Once upon a time, when I first started out writing for children, it was picture books I wanted to create. I wrote numerous manuscripts, polished them, and sent them out to publishers. But for many of us authors, 32-page picture books can be an even harder sale than novels.
Picture books may look easy to write, but not only does every single word have to be perfect, nowadays these word-counts are getting shorter and shorter.
Quite a few publishers limit their picture book submissions to less than 500 words. 500 words!
And with so many wonderful picture books already on the market (often they don’t become dated as quickly as children’s novels) the competition is steep.
I’m not a wordy writer (my novels are usually under 40,000 words), and my picture book manuscripts used to come out to around 1200 words.
In the same way I feel there should be a Tween age group in between Middle Grade—or Juvenile, for you librarians 🙂 —and Young Adult, I also feel we should bring back picture story books.
Yes, kids may be ready to move on to early chapter books at a young age, but nothing beats cuddling up on the couch while a special adult reads a picture story book that lasts longer than a few minutes. Wouldn’t you rather read one or two in-depth stories to your kids than ten quickies with funny punch-lines over and over?
There are plenty of families out there still reading to their school-aged children and I would think we’d want to inspire this activity rather than risk pushing children through reading levels too fast. Sure, kids have shorter attention spans due to fast-paced media and parents may have less time to read to their kids, when attached to their own electronic devices, but do we really want to encourage this further?
Many 3rd and 4th grade teachers love to read picture books to their students (and the kids love them, too!). Teachers often have to resort to books with older publication dates since so many of the newer books are aimed at the preschool set.
With picture story books, you’ll find the language more sophisticated and the sentence structures more complex than in early chapter books which are for kids to read themselves. It’s good for new readers to have books with simple language while they’re learning, but why not keep them interested in picture books at the same time?
Of course there’s definitely a need for concept books and very short picture books, too, and there are some amazingly popular ones being released every day—Mo Willems comes to mind. .
Hopefully these simple, yet never slight books will be read over and over, with readers slowing down enough to take in the beautiful artwork flashing past.
I’m learning to get with the current picture book trends, to chop my word counts, but still…I love my copies of the classics shown throughout this post (and I’m thrilled to have most of them signed!).
What about you? Do you have a favorite picture book that might be a little longer than today’s standards? Or maybe you prefer shorter? As for me, I like both and I’m hoping there will soon be room in the market for longer picture books again. .
Word Counts for the books shown in this post are below.
A Baby Sister for Frances—1358 words. Published in 1964. Farmer Palmer’s Wagon Ride—1809 words. Published in 1974. Strega Nona—1245 words. Published in 1975. Miss Rumphius—1243 words. Published in 1982. The Polar Express—1054 words. Published in 1985. Oma and Bobo—1091 words. Published in 1987. Chrysanthemum—1141 words. Published in 1991. The Girl in the Golden Bower—2829 words. Published in 1994. Library Lion—1378 words. Published in 2006.
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Great Reviews for CALL ME AMY
“Well-drawn, sympathetic characters and the developing spark between Amy and Craig combine to create a pleasant, satisfying read.” –KIRKUS
“Strykowski lovingly captures seaside Maine and the travails of adolescence in her quiet, sweet-natured debut novel.”—PUBLISHERS WEEKLY
“Strykowski ably depicts Amy’s insecurity and self-doubt, Craig’s bravura and pain, and Miss Cogshell’s wisdom with a deft, convincing touch. In essence, Amy comes of age as she fights to find her voice in the outside world and shed some of her debilitating insecurity. Readers will cheer her on, and her splendid team, too.” –BOOKLIST
"The protagonist grows throughout the story, from a shy loner to having two friends and speaking her mind in front of her adversaries at school as well as to the whole town. …Amy is a reliable narrator and easily relatable.” –SCHOOL LIBRARY JOURNAL
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“To do a good deed, we can find friendship in the most curious of locations. “Call Me Amy” is a novel from Marcia Strykowski following the struggles of Amy Henderson, who finds an injured seal and seeks to nurse it, with the help of a scorned aging woman and an unusual youth. Set in the early 70s and exploring the essence of loneliness, “Call Me Amy” is a powerful read that should prove so very hard to put down, highly recommended.”—MIDWEST BOOK REVIEW
“This is a wonderful YA tale for the simple fact that it shows one and all that the power and courage to stand up and be heard in this life comes from within. And that no matter who you are, you have that toughness inside your soul. Craig has a lovely heart that hides behind that sarcasm he aims at the world, and he will remind every small town girl about that quiet boy she fell in love with long ago. ‘Old Coot’ brings the fun and humor along with her, and Pup is the sweetest creature in the world. Having all the ingredients of first love, faith, loss and strength makes ‘Amy’ unforgettable.” —FEATHERED QUILL
“For Amy, 1973 has been a lonely year, her only friend moved away and she feels awkward around her classmates. Until one day Amy discovers that Craig, another classmate, has rescued an injured seal pup. Amy agrees to help him and together they hide the pup at Miss Cogshell’s house, the odd old lady most kids call “Old Coot.” Amy learns that people aren’t always what they seem to be, and she forms a friendship with Craig and Miss Cogshell. A great story about friendship and doing what you think is right.” —KIDSBOOKSHELF
“For those ages 8 to 12, Call Me Amy by Marcia Strykowski will resonate with familiar themes of growing up. The year is 1973 and for Amy Henderson, it has been a lonely one with too many awkward moments to count. When she finds an injured seal pup, she rescues him to rehabilitate him. In the process she forms an unlikely alliance with Craig, a boy around her age, and an older woman in town. With their help she discovers that people aren’t always what they seem despite what others may think of them. This is a story filled with many elements that will appeal to younger readers and I highly recommend it.”—BOOKVIEWS.COM
"A wounded seal pup propels 13-year-old Amy Henderson into an unlikely alliance with an unusual older woman and a mysterious boy in a small Maine fishing village. Readers will cheer for Amy as she protects Pup, gains confidence, faces challenges, and comes up with an idea that could change not only the future of her village, but also, her own life. With a skillful hand, Strykowski introduces us to a small town with memorable characters and the girl who could bring them all together." ---Anne Broyles, award-winning author of PRISCILLA AND THE HOLLYHOCKS
"In a small town in Maine in the 1970's, Amy is standing on the brink of becoming a young adult. The events that will force her to discover who she is, what she is made of and how she wants others to perceive her are sweetly told through awkward teenage moments, the triumphs and sadnesses of that age and ultimately, Amy's discovery of her own beliefs, strength and courage." ---Kathleen Benner Duble, acclaimed author of THE SACRIFICE
“Call Me Amy is exactly the type of book I love. The characters are relatable and likeable; they are individuals that the reader enjoys getting to know while watching them change and develop. The setting of the small Maine coastal town is idyllic, and the reader is quickly and completely immersed in this community. Although the novel takes place in the 1970s, it feels timeless. Young readers will readily associate with Amy’s struggles and triumphs with her relationships with family and friends, and mature readers will be gently nudged back to this period in their life. These universal qualities make this novel a perfect choice for many types of readers. As a Youth Services Librarian, I would enthusiastically recommend Call Me Amy to our young patrons as well as to a more adult audience. Because it can be enjoyed on so many levels, this novel would be an ideal source of discussion for an adult/child book group.” ---Patty Falconer, Youth Services Librarian
"I just finished CALL ME AMY and I think it is wonderful with beautiful descriptions. I love the characters and their story. It is like having seen a good play or movie and later, while you are doing other things, it comes back to you and you think about the characters again." ---Peggy Arnold, retired teacher and avid reader.
For 13-year-old Amy Henderson, 1973 has been a lonely and uneventful year in her small Maine fishing village. With the help of a wounded seal pup, she gets to know Craig, who slinks around in an oversized army jacket. A new law against handling wild marine mammals brings suspense to the story. Where can they keep Pup until he heals? Their only hope is to trust Miss Cogshell, an elderly woman keeping to herself amidst jeers from the local kids, who catches them sneaking Pup into her woodshed in the middle of the night. Throughout the book, small challenges prepare Amy for her greatest one of all. A challenge that leads her to discover that everyone, herself included, has a voice worth hearing.