long . lines and ripples

What Makes a Good Kid's Book?

With a son under two, and hundreds of readings under my belt, I feel qualified to sketch some recurring aspects of a quality* childrens’ book:

  1. Avoids moralizing. Those kinds of books are about making the parents feel good. Young children are too strange to have a sense of right and wrong—or at least an enjoyment in pondering those questions.
  2. The right balance of repetition and new material with each page.
  3. Can a child read the pages of this book with anticipation on the first reading? The tenth? The hundredth? “With anticipation” means that they can get excited even if they know what comes next. The story has to be more than “one thing after another”–it has to draw on what came before to create a pattern (see #2)
  4. Is it funny? How is it funny? Most of the predictably funny lines in a kids’ book are for parents. A young child (under two) will more often laugh at what is strange than outright comical: a face with an unusual expression, bright colors, an element that hides (or appears to hide).
  5. Pacing. The act of turning the page can itself be exciting for a young child. A long time spent reading the text on a page can be OK if it draws your child’s attention to a developing action, but the default should be that less is more.
  6. Visual complexity. A scene with a lot going on can confuse a child about where she should pay attention. We have had the most fun with a strong contrast between background and foreground, and with only a few striking characters in the foreground at a time.