Books are an unlimited investment in the human mind and spirit. They can promote understanding, provide context, and facilitate conversation. One of our first views of the world comes in the form of a book and many of our values, morals, and expectations develop within those important pages.
Selecting good books is more important than ever because there is so much competition for the quality time you spend with your children. Every minute spent reading a mediocre book is time taken away from reading a good one. So, how does one know what makes a good children’s book? What makes a book stand out among the infinite choices?
Books should provide motivation and challenge the reader as age appropriate. A good book will often have literary merits and represent a range of styles and literary structures. It will broaden students understanding of cultural diversity and knowledge of historical facts. A good book will help the reader develop sensitivity of different views and elicit personal critical responses. Books should be bridges to other activities that expand on what the young reader heard, observed, questioned, or thought about during the story. The child should not want to put the book down.
What Makes a Book “Good”?
I want to first point out that most often, in the children’s book genre, it is the combined effort of illustration and text being woven together in perfect harmony to become truly high quality. With that said, there are several definitions for what constitutes a “good” book, but the bottom line is we must find books that children want to read—style, plot, characters, language, illustrations, etc. The story must fascinate children with various conflicts to explore. Does the story provoke critical thinking and is there a lesson to learn? Does the story encourage discussions and promote understanding of society?
Good books also let children see the inside of how one comes to know. To simply present a fact without helping a child see how we came to know the fact doesn’t promote good learning. These books can make wonderful memories for children and deliver information about daily life, about children’s interests and curiosities, and about the world.
A child’s ability to make meaning during reading enhances when the child engages actively in thinking about what he or she reads. Therefore, select books that encourage active participation—ones that are on topics of high interest or that answer questions your child has asked, Quality is determined by both the illustrations and words in a book and both have equal importance. The following information breaks down the elements of the book and describes some of the ways in which quality is assessed.
Illustrations are key in helping to establish the setting and help children learn about the world and how it relates to the story they are reading. The setting should be authentic and clearly depicted, in a familiar environment kids can identify with.
A properly illustrated book can be powerful enough to lead and develop the plot, creating depth and adding a more realistic feel to it. A good book will have clearly defined objectives and goals and show the plot develop as the characters overcome obstacles. For instance, the plot development in If You Give a Pig a Pancake by Laura Joffe Numeroff, relies heavily on a time series and cause and effect. And Where the Wild Things Are, by Maurice Sendak shows the discovery of the plot with the main character being confused and misunderstood. It’s then a journey of discovery.
Again, the artist has the ability to create illustrations that make the story come to life, adding depth to the characters that otherwise would not have been there with words only. A good book will show the characters consistently growing and changing throughout the book. You want believable characters that are not picture perfect, but rather simple and imperfect. Or amazing characters that are complex but still realistic—such as Harry Potter, who does bad things on occasion but always shows remorse.
Illustrations are essential in children’s books and are the key reason ther readers interest is held longer. A good artist will produce bold pictures that captures the attention of the reader and helps to tell a story and teach concept. The illustrations will help children develop appreciation and awareness—as they strengthen and support the written text. Illustrations also help establish mood, adding depth and realism to the story through the use of imagery that will make all five senses come alive. And in my experience with young children, if it isn’t well illustrated they lose interest fast.
A good book will demonstrate a balance of power among the characters and identify who is central and who are the supporting characters. Make sure any historical piece consistently and accurately reflects that period of time.
Theme and Story line
A good book has a central theme that holds the story together and engages the reader. The topic should be something children enjoy and can relate to—and should have a beginning, middle and end. The theme should grow out of the story so it feels like a learning process to the reader. The theme should never be to “preachy” and the author has a choice whether or not to include the moral. .
Ask yourself the question, was this a good story and was it well told? If you can answer yes to both of those, it is likely to engage children. The bottom line is that children’s books have a huge role in a child’s development—visually, with language development, and even auditory stimulation. The strongest children’s stories contain engaging plots, a well developed theme, awesome characters, and an authentic setting. There are many resources you can use to make informed decisions on quality children’s books. You can ask your child’s teacher for suggestions, go to the public library, visit a book seller, or read the recommended book list.
- Exceptional children’s books will be engaging and captivating.
- Exceptional children’s books teach but are still enjoyed by the reader and listener.
- Exceptional children’s books balance the pace of the story.
- Exceptional children’s books balance the amount of illustrations and text.
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