Not too long ago, I was in the picture book section of my local book shop, when I overheard a conversation where two people were discussing the cost of picture books. One lady was saying that she didn’t buy picture books anymore, because they were too expensive. She then went on to compare the price of a hardback picture book at £9.99 to an adult novel she was buying, at £7.99.
And perhaps at first glance it can look like you’re getting a rough deal. After all, an adult novel can easily be over 100,000 words. It feels thick and chunky in your hand, something to really get your teeth into. On the other hand, some picture books don’t even get their word count into the hundreds. Some don’t have any words at all. And yet the price points of adult and children’s books are often very similar.
But they are value for money. They really are. And here’s why.
Often, you’re getting the combined talents of two people, a writer and an illustrator. Yes, of course, there are very talented people who can do both (such as James Mayhew, who wrote and illustrated one of the current favourite books in our house, Boy), many others, myself included, who can’t (my picture book, below, is illustrated by Dubravka Kolanovic). When people ask me if I illustrate my books, or ever think about illustrating my books, I generally snort with laughter, before replying; ‘No. Because I want people to buy them!’ I know where my talents lie. I can draw passable shapes, but nothing nearly as impressive as professional illustrators can, who make the books look so wonderfully appealing and bring the words I’ve written to life. Writers often need illustrators, and vice-versa – their talents combining together to make wonderful picture books. Therefore, there are two people who need paying for their work. And, quite frankly, it’s unrealistic to expect to get that for next to nothing.
Then, there is the printing issue. Full colour, beautiful picture books, cost money to produce, whereas novels are generally just black and white print which is cheaper.
The other argument is the time issue. People argue that picture books take a matter of minutes to read, while novels engage a reader for hours and therefore are much better value for money. But how often do you read a novel more than once? Of course, some people go back and re-read favourites, but generally not back to back, like children do with favourite picture books. In our house, the same book can be requested three or four times a day. A beloved picture book will get read and enjoyed over, and over again, sometimes on a daily basis, for years and years.
Plus picture books are excellent teaching devices, a way for children to learn without knowing they’re learning. There’s so much to gain from talking about the pictures and the words, and important lessons to learn from them. Picture books form the foundation upon which a love of reading, and books, will grow.
And all that, to me, is excellent value for money.