The future of children's books

Do they even have one?

In our fast-paced, electronic world, are Hudson Valley parents going to be able to keep their kids reading traditional storybooks? Will future generations still experience the joy of leafing through the pages of a beloved children’s book?

“The world of children’s publishing has definitely changed,” says Frances Gilbert, vice-president and publisher of Sterling Children’s Books in Manhattan. “I remain confident in the future of children’s publishing. We just need to think differently,” Gilbert adds.

And that means not only publishers but parents alike. Most publishers are embracing both traditional printed children’s books and high-tech methods of storytelling.

A classic gets new life
Sterling, for instance, in 2007 published an illustrated children’s storybook based on the classic children’s song Puff the Magic Dragon written by Peter Yarrow and Lenny Lipton. To keep up with the times, it was made available on CD with Yarrow, of the folk group, Peter, Paul and Mary, that originally recorded Puff back in the 1960s.

The story doesn’t end there. "A pop-up book version of the tale is also available", Gilbert says. “And soon, there is even be a Puff app for electronic devices,” she adds. So, just as the magic dragon lives on from generation to generation, so children’s literature carries on.

Combine traditional books with the new trends
But what can parents do to encourage kids to love books? Gilbert’s suggestions parallel advice from many experts in childhood learning. “Read to them,” she says. “Nothing replaces storytelling — at bedtime, or whenever you can.”

Since each child is different, “Parents will figure out at what point electronic devices are appropriate for kids,” Gilbert says. Parents can also discuss with teachers the best timing for introducing electronic storytelling devices and other equipment to their kids.” “My tech-savvy friends who have children say they use both,” adds Gilbert. “They have electronic devices when the kids are old enough — and they also have a house-full of books.”

When it comes to choosing kids’ books, many bookstores and libraries group stories according to age-appropriateness. And you can’t go wrong with children’s classics — starting with simple picture books and working up to more elaborate tales.
According to Gilbert, what’s “in” regarding children’s books can run in cycles. “A while back, I remember some editors said that stories about pirates wouldn’t sell,” she recalls. But along came the movie. Pirates of the Caribbean — and swashbuckling sagas became all the rage. No doubt, some folks also thought nobody would be interested in tales about young wizards — that is, until the birth of the legendary Harry Potter series.

Setting limits on electronics and keep books around
Another way to encourage reading — set limits on use of video games, cell phones, and other electronics in the home. “A family could pick a time in the evening when kids need to start to power down” and turn off the devices, she says. But don’t just flick on the TV instead. “Parents often say their kids watch too much TV or use their electronic devices too much — but often, parents are hooked on them, too,” Gilbert notes.

The bottom line: Children learn from their parents, so keep lots of books and appropriate magazines in the house. If cost is an issue, take family trips to the library. “No matter what the latest technology may bring, there’s still nothing like turning the pages of a book,” she says.

Writers’ advice for parents
Karen Kaufman Orloff of Hopewell Junction is the author of four published children’s picture books. “I believe there will always be a place for books in children’s lives as they grow up,” she says, recalling how much she loved reading to her now-grown son and daughter when they were little.

“Later, I became reacquainted with children’s books, and began writing them,” says Orloff, who has also worked as a magazine editor. Her books include I Wanna Iguana and I Wanna New Room published by GP Putnam, and If Mom had Three Arms and Talk, Oscar, Please published by Sterling.

Orloff believes ePublishing is taking children’s literature to a whole new level. “The technology is remarkable; it can even include animation and music when telling a story,” she says. 

But there are some stories, she says, we just want to sit with, cherish and revisit. “I can't imagine having an electronic version of a book like Goodnight Moon for example. Having a book like that is like finding true love...-it's not a story for just a fleeting moment. That’s a book you want to have, to hold and to love...hopefully for a lifetime.” 

Grace McCoy is a writer and editor who lives in the Hudson Valley.