Posted by: Katie B | April 27, 2012

What Makes a Good Children’s Book?

Cypress at the Black Swamp

Cypress at the Black Swamp

As I previously mentioned, Alvina Ling spoke at this year’s VCFA writing retreat.  At the conference, she shared a list of the “Attributes That Make A Good Children’s Book” (in her opinion).  Alvina writes about a lot of these ideas on her own blog, so I don’t believe I’m revealing proprietary information.  It’s such good advice, I can’t help but to share.

  1. Child or child surrogate (animal) is hero / heroine.
  2. Author uses engaging, lively language with distinctive dialogue.
  3. Author is not condescending, cloying, and is careful about using stereotypes.
  4. Characters seem real, complex, and dimensional and show growth.
  5. Author / Artist creates a completely believable and interesting world for its characters to inhabit.
  6. Uses economy of language and coherent structure.
  7. Includes details that appeal to a child’s sensibilities.
  8. Story has clever twists and / or connections that make the reader say, “A-ha!”
  9. Isn’t overly predictable (although for some picture books, predictability can work).
  10. Makes a point without being overly didactic or preachy.
  11. Illustrations (if applicable) expand in some way on the words of the story.
  12. Story / art is compelling and makes you want to turn the page to see what happens.
  13. Has a clear climax, point of tension that is resolved in a satisfying way.
  14. Author takes you on a journey; opens up new world and ideas to the reader.
  15. Story moves and / or entertains you; makes you laugh, cry, and / or think.  This satisfying feeling should linger with the reader after the book is over.
  16. On repeated readings the book offers fresh revelations or details that may not have been caught the first time through.
  17. Story gives enjoyment to the child and the inner child.
  18. Author is not afraid to be daring and takes risks, such as being willing to portray  unlikable characters or fantastical situations, take on controversial subjects, etc.
  19. Author has a clear, fresh, and interesting point of view on his / her subject.
  20. Be particularly careful about following a current trend; ideally should have some lasting value.

Happy Writing!

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