Writing Info

Why Are Picture Books Shorter?

Two thousand words for a picture book is too long.  Then for a few years, the word count for picture books was limited to 1,000 words or less.  And now I’m repeatedly hearing 600 words is the upper max.  So why are they getting shorter and shorter?

At this weekend’s Maryland Society of Children’s Book Writer and Illustrator conference, I heard a good, viable explanation.  Sylvie Frank, Associate Editor at Paula Wiseman Books, a group within Simon And Schuster Books for Young Readers, gave the reason.  She said that children are reading at a younger age now than they used to.  They are expected to be readers even before reaching kindergarten.

I remember learning to read in kindergarten, actually, so I can tell this timeline is moving forward.

Since kids are reading earlier, she said that picture books are now aimed at younger children so that they can be read by the kids themselves, not just the parents.  Inevitably the word count will be shorter for a new reader.

I have yet another take on the reason, but I still agree with Sylvie’s explanation too.  I think that people’s attention spans are shortening due to the speed with which we all live our lives nowdays.  We spend just a few seconds at a time writing a quick twitter message.  We converse with our friends, not over a long phone conversation, but via text message.  With technology helping our attention spans grow shorter and our preference aimed at faster download times, etc, it’s no surprise that we’re shortening everything in our lives…including the time it takes to read a picture book.

I remember when my mom read me one (longer) picture book before bedtime.  Now as a mother myself I find that I’m reading my daughter 4-5 picture books each night.

What do you think?  Is this trend good for our children?  Would you rather read a few books on a bunch of concepts or would you like to focus on just one longer story?  Do you think we’re catering to shorter attention spans?  And does it matter?

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