Monday, February 3, 2014

What Makes A Children’s Picture Book Good?

We had a two-year-old visitor over this weekend. She was as cute as a button.

I got out some of my kids’ old children’s books for her – and they brought back memories.

When my kids were small, we used to visit the library regularly and come back home with armloads of books, just whatever caught my kids’ or my fancy. Reading them to my kids through the week, I’d find that a percentage of them – a small percentage – would just really fascinate my kids. We’d end up reading these particular books over and over, and then I’d order our own copies from Amazon when it was time for the library books to go back.

I started giving copies of these books as birthday presents to my kids’ little friends. To this day, those parents and those kids, now teenagers, tell me how much they loved these books.

What are some of them? Sweet Dream Pie by Audrey Wood, illustrated by Mark Teague. (We liked many things that Audrey Wood and Mark Teague did.) The Seven Silly Eaters by Mary Ann Hoberman, illustrated by Marla Frazee. My Life with the Wave by Catherine Cowan, illustrated by Mark Buehner. Harvey Potter’s Balloon Farm, also illustrated by Mark Buehner, story by Jerdine Nolen. My Little Sister Ate One Hare by Bill Grossman, illustrated by Kevin Hawkes.

Looking at these books now, I am struck by their detailed plots, fully realized characters, strong elements of fantasy and magic, sophisticated humor, and illustrations that are both beautiful and full of details to pore over. Also, not a single one of them tries to drill children on their letters, numbers or vocabulary, nor do they present heavy-handed moral lessons.

They are appealing but in no way dumbed down. And little kids are drawn to them. Cool.

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