12 October 2006

So Few Kid Details in So Few of Me

Peter H. Reynolds, in addition to being the illustrator of Megan McDonald's Judy Moody series and other books, is president of the Fablevision animation studios. And several of his own picture books strike me as being written for other managers. They look like picture books for kids, with attractive art and design and few words. But they're really adult advice books in a less scary format.

The latest, So Few of Me, comes with a blurb from the host of the Simple Living TV series. Reynolds's author bio focuses on his experience with a time-management seminar. The front flap copy concludes that the book is "a timely meditation on a very modern affliction." Clearly, those aren't details to grab young readers.

Inside, the text starts, "Leo was a very busy lad." The art shows a barefoot, tousled kid. But Leo doesn't act just like a kid. His activities include washing windows, heating food on the stove, and grocery-shopping. His to-do list on the front endpaper includes such adult tasks as "Cancel meeting," "Buy newspaper," "Send forms," and "buy organizer"--not a word about "homework."

It would certainly be possible to write about an overscheduled American kid today. But So Few of Me's vocabulary and marketing reveal that it actually addresses those overscheduled kids' parents (and likely overschedulers). Reynolds's artwork, here reminiscent of Quentin Blake, is a lot of fun to look at. [A few years ago I bought an original Reynolds sketch for my godson's christening present.] But the artwork can't change the real audience for this book.

Now there's nothing wrong with giving adults "picture books that celebrate the creative process," as So Few of Me, The Dot, and Ish are designed to do. Peter's in a unique position to convey that message, as a children's illustrator who's also an executive. But books like these show the prejudices and limits of our publishing culture.

We assume that 32-page illustrated books with short texts must be for kids. That they must therefore be about kids, like young Leo. That they must be shelved in the children's section of bookstores and libraries. Will the adults who would benefit from So Few of Me find it there?

Of course, those may be the only places where they'll be open to its message.


tem2 said...

It seems that Peter also owns a bookstore. Talk about vertical integration!

J. L. Bell said...

No question that if I had to take business advice from one picture-book author-illustrator, it would be Peter. (No offense meant to Tomie dePaola!)