Like Tim, I grew up reading a lot of books. However, I just don’t recall the quality and quantity of books that are available for my pre-school age children. Nearly 40 years ago I remember reading a lot of Dr. Seuss but apart from that there wasn’t a lot of literature that I would now make an effort to read to my own children.
Being a children’s author must be a tough job because there seem to be hundreds that are really good. Standing out is from the crowd is difficult indeed and competition is intense.
My favorite author is an Australian by the name of Graeme Base. The signature of his books are the exquisite and detailed drawings but his books have evolved to become much more than the artwork. His first really successful book, ‘Animalia’, was published in 1986 and has sold more than a million copies worldwide. It’s an ABC picture book like many others but the illustrations took more than three years to complete. That might sound very slow, but take a look at one of the pictures and you will start to understand why.
The next book that I bought for the kids was ‘The Waterhole’. It’s a combination of counting, hidden animals and a conservation tale all in one and again, some of the illustrations are breathtaking in their complexity and creativity. Like Animalia, The Waterhole pushed the dimensions of what was possible in a children’s book.
Not everything that Graeme Base does is successful. One book called the “Discovery of Dragons” pushed the edge, but doesn’t quite work. Again, the illustrations are spectacular but the story line has a level of humor that is hard for children to get and it’s told in a series of letters, which is also difficult. Personally, I love the book, but I can’t imagine that it sold very many copies. But this is the thing with Base… I don’t think he sets out to be a commercial success. It’s just not in his mindset and this is what allows him to create books that will given to children in 40 years and beyond. In fact, on his website, Graeme talks about being fired from an advertising agency after management told him that he was ruining the business.
His latest book, The Legend of the Golden Snail was released in October. It’s a morality tale but it also has a very elegant visual puzzle that includes a website. Graeme also has put Animalia into an iPhone ap. I’m pretty sure that that he is starting to think about books beyond ink and pages.
What makes him successful is that he has found something that he is passionate about- not what market research tells him to do. If we really enjoy what we do then pushing the edge becomes part of a journey. Not everything works and some things fail but if we keep learning, there is always the chance that the next work of genius will be just around the corner.
PS- If you are struggling to find a gift for school-age children (4-10) who enjoy reading, give Legend of the Golden Snail a try.