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Picture Books for All: From Pre-school to Adults

By Laura Jones, Michaela O’Callaghan, Rosie Burgoyne and Aimee Haldron

In a recent The Bookseller article, it was announced that the picture books market has “outsold fiction aimed at older readers for the first time since accurate records began.” The article concludes with the assertion that this trend won’t be diminishing anytime soon. Therefore, we thought it was a perfect time to explore the rise of picture books, and how picture books can appeal to all, from pre-schoolers to adults.

Causes of Upward Trend

According to the Bookseller article, pre-school and picture books recorded massive sales of £141.2m. The article attributes a large amount of this growth to “different buying patterns over the pandemic” with “time-pressured home-working parents looking for ways to keep younger children occupied.” It would be interesting to see whether retailers have observed an increased propensity for consumers to buy in bulk, or if picture books with accompanying activities or resources hold stronger interest. Linked to the upward trend is the broader backlist trend of the pandemic which benefits licensed brands such as Peppa Pig and Paw Patrol, as well as big-brand authors. Julia Donaldson and her illustrators account for 10% of all pre-school and picture books revenue. A large amount of the pre-school and picture books were backlist with “just under 75% of its revenue [being] from titles published before 2021.”

Not Just for Children

All too often, there is the limited view that picture books are only for young children. In some instances, a picture book is to be shared only at bedtime, as a way of settling a child for sleep. However, we are of the mindset that picture books should be for anyone and everyone. They are a source of rich information, a stimulus for enquiring minds and a way to handle complex and challenging ideas.

One such example is Dinosaur Therapy written by James Stewart and illustrated by K Roméy. This Sunday Times bestseller comes from the creators of @dinosandcomics and is a truly unique, but much-needed picture book for adults. At the centre of the book are two dinosaurs who live a thoroughly modern existence. Through the comic strip style pages, adult readers find comfort in the lives of the two dinosaurs as they experience depression, happiness, relationships, work and more. Despite tackling some tough issues, this picture book injects a sense of humour and hope sensitively into each of the scenarios. It is a book that is very much changing the face of picture books on the adult landscape.

As noted earlier, growth in the picture book sector has been attributed to “different buying patterns over the pandemic.” Maybe, then, it could be the case that adults have been purchasing books, not only for their young children, but also for themselves. There are many books that can cross the generations and serve both adult and child. One in particular is The Lost Words by Robert Macfarlane and Jackie Morris. This is a picture book created with love – a love for words, a love for beautiful illustrations and, above all else, a love for the natural world. This magnificent picture book, which saw Jackie Morris awarded the CILIP Kate Greenaway Medal in 2019, is a delight for children and adults. The intricately painted pictures are perfect for whiling away the afternoon or for serving as a coffee table centrepiece. But equally, the images and words within are accessible and inspiring to even the youngest of children. As noted by the CLPE, this book “has taken root in schools across Britain, inspired creative thinkers, young and old, and restored the vanishing poetry of nature.”

There is also the combination of non-fiction and illustrations that offer a great opportunity to engage children and adults alike. Shackleton’s Journey by William Grill is a prime example of this. Grill documents the journey of Ernest Shackleton and his crew through wondrous illustrations as they set out to cross the frozen wastes of Antarctica. William Grill’s latest title, Bandoola: The Great Elephant Rescue, is a similarly beautifully illustrated tale of an elephant who leads a group of fifty-three elephants and over 200 refugees to safety during the war. His works combine exquisite drawings with great factual insight – ideal to appeal to both younger and older readers.

Finally, the influence of celebrity authors is well-known within the children’s book market. From Fearne Cotton’s Yoga Babies to Tom Fletcher’s There’s a Monster in Your Book, there is always a new celebrity looking to try their hand at writing picture books. However, what is the appeal of celebrity authors? More often than not it is the adults, not the children, who are aware of the celebrity names. In this sense, celebrity-authored picture books, whilst aimed at younger readers, also appeal to adults' curiosity to try out the newest celebrity book.



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