About Me

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Lake Charles, Louisiana, United States
Hello, and welcome to my blog! I like to write about children's literature, fairy tales, feminism, and pop culture in general. I've recently earned my Ph.D. in children's literature at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette. I also review children's and young adult books for Kirkus and teach English at Sowela Technical Community College. Oh, and I like cats! [Banner image artwork by Yuki Midorikawa]

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

The future of children's books -- online after all?














It seems an absurd thing to even question -- of course the future is online. But (like my first post on this blog suggests) it seems some of us, maybe a whole lot of us, still feel wary about making the move from print books to online books.

The Washington Post had an article recently about "Wimpy Kid" author Jeff Kinney's own online strategy. Apparently, Kinney originally posted the entire novel online. I'm not sure how that affected the publishing rights for the novel (??) but it's intriguing nonetheless. I wish I knew more about Kinney's story so I could comment on it more.

Now, this article isn't so much about Kinney's rise to stardom as it is about the children's book publishing industry in general, so get ready. One particular analyst's comment stood out to me: "If you think about the long-term future of the industry, the people who are reading 'The Very Hungry Caterpillar' today will hopefully be reading a thick piece of literature in a few years." So it's interesting that children's literature is viewed as a marketing "gateway drug" to adult literature. Granted, this is an industry insider, so of course he's going to think that way, but does it not also seem as if children's literature is only considered valuable for its ability to eventually lead readers towards more adult, more "serious" literature?

Maybe I'm too sensitive. (Probably.) And I'm happy, of course, that people are trying to think of ways to keep the publishing industry alive. Part of keeping that industry alive is moving it online. Is that really the future of children's literature? (Of all literature? But I think I already answered my own question.) Why does the thought of reading literature online terrify us so much? After all, wouldn't it be cool if we could carry little electronic readers around the way they did on Star Trek?

Wait a second -- we already do that. Hmm.

That same insider warned that skyrocketing sales of young adult novels may be "skewed" by the number of adult readers who purchase young adult books. I always find statements like that amusing. Why are those numbers considered "skewed"? If teens were buying "adult" books in droves, would we consider that "skewing" the numbers? Here's an example: I used to work in a bookstore. (Seriously, what lib arts academic hasn't.) We shelved Tolkien's LOTR and The Hobbit in the adult Sci-fi and Fantasy section. I'm willing to bet that at least 50% of those books were bought by customers under the age of 20. And if you ask most people who have read LOTR when they first encountered the series, a great many will say that they first read them in their teens. The Hobbit is sometimes classified as children's literature (probably thanks to Tolkien himself), but LOTR really isn't. Are LOTR sales therefore skewed? I like to think that I seriously upset the book publishing industry's projected sales numbers when I read books like Gone with the Wind and Once and Future King at the tender age of 11 and 12 respectively -- not to mention all those "adult" sci-fi and fantasy books I was reading.

And here's something even curiouser: An online comic/illustration (by Maira Calman) written by a children's book author/illustrator, originally published in The New York Times (which I understand has something of an adult readership, ahem) as a regular column, and now to be published as a print book.

Do you like how I tied that all neatly together?

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