Sunday, March 1, 2009

Brunching with Psychics

Here at Collecting Children’s Books, we usually focus on books of the past. However, today’s blog concerns the future. Because we are living in such uncertain times, I thought it might be instructive and/or entertaining to consider where the children’s book world may be going in the months and years ahead.

I originally intended to call up a few of the greatest living psychics on the telephone. But after learning how much Sylvia Browne and John Edwards charge per session, I decided to “call up” a few of the greatest dead psychics on the Ouija board instead. Jeane Dixon, Edgar Cayce, and Harry Houdini were all delighted to help out, so I invited them over for brunch today. They didn’t eat a bite of food, though I noticed they all certainly enjoyed their "spirits." Also on hand was Hen Wen, the oracular pig, who brought her letter sticks.

Keeping in mind that a) the future is not set in stone and change is always possible, b) even the best psychics are wrong some of the time, and c) the Amazing Randi says it’s all a crock of you-know-what, here are some of their thoughts about the future of children’s books.


I do not know how many people lost their heads to the guillotine during the French Revolution...but surely that figure pales when compared to the number of young people who have lost their heads in the service of children’s literature.

For the past decade the sheer quantity of dustjackets featuring headless kids has been staggering. (I almost said “mind-boggling,” but since the heads are missing, there are no minds to boggle.) You can see this for yourself by checking out the shelves of any bookstore or library. Or just click here.

Curious whether this trend would continue forever or eventually end up on the chopping block, I asked my prognosticating brunch guests for their opinions. They strongly felt that we will continue to face a faceless future. However, they do sense a new trend for silhouettes on dustjackets, as evidenced by these recent examples:


These are bad days for children’s book publishing. Editors are being laid-off, imprints are being shut down, and everyone is nervous. The saddest story I’ve heard about the situation involves the Bowen Press, which was set to open as a new imprint at HarperCollins this spring -- but was shut down for economic reasons before their first titles actually hit the bookstores! How crazy is that? Some of these books, such as THE YEAR THE SWALLOWS CAME EARLY by Kathryn Fitzmaurice and THIS FULL HOUSE by Virginia Euwer Wolff, are getting good reviews too. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised to see the latter title getting serious Printz or National Book Award consideration. I’d like to think that the closing of Bowen Press is an anomaly but, unfortunately, I’ve read articles that indicate other publishing houses and imprints may face similar blows in the future.


The publishing world is shrinking, but children’s and young adult books are getting bigger and bigger. Remember when teachers needed to mandate that book-report volumes had to be at least 100 pages long (followed by a stampede of students racing to the library trying to find books that were 101 pages long)? Those days are over. This year’s Printz slate provides some eye-opening numbers. The shortest book of the group, THE DISREPUTABLE HISTORY OF FRANKIE LANDAU-BANKS by E. Lockhart is 352 pages. Next comes NATION by Terry Pratchett at 384. The winning book, JELLICOE ROAD by Melina Marchetta, is 432 pages, while the other Honor books, TENDER MORSELS by Margo Lanigan and THE KINGDOM OF THE WAVES by M.T. Anderson are respectively 448 and 592 pages. There actually seems to be a certain cachet associated with loooong books these days; I’ve noticed that many titles with rather skimpy texts are, through the use of tiny trim sizes, large fonts, and lots of blank space, being bloated past the 300 and 400 page mark. I’m currently reading -- and enjoying -- a forthcoming YA novel called TALES OF THE MADMAN UNDERGROUND by John Barnes -- which is over 500 pages, so I see no signs of this trend slowing down, and neither do my fellow brunchers. I asked them how kids with shorter attention spans...or reluctant readers...or those with weak arms who can’t hold a 14 lb. book are supposed to deal with this situation. Isn’t there anything for them to read? Yes, sayeth the soothsayers: graphic novels!


The trend of graphic novels hasn’t yet peaked. As the genre grows increasingly popular, more esteemed novelists are getting into the act. (Shannon Hale recently released RAPUNZEL’S REVENGE and Jane Yolen has a couple slated for publication.) We’re also seeing nonfiction graphic “novels” such as GETTYSBURG by C.M. Butzer, as well as adaptations of major works such as HAMLET and BEOWOLF (didn’t we use to call them “Classics Illustrated”?)

The graphic novel is definitely earning prestige these days. PEDRO AND ME by Judd Winick was a Sibert Honor Book and Gene Luen Yang won the Printz Award for AMERICAN BORN CHINESE.

Is it just a matter of time before a graphic novel wins the Newbery?

Edgar Cayce predicts it will happen in 2014. Jeane Dixon says that’s silly because the Mayan calendar has already forecast that the world will end in 2012. I don’t think the world will end that soon...though it will probably feel that way to me if a comic bo-- I mean, graphic novel ever wins the Newbery.


I actually thought the trend of celebrity-written books was dying down, but now I see that several are due out this spring. Someone I don’t know named Lauren Conrad from a TV show that I don’t watch has written a new book that I won't read. It's called L.A. CANDY -- and it’s the first in a series. Dolly Parton’s got one titled I AM A RAINBOW. And Julianne Moore has written a second book about a character called “Freckleface Strawberry” -- a name so grossly gooey that it almost serves as an emetic.

Jeane Dixon says we should all buy these books and reminds us that in troubled economic times, celebrities need money too! You can’t support a staff of six servants, plus two beach front properties, a private plane, and plastic surgery on what Hollywood pays these days.

I think all those appearances on the Merv Griffin and Mike Douglas shows in the sixties made Jeane a little celebrity-crazy.


It’s not just children’s book publishing that’s facing a downturn. Newspapers such as Colorado’s ROCKY MOUNTAIN NEWS are folding. Magazines are shutting down. Recently PUBLISHERS WEEKLY lost its editor -- and, in my opinion, the magazine’s public face and voice -- when Sara Nelson was laid off. The Great Houdini thinks that at least one of our current children’s book review periodicals will go belly-up as well. There are many reasons for this -- starting with the bad economy! -- but including competition from the web and bloggers, plus the bad economy, editorial hubris and poor decision-making, plus the bad economy, diminished library funding, plus the bad economy, unreliable reviews, plus the bad economy, fewer subscribers, plus the bad economy! I suspect that before any children’s book periodical shuts down it will try going to an internet-only format to salvage the publication's name -- but how long can that last? How many magazine employees will lose their jobs? It’s enough to make one cry.


I guess it started with TWILIGHT -- that mega-bestselling vampire novel by Stephenie Meyer. Not that TWILIGHT was the first vampire novel ever, or even one of the best (anyone read THE SILVER KISS by Annette Curtis Klause?) but it seems to be the one title responsible for the latest gushing flow of bared-bodice fanged-teeth novels. So get ready for more variations on this theme, including ETERNAL by Cynthia Leitich Smith, KISS OF LIFE by Daniel Waters, and THE REFORMED VAMPIRE SUPPORT GROUP by Catherine Jinks, among many others -- enough to supply a small blood bank. Then there are the books about dead people such as

BAD GIRLS DON’T DIE by Katie Alender, ONCE DEAD, TWICE SHY by Kim Harrison, DEAD IS SO LAST YEAR by Marlene Perez -- enough to fill a crypt. And then...well, I don’t know what to call them...books about “fairies” or books about “faeries”? And what is the difference? (I think they are both the same, except faeries take themselves much more seriously than fairies.) Titles include FAIRY TALE by Cyn Balog, FAIRY SCHOOL DROP OUT by Meredith Badger, and WONDROUS STRANGE by Lesley Livingston -- enough flittering, fluttering creatures to deplete about two cans of Raid.

What can be said about these books except: yes, the trend will continue on for a while. This year, next year. Some of the books will be good, some of them will be bad. And a year or two from now another mega-bestseller about an entirely new subject will grab everyone’s attention and many of these titles will join FEAR STREET and SWEET VALLEY HIGH on the dustiest shelves of the used bookstore.


Will the current recession/depression have any impact on used book sales? I expected it, but so far that doesn’t seem to be the case. I thought the economic crisis might cause people to try selling some of the old books they have at home for cash...and I thought that booksellers might lower the prices of their wares to increase sales...but I’m not seeing it. At least not yet.


Is Kindle going to impact (notice how I keep using the word “impact” so I don’t have to consult the dictionary in order to figure out whether to use “effect” or “affect”?) children’s books in the future? So far I haven’t seen any indication...but I think things could change when school districts, tired of spending big money for textbooks, opt for lower priced e-books and require all students to own a Kindle or a similar device. Once every kid has his or her own Kindle, then I imagine the world of mainstream children’s books will be affected..effected...I mean, impacted!

Incidentally, Hen Wen has a prediction involving the Kindle. She's worried about all those stories and novels being transported through the open air on their way to electronic reading devices. She fears that some sensitive people are going to have the words of...say, Judy Blume or Lemony Snicket...transmitted directly into their brains via the braces they wear on their teeth or maybe just through latent clairvoyant abilities. This could cause lawsuits from publishers who accuse these people of “wifi-jacking” copyrighted material.

Hen Wen is spelling something with her letter sticks: "B-E-W-A-R-E, B-E-W-A-R-E."

That little pig always was a little weird, wasn't she?


Finally, all of my psychic brunch guests agree that the next Newbery selection will be very controversial. Some people will love it, some will hate it. There will be a lot of teeth-gnashing and garment-rending and complaining and arguing.

Oh, like that wasn’t easy to figure out. That happens every year!

Thanks for visiting. Hope you’ll return.


Charlotte said...

"...enough flittering, fluttering creatures to deplete about two cans of Raid." -- funny!

Viz used books--aren't used books from before 1985 going to be illegal soon anyway, because of all the lead in them? Perhaps a black market will spring up, or booksellers with paperbacks in pockets inside their trench coats will sidle up to passersby on the steets....

Anonymous said...

Hello! Thanks for including my book, Bad Girls Don't Die, in your post! Just wanted to clarify that Bad Girls is not about dead people, per se--not dead people walking around and doing stuff. It's actually a ghost story. :-)

Spiritual Guidance said...

I love the book collections.They're all interesting.