Monday 27 June 2016

Picture book differences between the main bookshop chains in the US and UK - Paeony Lewis

Last month I was in the USA and naturally I looked at picture books in shops. How could I not?! This included Barnes & Noble bookstores in three states. As a major chain I assumed Barnes & Noble in the US would be very similar to Waterstones in the UK. Yes and no. I began to notice there were some differences between the US and UK picture-book sections and I thought I'd share my unscientific observations. Of course I haven't forgotten there are lots of brilliant independent bookstores in both countries but they don't have to follow standardised directives from Head Office and so they're more individual and can't be compared in the same way.

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.

Waterstones UK
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 
loyalty schemes.
With the majority of picture books in Barnes & Noble being pricey hardbacks, I wonder if this discourages the adult from allowing the child to pick a book that might not appeal to the parent? Also, I noticed many of the hardbacks seemed aimed at older children and perhaps this is a sign that in the US picture books aren’t cast aside (by adults – never children) when the child reaches five years. I wish the reading of picture books by older children was encouraged more in the UK. I don't think many British parents realise how sophisticated picture books can be and how they promote discussion.

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).

More picture book shelves from another B&N.
Lots of hardback picture books squeezed onto the shelves and the hardback spines allow for identification.
With only a spine I assume the title must be even more important. To me the lack of front-facing books
doesn't seem to encourage browsing, but they can squeeze more books on the shelves.

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
The B&N stores in three different states all included
 the same stage in the children's section.
A lovely idea for events to bring in customers, though perhaps US stores have more space than Waterstones in the UK? Plus I felt a labelled box of books for sharing (with B&N stickers to show they're not regular stock) would be nice to encourage use of the empty area outside of performances.
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.

At an independent US bookstore I bought a paperback of the 1947 American classic, Goodnight Moon by Margaret Wise Brown, illus by Clement Hurd  (interestingly, the small independent store in North Carolina had a few more of the paperbacks we’re used to in the UK). Published by Harper Trophy

Whilst at the Library of Congress in Washington DC I spotted a paperback of the classic The Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats. This book was new to me and in 1962 it was a ground-breaking US picture book in that it portrayed a realistic, multicultural urban setting. Published by Puffin Books

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
I’m somebody who’ll always buy books, whether they’re US hardbacks or cheaper UK paperbacks. Unfortunately this isn’t true of everybody which is why I’m not sure it helps if the newest and most diverse books can only be found in an expensive hardback format in Barnes & Noble bookstores in the US. Would Barnes & Noble make more money if they sold more paperbacks and displayed them cover outwards as is done in Waterstones? Or is the main profit in hardbacks? Regardless, I suspect we'll all agree it should be a priority to get more children reading more picture books, and for adults to enjoy spending time sharing the books.

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.

Paeony Lewis

Monday 20 June 2016

Thesaurus Addict by Jane Clarke

When I’m beginning to think about a picture book story, I go straight to a thesaurus and look up the main words that have popped into my mind. It will often send me off in a totally different direction, or give an extra depth to a story. 

It’s my version of what Michelle does:

I do use an online thesaurus, but my favourite is still my old Collin’s thesaurus that I bought when I started writing 20 years ago. Yes, it is mine, borrowed by my son when he was studying English for the International Baccalaureate.

I also love The Usbourne Illustrated Thesaurus for children - I bought it for me, not for my sons... 

It has fab, often inspirational illustrated entries, like this one on fire. Some, like for ‘fantasy’, ‘pirates’ and ‘space’ have full page illustrations.

In a great article called “ Everything You Need to Know About Writing Successfully – in Ten Minutes,” Stephen King has, as his rule number 5 

Never look at a reference book while doing a first draft

Yep! I’d agree, I only use reference books during the thinking, brain storming, note-making process. I don’t stop to check anything while writing a first draft.

But Stephen King also advises 

"Better yet, throw your thesaurus into the wastebasket." 

Nooo-ooo! I think that would be a terrible  

What do you think?

 Jane's new book is the fifth in the Dr KittyCat series, artwork by Richard Byrne and Shutterstock.

Monday 13 June 2016

Picture books and trying to help instil greater empathy, taking responsibility and understanding of consent from a young age. Thoughts in the wake of the Stanford sexual assault case by Juliet Clare Bell

“Even if the sentence is light, hopefully this will wake people up,” she said. “I want the judge to know that he ignited a tiny fire. If anything, this is a reason for all of us to speak even louder.”

I’m going out on a limb a bit today. I will bring it back to picture books at the end, because

"Reading fiction... gives us the ability to feel empathy for people we've never met, living lives we couldn't possibly experience for ourselves, because the book puts us inside the character's skin," Ann Patchett

but I want to talk about something  I’ve been thinking about a lot this week: the powerful impact statement written and read out by a woman at the sentencing hearing  for a young man in the US who sexually assaulted her. Found guilty of three serious offences and never admitting his guilt, the perpetrator was given a six-month sentence.

This is my attempt at speaking even louder, bearing in mind that this is a picture book site…

The story surrounding this case has really struck a chord with me. There were definitely some similarities between the woman’s story and my own. I too was subjected to “twenty minutes of action” (as the father referred to his son’s behaviour in the current case) which also turned my whole world upside down; I was rescued by two strangers who chased after and caught/helped the police catch the perpetrator even before I was picked up and taken off to The Rape Suite for a night of invasive examinations, blood tests, injections and endless questioning. And my attacker also claimed not to have any recollection of the incident (having been high on drugs). But the similarities end there.

People of my age can probably remember the Chris Morris Brass Eye black comedy sketch about ‘Good Aids’ (those who contracted HIV through infected blood transfusions) and ‘Bad Aids’ (from homosexual sex). Well, so it seems that for some people there’s ‘Good Rape/Assault’ and ‘Bad Rape/Assault’. ‘Good’ involves a stranger, the victim wearing dowdy clothes and having drunk no alcohol and taken no drugs. Oh, and definitely not being a prostitute. ‘Bad’, on the other hand, involves a woman having drunk alcohol/taken drugs, knowing or having at least met the perpetrator, the woman wearing ‘provocative’ clothes, and/or quite possibly, being sexual promiscuous or even a prostitute. But both the ‘good’ and the ‘bad’ involve a man raping/assaulting a woman (or man)...

My experience definitely fell into the ‘good’ category. Even whilst I was in shock and being examined by the police doctor that night, I was aware of the unfairness of the system as the doctor reassured me that it was a very good thing –as long as the tests backed up my statement, of course- as I’d not drunk any alcohol or taken any drugs. And I’d clearly been wearing dowdy clothes (including my great aunt’s unfashionable, but warm, coat) as I walked home –I could see they believed I hadn’t been ‘asking for it’. “Most of the women I examine are prostitutes,” said the doctor, conspiratorially. Even then, I felt the unfairness of being treated with a respect that other women probably weren’t getting.

Why should it have mattered if I had been drinking? (I might well have drunk –I’d been at a social event, but for some reason I can’t remember I happen not to have drunk anything that night.) Why should it have changed anything if I’d been dressed up? And why should someone attacking me have been less serious if I had been a prostitute?

Although my attacker entered a plea of not guilty whilst on remand (because he claimed he couldn’t remember the event), he changed his plea on the day of the court case. As a result, the judge reduced his sentence (for not putting me through the trauma of a court case -and also because of the defendant’s own traumatic childhood), from about nine years, to five. This is the judge for whom the police had a nickname because he was so lenient (they warned me in court when they saw who it was that the sentence would probably be much shorter than they’d predicted). So a substantially reduced sentence by a judge deemed to be lenient, of five years -compared with six months in the Stanford case. There were no family members arguing the case for my attacker (on the contrary, his step family came to the initial hearing and told my then boyfriend that he should ‘do him over’ for them, and at the final hearing, they clapped when he was sentenced), and he wasn't at university or a strong athlete (he was of no fixed abode and not athletic).

I could talk about the difference in our cases in terms of closure for me, and lack of closure for the woman in the current case –where I wrote to my perpetrator in prison (as did my brother) and he wrote back absolutely accepting full responsibility, saying ‘I was nothing more than an animal and I should have been put down for what I did to you’ and that he’d never cried till he read my letter, and how he’d since decided to take anger management courses in prison even though it meant he’d stay in longer; and how he’d requested to go to a half-way house on his release so he would be supervised. And that he promised that he’d never come back to the city in which he had attacked me so that I could be confident I would never bump into him. This, compared with the current case where the attacker has not accepted any guilt. The turn of events after the attack for me, down to my treatment by the police, the judge, even the defence barrister, as well as the perpetrator admitting full responsibility and being extremely remorseful, made it all much easier to move on from. 
But that’s not what this post is about.

I wanted to say something about consent, which is what so much of this boils down to. No one was ever going to argue over whether I had consented –I was followed home by a stranger and he was caught literally red-handed (with mostly his own blood from the weapon he’d been holding). I had been asked loads of questions about my sexual history but as they’d established this was never going to be a case of whether I’d given consent or not, I’d not felt worried about those questions being used against me in court. But how grim that the same answers might have been used against another woman where consent could be questioned.

I know many women who have been sexually assaulted by men –almost all of them men that they knew –boyfriends, acquaintances, family members. As far as I know, I am the only one who actually went to the police –out of all the people I know who have been assaulted. And as well as fear, this has a lot to do with knowing how incredibly hard it is to get a conviction for someone when lack of consent may be questioned.

So, consent. There’s a great video used by Thames Valley police about consent

Animation courtesy of Emmeline May at and Blue Seat Studios. Copyright © 2015

But this is not a video to show to young children. So what can we do as picture book authors and illustrators to help children understand about consent and taking responsibility, and empathy from a young age? (And I’m not saying that the man in question in the current case would have done anything differently had he read certain picture books as a child –I don’t know the man and I’m not going to comment on his family here.)

Research is clear that reading stories helps children become more empathic.

Here's an article from the Guardian on the benefits of reading for empathy:

"Fiction is not just a simulator of a social experience, it is a social experience," writes psychologist  David Comer Kidd, whose paper, Reading Literary Fiction Improves Theory of Mind was published in Science in 2013.

And again:

"Reading fiction... gives us the ability to feel empathy for people we've never met, living lives we couldn't possibly experience for ourselves, because the book puts us inside the character's skin," Ann Patchett.

We need picture books with diverse characters so that all people can see themselves in some books and all people can get a sense of how it might be to be someone else in other books.

So Much (c) Trish Cooke and Helen Oxenbury

Siddarth and Rinki (c) Addy Farmer and Karin Littlewood

We need strong female characters

That Rabbit Belongs to Emily Brown (c) Cressida Cowell and Neal Layton

(A video showing a reading of Emily Brown...)

The Kite Princess (c) Juliet Clare Bell and Laura-Kate Chapman

and strong male characters
Oliver Who Was Small But Mighty (c) Mara Bergman and Nick Maland

including ones who do not conform to male stereotypes

Marshall Armstrong is New to Our School (c) David Mackintosh

Morris Micklewhite and the Tangerine Dress (c) Christine Baldacchino and Isabelle Malenfant

We need good picture books about friendship and compassion;


That's What Friends Do (c) Kathryn Cave and Nick Maland

(and a video reading of it)

about compromise

Best Friends or Not? (c) Paeony Lewis and Gaby Hansen

Simple kindness

Extra Yarn (c) Mac Barnett and Jon Klassen

Charlie is My Darling (c) Malachy Doyle and Stephen Lambert

How Kind! (c) Mary Murphy

(and a fab reading of How Kind!)

about unconditional love

No Matter What (c) Debi Gliori

and about accepting people for who they are.

Dandylion (c) Lizzie Finlay

We need picture books with LGBT characters

King and King (c) Linda de Haan  and Stern Nijland

And Tango Makes Three (c) Justin Richardson, Peter Parnell and Henry Cole

And see this Guardian article for more LGBT picture books

We need books with children with disabilities that aren’t about their disabilities

The Unstoppable Maggie McGee (c) Juliet Clare Bell and Dave Gray

We need picture books about bullies and people who are being bullied; standing up to bullies and taking responsibility for your own bad behaviour towards other people...

Little Rabbit Foo Foo (c) Michael Rosen and Arthur Robins

(and a video of it)

Something Else (c) Kathryn Cave and Chris Riddell

(and a video of it)

and about doing the right thing even when it’s not the easy option

Those Shoes (c) Maribeth Boelts and Noah Z Jones

and about never taking advantage of your greater physical strength to get something from someone without their consent or permission...

only I can't think of a book that does this. Does anyone know of one I can add in here? Please let me know in the comments, below...

And we need books that show how even the small actions of one person can have big consequences for another person, good or bad (humorous over the top books that make us think about cause and effect are really valuable)...

Mouse Creeps (c) Peter Harris and Reg Cartwright

If You Give a Mouse a Cookie (c) Laura Joffe Numeroff and Felicia Bond

There Was an Old Dragon Who Swallowed a Knight (c) Penny Parker Klosterman and Ben Mantle

There Was a Wee Lassie Who Swallowed a Midgie (c) Rebecca Colby and Kate McLelland

And we need books that show the folly of a misguided sense of entitlement.

Louis I King of Sheep (c) Olivier Tallac

The Tiger Who Would be King (c) James Thurber and Jodhee Yoon

We need books that show children that teasing that is not actively being enjoyed by the subject of the teasing is neither funny nor ok –whether it’s coming from adults or other children. It is categorically not funny if the person in question does not find it funny. This is a really important lesson for understanding consent (can anyone think of a picture book that touches on this?).  And we need books about inspirational people. In my author visits for Two Brothers and a Chocolate Factory: the Remarkable Story of Richard and George Cadbury (illustrated by Jess Mikhail), we look at what George and Richard did to improve the lives of other people in the community and we discuss what we can do, individually and collectively, to have a positive impact on the people around us.

Two Brothers and a Chocolate Factory: The Remarkable Story of Richard and George Cadbury (c) Juliet Clare Bell and Jess Mikhail.

There are many, many picture books that help children to empathise with others, and see the consequences of their actions -and see these posts for more recommendations, and this one, this one from Scholastic,  and this excellent list from Book Trust,

-but let's keep making more. Moreover, we need for them to be read by people who may not be picking up these messages from their own environments. So we need our libraries and our librarians and our enthusiastic teachers and educators.

Books alone aren’t going to stop all terrible things happening to people at the hands of other people. But we can play our small part in helping children become more empathic, have more personal responsibility and understand that no means no.

Which picture books would you recommend for encouraging empathy/compassion/respect in the reader? Please leave any recommended books in the comments section below.

Thank you.

Juliet Clare Bell