After my rebuttal on the merits of picture books, I received this comment from a famous best-selling author by email,
Our publisher pals need to re-think ….the high prices they are charging…$18 for a book when you are struggling to keep/find a job is impossible.
The esteemed young adult author, Marc Aronson stated recently on CCBC_Net listserv (available only to subscribers), that these “books are so slim they disappear, a parent faces a relatively high cost (say $16) for a relatively short immersion experience (32, 40, 48 pages plus the effort the parent puts into engaging the child spread by spread).”
Rounding up, let’s say a hardcover picture book is twenty dollars. Let’s consider The Very Hungry Caterpillar. In many households, it is read every night for four months, or 120 hours. This experience is seventeen cents a reading.
“Plus the effort the parent puts in engaging the child spread by spread.” Is Marc Aronson looking for a fight? That “effort” is bonding with a young child, that “effort” is building early literacy skills, that “effort” will pay off in untold dividends in a stronger vocabulary, ability to track cause and effect, and create the beginning of the understanding that one can derive enormous enjoyment from the words on a page. Let’s add to this – shared meaning and fun.
A child who is having a whiny moment can be reminded of Llama, llama Red Pajama. A child inappropriately seeking attention can be distracted with a story on a bus or a train. Whether in hard copy, on a Nook or an iPad, a picture book can save a restaurant meal from a too hungry, too tired child meltdown.
Need a study?
“Children’s Access to Print Material and Education-Related Outcomes,” says that not having access to print materials (i.e., books) in the home is detrimental to a child’s ability to succeed in the elementary school years.
Want to talk money?
Let’s compare to other monetary wants of childhood…
- The DVD of a new movie, $30.
- New cool electronic hamsters, $15 dollars a piece, collect them all! Accessories, $20 a set.
- A dancing Micky Mouse $93
- PlayScool Alphie, $45.
- Can a parent leave a movie theater or museum less than $40 lighter in the wallet?
- One dinner at McDonalds for a family of four?
Where is your $16 to $18 going? We can agree that the artist and the writer should get paid. How about the art director who created the object? The editor who discovered, nurtured the writer and championed the book? The publisher who produced the books, balanced the books, and kept things on schedule? The marketing people who had to shine a light on THIS book in a crowded market, let librarians, booksellers, and parents know about this fabulous new illustrator?
Mr. Aronson also suggests some ways to get books in the hands of parents and children for less money (for instance, creating subscription plans). Let’s not reinvent the wheel. There is a way. Paperback. The top selling paperback picture books on Amazon are $6.00 and $7.00. Scholastic Book Clubs distribute through classrooms and sell paperbacks at affordable prices. REading is Fundamental gives books away (www.rif.org).
Is there a place where a parent can go for expert advice on picture books for their child? A community center where professionals have selected the best of what is available and share this knowledge freely with anyone who walks through the door? A place where parents can borrow books read to their children?
Oh, right — THE LIBRARY.
How much will borrowing a pile of picture books cost? Nothing, nada (admittedly, that’s not really true. Tax dollars paid for them and for that expert). If the books for children in your local library are ratty and old, use your voice to demand a children’s librarian who is knowledgeable, to raise funds for new books.
Going without picture books is not an option. The loss to a child of not sitting with a parent or older sibling, turning those thirty-two pages, poring over the art, repeating joyfully those juicy words, cannot be replaced.
A week of Starbucks’ Lattes — $24.50
The cost of a Michael Jordan sneaker? — Seriously.
Snuggling with a five-year-old, laughing over John Scieszka’s Truckery Rhymes?