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Shorter picture books, shorter attention spans, shortchanging children

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Things, they are a-changing. (Worldly matter always are.)But this has (IMO) less to do with the change in younger readers or their attention span. it has to do with attempts to market in a succinct way and not being a marketer, I don't know if it's productive.


My point about the so-called "shorter attention span for young readers"--I found it confusing that MG have gotten longer (a lot longer, and I am not speaking of Harry Potter and a few outliers) and PB have gotten shorter. If attention spans and SAT scores had anything to do with it, why would this be?

Here's my current attempt to understand these changes--

For one thing, MG are now read by many adults. Hence the word-count rise. That was *the other* Harry Potter legacy.
The advent of YA (never a convincing category, as 15 year-olds read anything and not just books with young protagonists, and older adults also read books with characters in their teens) had blurred the lines rather than made it more specific.

About picture books-- most of us grew up reading short stories that were illustrated. True picture books were rare. Now they are the norm for the category still referred to by that name, which is art with few and sometimes no words. It's a different beast, I think.
We are all missing the story picture books. Those from way back (only two generations ago) often had 1,200-1,500 words. They didn't skimp on description, and the art was augmentative, not absolutely essential. We called them "picture books" but they were short stories with added art.

Seems to me true picture books are the artists' media, not the writers'.
#31 - July 12, 2015, 12:53 PM
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One of the posters said that at some point the market would be saturated with longer picture books, and that there are enough good old classic ones at the library to keep kids occupied.

But where are the NEW classics supposed to come from?

If the market is saturated, surely it is with the 2-4 year-old books.



#32 - July 12, 2015, 03:50 PM
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Gatz --I believe the new classics will be shorter, like WHERE'S MY HAT or have a brand new twist like BATTLE BUNNY. I think innovation and wild creativity are called for if we want to stand out in an already crowded field. The old classics were breaking new ground in many ways when they were published.

:) eab
#33 - July 12, 2015, 05:27 PM
« Last Edit: July 12, 2015, 05:29 PM by Auntybooks »

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Interesting point, 217.

I'm enjoying everyone's take on this topic. I too have a pang in my heart for all the storybooks that aren't being published, and I hope they'll come back again some day.
#34 - July 12, 2015, 06:42 PM
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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

The very short form is not as new as we think. All of Eric Carle's books have low word counts. Where the Wild Things Are does too. Goodnight Moon is also very short. The newer short books are competing with these.

I commented on Elizabeth's blog post that my kids both loved Cars and Trucks and Things That Go by Richard Scary. I still give this book to two year olds. It's interactive in that you can search for Goldbug on each page. (My son is ten and my daughter is 14, so they are digital-age kids, but like Vijaya, I limit screen time.) The book took 45 minutes to read. We never read it at bedtime. Two year olds will sit if you make the sitting cozy and/or fun enough.

My kids loved The Magic School Bus books and had heard them all by the end of Kindergarten. I read only the text if we had little time. I added the speech bubbles if we had more time. Sometimes, we even read the side notes.

I love some of the shorter books and the wordless books for the visual aspects. Visual literacy is a very important skill, becoming more important as humanity progresses. (Emoji anyone?) But there are other literacy aspects that need the rich texts of longer picture books to teach at a younger age. The illustration support matters for learning to read. It is also important to be able to code switch from images to words and vice versa. The interplay of the two can add layers that one can't have without the other. An example is irony occurring when a deadpan text is matched with images that tell an opposite or less serious story.

We sell our readers and our society short when we dictate what the needs are based on assumptions. Oh, and how are kids going to develop longer attention spans if they're never exposed to longer books.
#35 - July 13, 2015, 07:10 AM
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Debbie -- it is very true that there are older short books, but they were the exception rather than the rule. Now, they are the rule…in the next generations of picture books who knows what will be the rule? I have a feeling that it will be influenced by the way kids read on computer screens. It actually wires your brain differently. I don't think it is so much an attention span issue, as kids have no problem focusing on games and puzzles on electronic devices for very long periods of time.

I do think it is a problem, because as I said, it wires the brain differently. People who read primarily on the internet lose the ability to focus on long form writing such as novels. In fact, many story picture books are longer than articles on the net. Perhaps it is the adults ability to focus for that long that is lacking?

I don't know what the future of published books will be -- but it won't be the past. Fortunately for those of us who value the old brain system we will still have books, and long books too.

:) eab

#36 - July 13, 2015, 07:45 AM

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We kept some of my favorites around for my own kids. They enjoyed Blueberries for Sal and The Big Brown Bear just like I did. That said, they especially loved the books with art that really made the story -- the little platypus, for instance. My son liked books he could easily 'read' (ie, memorize), therefore the short texts made him happy. He was 'reading' Don't Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus by 2. My daughter, otoh, never cared much about the texts at all and preferred to look through the books and come up with her own stories based on the art.

Both are avid readers today, and both can sit and read for hours at a time...so I'm not sure what that says. When I look at their friends/classmates, though, I guess the implications come through a bit more. At my daughter's age (going into 6th grade), most of her classmates are still readers; but for my son (who will be an 8th grader), most of his peers have stopped reading for pleasure (especially the boys). Is this tied into the shorter texts of their picture book days? :shrug Certainly the vast influx of video games have influenced the boys...if they can't be outside running around or throwing a ball, they're inside on their gaming system (or on their phones, using Instagram or texting).

I would say that my opinion is that picture books which can entice children into the world of imagination and story building (however they do that) are going to be incredibly valuable as we go into the future...and since I love the complexities and magic of language, I'd probably say that longer texts could fill that need in a way that nothing else can. I guess we'll see...
#37 - July 13, 2015, 08:20 AM
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I do think it is a problem, because as I said, it wires the brain differently. People who read primarily on the internet lose the ability to focus on long form writing such as novels. In fact, many story picture books are longer than articles on the net. Perhaps it is the adults ability to focus for that long that is lacking?


I made my kids read The Shallows by Nicholas Carr. Very insightful. Even they can see how their reading habits have changed due to reading on the internet and clicking away ...

Vijaya
#38 - July 13, 2015, 09:05 AM
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I made my kids read The Shallows by Nicholas Carr. Very insightful. Even they can see how their reading habits have changed due to reading on the internet and clicking away ...

This is an interesting thought - clicking away. I hadn't thought of that before, but if you can just click away, it can diminish your willingness or ability to plow through something you aren't thrilled with, in order to reap the rewards that may come farther on.

I had a friend whose father was in the military back when moving every two years was the norm. She said she didn't realize until she was an adult that all the moving made her consider problems to be disposable. If she had a problem with a friend or situation, she knew she didn't have to resolve it, because they'd be moving soon anyway.

I guess internet reading can be like that, too.
#39 - July 13, 2015, 11:09 AM

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What a great discussion! I have been talking about this with my writer friends lately and have even polled some parents. The parents I've talked to are split--some prefer longer picture books, but there are others who only read shorter books because of time. I'm glad this is something authors are discussing and am *hoping* that this, like other trends in the publishing industry, will begin to swing back the other direction in time. When I was a teacher, the picture books I chose were usually 800-1000 words--not too long OR too short for a teacher read aloud, in my opinion. My boys loved PBs of this length when they were younger, too.

 :sun Becky 
#40 - July 13, 2015, 01:28 PM
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Man. Even some peeps in 1835 were unhappy with the way kids were reading. But the perceived problem was a little different it seems…“Devouring Books” decries the “mental gluttony” that leads to over-reading--

http://www.merrycoz.org/books/DEVOURNG.xhtml

Not to make light of this important discussion, but this will perhaps give some peeps a laugh! Come to think of it, though, 'kids' books have been getting shorter and more simple ever since they first sprang into existence. Where will it end?

Well, I'm off to gormandize a book or six….nom, nom, nom!

eab

:) eab
#41 - July 13, 2015, 02:01 PM
« Last Edit: July 13, 2015, 02:04 PM by Auntybooks »

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I believe longer picture books will eventually come back.  Everything always seem to come back full circle, whether it's a fashion fad or books.
#42 - July 13, 2015, 03:14 PM

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Great comments.  Just an aside....I recently sold a picture book that I submitted with a word count of 320 words. I thought THAT was short. Five edits later and it's now 185 words. The art will carry much of the storytelling that was lost with some of the cutting. (I'm very excited by this sale, by the way, and can't wait till it's officially announced).
#43 - July 13, 2015, 06:23 PM
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It's interesting to think about the impact of reading on screen. My kids don't do this often. My son did so for school in third grade, but it was short stories and articles, the sort of thing you'd find in a Time for Kids. I don't think it's impacted the reading my kids do.

My eighth grader doesn't read as much as she used to. She's pressed for time. She's a CIT this summer, getting home at 4. By the time she's had snack and gotten ready for the next day, she has an hour or so to veg. She watches TV or videos on her computer. But she isn't able to read on grade level and has begun to see some reading as a chore. She'll gladly read a picture or chapter book. This is part of why kids in our generation (I'm 46) stopped reading as we aged, it became prescriptive. I wonder if that still impacts modern youth.

My ten year old will read anything he sees. I don't think that will ever change though he may hate some of the school selections. I'll have to report back in a few years and let you know. My point is the personalities and capabilities of the individual children come into play along with society's push to read harder material at a younger age. Many kids may be turned off to reading because we've made it too hard to keep up. Longer picture books filled a niche between the shorter books and the chapters. If you are struggling, engaging in a longer book becomes a chore. The pressure on our youth may be a bigger issue than attention span or online reading when it comes to explaining the need for longer books with illustration support.
#44 - July 20, 2015, 08:13 AM
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Aunty, those excerpts made me laugh. Thanks.

I find that when we shut off the interwebs, my kids will devour books and hang out with friends. So we continue to set a limit on our computers and their phone usage. Now that we're looking into colleges, we are all gravitating towards those which offer a great books program, even for science-y type kids like ours. My hope is that they will see how valuable it is to immerse yourself in these books.

Vijaya
#45 - July 20, 2015, 08:39 AM
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