A while back, I bemoaned the growing trend for publishers to turn pretty much every successful picture book into a board book, no matter the age of the intended audience. Stories aimed at 3-to-5- or 4-to-6-year-olds, I felt, did not make good board book candidates, since that market is primarily for the 0-2 crowd. Unsuspecting parents would buy these beautiful-looking board books, assuming they were great baby/toddler reads, and be very surprised to find their tots bored three pages in by all the text and the incomprehensible story lines.
Recently, though, I’ve had a semi change of heart.
I still think lengthy picture books are absurd misfires as board books; witness that plethora of text, shrunken to 8-point type! Or worse, the graceless abridgments. But board books are a sturdy format, and they last practically forever. That’s not a terrible thing for small hands in the 3-to-5 age range. A board book might be a great alternative to a paperback for some picture books aimed at four- and five-year-olds.
It would take a cultural shift, though. As it is, many parents are rushing their kids out of what they think of as “baby books” and into chapter books as early as possible, often before kids have truly outgrown the beautiful and often sophisticated wonders that picture books have to offer. (Do we ever really outgrow those?) Reframing board books as appropriate vehicles for post-toddler pre-readers might be a challenge. One possible move: giving the books a larger format and slightly thinner board book pages (to accommodate the increased length) could help differentiate them from “baby” board books, and would enable them to be shelved with the regular picture books rather than in the board book section.
If that doesn’t work, publishers could take a page from Workman’s appealing and amazingly successful Indestructibles series and try longer picture books in the “chew proof, rip proof, nontoxic, 100% washable” format. I don’t know how expensive a 32-page picture book would be as an Indestructible, but if the list price could be between $9.95 and $12.95, I’ll bet there are millions of parents who would be willing to try them out and grateful for their light yet surprising ruggedness.
Whatever the solution, it could be great to have a sturdier format than paperback for the enduring childhood favorites that children reach for over and over and over again. And if that means reframing the concept of who board books are for, or broadening the scope of Indestructibles, I for one am up for the challenge.