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The Babyfication of Our Youth

babytalkJust a little rant here–Martha Parravano and I are preparing a talk for next week’s Fostering Lifelong Learners conference in Ohio, and the other day we visited the Children’s Book Shop for some titles we wanted to share but couldn’t find in the office.  I was struck by the number of picture book titles for four-to-six-year-olds reissued in board book format. Right now I’m looking at a new board book edition of Samantha Berger and Dan Santat’s Crankenstein. For Pete’s sake, WHY? It’s a terrific book, but it’s not for kids who are still drooling and dripping and clueless about sharp corners. Or Liz Garton Scanlon and Marla Frazee’s All the World–a beautiful book but so not for babies. Terri Schmitz pointed out to me a concurrent trend: baby-appropriate picture books that were smartly resized and formatted for baby hands that have subsequently been blown up–the “oversized board book edition” of Goodnight, Gorilla is bigger than the original picture book and weighs two pounds. It’s been positively weaponized.

This has been going on for twenty years, and I’m guessing it’s because books for babies are easier to sell than are picture books for older kids. But I worry that we’re just trying to delay the inevitable moment of teaching kids how to read without spitting up.

Roger Sutton About Roger Sutton

Roger Sutton has been the editor in chief of The Horn Book, Inc, since 1996. He was previously editor of The Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books and a children's and young adult librarian. He received his M.A. in library science from the University of Chicago in 1982 and a B.A. from Pitzer College in 1978. Follow him on Twitter: @RogerReads.

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  1. From a bookseller’s perspective, here’s what I can say: the oversized board books are really attractive for people buying for preschools or playgroups that want a bigger format that a group of kids can easily see. I go back and forth about the usefulness of having picture books remade as board books but they are a good sell for parents of the 2-3 year old set who are still kind of grabby but ready to hear a slightly more complicated text. How much of that is parents trying to push their kids ahead into longer/more difficult books though is hard to say.

  2. Margaret Robson Kett says:

    Right on, Roger! Just saw Madeline in board book format in my local bookshop. I think it’s a combination of being easy to produce for the publisher and appealing to the parent nostalgia market. There are so few books in this format which actually appeal to children from birth to 2. It’s a shame.

  3. I completely agree that Crankenstein (and similar) as a board book is ridiculous. However, I do think there’s room for some wordier books repackaged as board books. I recently fielded a question from a mom whose 10 month old enjoyed sitting still for longer stories, but also wanted to handle them – books like Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel worked well for her child. I also know of plenty of toddlers that love All the World and would enjoy a board book version. Of course, though, the best ones are still short and sweet (my pet peeve are the classics as board books – seriously still a thing?!)

  4. I suspect that gift buyers’ nostalgia is a factor, too. An adult might remember that a particular title was a childhood favorite and be fuzzy enough on *when* in childhood to want to bring it to a baby shower. And look, there it is in the baby section, at less than half the price of the hardcover!

  5. Nothing much to add to this conversation, other than this photo TERRIFIES me. Something about grown-up people sucking on binkies… so thanks, Roger, I’m going to have nightmares now!

  6. CRANKENSTEIN has been a monster hit with the first and second graders in my school. I completely agree that the big format for this book is unnecessary much as I feel the same way about Ms. Frazee’s beautiful Caldecott Honor winner.

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