Thursday, June 24, 2010
Nonfiction Picture Books- Word Count Obsession
I have a confession to make. I am a word count junkie. I have compiled my own booklet, listing titles I have read with their respective word counts and reading levels. The importance of word count has been beaten into me by conference speakers, submission guidelines, critiques, and myriad books on craft. Picture books should never exceed 1000 words, they all agree. The shorter the better.
Picture book writers understand the logic behind such advice. The standard picture book fits neatly into 32 pages. A template of sorts. Why 32 pages? It's a simple matter of efficiency. Imagine a great big piece of paper folded and cut evenly into four or eight equally sized pieces - pages. Adding more pages increases the publisher's cost, both in terms of paper, ink, illustration, and binding.
Add to that the limited attention span of young children and the standard indeed sounds logical, right? Ah, but there are exceptions. Especially with nonfiction. The specialty genre of children's nonfiction opens new considerations for publishers and authors, including curriculum tie-ins, school library markets, and historical accuracy, etc. So, the rules tend to change. A lot.
Frida, by Jonah Winter (Arthur Levine/Scholastic, 2002) 447 words, 32 pages.
About world-renowned painter, Frida Kahlo
Galileo, Starry Messenger, by Peter Sis (F,S&G, 2000) 570 words, 40 pages.
Lightship, by Brian Floca (Sibert honor book) (Atheneum, 2007) 48 pages, 48 pages.
introduces young readers to the nautical floating lighthouses that once were used.
Ballet of the Elephants, by Leda Schubert (Roaring Brook, 2006) 886 words, 34 pages.
offers the inspiration behind the famous 1946 circus act of dancing elephants
Elizabeth Leads the Way: Elizabeth Cady Stanton and the Right to Vote, by Tanya Lee Stone (Square Fish, 2010) 857 words, 32 pages.
George Crum and the Saratoga Chip, by Gaylia Taylor (Lee & Low, 2006) 1542 words, 32 pages. Of course kids want to know how the potato chip was invented
Eleanor, Quiet No More, by Doreen Rappaport (Hyperion, 2009) 1597 words, 48 pages.
Tightly focused story of Eleanor Roosevelt
Handel, Who Knew What He Liked, by M.T. Anderson (Candlewick, 2004) 2742 words, 48 pages.
The Boy Who Invented TV, by Kathleen Krull (Knopf, 2009) 2742 words, 40 pages.
Walt Whitman: Words for America, by Barbara Kerley (Scholastic, 2004) 2764 words, 56 pages.
A voice of Her Own: The Story of Phillis Wheatley, Slave Poet, by Kathryn Lasky (Candlewick, 2005) 3628 words, 40 pages.
We are the Ship, by Kadir Nelson (2009 Sibert medal) 16,560 words, 96 pages.
So we writers of nonfiction picture books need to lighten up when it comes to word counts and pagination. Let's just write our tightly focused stories the way our muse dictates, and let an interested editor worry about the hard-knocks.
If you're interested in checking word count or reading levels of particular titles, jump over to Renaissance Learning, input your title, then voila!