Quackenstein: Sudipta’s guest post

By Sudipta Bardhan-Quallen:

Recently, the New York Times declared that picture books are essentially dead.

Really? Take a look at this:

Does that look dead to you?

As a primarily-picture-book-author like me, the idea that picture books are done for is a terrifying prospect. But rather than cringe on a corner of my bed and cry (before starting work on the novel I’ve always intended to write), I’ve been wondering if the problem is not so much that parents don’t want picture books anymore for their kids, but perhaps that parents don’t know how awesome the newest generation of picture books truly are. (For proof, please watch my trailer above again!)

The competitive nature of the picture book market really has led to an overall increase in quality. Today’s picture books are leaner (by which I mean shorter), meaner (by which I mean cooler), better books than their twenty-year old counterparts. As author and illustrators, how do we get that word out to buyers?

Increasingly, the answer has got to be to use high-tech tools to heighten interest in our low-tech products (books).

Most authors have websites, ranging from the basic to the byzantine. Many authors have blogs (or at least mean to). But for my most recent picture book, QUACKENSTEIN HATCHES A FAMILY, I went a little bit further: I had a book trailer made.

Book trailers are a relatively new thing in children’s publishing, and it might seem counter-intuitive to take reading and turn it into an essentially TV experience. But in a sound bite world, sometimes all a book needs is a little leg up.

I teamed up with the very talented folks at Curious City to put this trailer together. And by teamed up I mean I let them handle it. Because (1) I am an author so images terrify me and (2) I’m getting old so technology is starting to stymie me. Kirsten Cappy is a joy to work with (I’ve worked with her before and keep going back for more!) and she came up with the idea that the book trailer should give us an opportunity to market the book with a slightly different focus than most booksellers might initially take. QUACKENSTEIN HATCHES A FAMILY is a bit of a take on the classic Frankenstein story, so there are obvious Halloween hooks. But its also a story of two different characters (in this case, a duck and a platypus) finding a way to be a family. Cross-species adoption, if you will. And do know who else is very pro-cross-species-adoption? Suriya and Roscoe? Owen and Mzee?

Well, yes, but the answer I was looking for is: zoos.

Zookeepers have a long history of caring for newborn animals whose parents cannot or do not raise the babies. Most zoos offer programs where patrons can “adopt” animals and help take care of them through donations.

Could Quackenstein and Platypus become the new mascots for cross-species adoption? I’m not sure — but the movie can’t hurt.

Of course, concept isn’t enough — the final product has to live up to the promise. I was able to enlist the help of QUACKENSTEIN‘s illustrator, Brian T. Jones, who provided us with high-res and text-free images to use. And then we were lucky enough to get the marvelous William Dufris (otherwise known as the original North American voice of Bob the Builder) to do all the voice work and narration. His rendition of duck heavy breathing alone should win him an Oscar.

Now, the process wasn’t cheap. Since I couldn’t do really any of this by myself (as, perhaps, an animation-savvy illustrator might be able to), every bit had to be contracted out. And as exciting as book trailers are, they are really too new for publishers to jump on board to cover costs. So I made a pretty significant investment to get the trailer together. Now I have to see if it pans out.

What do you think? Is this move selling out, or market savvy?

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