|Barnes & Noble in the US|
The main picture book section was made up of hardbacks.
Selected books are front facing and the rest are spine outwards.
|Waterstones in the UK|
Most picture books are paperbacks and they're displayed sideways
because the spine of a paperback is insignificant.
To me the biggest difference was the dominance of hardback picture books (with jackets) in Barnes & Noble. I’d love a knowledgeable person to explain to me why there's such an emphasis on hardbacks in the US. I’m truly baffled and appreciate there must be a reason. Perhaps it's because hardbacks have shelf presence and you can easily read the spine. They’re substantial and feel gorgeous, especially with decorative endpapers. Unfortunately though, US picture book hardbacks are typically $17.99 (c£12) which is expensive for an everyday item. So are they mainly purchased as gifts? Does this mean Americans buy fewer picture books or do they simply spend more? A British paperback picture book is typically £6.99 (c$10), and special offers often lower this further. So per family, do we buy more picture books in the UK? I've no idea, although I'm told the US doesn't have the equivalent of Book Start.
Paperback discounts: '3 for 2'
and 'Buy 1 get 1 half price'
are always popular.
|Barnes & Noble US|
A rare price reduction.
Both US and UK have
Despite the plethora of love books, funny books and moral themes in Barnes & Noble, I noticed a ‘grumpiness’ theme too. That surprised me. I remember submitting a ‘grumpy’ book in the UK a few years ago and received feedback that the grumpy adult hippo was too irresponsible in terms of caring for the little hippo. Perhaps I was unknowingly following a grumpy, humorous American zeitgeist! In fact, more than in the UK, I thought quite a few US books seemed to push way beyond the boundaries of cute and cuddly, with exaggerated humour that often poked fun at poor parenting (more so than in the UK). Plus the style of many illustrations wasn't quite the same as in the UK (often more cartoony in an adult way - though it's hard to put my finger on it).
It's much easier to make a choice when the covers can be seen.
Visibility is a perennial problem for picture books.
Rhyming picture books used to be much more popular with publishers in the US than UK. I suspect that was because the US internal market is huge and they didn’t worry about overseas co-editions and translations as much as UK publishers. So in the US there has always been a high number of rhyming picture books and Dr Seuss continues to remain far more prominent than in the UK. Meanwhile in the UK, rhyme is still growing on the back of the phenomenal success of Julia Donaldson. Nowadays every Waterstones in the UK appears to have a large section devoted to Julia Donaldson's rhyming picture books, but I didn’t see this in Barnes & Noble in the US and only noticed one of her books: The Gruffalo. Instead, the author with the most shelf space in the US Barnes & Nobles appeared to be Mo Williems. We enjoy his Pigeon books in the UK (eg Don't Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus), though his other humorous books haven’t taken off in the UK in the same way as in the US.
|B&N US The author with the most shelf space was Mo Williems.|
More than two thirds of the books in this photo are by this author/illustrator.
|Waterstones UK I suspect you can guess the author with the most shelf space in the UK!|
Two thirds of this photo is linked to Julia Donaldson (books and merchandise).
Now it’s time for my greatest befuddlement. Why do almost all the American hardbacks in Barnes & Noble have flimsy, tearable, non-child-friendly jackets? Am I the only one who thinks this is madness?! I know some UK publishers add jackets to hardbacks too, but not to the same extent. And now I’ve thought about it, the lovely hardback versions of my No More Yawning and No More Biscuits didn’t have jackets in the UK, but they did in the US.
I wonder what happens to these jackets? Do American parents remove the jackets when they get them home? Or are the jacketed hardbacks kept on a special shelf in case they’re damaged? Are additional jackets still run off the printing press so booksellers have extras (which need to be stored). It’s beyond me – please will somebody explain!!
I’ll stop ranting and move on to something I liked: the Little Books for Little Hands section in Barnes & Noble that's aimed at 0-3 years. The title of the section says it all. They’re robust board books of classic, truncated and new stories and are strongly constructed for children to handle (chew, stomp, pull, share...). I thought this section was larger than the board book section you’ll find in a UK Waterstones. Perhaps it's to make up for the plethora of pricey US hardbacks?
|B&N US: 'Little Books for Little Hands' 0-3 years|
|I wasn't so wild about all the toys sold in Barnes & Noble stores and they're far more appealing to young children's than rows of hardbacks with just the spines on show.|
Also new to me at Barnes & Noble were the small, cheap paperback versions of picture books (smaller than typical paperback picture books in the UK). Proportionately there weren't many of these and they were displayed on one or two revolving stands with covers facing outwards.The selection isn’t large and seems to be aimed more at young children reading for themselves. Series and classic bestseller books appear to predominate and my latest US version of I’ll Always Love You is the right size to fit into these stands (ie squarer and smaller than normal picture books).
Whatever my comments, I enjoyed perusing the bookshops in the US and I apologise for not buying many picture books but my suitcase was already stuffed (it didn't help that I was a nut case who brought a full-size pillow along on my travels!). Even so, I couldn’t leave empty handed and squeezed in four books. Only one of those four books may be found on the shelves of Waterstones in the UK (Goodnight Moon), though most can be ordered.
|I couldn't resist this hardback from Barnes & Noble. Mother Bruce by Ryan T Higgins really made me giggle. It's about responsibility and so utterly grumpy and naughty! Published by Disney Hyperion in 2015|
|Another hardback from Barnes & Noble. When Spring Comes by Kevin Henkes, illus by Laura Dronzek. I bought this purely for the gorgeous bold illustrations. Published by Greenwillow in 2016|
By the way, if anybody would like to put me right on the differences I've noticed between the UK and US, it'll be lovely to read your comments. Thanks.