Do Picture Books Retire?
Petunia, that silly goose, is turning the ripe old age of 65 this year, the same age as my father-in-law who is retiring this fall from his long-standing position as nurse anesthetist. The Carrot Seed at 70 is the same age as my father who semi-retired this summer. And Harold and his trusty purple crayon are 60 years old this year.
Do picture books ever retire? Certainly. Some picture books are best for their own particular time and place. Some aren’t best to begin with and fade away quietly. Some picture books should retire because they feature attitudes–cultural or otherwise–that are now recognized as improper. This is particularly true for books featuring racial stereotypes.
But the best picture books, the ones that manage to endure for upwards of 40 or 50 years, those are here to stay. In fact, many of the books in this category are still in print. In addition to the aforementioned old geezers, titles such as Make Way for Ducklings (74 years old), Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel (76 years old), and The True Story of Ferdinand (79 years old) are even older!
What About New Picture Books?
If the old picture books are “so good,” what about the new ones? Are they worth reading? Absolutely! The challenge facing reviewers, librarians, teachers, and parents is to find those new gems that will stick around for the next 50+ years. And there are new gems published every year. So, mix it up with your children. Read across the century. Try a book like Mr. Squirrel and the Moon or another title from World’s Picture Book of the Year List.
The Question of Audience
One thing to note: some books are long and some are short. This is just as true for picture books as it is for novels. Some of the older picture books are outstanding choices to read aloud to kindergartners and up. As contemporary publishing trends push towards trim text, the older picture books can pick up the slack for those listeners who demand more of a story than If You Plant a Seed. Books like Little Tim and the Brave Sea Captain (79 years old!) or Billy and Blaze (also 79 years old!) can double as early readers.
But the humor and sophistication of newer titles is also pitch perfect for those school-aged listeners. Read One Cool Friend or I Want My Hat Back to a room full of second graders and enjoy their response!