Sunday, May 2, 2010

The Legend of the 3,000 Word Picture Book

I have written an original legend about an indigenous Chilean girl who saves her people from volcanic destruction. It would make a great picture book; the problem is that it is 3,500 words long! It is written for readers of about 4th grade level. Is there another type of format rather than picture book that would fit something of this length and for this grade level?
Well, that's still too short for a chapter book.
There are some picture books for older readers that have texts of this length. But they're mainly supported by teachers and librarians-- so I would be asking myself how such a topic fits the needs of curriculum. I know they aren't doing South American indians in 4th grade. Why will teachers and librarians want this enough to spend their (smaller and smaller) budgets on it?

18 comments:

Anonymous said...

Speaking as a teacher-- it's pretty hard to get today's kids to sit still for a picture book that long. I'd advise the writer to see if she can't rewrite that story a whole lot shorter.

Christian H said...

Or longer, for a chapter book.

Lana said...

I have a question about this. Isn't "original legend" something of an oxymoron? Are we talking about a retelling or a fictional story written in folktale style? Just curious.

Steve said...

This is my opinion only, but it seems to me that attention spans have a natural variability. Not every kid of a certain age will sit through what some others might.

Also, attention spans can be strengthened and lengthened, similar to the way muscular strength and endurance can improve with exercise.

So it seems to me there are at least 2 elements of potential audience for such a work - those who are already inclined to enjoy longer pieces (even in a post Sesame Street world) and those who can be enticed to if the work itself is well-crafted and compelling.

Now, as to promoting such a work, I think there will be a lot of "the kids won't sit still" reaction. You would need to promote to the counter-trend. Find teachers and librarians who go the "extra mile" to move kids to more advanced reading. Find the iconolasts within the profession who pride themselves on doing more than "business as usual".

And, the most important of all - be sure the work is well done enough to actually compel attention. Find a way to expose some actual kids in your target age range to the work and pay close attention to their reactions. Better if they are not your friends or family and have no vested interest in saying what you want to hear.

Just a thought,
-Steve

Paul Michael Murphy said...

Here in Michigan, fourth grade teachers are required to teach the legend genre, so you might be able to market it that way. However, I agree that it's hard to get kids to sit for a book that long. I read Nim and the War Effort to my class (3,600 words) but it's easily the longest picture book I use and I do it over two days.

Anonymous said...

What about a graphic novel?

lesbrary said...

A graphic novel does seem look a good idea for an in-between length of text.

Sue Eves said...

Could this be the first picture book trilogy?

Anonymous said...

As a school librarian, I miss having picture books to read to older children. It seems to me that there were more picture books suited to third-to-fifth graders fifteen years ago. Since the success of HARRY POTTER, publishers have spent more money on chapter books for older children, and picture books are tailored towards the needs of younger children. That being said, if your manuscript is 3500 words, you can probably get another 500 words out of it. Try reading it aloud to a group of children and pay close attention to the places where you hurry because they're restless. Then cut those places.

Anonymous said...

Steve, sometimes you've got to believe a teacher.

We work on getting kids to lengthen their attention spans. We have to.

Sesame Street was on when I was a child, and I've got gray hair. The stuff on tv now (and on videos, and video games) moves much, much faster.

There are already so many too-long books out there... when I moved into my classroom I inherited a bookshelf full of picture books. Maybe half of them could hold my students' attention, if I read with lots of enthusiasm. None of the long ones could.

What they really like: rhythm, rhyme, interactive text (Is Your Mama A Llama?), interactive books (Pat The Bunny), and interesting pictures (A Day In The Life Of America, Richard Scarry books where you have to find Lowly Worm, those science picture books with the transparent overlays).

ae said...

What they really like: rhythm, rhyme, interactive text (Is Your Mama A Llama?), interactive books (Pat The Bunny), and interesting pictures (A Day In The Life Of America, Richard Scarry books where you have to find Lowly Worm, those science picture books with the transparent overlays).


This is SO TRUE for the trade market and for little kids. I mean wouldn't you?



I think we are talking about the educational market here tho.

As for graphic novels (which I don't know too much about but) having read a few successful ones... they seem to have a hell of a lot of action, very high emotion... almost exaggerated, endless masses of illustration possibilities and an unforgettable story line that pulses forward and doesn't seem to let up until well... it is over. And the art really plays a significant role in the storytelling.

My fave is Persepolis (an historical saga set in Persia)

It might be a stretch to take this book to that level. IMHO

Steve said...

Anonymous said:
*********************
Steve, sometimes you've got to believe a teacher.

We work on getting kids to lengthen their attention spans. We have to.

Sesame Street was on when I was a child, and I've got gray hair. The stuff on tv now (and on videos, and video games) moves much, much faster.

There are already so many too-long books out there... when I moved into my classroom I inherited a bookshelf full of picture books. Maybe half of them could hold my students' attention, if I read with lots of enthusiasm. None of the long ones could.
********************************

It's not a matter of belief or disbelief. I will acknowledge that, in general, what a classroom teacher reports as their experience in the classroom is what actually happens. My point of departure might be what that actually means.

A little background. My mom had been a kindergarten teacher, before she quit the job to parent myself and my younger sister. She returned to teaching in the early sixties with a 3rd/4th grade "split" classroom in a small town school system. Her class consisted of kids who had various problems (the "slow" kids, etc.) but who did not meet the qualifications for a Special Ed. program. I always speculated that she got that assignment partly because she was new in that system, and partly because she was very good at what she did. She was constantly thinking about how to "reach" a kid who might not have an active interest in learning and light the spark of interest. She would even sit and talk to me about it. So my perspective on the role of a teacher really is grounded there = not so much a job as a mission.

As to Sesame Street, I was already a young adult when Sesame Street burst on the scene. Although I can't deny it may have played a role in assisting the less literate to become literate, I also accepted the criticisms about the impact of the show on attention span as basically a no-brainer. If you begin from an assumption of limited attention span, and adaptto that as context, your results will tend to replicate your chosen context (Duh?). If you liik up age-level attention spans in a child-development book and create a learning program based on those numbers, you will tend to produce kids who conform to those numbers. (Garbage in, garbage out?). I alwasys thought more highly of the Mr. Rogers approagh. He talked slowly, and I thought he made the kids "stretch" waiting for the next sentence.

I agree with you that media is *much* faster paced today, and if there were a way to indict the perpetrators of that trend for child-abuse I'd be for it :(

Perhaps a work of the length we're discussing is not suitable for reading to entire typical classroom. There are plenty of other things to do with books. Every kid is differnet with their own unique needs and abilities.

Of course, all this assumes - sight unseen - that the work itself is of compelling quality. If not, revise it or ditch it on other grounds. But I think a quality work can find a useful role in the educational arena regardless of length. (Of course, I speak as one who read habitually beyond my "level" throught school. But I'm not unique).

-Steve

rockinlibrarian said...

Putting aside the "kids won't sit still for something that long" angles (why must all picture books be read-alouds?) and the "does it fit the curriculum" angles, I wonder about the market for picture books for older readers in general. Whether or not older kids CAN get lots and wonderful things out of a picture book, a lot of people-- from the clueless to the supposedly well-educated-- automatically ASSUME that picture books are for younger kids, chapter books for older. It's like once you start on the one, you're Too Advanced for the other. I have parents all the time in my library telling kids they're too old for picture books, as if picture books were only about reading short pieces with pictures to help decode.

Want to see something that will make you desperately inspired to run a program for parents on wordless picture books? Go look at the one-star reviews on Amazon for "The Lion and the Mouse," this year's Caldecott winner. Every one of them is from someone who is disappointed that the book has no words! How can this be a good book for someone who is learning to read?!

I think Accelerated Reader has something to do with this too. Picture books only earn a kid, at most, half a point each on AR. OBVIOUSLY they want to read longer books as soon as possible, so they can get more points! They dump those picture books as soon as they find a chapter book on their "official Reading Level!"

So THAT'S the problem with picture books for older readers-- nobody actually understands the point of them. Not saying they're right or wrong about that... okay, I AM saying they're wrong about that. But it would take a lot of work to convince enough people that they're wrong about that to make it work in the market!

But I do like the graphic novel idea. It seems like people are more willing to accept illustrated books for older readers if they have longer than 32 pages.

Katya said...

I third the graphic novel idea. Or something like Tashi which is a heavily illustrated chapter book. My dyslexic boys LOVE books like that and so do many struggling readers who want to look like they are reading a big chapter book like their friends but struggle with too many words on a page.

Becky Mushko said...

This project might interest a small publisher. That's what happened to me. I had a 3,400-word Appalachian version of a popular fairy tale that I'd originally used for a oral presentation. After rewriting it, I'd queried it around but didn't get much interest because it targeted such a small market.

Then a small publisher—who wanted regional material that could be used for home-schoolers as well as general readers—took it and the accompanying study guide I'd written, sent the manuscript to teachers for their input, and eventually did a 2,000 copy press run. The 56-page book has illustrations, but it isn't a picture book, per se.

It was published a few months ago and is doing well. It didn't hurt that the cover blurb is from a NY Times best-selling Appalachian author.

Your work probably has an audience—albeit a small one.

Marie E said...

Thanks to all who responded to my question re: Chilean legend. As far as attention span questions - it seems to move very quickly. Re: "original legend" - that means that after doing a lot of research I made it up - it is not a retelling of and old legend.

Would anyone care to read it?

Steve said...

Marie,

Although it's not the kind of material I would usually seek out, my curiosity is piqued, especially since I did weigh in, gight unseen, on the whole attention span question.

I'd enjoy the chance to read it. If you want to email it, I'm at scrocker1946 **at**
gmail (put in a dot) com

Thanks,
-Steve

P.S.

Want feedback?

Polite or forthright?

Lana said...

Marie,
Not to split hairs here, but you might want to be careful about how you use the word "legend." To many professionals in the book world, a legend is a certain kind of story that belongs in the genre of traditional literature. A legend is something that has its roots in oral traditions, being handed down from earlier times. Of course, not everyone uses the word "legend" in this strict sense. It's just something to be aware of as you market your manuscript.