Photo by Lisa Jay

Photo by Lisa Jay

Did you know it’s children’s book week?  I’ve always loved children’s books, but I’ve recently joined a children’s writer’s group so I’m particularly engrossed in them at the moment.  Part of the reason I’m so passionate about kid’s books is that young children read their books over and over and over again.  So what they read can have a profound influence on them.  And because it’s something you do together, (at least with young kids) it should also be enjoyable for the parent as well.  So I thought I’d  share some of my ideas about what makes a good children’s book and conversely what doesn’t.

Things that really turn me off a children’s book

–       Any book that’s too gimmicky always sets off warning bells in my head.  There’s a place for pop-ups and shiny things, and books that change colour, and they can help get kids interested in reading, but those books are often very light on content.

–       Any book that doesn’t have an author’s name on the front cover sends me into cold shivers.  They’re usually mass-produced, written by some 22 year old in-house copywriter for a publishing house, and the standard of writing can be really appalling.

–       Books that are connected to a TV series can also be hit and miss.  Some of the better ones are Maisy, Spot and Charlie and Lola while some of the Banana’s in Pajamas and The Wiggles books are very average, but they’re such strong brands they could publish anything and it would sell.

Things I look for in a great children’s book

–       Good stories equip children to deal with real life.  So the characters should learn something, or achieve something or find solutions to their problems. I really hate books where things just work out by accident, because that tells kids that they’re powerless to deal with the situations they face.

–       But books are also an opportunity to learn about things you have no experience of.  Often the best books take children to another place (whether it be the moon, the African jungle or an Aboriginal community), or teach them to walk inside another person’s shoes.

–       Children love stories with a sense of adventure – nearly all the children’s books that have endured over the generations have an adventurous spirit.

–       I look for vocabulary that extends the child, including words they can’t say yet.

–       The pictures and words should work together, and build on each other, but not be the same.

–       If they’re starting to read to themselves, then repetition is good for building confidence.

–       Also don’t forget the vast majority of our kid’s books come from overseas so support Australian authors by buying books that originate in Australia and reflect our culture.

What is your all-time favourite chlildren’s book?  Which one drives you mad?  What do you look for in a book when you’re choosing it for your child?  Who’s your favourite children’s author or illustrator and why?

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