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Diversity in the French Picture Book


One can attest without risk of being contradicted that the picture book is doing exceptionally well today in France. It has never before been so present at the bookshop, young authors continue to surface, and there are those who demonstrate an accomplished talent from their very first picture book.


In the same way, new publishers have been establishing themselves rapidly with solid and coherent catalogs. The production serves as evidence of a vast diversity, allowing for an ample offer, in the midst of which remarkable innovative works stand out every year.


There could be a risk of scattering, as production is undoubtedly flourishing. Surely the plethoric dimension of production (no organization provides the inventory of the picture book form itself, but we can estimate this segment to be at around 3000 new titles annually) hinders the work of bookshops as well as libraries and brings about a relative confusion for novice buyers, young parents in particular. Indeed, many fall back on books of honorable quality without being remarkable, to the detriment of quality picture books, and one can fear a stifling of this more demanding production under the mass of what I tend to call "the average picture book".


These notions of abundance and stifling lead one to consider the field of the picture book as an ecosystem in constant evolution. Evidently the current period is one of diversification, even of hybridization, and the last ten years have prepared these changes.


Trained in schools of very different approaches – some of which being specialized in illustration, others being of a broader nature – and having arrived late in life to the form of the picture book whereas they were first involved in very diverse sectors of creation, those whom we continue to name illustrators correspond today to very different profiles. Whereas, for a long time, picture books were essentially due to first rate talents of drawers, or to artists, nowadays graphic designers, architects, movie animators - and even scientists! - are interested in the picture book; and the creations feel the effects.


New sorts of picture books are starting to assert themselves, numerous styles, even contradictory ones, are developing, for example in the crossing between fiction and non-fiction, or between narration and activities. To say that nowadays white, like black, or color, are large contemporary trends could amount to saying that everything exists and that everything is a trend. Yet, each of these trends is effectively embodied. This is very emblematic of the period. In this way, the graphic and material choices of certain publishers have participated in the return of white space whereas, since the discovery of DTP in the 1990s, page layouts associating text and images saturated the double page of the picture book. These materials or white backgrounds are very often chosen by creators who, either by a free-spirited use of the computer, or on the contrary by a return to the craftsman's work on color, discover how well white subtlety highlights this delicate chromatic work.


The contemporary French picture book thus seems to want to push all possibilities to the extreme. For this reason, the book itself is affected by these processes; they generalize more and more the possibility of playing with materials and systems at the very heart of the picture book, where the reader is no longer surprised to see standing out while turning the page: a pop-up, a stamp, a cut-out or a selective varnish.


This profusion mustn't frighten. It puts a diversified offer to the disposal of readers. Let's not forget that children are of all ages, all conditions and all sensibilities. In no case may they be reduced to a homogeneous category. The authors and publishers who favor a literature of offer and who are supported by a vast network of bookshops, librarians, teachers, group leaders or volunteers know this, and thus allow for children to build themselves and to blossom with books that correspond to them.



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