My husband and I were just talking the other day about children’s books and what makes a good book. Is it just the story or are the illustrations important as well? And just how do children’s books become well known and loved? There is probably much debate about what makes a book “good”, but there are a few essentials that have to be there in order for the book to live on past its first few weeks of publication.
First of all, the story has to appeal to the audience, namely, the children. I can tell you from hours of reading to oodles of children during storytime at the library, if the story doesn’t have something to catch them right away, I might as well just throw the book over my shoulder and move on because there will be no eyes focused on the book at all. Reading an article by Todd Leopold on the CNN website this week, the author seems to think that all of the best stories are about home, being away from home and getting back to the home, but this really is just a gross generalization and certainly not all of the great books out there share that theme. Often, children’s books really just have a lesson to learn, such as being afraid, or being grumpy. Regardless, the story is one of the main elements that will keep a child listening (or reading) and if the story is strong, then the readers will be there.
What about the pictures? More and more, I notice that illustrations in children’s books are becoming creative and bright and engaging. We all have classic books that were read to us as children that probably didn’t include such intriguing artwork, but these days, children are sophisticated and they respond to the bright and creative artwork that you see so often in books, such as Scaredy Squirrel and Grumpy Bird.
The pictures go a long way to telling more about the story than text ever could and are used to push the story along.
Leopold has an interesting idea in his article that might go toward the explanation of a book having longevity. He believes that books that we have enjoyed as children will be become the books that we will introduce to our own children, and thus, a book lasts for generations. This is correct in many ways, thinking about all of the children’s literary classics such as Where the Wild Things Are, any Dr. Seuss and so on. But what about books that we loved that are not in libraries anymore? My husband talked about the Golden Books that he read as a child, for instance, and yet our library doesn’t purchase those books anymore as they seem outdated and old-fashioned. We’d rather spend our money on books that are really well bound and full of great characters and illustrations. So what happens to these books? I guess they will eventually disappear from our story “radar” and may be lost from one generation to the next.
Does that mean most books are going to be forgotten once they have disappeared from the source of our books (libraries, bookstores, our own bookshelves)? Maybe so, aside from a few lucky ones that might linger. As long as authors keep writing great stories, I’m fine with a turn-around. I’d much rather have something fresh to talk about with children, anyway. We’ll have a new generation of books to pass along and the really, really good ones will continue to be read for years to come. Children’s books are not always read like adult books….we don’t follow an author, anticipating his or her next book. Maybe that should be incentive for authors of children’s books (primarily picture books) to write better stories.
If you write great books, we will read them.