A good story knows no age boundaries. In fact, one way I can tell if a children’s book is good or not is whether adults enjoy it. If I read a children’s book and I don’t really like it, I go on to the next one. I’m thinking that if I don’t like it, neither will the child I’m giving it to.
A good book will be remembered.
To quote C. S. Lewis, “I am almost inclined to set it up as a canon that a children’s story which is enjoyed only by children is a bad children’s story. The good ones last. A waltz which you can like only when you are waltzing is a bad waltz (“Three Ways of Writing for Children”).
A handful of my favorites:
I would be hard pressed to name a favorite book. Or author.
I love anything Avi writes, Madeleine L’Engle’s Wrinkle in Time series, Ursula LeGuin’s Earthsea Trilogy, Ransom Riggs’ Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, E. L. Konigsburg’s books, Muriel Barbery’s The Elegance of the Hedgehog, and the list goes on and on.
A good book will generally grab your attention from the beginning.
The book must grab my attention with the first few pages, preferably the first page, paragraph, sentence. Consider these opening lines:
- “Claudia knew that she could never pull off the old-fashioned kind of running away.” From the Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E. L. Konigsburg.
- "I had just come to accept that my life would be ordinary when extraordinary things began to happen.” Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs.
- “The Island of Gont, a single mountain that lifts its peak a mile above the storm-racked Northeast Sea, is a land famous for wizards. . . .Of these some say the greatest, and surely the greatest voyager, was the man called Sparrowhawk, who in his day became both dragonlord and Archmage.” A Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula K. LeGuin.
- “It was a dark and stormy night. In her attic bedroom Margaret Murry . . . watched the trees tossing in the frenzied lashing of the wind.” A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L”Engle.
- “’Marx has completely changed the way I view the world,’ declared the Pallières boy this morning, although ordinarily he says nary a word to me. . . .And that is when I very nearly—foolishly—gave myself away.” The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery.
- "A thin crescent moon, high in the sky, shed faint wite light over Dimwood forest." Poppy by Avi. Illustrated by Brian Floca.
The book should make me care what happens to the characters. That means the writer must make the characters real. They must be real to the writer before they will be real to the reader. Generally, the characters grow in maturity as they learn about life from the adventures they have.
A good book has a good plot.
These characters that I care about should be in a predicament of some sort. This problem will create a tension that I will feel as I read about their plans to solve the problem. This is the plot.
In L’Engle’s book, for example, where is Father? Why would he leave without getting in touch with his family? Then later, when the children go on their adventure to find him, tension is created by their seemingly impossible odds at locating him and bringing him home. When I finished this book, I felt a sense of satisfaction. Once again, good overcame evil, as it should in a children’s book.
Tags: #good children's book; #C.S.Lewis, #Avi, @Madeline LeEngle, #Ursula LeGuin, #Muriel Barbery, #Ransom Riggs, # E.L. Konigsburg