We all can recall a favorite book we had as kids or one our own kids want to hear over and over. And over. Thousands of children’s books are published each year. These stories, which set the stage for a lifetime of reading, are often very simple.
But publishers say that doesn’t mean they’re easy to write. “A good picture book tells a compelling story in thirty-two pages,” said Margaret Anastas, an editor at Harper Collins Kids, “which is very difficult to do.”
It’s a competitive industry for sure—and a genre that many think is a “no brainer” because of the low word count. But not so. Beloved children’s books offer a subtly complex blend of several traits that captivate a child and introduce him or her to a love of reading.
What exactly makes a good children’s book?
So what’s the difference between a mediocre children’s book and a great one? As a bestselling children’s book author, here are the three criteria for a good children’s book.
1. Strong characters who evoke strong emotion
Good children’s books, no matter how simple or complex, offer a sense of joy. They can make us laugh or cry by giving us a character we want to care about.
Think Curious George, The Velveteen Rabbit, The Berenstein Bears, Winnie the Pooh or even Fancy Nancy.
Even if a kid’s book doesn’t have that central character, the language itself needs to connect on an emotional level like Dr. Seuss’s fanciful texts.
2. A Story that Teaches
Good stories can teach simple concepts about numbers, letters or colors — OR they can teach about diversity, love, manners, and acceptance.
3. Mind-expanding illustrations, vocabulary or concepts
Great children’s book can tell just as much story through the artwork and offer an author the opportunity to expand young minds through interesting poetic language, fun alliteration, advanced vocabulary, etc.
I am totally smitten with the work of Laura Vaccaro Seeger, a brilliant author when it comes to what the industry calls “concept books.”
Do you ever imagine yourself writing for kids? For your practice today, pretend you have just been hired to write a children’s picture book. Write a couple stanzas for this book. It could be an eight-line, Seuss-like poem or the beginning of something like The Giving Tree (“Once there was a tree and she loved a little boy”).
When you’re finished, post your practice in the comments section. And if you post, be sure to leave feedback on a few practices by other writers.
Have fun with this one!