some titles, which then get withdrawn in short order, and a huge emphasis on “poetic”-style books (not Dr. Suess rhyming, but descriptive phrases about winter, or bedtime, or whatever) without any story to the book — the sort of thing my 3 year old gets bored with very easily. And the artwork is very stylized; it’s very rare to have the sort of realistic art that draws kids in rather than trendy “multimedia” illustrations. So if picture book sales have declined, I would say that this is probably independent of pushy parents and more likely the result of a decline in the number of good picture books that appeal to children, as opposed to appealing to librarians, educators, reviewers, and other people who think they know what children “ought” to like.