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Shorter picture books, shorter attention spans, shortchanging children

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In PW Shelf Talker today, there is an article " Pandering to or Presuming Shorter Attention Spans?"

The author, bookseller Elizabeth Bluemle, provides thought-provoking points on the shortchanging of children by PBs with shorter and shorter word counts.

Speculating on the causes of the briefer texts, she rejects the idea that children have briefer attention spans than they used to.

She asks, "Is it because we are currently experiencing a trend of short, meta, funny picture books that don’t unfold a story with characters so much as riff on a clever idea?"

Gatz
#1 - July 07, 2015, 11:49 AM
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I'm excited to hear this was in PW.  :running

That to which we pander, we get.
#2 - July 07, 2015, 12:55 PM
Imagination is more important than knowledge. Einstein.

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There are some truly brilliant PBs with very few words, but that doesn't mean young children won't find longer works engaging. I think part of what's happening is that often only very young children read PBs because kids are pushed to read chapter books as early as possible. This is a shame, because the language in an adult-read PB is often richer, more melodic, and more nuanced than the very basic text of an early chapter book. I'm not against chapter books, by any means, but I also don't think we want to hurry children away from PBs or the experience of being read to by an adult.
#3 - July 07, 2015, 08:41 PM
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I agree!  :rainbow
#4 - July 08, 2015, 03:22 PM
Creative blessings to you ~

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Do you have a link, Gatz?

I find with the short length of most PBs my kids don't seem satisfied and they end up asking for 5 or 6. I wish there were more books that were a bit longer because I think they'd enjoy spending more time in a book. Sometimes the short ones are nice too when bedtime is running late and you just want a quick read.

As a writer though, I find myself wishing an 800-1000 word or even 1200 word PB was still acceptable.
#5 - July 08, 2015, 04:11 PM
« Last Edit: July 08, 2015, 04:31 PM by dewsanddamps »
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Roger Sutton did a similar post today on the his blog. http://www.hbook.com/2015/07/blogs/read-roger/picture-book-problems/
Wonder if the same luncheon/industry-insider tweetfest sparked both posts?
#6 - July 08, 2015, 04:53 PM

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Katie, you little dickens, you edited my post. Did I make an embarrassing typo??  :shocked
#7 - July 08, 2015, 05:21 PM
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Eileen,

I think you make a tremendously important point:

"I think part of what's happening is that often only very young children read PBs because kids are pushed to read chapter books as early as possible. This is a shame, because the language in an adult-read PB is often richer, more melodic, and more nuanced than the very basic text of an early chapter book."


(This should've been done with the Quote feature, but I can't figure how to use it. I'm still a bit of an e-noramus.)

Gatz
#9 - July 08, 2015, 07:24 PM
SurfYourOwnMind.com, children's creativity blog currently in development.

A push to read at more advanced levels sooner (chapter books) does not promote or indicate comprehension (or other skills) associated with that level.

2012 SATs produced the lowest reading scores since 1972.

The push may not be solely related to the decline, but the age groups for storybooks (not PBs) is still a fairly critical developmental age. We might have set aside some of the process in pursuit of advancement while the basic human components remained the same. Just because a three-year-old can navigate a tablet to get to their games doesn't mean they're ready for MIT.

#10 - July 09, 2015, 07:42 AM
Imagination is more important than knowledge. Einstein.

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Thanks for the links, Gatz and Anne.
#11 - July 09, 2015, 08:13 AM
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I find this thread so interesting. You're all saying the things I've been thinking for a long time. The push for Earlier is Better in education winds up being counterproductive in many ways. I remember my father reading Bartholomew Cubbins and the Oobleck to me when I was about 4 and hanging on every word, but it is so wordy by today's standards I doubt it would have be published.

I used to teach an early morning class for teenagers and was warned to never read to them because kids today have no tolerance for that. Well, a couple of times a year the kids just hit a wall (it's not easy to get up at half past dark and go to class), so I gave them markers and paper and let them draw while I read to them. They loved it and so did I.

The assumption today that experiences have to be packaged and quick doesn't allow for the times when children and parents want depth and nuance.

 
#12 - July 09, 2015, 09:05 AM

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There's a saying about how children's books are like caskets and xxx (I can't recall the other example) in that the they are generally not purchased by the user.

I think part of this trend is due to busy, exhausted parents--the ones buying the books--who want to shorten the bedtime reading period.
#13 - July 09, 2015, 01:11 PM
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Interesting topic! I want longer picture books as both a reader, writer, and parent. I tend to write 600-800 words and I like that length for character and story development. My agent wants shorter, but we did sell my debut at about 800 words, so yay!

I read PBs with my daughters, 7 and 10, every night. I don't know if they would if I weren't a writer, but I take them out of the library, and they irresistible. We take out short and funny, but there are plenty of long ones over 800 words. For example, the Matt de la Pena/Christian Robinson Caldecott Honor book Last Stop on Market Street is 757 words and has some beautiful figurative language and interiority that you don't see allowed much in picture books these days.

ETA: I like the phrase from the PW article about "earning the words." A knee-jerk reaction to cut any words over X isn't right but every word in a picture book has to earn its way there. If we can write compelling stories with characters and language that engages, the book won't feel long. The words are earned.

(And other times, I read 500 word books that don't engage and seem endless...)
#14 - July 09, 2015, 01:55 PM
« Last Edit: July 09, 2015, 01:59 PM by Kell »
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I totally agree with you, Kell, about earning the words!
#15 - July 09, 2015, 02:31 PM
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Lots of good comments from all of you. I've been feeling this way for years. But I do have to add that the people on this board may not be typical--as probably all of you are wordsmiths. I do know that when I taught kindergarten in an Hispanic, working class neighborhood, it was pretty hard to get the kids to focus on a book (in English) at all and I was really thankful for those shorter picture books. The first item on my agenda was to get those kids to love books, no matter how I had to do it.

Michael--the other items is dog food. Here's the quote:

"Like dog food and coffins, children's books are usually picked out by someone other than the ultimate recipient."
--Tracy Mayor
#16 - July 09, 2015, 02:48 PM
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There's room, as there's always been, for PBs and storybooks. The need for both hasn't changed in the last fifty years, IMHO, despite technology. What changed is a more recent combination of beliefs of what is perceived as important or unnecessary, or necessary or impossible. Like many things, we don't see the error in our logic (or beliefs or assumptions or...) until we see the outcome down the line, or until someone assembles information in a way that suddenly "proves" popular theory/thought incorrect. (Pluto isn't a planet vs. the "new" math 50 years ago to the present core curriculum.)

History proves SO many methods/theories/beliefs/approaches are guesses, in many things.

There have always been parents who, regardless of marital and/or employment status, will delight in reading to their kids (and skip verses or pages, a time-honored parental profession, when necessary). And there's the parents who don't read to their kids at all. And a lot of those kids want to dive into the worlds that books offer. Some find a way. Some don't.

Of course you market to those who buy a product!

But marketing is about telling--showing--people how much they need the product, much like what writers have to do to impress an agent/editor. If publishing is saying there's no room for storybooks anymore, then to me, that says a number of things...one thing is that the industry isn't as strong as it should be. As tough as they are to break into, and with the clout they seem to have, you'd think the marketing drive would speak more to the FUEL that books and imagination can--WILL--offer.

Every marketing generation has competition. We should have known--but now we're seeing--that human evolution can't keep up, in the long run, as we perceived, with technological advancements. Things suffer.

We're pandering. Been pandering. What's next because of it.

Just some of my rambling thoughts, of course. (When I rule the world one day as benevolent dictator, things will change, and I'll remember the Blueboarders--just so you know.)












#17 - July 09, 2015, 05:09 PM
Imagination is more important than knowledge. Einstein.

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(When I rule the world one day as benevolent dictator, things will change, and I'll remember the Blueboarders--just so you know.)

:king

*note to self: be nice to Arona*

#18 - July 09, 2015, 05:13 PM
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Michael--the other items is dog food. Here's the quote:

"Like dog food and coffins, children's books are usually picked out by someone other than the ultimate recipient."
--Tracy Mayor

Thanks, Ellen, I love that line.
#19 - July 10, 2015, 06:22 PM
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Me too. That's why you always have to throw a little something in for the weary adults.
#20 - July 10, 2015, 06:42 PM
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So many interesting views.

It's heartening to see so much support for picture books with more text and more story. I know the 5- to 8-year-olds I read to definitely prefer them.

Gatz
#21 - July 11, 2015, 10:58 AM
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From my perspective as a kindergarten teacher, I agree with Betsy on the benefits of shorter books:
Quote
"I do know that when I taught kindergarten in an Hispanic, working class neighborhood, it was pretty hard to get the kids to focus on a book (in English) at all and I was really thankful for those shorter picture books."

I really like having short but meaningful books to read. It means we can take more time to discuss a book without students getting overly restless. Or sometimes I have a short space of time and like to read a book we can finish, instead of having to come back to it later. It is hard for 4 and 5 year olds to concentrate on a long story when there are exciting hands-on things to do (e.g., water table, building, art centre) and so much I want to share with them during a day (science, math, language). That said, I think as they get older, in grade 1 and 2, they are more able to listen to and understand longer books.

As a writer, I think it's important to write the story and give it the space it needs to be told. Sometimes that works in under 500 words, sometimes it doesn't. I hope there is room in publishing for both.
#22 - July 11, 2015, 12:41 PM

"I think as they get older, in grade 1 and 2, they are more able to listen to and understand longer books.

As a writer, I think it's important to write the story and give it the space it needs to be told. Sometimes that works in under 500 words, sometimes it doesn't. I hope there is room in publishing for both.
[/quote]

I agree. Unfortunately, in publishing today, by and large there seems to be room only for the short books.
#23 - July 11, 2015, 02:13 PM
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One of the most frequent questions I get in my busy public library at the Children's Ref Desk is, "Where are the books for preschoolers?" At this, I point to the walls of picture books and ask if they have a certain topic in mind to narrow down the choice. If they do ask for help, they frequently say, "And not too long because s/he is only 3," or they pass by my selections because they are "too long," etc. So I just think the trend right now is catering to that age group, and in general 3yos just won't sit still for as long/have the patience for that long a story.
#24 - July 11, 2015, 02:42 PM
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Truth be told, if parents didn't put electronic devices into their kids' hands, a lot of them would be more engaged in books, because it'd be the only game in town. We were completely TV-video free for the first 10 yrs of our children's lives and we had lots of long reading sessions along with the usual playing. But when I was tired, I really appreciated the short PB. By the time my son was 2 he had memorized scores of books so when he did finally start speaking (at age 3), he'd *read* to his younger sister. And she'd listen to him with rapt attention.

I agree with the poster who said there's a push to do everything earlier. Next thing you know, they'll be pushing 2 yr olds to know the alphabet. I know a woman who played French tapes to her baby while she was carrying her in the womb.

I really like the variety of PBs though, for older and younger children. Many publishers like Boyds Mills, Charlesbridge, publish the longer PB, so it's not like there's a dearth of them.

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#25 - July 11, 2015, 03:08 PM
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Heh. My son, now 24, positively adored AND TO THINK THAT I SAW IT ON MULBERRY STREET when he was around 23 months, and actually could recite it along with me as I read it to him. He also loved all of Robert McKloskey. Does anyone read those anymore?
#26 - July 11, 2015, 03:39 PM
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At my lib, all Dr. Seuss is still very popular! I loved them as a kid, too, and do agree that the lure of TV/screen time that is so available now takes away reading time. Who knows how much more or less I would've read as a kid if I'd had all there is today? Not sure.

Robert McCloskey gets requested when someone is taking their kids to Boston. :)
#27 - July 11, 2015, 04:25 PM
BLACKOUT -- available now
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One thing that figures in -- we have longer old storybooks that are still selling, and have been tested by time. Anyone who wants long story books to read to their children can find them. They are still on the market, and well loved--that means that new long picture books are in competition for market share with them. Since the old books have long ago earned out, they make more money for the publisher than contracting a new work. How many longer picture books does a publisher need on their list? At some point the market becomes saturated.

The very short form is newer, are competing against contemporary books. They all cost about as much to produce, so a newcomer has a better chance.

I do love writing story books. I don't have as much luck selling them as I do selling the very short books.

:( eab
#28 - July 11, 2015, 09:36 PM

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One thing that figures in -- we have longer old storybooks that are still selling, and have been tested by time. Anyone who wants long story books to read to their children can find them. They are still on the market, and well loved--that means that new long picture books are in competition for market share with them. Since the old books have long ago earned out, they make more money for the publisher than contracting a new work. How many longer picture books does a publisher need on their list? At some point the market becomes saturated.

The very short form is newer, are competing against contemporary books. They all cost about as much to produce, so a newcomer has a better chance.

Good point.
#29 - July 12, 2015, 08:02 AM

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Aunty, thank you for sharing your wisdom here with us.
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#30 - July 12, 2015, 08:05 AM
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