What Makes a Good Children’s Book?

Children are complicated. They want to read, but what interests them can vary significantly. If you are a teacher, finding a children’s book that appeals to both boys and girls can be a significant challenge, so finding a children’s book can be even more so, especially since you are not reading for yourself.

A good children’s book has enough familiarity and simplicity to allow children to understand everything, while also learning new things and get their minds working. A children’s book does not mean a coloring book or one with names next to images of things of that name.

Children are way smarter than that. We have to give them more credit and allow them to be exposed to things they don’t understand.

However, there are ways to get about this. You can’t just give a child (or even an adult), any piece of new information willy nilly. You have to control how it is distributed, and slowly sprinkle in the details to keep your children’s book both easy to read and teach children something new.

 

How Can One Recognize a Good Children’s Book?

We all can recall a favorite book we had as a child, or stories we simply don’t get bored of hearing, with or without the nostalgia goggles on. However, that was then. Children now can be very different, so they may not exactly prefer what you liked in children’s books back then.

 

Things to Look for in a Good Children’s Book

Some children’s book authors say that a good story told in 32 pages is enough to write a good children’s book, while also attesting to the fact that the feat can be extremely challenging and difficult to pull off.

Of course, we at Ghost Writing Heaven are always willing to push the boundaries of what we consider as a challenge, and so we took that challenge and searched for some children’s book authors who gave us a few insights into what makes a good children’s book.

Here are some of those things truncated in a concise fashion to be more accessible and simplified.

 

Take a Gander at the Setting

The setting is one of the first and most important detail to look at, because that is what makes the world. If a child is to be immersed in a world, they need to be able to understand it, and the best way to do it is to take the familiar and sprinkle the unfamiliar within it. Almost every good children’s book has these contrasts.

Take, for example, Narnia and Harry Potter. In The Chronicles of Narnia, the four children all escape a world war, and go into a wardrobe that transports them to a different world. In Harry Potter, the magical world and the non-magical world both exist as well.

The main protagonists of those stories being from the ‘normal’ non-magical world also allows the readers to learn as the protagonist learns, all the while being able to compare things to each other. That is why stories, such as Frank Herbert’s Dune, cannot be regarded in a more kid-friendly manner. It is not because they contain heavy political themes and such, but that its setting is lacking the familiarity we normally would have in a children’s book.

 

What Does the Character Development Say?

During any good story, the central characters start off in one place character wise, and go through some sort of hero’s journey. Their progress is most often defined by a character arc, where they reach a low point in the middle or the end of the second act, and they overcome their antagonist by the third act.

This is a general way to portray characters in a story, and children’s book do prefer simplicity. However, the more important factor to look into is character development as a whole.

See if the character development is consistent with the themes of the story. Is it believable?

Do the characters change and grow over the course of the story, or do they remain stagnant? A protagonist that starts off good and does not at least get their morals and actions questioned is not exactly a compelling hero.

Are their struggles communicated? Edmund’s story in The Chronicles of Narnia fits this story perfectly. While most children will very much prefer Peter or Lucy as their favorites, Edmund actually starts off as selfish, treacherous, bad-tempered, and willing to go into places with a morally grey outlook. However, his personality develops throughout the story as he has a bad experience with the White Witch, and grows as a result. In fact, Edmund can be regarded as someone who undergoes the hero’s journey far more than any other of the Pevensie siblings in the children’s book.

This type of character development elevates any children’s book to be suitable for children and adults as well. Of course, lower age groups might not always prefer such stories, but the general audience for these books can range from 10 years old to any other age after that.

 

Is the Plot (and Story) Plausible?

A plot is not the story. Yes, these are two very different things. A plot is merely the events that happen, and the story contains all the character developments, themes, and everything else that is in between the lines.

However, children’s books still need a good, plausible plot. There needs to be a clear-cut goal, tension, plot-driven obstacles, and a clear theme that underlines it all as a bonus. 

Exemplifying Narnia once again, the plot takes the world of Narnia into a battle between the White Witch and Aslan’s forces, which breaks the witch’s hold and brings spring to the magical world. That is the plot.

The story, however, adds meaning to the plot. Spring represents new life, a chance for a new beginning. Edmund’s character reflects that, because he lets go of the things that held him back and becomes a better person, thus breathing ‘new life’ into his own character.

These nuances might not be apparent in a children’s book, but can subconsciously affect the reader for the better. That is why so many of our favorite novels still hold up today, because their themes and stories are relevant regardless of age; just told through a child’s perspective.

 

Are the Themes Consistent and Understandable?

Of course, if the plot and story are consistent, the themes have to be as well. That is why the central themes of family, good vs. evil, and transformation hold up so well in Narnia. Those stories use the plot as a way to communicate the themes in an interesting way.

Adults are more driven to nuanced themes, but children’s books are better suited towards more simple ones, especially ones where the good vs. evil aspect is clear. A villain that is in a greyer area may be far more difficult to understand that a villian’s sidekick in that same position, so that themes of moral gray areas are communicated with more subtlety and moderation.

 

Does the Vocabulary Respect the Reader?

As mentioned before, we should not underestimate children. They are way smarter than we realize. That is why having vocabulary that both considers and respects the reader is important, even in a children’s book.

Of course, children’s books have to use very few—or very simple words, or even a combination of both. Children love the predictable, the rhythmic flow, and are only drawn to complexity later on as they grow.

That does not mean one should not introduce them to such. The language should be simple, but not too simple. Easy to understand, but not something that the reader does not have to read through in its entirety. Sometimes, a more complex language fits a character, or setting, so using that as a way to help children understand the meaning of etiquette by respecting differences can be a combination of a great children’s book and a great lesson in diplomacy early on!

 

Conclusion – More than the Sum of its Parts

A good children’s book is always going to go beyond the simplicity it shows to have, like any piece of art. On the surface, it has to work, and beyond that, digging deeper, it works as well.

The sense of wonder draws the reader in, which is not something exclusive to a children’s book, either. The child should be respected, but so should their cleverness and willingness to learn. A child cannot learn new things if never shown them, regardless of age.

Adding illustrations, different artistic designs, and bright cover art are all well and good, but the core content of the children’s books has to reflect and respect them as well.

Always keep in mind, children are attracted towards color and the more appealing your book is, the more interesting it will become in terms of quality, quantity, and internal content.

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