I was recently at the post office, mailing some copies of What the Sleepy Animals Do at the Audubon Zoo. Another person in line struck up a conversation with me about the book. She mentioned she might buy a copy for her nephew’s child, but then admitted she also really enjoyed children’s books for herself. As as an author, I read a lot of children’s books, and I’ve come to agree with her.
As children learn to read at younger and younger ages, picture books are being geared towards younger and younger children. And while many picture books are still read by children, a growing number are being read by parents to children who are too young to read themselves.
The result in this trend is that authors and illustrators must create works that are liked by both 4 year olds and 40 year olds. How is this done?
Perhaps my favorite picture book of 2013, The Bear’s Song, provides a great example. In this simple story, Little Bear runs off, and Papa Bear chases after him, first through the forest, then the city, and finally into an opera house. Children will follow the plot and enjoy trying to spot Little Bear in a Where’s-Waldo-style spread of characters.
There is much for adults to love as well. Looking closely, one notices the costumes and expressions of the many characters- the little girl who sees Papa Bear when her father doesn’t, the feather-clad dancing girls who are left a tizzy, the indignant opera singer whose performance is interrupted. These details, which may be largely unappreciated by young children, set the book apart from others.
What the Sleepy Animals Do at the Audubon Zoo also has details for children and details for adults. Kids get a kick out of the penguin who rides in the kangaroo’s pouch. Adults may be more charmed that the spider’s parasol is actually a drink umbrella.
At their heart, of course, picture books are and must always be for children. But as dutiful parents read bed-time stories night after night, it’s nice that these readers as well can find humor and joy in children’s literature.