Thursday, August 11, 2011

Picture Books--The Original Interactive Book

Week of August 7— What Rob Did On Summer Vacation—Conference Highlights
Thursday, August 11—Picture Books--The Original Interactive Book

Monday, I sat in a room with fifteen other writers. At the head of the table was Leonard Marcus. If you don’t know Leonard Marcus, you need to. He is a renowned children’s book authority and an award-winning author. He is a frequent contributor to the New York Times Book Review and writes a regular column on picture books called “Sight Reading” for The Horn Book. The man knows picture books.

“Picture books are interactive,” Leonard told us. After all, children hold them, turn them, point to them, and touch them. You ask children to say words with you, chorus back repeating phrases, and guess what’s coming next. “It doesn’t take a novelty to create interaction,” Leonard said.

Earlier in the week, Allyn Johnston, Vice President and Publisher of Beach Lane Books/Simon & Schuster Children’s Publishing, told another group, “Picture books are written to be performed to non-readers. They are theater.” Diane Muldrow, editorial director at Golden Books/Random House, continues to teach writers about the need for writing picture books “cinematically” to create a moving picture story that pulls children in.

Add to that, a blog post by agent Jennifer Laughran of the Andrea Brown Literary Agency. Jennifer recently identified trends in picture books, including interactive pictures books. Jennifer blogged: “[Interactive picture books] invite the child listener to participate in the reading.” (
[Note: See last week's posts on PICTURE THIS! to learn more about picture book trends.]

Every picture book writer dreams of being published. We dream of our books on the shelves of Barnes & Noble, big box stores, independent book sellers, and Amazon. Since many traditionally published picture books are also made into e-books, we dream that others will download and read our books. Some of us even dare to dream of apps that might be developed to enhance or accompany our picture books (though most of us have never used or played with a picture book app ourselves). Did you notice the order of the dream sequence? Published. E-book. App. Interaction, theater, story cinematography, and participation by the reader begins with a story. So don’t be tempted to get the cart before the horse or, in our case, the app before the book.

Most editors, agents, and industry professionals I heard at SCBWI were warning authors to think of their story first. Not an app. And they further warned that apps in picture books actually change the book from something you read to something you play with. Interesting. So as picture book writers, we need to clearly distinguish in our mind the differences between picture books that involve the child naturally with the book, the pictures, and the text; those picture books that are interactive and cause the child to manipulate or directly and intentionally respond to the book; and those book apps that lead children to play within the environment or characters of a picture book.

I think it’s always helpful to look to books for concrete examples, so use the list below as a starting place to discover some of the differences between picture books that involve children and picture books with which children can interact. Explore the books and see what you discover.

Cowboy & Octopus
By Jon Scieszka and Lane Smith
Viking/Penguin Group
© 2007

A Couple of Boys Have the Best Week Ever
By Marla Frazee
© 2008)

If Animals Kissed Goodnight
By Ann Whitford Paul and David Walker
FSG Kids Books
© 2009

Sounds Spooky
By Christopher Cheng and Sarah Davis
Random House, Australia
© 2011

Cat Secrets
By Jef Czekaj
© 2011, Balzer + Bray/HarperCollins Publishers

Press Here
By Hervé Tullet
Handprint Books/Chronicle Books
© 2010
You’re Finally Here
By Melanie Watt
© 2011

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