Gillmor was there promoting his latest children's title, The Boy Who Ate the World (and the girl who saved it) which pubs from Scholastic this fall. Will post more on this one later.
Seeing him reminded me that I could link to an excellent article he wrote for The Walrus about picture books called "Has Childhood Gone AWOL."
Here's a taste of what he has to say:
There is no more democratic art form, other than perhaps finger painting, than the children’s picture book. Almost everyone, it seems, has an idea for one, or is writing one, or would if they had the time. But they are harder than they look. The first children’s book I wrote (The Trouble with Justin, 1993) was finished in a day, but that happy pattern was never repeated in the books that followed (among them When Vegetables Go Bad! ; Yuck, a Love Story). Now they take longer, as the subtleties of the form, the ruthless economies, present themselves. The publishers’ catalogue copy states that my books are for children between the ages of four and eight. On those occasions when I read to kids, I find eight is a bit old. They are distracted, often disarming, still sweet though flirting with early adolescence (two girls struggling over a Barbie pen, one of them saying through clenched teeth, “Fuck off, Madison”). There are moments when I’m reading publicly that I wonder if the children’s picture book is a dying form. I look at the children and sometimes wonder if they too are a dying form.
There are fewer children’s picture books being published these days, and the erosion of childhood itself is one of the reasons, though there are others. Historically, children’s books have largely been driven by library sales: 80 percent of the books in North America went to institutional markets. Librarians were the gatekeepers of kidlit, and who better? Educated, concerned, in touch with children. But budgets have suffered over the years, and book budgets now have to accommodate videos, DVDs, and other multimedia formats. Canadian librarians also need to consider books in other languages that serve local ethnic populations. So the book budget is further diluted.
The retail market presents other challenges. Children’s books don’t have the same exposure as adult books—reviews, book shows, author interviews—and as a result, it can take six months for a new children’s book to find an audience. The selling cycle of chain stores is short and unforgiving, and while chain stores stock books in creative ways, the staff isn’t really equipped to guide you through the thousands of possibilities. Unlike independent bookstores, there is rarely anyone who can introduce you to a new author, who can create a bestseller. So the chains do better with recognizable series (Franklin the turtle), and franchises (Disney), and familiarity (Pooh). It is one of the reasons for the rise of children’s books written by celebrities; they provide instant recognition.