The Original French Version HERE - The English version has been translated by Jon-Michael McLean
Conceived to be read in close interaction with children who do not yet know how to read, picture books have largely evolved since their origins and have progressively addressed themselves to readers of a higher age. Yet it remains rare to offer a picture book to children over the age of seven.
« You’re over the age now », « That’s for little kids », « But you know how to read now, put down that picture book »... All booksellers, all librarians, authors and publishers at fairs as well, have heard these phrases many times over. For parents, first and foremost, the matter is understood : « picture books are for those who don’t know how to read yet ». And since a good reader is, according to a tenacious biais, firstly one who reads long texts, well, everything encourages children to abandon picture books the more they grow up.
However, picture books are literary and artistic means of expression that nothing can prevent from being addressed to an audience older than the one to which they are usually assigned. Think of comic books, whose origins, anchored to a young audience, held fast for a long time to these readers, until the shift that occurred in the seventies. Yet, nowadays, the production of comic books is addressed for the most part to an adult audience. An academic, analytical and also media apparatus of legitimization continues to develop the recognition of comic books as being literary and artistic works in a category of their own (the celebrated 9th art).
Why is this not so for picture books ? It’s not the fault of authors or publishers who have worked in this sense. Since the 1970s, in France, small publishers have displayed their will to offer universal picture books, by taking up topics for all audiences, by working with innovative illustrators, or by requesting texts from authors generally recognised in literature, such as Eugène Ionesco or Marguerite Duras. Since the turn of the millenium, several publishers have marked in their catalogues picture books « from 11 years » or for « junior high school years ». Today some of them have renounced in face of the commercial failure involved with such initiatives as well as before the difficulty, expressed by librarians, of giving life to such picture books at the library. But others pursue this objective. And the offer of an attractive production for a teenage or adult audience definitely exists.
The idea is paving its path, albeit an arduous one. Here and there, librarians find original ideas for promoting picture books to this audience, in certain areas literary prizes focus on picture books for adolescent readers, motivated teachers have their students discover all the wealth and complexity of this production. Isolated initiatives, but widely elaborated by those who take them up. All the more so as the satisfaction of the beneficiaries strongly encourages the pursuit of such projects : rekindling the reading of images, discovering the nuances of images as text and understanding the complex mechanisms of picture books are pleasures largely welcomed by youth.