Thursday, September 15, 2011

Spotting the Trends

Week of September 11—Learning from NY Times Best Sellers
Thursday, September 15—Spotting the Trends

By now you’ve probably spotted some trends in the current New York Times list of best-selling picture books for the week of September 18. I know I have. Here are some trends I see:

Six of the ten books on this list are part of a series (Two Pete the Cat books, a Llama Llama, one Skippyjon Jones, Moo, and Should I Share My Ice Cream?). And another (Bear’s Loose Tooth) uses characters based on an existing book. Series are obviously a big hit with consumers and that’s nothing new. From the Little Golden Books to Curious George all the way to today, picture book series have been popular. It only stands to reason that a customer would come back and buy the next book in a series if the first one they bought was loved and read and reread. Many of these series are becoming franchises. Think of Fancy Nancy with multiple picture books, beginning readers, sticker books, coloring books, activity books, and more.

I was surprised at the number of books with animal characters—there’s Pete (times two), Llama Llama, Skippyjon, the Bear with a loose tooth, the zoo animals in A Sick Day for Amos McGee, and the elephant and piggy in Should I Share My Ice Cream? And Moo, even though non-fiction, is all about animals. That’s 80% of the list. The characters in Goodnight, Goodnight, Construction Site are personified, not human. In fact, Amos McGee is the only human character in the list (and his story is all about animals).

I reported on this trend earlier this year. Obviously, Moo is an interactive book and in a very traditional, though extraordinarily well-done, sense. Press Here is a newer incarnation of interactivity, a more imaginative interactivity if you will. But at least three of the books include songs to sing, others have repeating phrases for kids to call out, and some ask questions to get involvement. All this interactivity is meant to increase the child’s connection with the book and, in turn, increase his/her love of the book.

We can’t forget that the first thing that makes for a great picture book is text. The writing in each of the Top 10 books is stellar and unique. If you were to count the word length in the books, it would vary greatly, but each word is carefully crafted into the whole of each book. Several of the authors use upper-end vocabulary, others use personification, repetition, onomatopoeias other examples of figurative language. Then we add in the illustrations by master artists. Those two things—text and illustrations—are the foundation for any successful picture book.

I was surprised that more than half of the books used rhyme either throughout the entire book or in portions of the book. But this isn’t run-of-the-mill, pick-any-word-that-rhymes rhyme. This is exquisite, perfected rhyme.

Pete the Cat has songs and videos you can listen to, watch, and sing along with. There are Youtube videos to support the books, too. The Skippyjon book has a CD packaged with it. Goodnight, Goodnight, Construction Site released a Spanish version almost simultaneously with the English version. All of these added features add up to added value for the customer.

I’m happy to see Moo in the mix of the best-sellers list. In a picture book world populated with so many fiction titles, it’s good to see that people buy non-fiction.

Remember, our goal as picture book writers is not to race after trends, or to copy trends. Our goal is to learn from trends. So tomorrow we’ll answer the question, “So now what?”


tammi sauer said...

I've really enjoyed this series.

Can't wait for the upcoming...
"So now what?" :)

Rob Sanders said...

Thanks, Tammi!