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Why are publishers becoming averse to longer picture book texts?

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I agree 100% with Marcia. REALLY want those longer picture books to make a comeback. As a reading specialist, it seems that not many parents know that picture books are actually harder for kids to read than chapter books (which tend to have controlled vocab). There are amazing picture books that I'd only give to 4th or 5th grade or up. They have wonderful vocab and varied sentence structure, and are complex.


I guess I keep hoping that with the Common Core Standards, publishers finally catch on to the need for text complexity (see Appendix A of CCSS on their website and standard 10 for almost every grade - they all refer to the huge concept of text complexity). Complex texts are something students (and teachers) can sink their teeth into - big concepts to ponder and discuss as per the speaking and listening standards as well as comprehension standards with writing techniques worth studying.


Those are the kinds of picture books CCSS asks us to use in the classroom K-12, and I am hoping that as text books are rewritten and published for CCSS, publishers will also catch on to the text complexity issue and begin to publish more complex, longer PBs.


And I have always loved them (as well as used them in teaching). This is the kind of PB I dream of being able to write, and I love to read. Masterful ones are amazing. Marcia has named a few and there are many, many others.
#31 - July 08, 2014, 04:55 PM

In regard to Kara's hopeful and future correlation between CCC and publishers, I had an author critique a longer PB (only 700ish words). Author said it was clever and original, that it spoke to the CCC (for science and language arts), CCC is what agents talk about these days, and librarians and teachers would love it. (There's a librarian in it, too.) HOWEVER, she also said that the science in it would be a bit too abstract for agents/pubs liking.

I cued the founding director of a math and science program for young children; he said some kids would get it, and those who didn't would still get something out of the "journey" that the librarian and MC take together. (And his kids would probably like it.)

So...agents and pubs want books that speak to CCC but with no more than 500 words and with language that does not stretch the mind OR imagination?

I agree with a lot of posts on here, but Kara's post points out the contradiction of the current trend in publishing.

(Headline: Librarians, teachers and writers lobby the Big Six.)
#32 - July 09, 2014, 05:53 PM
Imagination is more important than knowledge. Einstein.

So around 345 to 500 words is considered about normal?

I took a look at an except today of one book. A lot of pages only had line one line of text.

It's weird how picture books change from Peter And The Wolf.
#33 - July 09, 2014, 06:40 PM
« Last Edit: July 09, 2014, 06:42 PM by SarahW »
You can find my stuff at: uggc://plorephyg.bet/~fnenu/oybt.ugzy

I'm finding this thread really fascinating. For many years I've been writing the long and complex pb. A couple of times two different pbs got to the acquisition phase but were too obscure for the market. The best agent advice given to me was to "simplify" and I struggle to do it. Happily ebooks have arrived. My Minnie's Green Book clocks in at a little over 1240 words and the second Minnie story checks in at 862 words. I think those stories will be useful and enjoyable because they will have the audio and prompting components that will help the child follow the words. (Also a tired Mom or Dad will not have to read it to them - a complaint I have heard that I believe has fed into the shorter word count market requirement.)
#34 - July 10, 2014, 08:15 AM
Ghosts In the Night - Mackin 2019
Minnie's Green Book - HMH 2015
Mossy Marsha - Amazon
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Neil Gaiman's The Wolves In the Walls Ill. by Dave McKean is a kind of counterexample. It's a picture book with a lot of text per page, at least that's how I remember it, I don't have it in front of me. Looking it up I see it's got 56 pages not 32, Indiebound doesn't give an age but Amazon lists it as kindergarten and up but ages 8-12! It was published a year after Coraline so it may qualify as what Artemesia says, 'famous enough' : ) but well before Graveyard Book.
#35 - July 10, 2014, 08:21 AM
« Last Edit: July 10, 2014, 08:24 AM by KeithM »
Keith McGowan, www.keithbooks.com

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Arona, I would say it's generally true that publishers are looking for short picture books for preschoolers, but also longer picture books (history, science, etc.) for elementary. Science and historical nonfiction PBs often come in well over 1000 words.

But even just straight fiction doesn't have to be under 500 words. Both of my 2014 picture books run a bit longer--about 780 for THE GRUDGE KEEPER (Peachtree) and 700 for CHIK CHAK SHABBAT (Candlewick).
#36 - July 10, 2014, 08:32 AM
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Katherine, if you don't mind me asking: what did they find too obscure in both books at the acquisition meeting? (I found it odd that not one but two mss made it to that stage yet were ultimately passed on for being too obscure. Must have been borderline if someone couldn't pass on it from the beginning. Hmmm.)

Mara, thanks for some clarification. Seems everything I read indicates 300-500 max (which I mostly equate with pre-school levels), even for PBs for older kids. And agents don't seem to differentiate age ranges in regard to PBs. (Hard to tell a story that's more advanced for older kids in 300 words.)

LOVE Peachtree books. I have a few mss that, once polished, I'd love to sub to them.
#37 - July 10, 2014, 09:50 AM
Imagination is more important than knowledge. Einstein.

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 :shrug: All I can say is that I've sold a bunch of picture books to different publishers, and they have never been under 650 words. Almost always in the 750-1000 range.
#38 - July 10, 2014, 10:02 AM
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Well it was two different books to two different publishers. One was trying to explain mode, mean and median averages in a fun way and the other was about a father daughter relationship when the father was a submariner - kind of too niche I suppose. They both are too complex for a pb and I've been toying with making the second a full blown mg but keep running into confused readers who think that I'm writing an historical novel. Um no, certain aspects of submarine life hasn't really changed that much in 40 years! LOL!
#39 - July 10, 2014, 10:07 AM
Ghosts In the Night - Mackin 2019
Minnie's Green Book - HMH 2015
Mossy Marsha - Amazon
Blog: www.katherinerollins.blogspot.com

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Debbie, was it Ace Lacewing? I haven't read it yet, but I came across it when I was doing mine. I think Charlesbridge published it.

You got it. Fun read.
#40 - July 14, 2014, 06:24 PM
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I've heard 750 -800 words is the sweet spot. The under 500 isn't best for every book. The key still is to keep it as short as possible.

I used Peter and the Wolf in about third grade. I don't recall it as having that many words, but it was a book and tape set.
#41 - July 14, 2014, 06:38 PM
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I guess I'm well within the sweet spot then. I seem to average 350-500 words generally.:/
#42 - July 14, 2014, 11:48 PM
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I think there are two main reasons why the long picture book (think The Velveteen Rabbit) have faded away.


1. A growing early chapter book market
When I was a kid (in elementary school in the mid-1970s), there were VERY few early reader chapter books; I do remember Frog and Toad, but not much else. Then there were chapter books like Charlotte's Web and Ramona the Pest, and there were picture books. Period. Those long picture books filled a need for readers who were getting ready to make the switch to chapter books, but might not have had the stamina yet for chapter books. I don't ever remember using a bookmark for the long picture books--they were read in one sitting.


2. Use of picture books to teach language arts skills
Fast forward now to my day job as an elementary school teacher/librarian?several people brought up the text complexity that the Common Core Standards require, and I totally agree--I use longer picture books with my 6th grade students (Patricia Polacco, Eve Bunting, etc.). BUT?the reality is that I need complex, rich stories that can be read in about 15 minutes. I use these books for lessons, and I need to have time to read the story, show/model what I want the students to do, then give them ample time to practice that skill. This is different from when I was in elementary school; I don't ever remember my teachers using a picture book as a springboard for a lesson. There was spelling, reading groups, and writing, which was all separate from read-aloud time (my favorite part of the day :)).


Of course there are still readers out there who would sit through long picture books and some who would read them on their own, but from a publisher's standpoint, publishing these books for so few readers would have to be a labor of love, not a sound economic venture.

#43 - July 15, 2014, 12:24 AM
FLYING THE DRAGON (Charlesbridge, 2012)
A LONG PITCH HOME (Charlesbridge, 2016)

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http://bibliolinks.wordpress.com/

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KatherineR, I had a similar reaction to one of my books as your submariner book! It puzzles me because, using your book as an example, the market isn't just kids with parents who work on submarines. It's kids who are interested in submarines (loads of 'em!) and kids whose parents travel away from home for work or don't live with them all the time (lots more!). That's another aspect of needing stories for young children that show diversity in lives of all kinds.

/topic derail
#44 - July 15, 2014, 04:55 AM
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THE BOOK DRAGON, Sterling, October 2, 2018
MIRA FORECASTS THE FUTURE, Sterling, 2016

 :hijacked   Kell, that's a good point. I got so close! I shouldn't entirely give up on it. Maybe I'll pull it out in another year or two and try to revise/market it again.

End highjack.
#45 - July 15, 2014, 06:53 AM
Ghosts In the Night - Mackin 2019
Minnie's Green Book - HMH 2015
Mossy Marsha - Amazon
Blog: www.katherinerollins.blogspot.com

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Natalie,


The way we do complex text discussions of picture books (at my school) at the elementary level is to use those small chunks of time, like you mentioned (15 mins of reading, and add in discussion time for about 25-30 mins at a sitting), but not to expect to finish the book in one sitting/day/lesson For 4th and 5th grade, it can take a week to get through a picture book this way - which is fine. Actually, good. So we get through about 15 mins of rich, complex text every day, but have time to discuss it in chunks, and time to let it sink in - and several days to work through thoughts of the text, which can really help students.


Kara
#46 - July 15, 2014, 07:51 AM

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This sounds like a good idea, Kara. As a librarian, I can't do this since I only see classes once per week or once every other week, but for a classroom teacher, this makes a lot of sense. Using a document camera would be especially effective so that kids can see the text and illustrations as the teacher reads.
#47 - July 15, 2014, 01:26 PM
FLYING THE DRAGON (Charlesbridge, 2012)
A LONG PITCH HOME (Charlesbridge, 2016)

www.nataliediaslorenzi.com
http://bibliolinks.wordpress.com/

I've heard the description 'picture book' for so long now that I'd forgotten they were called something else when I was a kid. If they had text and pictures, they were storybooks. In school, they were read by teachers or librarians (and by students with the best reading skills). 

Not to be confused with the picture story books of today. And those who are selling longer PBs (more complex text and character-driven) are (secretly) called picture story books or sophisticated picture books, yet subbed and sold as PBs.  :bewildered:


How do schools fund the PBs that are used for CC? From the library budget? It seems librarians would have to be more particular than ever. And teachers as well, who spend a considerable amount of their own money  on classroom items.
#48 - July 15, 2014, 02:45 PM
« Last Edit: July 15, 2014, 02:53 PM by Arona »
Imagination is more important than knowledge. Einstein.

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Hi. This discussion is fascinating. My first children's book is about 1300 words long. When I first wrote it, over 20 years ago, I was told that 1000 words was the limit, and I managed to carve it down to that length. But even with that, I couldn't find a publisher. They told me that it was too niche. (Today, it's multicultural, or diverse. Then it was just niche.)

Anyway, I got the manuscript out,  and dusted it off, found an illustrator who owns a small publishing house, and we started working together to get the book ready for today's market. And we ended up adding words, and then we added pages.

There's no way of knowing if the book will sell, of course. Maybe there isn't a market for a longer picture book. But so many of my favorites, the ones I loved when I was little, and so many of the books I bought for and read to my children were longer. Here's hoping that we'll start seeing lots of longer picture books with complex language and beautiful, rich illustrations. 
#49 - July 26, 2014, 09:34 PM

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I'm wondering what the impact of Brian Floca's Locomotive (2573 words, 60 pages) will have on the market. Sure, that is the exception, but all those awards and brisk sales can't be ignored.
#50 - July 29, 2014, 03:54 PM

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I think Locomotive is considered non-fiction. It is not uncommon for non-fiction picture books to be this long. They are often intended for older readers. Look at David Macaulay's books and many put out by Smithsonian.
#51 - August 04, 2014, 07:34 AM
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Arona,


Each district and each school within a district has different funding sources. If a school is Title 1, typically, they will allocate some part of their budget for materials, which can include books. If not, there may be other funds that can be allocated for literacy. Some may come out of media budgets, but I don't think that is a dependable, consistent source for funding books that classroom teachers use for text discussions (or book 6 packs for guided reading). A lot of times, teachers or literacy people write grants to get the books funded. For our school, I wrote a grant for a lot of complex picture books that classroom teachers will use, and then also used Title 1 funds - so both. Title 1 budgets typically need to be spent by a certain spring date in the school year, so Feb/March brings a lot of purchases with Title 1 money. Scholastic and B&N love us!   :love5:


Kara
#52 - August 07, 2014, 03:50 PM

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