One does not graduate from picture books simply because one can read!
I have been reading books for 43 years, selling them for 30, and have enjoyed almost every minute of both. One of my great and maddening pleasures is watching customers evaluate books after I've collected a stack based on conversation, reader assessment, and adult preference. Do they look at the cover, flip right to the last page (you'd be amazed at how many customers evaluate a book last page first), remark on the text, evaluate the illustration, or make a connection to other books they love. Do they sit down to read or stand up to dismiss? It happens SO fast, that bit of judgmental sorting one does when looking for the perfect book for the perfect kid.
A recommendation will often start with a conversation about the reader identifying the interests and experience that might impact a good choice. Typically it also involves an argument. A nice one. So people don't know we’re arguing. I want the grownups to seriously consider picture books when making their selections, but if the child in question is able to read independently, the resistance can be visceral. This is an especially important consideration with assessments assigning numbers to children so early. Parents and grandparents arrive fully armed with ages, genders, interests, the all-important-and-not-to-be-trifled-with reading levels, and all manner of accolades and/or concerns that need to be supported by books. But, inevitably, if the child has started to read independently, they will automatically discount picture books. Sometimes, after a lengthy conversation, they will reconsider. I do not always cry and they do not always acquiesce but when they do I feel joyful and they feel brave.
We talk about how the crafts of writing and art are married in picture books in a way we rarely see in other literature. How the author and the illustrator, often working independently birth a book neither one of them quite anticipated. We discuss how the reader can read the text, "read" the illustrations, gaze at the pictures, and listen to the story. We discuss how these activities are nuanced and different. If we are all extremely lucky, I can find a kid nearby and have them share their view. Some of the time, the grown up still goes for the longer, more challenging books often measured in number of pages, thickness, or the need to “work at reading”. But, not always and I’m left a little wistful because I don’t get to meet the child, read to them, or talk about the books… Until they come back looking for more.
This morning I got to talk about.
Shackleton’s Journey by William Grill
Amelia and Eleanor Go For a Ride by Pam Munoz Ryan
Each Kindness by Jacqueline Woodson
Child’s Calendar by John Updike
I wonder what this afternoon will bring?
Camille DeBoer has been a children's bookseller for 30 years. She is the former owner of Pooh's Corner: A Children's Bookstore and currently sells books for Schuler Books and Music. A frequent guest presenter for literacy workshops, in panel discussions, and at conferences, Camille enjoys
sharing children's book recommendations for all ages, discussing industry trends, and developing collaborative programs connecting books and readers.