Friday, November 12, 2004

Consolidation and Merchandising

These thoughts on the picture book market from newly contracted author Chris Barton, whose first picture book recently sold to Charlesbridge.

"I think the answer is a combination of some of the theories you mentioned, with a couple of others folded in. Consolidation among retailers hasn't been much of an issue in the past few years, but we are still seeing fallout from the consolidation of so many publishers under the roofs of Time Warner, News Corp., Pearson, Viacom and Bertelsmann, all of which -- except for Bertelsmann -- are publicly traded and therefore under pressure to show big returns. Big returns = emphasis on safe bets, and safe bets = books by brand-names (be they celebrities or well-known series), books in genres that have made big splashes (Harry Potter and fantasy in general, which has had a lot of crossover appeal to adults), and books with higher margins (i.e. without all that expensive art).

"To me, there's also the issue of how picture books are merchandised by the big chains. You typically see a wall of a dozen or two outward-facing picture book titles, generally by big names, but the rest of the picture books are jammed together spine-out. Well, a picture book's spine is less likely to appeal to a casual buyer than its cover -- you know, where the art is -- and the miniscule text on the spine of a 32-page book is not exactly easy to read, even if there's a particular author or title you're looking for."

Thanks, Chris!

Thursday, November 11, 2004

Picture Book Market

Reigning theories among children's authors on why the literary trade picture book market has basically tanked:
(a) celebrity picture books
(b) mass market picture books (ie., Disney tie-ins)
(c) chains burying the indies
(d) the decline of school/library budgets
(e) the increased emphasis on testing
(f) a natural dip in the age 4-7 reader population (this is closely related to the idea that baby boomers are saving for retirement and don't have grandkids yet)
(g) the economy
(h) competing media
(i) the growth of bargain outlets
(j) an undervaluing of children's literature
(k) parents expecting five year olds to be reading Harry Potter
(l) a combination of the above...
and if so, the big questions are:
(1) which are cyclical
(2) which are around to stay
(3) what, if anything, can we do about the latter.

If you have an opinion or new theory, write me. I'm taking an informal survey.

Wednesday, November 10, 2004

Speaker Evaluations

Just received my evaluations from my novel-writing class at the League, and I'm so honored. Lots and lots and lots of 10s. Woo woo! Thanks to the participants!

Tuesday, November 09, 2004

On The Town

Hit the BookPeople and Waterloo Records catalog party with Greg. Drinks on Judd from Penguin Putnam; great catching up with Gillian from S&S and the glamorous and brill Jill from BP, among others. All of this at Opal Divine's. Swooped by between dinner at Hyde Park Bar & Grill and hot tea at the Four Seasons Town Lake. Feeling tremendously central tonight.

Jacqueline Briggs Martin

I hear this week from Jacqueline Briggs Martin, author of On Sand Island, illustrated by David A. Johnson (Houghton Mifflin, 2003), a Golden Kite honor winner.

She sends her "irregular" newsletter, republished here with permission.

Booktalk from Second Avenue

When I sent out the first of these notes in August, 2003, I imagined I might do them quarterly. Oh foolish, foolish me. Fifteen months later I have both time and energy to share some news and ponderings about reading and writing with children.

THANKS

If you are receiving this note it is because you are in some way involved with children's books, possibly a teacher, librarian, writer, bookseller.

I want to thank you for what you do to bring children and books together.

Though we don't often hear much about the value of imagination in our popular culture, I believe the work we do to grow children's imaginations, to help see the world from inside the heads of others will enable them to live more reflective and empathic lives. And such students, as adults, will be a yeasty counter to close-minded "us-them" thinking that only makes problems worse. So thanks and thanks again. You are planting seeds when you bring children and books together. We do not know when the harvest will happen.

WRITING WITH CHILDREN--Making it Fun

In the last year I have come across a wonderful book about writing with children--In the Company of Children by Joanne Hindley (Stenhouse, 1996). Hindley reminds us of the importance of having the right tools--a notebook that seems just for us and a pen or pencil that feels right to our hand.

A few years ago I worked on a journaling project with students in Burlington, Iowa. We provided 7x7 black composition notebooks for all the students at the school. But before they started writing we asked them to decorate the covers of the notebooks in a way that reflected their interests and tastes. Opening a notebook should feel like "coming home" to a special space, a space that's comfortable, and waiting to be filled with observations, questions, imaginings, or word play.

Writers have long known of the importance of having the right tools. You have probably seen writers with special pens for book-signings. You may not have seen the variety of notebooks which writers use for journaling or first drafts, but many are sure that they don't write as well if the notebook is not their own special kind. Children may not be as experienced at writing as older writers but they are equally deserving of this basic requirement.

If you are writing with a group of children I hope you will have the time to allow children to find or make a notebook which feels right for each of them.

SOME WONDERFUL NEW BOOKS

Sometimes I read books which are so exciting to me I want to share them.

This year at the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators Conference I ran into several wonderful authors/illustrators and their books.

THE DIRTY COWBOY by Amy Timberlake, illustrated by Adam Rex, (Farrar,Straus, & Giroux, 2003) is a wonderfully funny story about a cowboy and a dog. The cowboy decides to take his yearly bath and asks the dog to guard his clothes. When he finishes his bath he smells so different the dog does not recognize him and won't give up the clothes. This book is a perfect blend of text and pictures and will be great fun whether in group read-aloud or one-by-one on the couch. This book received the Golden Kite Award for picture book text.

JUST A MINUTE BY Yuyi Morales (Chronicle, 2003 ) is a trickster counting tale about Grandma Beetle and the Grim Reaper (in the form of Senor Calderon). It is an affectionate and warm-hearted tale of a resourceful grandma. I want to see more of Grandma Beetle. This book received the Golden Kite Honor Award for picture book illustration. It also received the Pura Belpre Award from the American Library Association.

LEONARDO by Robert Byrd is a wonderfully illustrated and imaginatively told story of Leonardo's life. This book received the Golden Kite Award for picture book illustrations.

APPLES TO OREGON by Deborah Hopkinson is another of my favorites this fall. Hopkinson's narrator has a folksy way of telling us about her family's trip from Iowa to Oregon with hundreds of fruit trees. It's a story of pluck, humor, and history and a great read with a crisp apple.

Reader and Writer Dialogue

As your students are reading my books and visiting my Web site (http://www.jacquelinebriggsmartin.com) they may come up with questions which the website doesn't answer. I will try to answer e-mailed questions which are sent to me. I would love to hear from readers of all ages, but, as adults, I hope you will help your young readers to search the Web site for answers before sending questions.

WORK AND PLAY

I'm excited about some forthcoming books. One--BANJO GRANNY (written with my daughter Sarah, who lives in California with her husband and son, Owen) is very close to my heart. This book will be illustrated by Barry Root and published by Houghton Mifflin in 2006. It is the story of a Granny who misses her grandson so much that "she puts on her thousand mile shoes" and sets out from the midwest to see her faraway grandson who goes "wiggly,jiggly and all-around giggly for bluegrass music."

CHICKEN JOY ON REDBEAN ROAD (illustrated by Melissa Sweet and published by Houghton Mifflin, 2007) is a tall tale about friendship in the chicken yard and the healing power of Louisiana music.

I've also been working on a book for teachers and students about writing. It will be called JACQUELINE BRIGGS MARTIN AND YOU. It is part of Libraries Unlimited "Author and You" series and will be published in 2005.

It covers many topics, including getting started with journaling, writing about a favorite person or place, writing and revising a fictional story, and ways of sharing student writing.

Book News:

THE WATER GIFT AND THE PIG OF THE PIG was named the Lupine Award Winner by the Maine Library Association; ON SAND ISLAND was named the Golden Kite Honor Book for Picture Book Text by the Society for Children's Book Writers and Illustrators.

I hope this season, with its clouds and conflicts, also offers you some joys--the joy of family fun, the joy of good work done. And I hope to hear from you.

Thank you, Jackie, and congratulations on your many honors and accomplishments! Keep up the good work!

Monday, November 08, 2004

Varsha Bajaj

Debut children's picture book author Varsha Bajaj is on my mind today. She's the author of How Many Kisses Do You Want Tonight? (Little Brown, 2003). Varsha and I met when I guest taught a class on writing children's books that was led by Kathi Appelt and Debbie Leland. I got to know each other better at a dinner at last year's TLA conference in San Antonio with Greg and his editor, Amy Hsu.

I look forward to more great writing from Varsha in the future!
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