The goal of publishing a book is to sell it, but what characteristics of a book inspire that purchase? Of the two ways that most books are sold – to libraries and to consumers – this article focuses on the latter, using books chosen as gifts.
Before Christmas, my husband Egils browsed our favorite independent bookstore, Jabberwocky in Newburyport, MA, looking for gifts for me. He has no background in children’s books and did not read reviews, yet he chose four interesting picture books. Later I asked what about each attracted him and his responses were in line with the reasons most books are selected for purchase.
Egils chose The Hike by Alison Farrell because the three little protagonists share many of my interests: hiking, observing nature, drawing, etc.
As they traipse through the woods, they experience numerous animals and flora which the book identifies. One keeps a sketchbook, and another teaches her friends how to make leaf baskets in which to collect berries. They wander past Douglas firs and alders, a porcupine, a pileated woodpecker, turkey tail mushrooms, wood sorrel, and many more forest life forms.
A chipmunk appears on every page, for fun. When the kids become lost, they figure out where they need to go, and their sketchbook is replete with information about the surrounding organisms and natural phenomena. The theme, artwork, and fun-loving tone are great, but what caused the purchaser to pick up this book was that it is about kids going on a hike.
Noted author or illustrator
Amanda Gorman, the charming poet who captivated everyone with her poem The Hill We Climb for the 2021 inauguration, was of course familiar to Egils. Change Sings: A Children’s Anthem, written by the poet and illustrated by Loren Long, has a colorful, eye-catching cover with an appealing young girl showing her guitar. The rhythmic text is a sprightly, melodic analogy that encourages action, inclusiveness, and good citizenship. “I sing with all the planet, / And its hills and histories.” says the singer.
“I’m a movement that roars and springs, / There’s a wave where my change sings.” The text is stirring, and its arc is uplifting. With rich color and beautifully painted gestures, the art energizes and uplifts. Perhaps this book would have enticed if written by an unknown. Or would it?
The gold medallion on the cover of What Do You Do With An Idea? attracted my Mr. Claus. The accolade was an Independent Publishing Excellence Award conferred on this book published by Compendium, Inc., a Live-Inspired company. This is a different category of publisher from traditional trade children’s book publishers, but all that mattered to this purchaser was that the book had earned a golden award, an indicator of merit.
The book, written by Kobi Yamada and illustrated by Mae Besom, begins with sepia and white pencil drawings of a child who has an idea, represented as an egg wearing a little crown and having two legs. The child wonders where the idea came from and what to do with it. At first, the child walks away, disowning the idea, yet it follows. Worrying what others will think and say about the idea, the child tries hiding it and going on as before. But the idea grows, and as the child begins to feel more comfortable with it, the artwork gradually becomes more colorful until the idea takes flight and the child realizes that an idea can change the world.
Visual or Literary Appeal
Egils does not remember why The Little Blue Cottage by Kelly Jordan and illustrated by Jessica Courtney-Tickle leaped into his hand, but I think I know. The gentle, innocent style of the artwork throughout this story of a cottage and the girl who loved her appealed to his nature. The pastel waves, the tiny dots of flowers and leaves, and the subtle symmetry of the cottage must have pleased him. One page shows the little girl on a window seat, cuddled with her white dog, gazing out a round window. The text says, ‘Nose to window, the girl gazed at the waves and whispered, “You are my favorite place.”’ The wallpaper is blue and brown like the colors of the house, and there are white birds suspended from the ceiling much like the pelicans and seagulls wafting outside.
The waves curl in a subtle rhythm, the colors are clean, and even the rain is reassuringly delicate. So unlike Egils’ own childhood during wartime when he and his parents fled the Russians invading his homeland, Latvia.
When I unwrapped this book, it reminded me of Virginia Lee Burton’s The Little House, whose pictures and story have similar innocence, drama, and texture. But Egils would not know that book since he grew up in Franco-era Spain.
A final thought
Bookstores often have broad selections of the latest books, yet none of the above choices were published this year. Change Sings bears a 2021 copyright, The Little Blue Cottage appeared in 2020, and The Hike became available in 2019. What Do You Do With An Idea was published way back in 2013. This is a new copy from the book’s 24th printing, and it is a New York Times Best Seller. The publisher continues to promote the book and the demand for it must still be good. This should be reassuring to authors – that your book may be available in bookstores years after it enters the world. That occurs because the publisher, author, and illustrator have been persistent in promoting the book, and the content – both story and pictures – have enduring appeal.
What children’s books have you recently been given?
I also received a few adult books as gifts this Christmas from friends and family. I am fortunate indeed.
Photographs by Egils Zarins