Monday, October 1, 2007

Grandma Strikes Again

Is one of the characters in your picture book "grandma"? Is "grandma" the main character, or as prominent a character as the child in the story?

If so, pause. Consider whether your book is for children, or if it is, in fact, for grandma.

Some of you, the guilty ones, are saying to yourselves, "It's for children and grandmothers! It's for them to enjoy together!"

Ha, ha. Guess who are the only people who enjoy reading about grandmothers?
That's right.

I know, some of you are thinking of your own twinkly-eyed grandmothers, or of your own twinkly-eyed selves, and are thinking something along the lines of "Who does that whippersnapper of an editor think she is? Why, in my day..."

Yeah. In your day, children still cared more about themselves, their friends, and their parents than they did about their grandparents. To small children especially, grandparents are conveniences like the car or the refrigerator: grandparents take children nice places and give them yummy treats. It's true that the car and the refrigerator cannot hug children, but they also can't pinch their cheeks. Life is full of trade-offs.

There should be a special term for the euphoric obsession experienced by grandparents. And, yes, sometimes it's a positive thing. And other times it's in my inbox.


Anonymous said...


Anonymous said...

Hmm, and who *buys* picture books? Could it be . . . GRANDMA?

I've definitely seen some picture books that were published to appeal to grandparents. Some were kind of cute, like MY HIPPIE GRANDMOTHER.

Anonymous said...

Not only do grandparents buy picture books (by the dozen! I wish they'd stop - we have no more shelf space!), but sentimental parents buy them when they live a long way from their own parents but want their kids to know that granny and grandpa love them.

Anonymous said...

My son is five years old, prime audience for PSs, and his grandparents are WAY more important to him than his friends. He's always asking to see them, or asking if they're coming yet, drawing pictures for them. Does he do that for the boy next door? Occasionally. I think you might have missed the mark in some cases on this one EA.

Who's the main character in the Magic School bus series? A grown up!

And I agree with other posters...there aren't too many 5 year olds shelling out their allowance money to buy PBs. Yep, that's up to Grandpa and Grandma.

Now tweens and trade paperbacks...totally different story.

Anonymous said...

"PSs" shoud have been "PBs" as in picture books

Editorial Anonymous said...

I agree that some children are very attached to their grandparents, though I'm not convinced it's the majority.
I agree that there are some fabulous books that feature grandparents.
I do not agree that because grandparents buy many more picture books than toddlers do, we should be publishing picture books for grandparents.
Children's. books. are. for. children.
And what I see a great deal of in the slush is submissions that are much more about grandparent euphoria and how precious these grandchildren are (photos included) than they are about a real understanding of kids. Write a book with that gut-level comprehension of childhood, and I don't care who your characters are.

Anonymous said...

My other picture book I'm really really tired of seeing is the "let's give Mommy and Daddy a lesson while they are reading to you, shall we?" books. They are my absolute blood boiling pet peeve. Why are you lecturing parents on reading to their bunnies when it's clear the ONLY ones going to hear the lecture are the ones reading to their bunnies? Huh? Huh?

Why create a whole picture book to lecture parents on giving just one precious day to the dear little ones...cast off work, forget making money...just for today, be with the tiny one.

Of course, again, the only ones getting the lecture are the ones already making time for the little one.


Joni said...

I gotta say, this is the most hilarious post and comment thread I've read in a while.

But it does raise a more serious issue -- that children's books have multiple audiences to please -- not only the kids reading them, but the adults selecting/buying/promoting them. I'd be interested in EA's thoughts on this point. Is it tougher to market a book that kids love but adults groan about, for whatever reason? (potty humor, sexual edginess, etc.)

Anonymous said...

EA said:
There should be a special term for the euphoric obsession experienced by grandparents.

DLD says:
But mothers are even worse (I say that from my own experience -- I've written more than my share of sappy maternal pb manuscripts).

Here's my suggestion of a term for the general category of "aren't children -- mine in particular!-- so precious" stories: Relation-Elation.

And when it reaches a point of obsession: Offsring Fever.

Alison Ashley Formento said...

Parents are the rule givers for their children. Perhaps there are so many adventures-with-grandma or grandpa books because those rules can be ignored with a fun grandparent. In one of my PB's, the main character would never get to the moon with his busy parents, but Gran can't wait to fly!

Ah, and what about all thoes MG's with grandparents?

Anonymous said...

Hmmm. Another example of how what editors SAY they want (or vehemently don't want) and what they actually publish don't line up.

Sorry, collectively you editors and publishers WILL keep publishing grandma books, tooth fairy books, anthropomorphic rhyming books etc.

You will complain that no one wants to read them, and that children don't like them. Then next season, ten more of each overworked subject will be on the racks.

Someone's buying them.

Editorial Anonymous said...

You have a point, Anonymous. But I'm not buying them.

Anonymous said...

Now this was 3 years ago, but I got a rejection from Penguin for a PB with a grandpa & kid as two main charcters. The editor wrote...good idea, there is a market for intergenerational stories but this feels long for a pb...yada, yada. So this editor who shall remain nameless didn't see it as an auto reject.

EA, the writers you're talking about who send in photos are probably the same ones who use colored paper and glitter to make their submissions stand out...not exactly the educated writer, but certainly the type of sub that fills up the slush piles.

Anonymous said...

This reminds me of a conversation I had with this nice banker guy, at a party over a drink.

He asked "What do you do?"

I said, "I write picture books."

He said, "Isn't that something that grandmothers do?"

I said,"You are an *******."

Then I found someone else to talk to.

(I didn't really say that but I wanted to.)

Anonymous said...

>Children's. books. are. for.

I think this is an interesting question when it comes to picture books. Of course, we all know that adults not only have to buy but also read picture books (over and over and OVER). But another question is what sort of book appeals to the read-aloud crowd. My experience is that small children are not very discriminating, or if they are, it's often based on quirky reasons unique to each child.

One thing I can say is that, as long as the story isn't extremely long and tedious, the most important thing to kids is the art. What sort of art appeals to kids is actually fairly predictable. And yet publishers often seem to choose art with an eye to winning Caldecotts, rather than giving kids what they enjoy. If I were a publisher and wanted to follow the "children's books are for children" line in picture books, I'd start with the illustration.

Anonymous said...

"You have a point, Anonymous. But I'm not buying them."

I always appreciate your take on these things, EA, but aren't you usually speaking about editing, publishing, acquiring etc. from an industry standpoint? Heck, we don't even know who you are, so you'll likely receive more wholesome grandma fun in your slush pile no matter what!

Stephanie J. Blake said...

Guess my cute PB story about the Italian granny (Nonnie) is OUT! No seriously...

Anonymous said...

"My experience is that small children are not very discriminating, or if they are, it's often based on quirky reasons unique to each child."

I'm a children's librarian and I do three storytimes a week. I don't know about the children where you are, but in my experience children are very particular. You can always tell if you pick a book that doesn't appeal to the kids because their attention span isn't that great anyway and once you've lost them they are going a hundred different directions at once. The fact that there are a lot of bad picture books (and there are), doesn't mean the kids can't discriminate. It may mean that editors (other than EA) or librarians (guilty as charged) can't.

Anonymous said...

I suppose it depends if you are a parent or a librarian. Reading to a large group is certainly a different challenge, and I don't consider it the "normal" way for a child to experience picture books, but I'm sure there are children who are only read to at the library or daycare. Still, I don't know if that's being "discriminating" or something else. Story time means reading to a noisy group of children that (if your library is like ours) frequently is made up largely of babies and toddlers who make it hard for the preschool-age kids to hear the story. That means a book has to be quite simple and really attention-grabbing. There are plenty of good books a three- or four- or five-year-old would love at home, which would pass them right by during a storytime at the library. And then there is the performance--I'm sure yours is much better than mine, because it has to be!

Adrian said...

Fascinating topic. I agree that children's books should be for the children first of all. But the point that there are adult "gatekeepers" is certainly a valid one. First editors, who are trying to guess the reactions of parents and children and then the parents (or grandparents) who buy the books and could be turned off by certain messages (eg. destruction of property--that kids might find hilarious). Then the children themselves. Maybe proven writers can ignore the gatekeepers (editors will trust the books to sell anyway), but it certainly seems to be something that new writers must think about. In Ursula Nordstrom's "Dear Genius", she talks about the battle to ignore the gatekeepers and focus on the children quite a bit.

Anonymous said...

Fortuntely, there are different kinds of parents. Never having had living grandparents in my life, and having had hands-off parents in my life has probably shaped my buying habits and my writing habits.

There should be more parents like me. WINK WINK

Anonymous said...

4 October, 2007

Richard Pope's two emerging readers showcasing a warm and often-bumbling grandfather, a very wise and loving grandmother, their grandson, along with lots of wise-cracking animals, to Tonya Martin at Raincoast Children's, by Lise Henderson at Anne McDermid Associates.

Anonymous said...

This is a great conversation, thanks. I like the description of gatekeepers, but don't forget teachers and librarians who buy (and have seen) a LOT of books.

There's a reason Olivia and Lily and Eloise do well. They are real kids, and they talk like real kids and the books they are in focus on them. Kids get that and they want to hear those books again (and people who buy books love books kids want to hear again).

Grandparents and parents and all those folks are nice, but they shouldn't be who the story is about. Kids (who tend to be pretty darn discriminating) spend enough of their lives with people talking over their heads...they don't need their books to do it.

Anonymous said...

No more books about grandmas? That's like saying, no more books about squirrels. It's not the grandmas or the squirrels that make or break a pb, it's the story, story, story. How about: no more corny, sappy books about grandmas and squirrels?

Anonymous said...

i write daily find it really easy have lots of idea never seem to get it together. i also write poems.

Sheena said...

You are one funny lady (man?). I really am in love with this blog. Although I have to cite, now that I think about it, "Grandpa" by John Burningham, a brilliant British author/illustrator. Have you seen it and if so, do you accept this book as an exception?

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