Tuesday, October 03, 2006

What makes a children's book great?

Last month, I went to an event at the Society of Authors with this exact title, “What makes a children’s book great?” On the panel were: Julia Eccleshare the children’s book editor for the Guardian, Gwynneth Bailey a teacher, writer for the TES and reviewer for 'Books for Keeps' and Tony Bradman, editor, journalist and book reviewer.

They identified some of their favourite books and discussed why they thought they were brilliant children’s books. I will list each of their recommendations another day with an outline of why they choose the particular books they did, but for now I will summarise the general conclusions.

Julia said, “A good story is the battle between good and evil. It has to have characters you can like and introduce a new place. It should leave the child with a feeling of hope.”

Tony emphasised, “It is the narrative drive and not the story that makes a great book. You need great characters, atmosphere and emotional intelligence. He clarified, “Narrative drive is the way the story is told rather than the actual narrative. It is very easy to analyse this is character, this is plot, but it is the whole package.”

Gwynneth said a great book is one that plunges characters into terrible situations and draws you in to find out how they deal with them. She explained the point of view makes it an adult or a children’s book but, added that it works well to put in something to keep the adult amused, especially if it meant to be a book to be read aloud at bedtime, or in the classroom. Adults can see the bigger picture.

Tony did point out at this point, you must, as a writer, keep your eye firmly on the kids. Publishing is led by fashion and there will always be a tension between what adults want for them and what children get from them.

What was evident from the evening was, if you want to keep ahead of the game, you must analyse what is currently selling. A fellow writer included on her blog a list of top selling books. She said, “Being aware of what sells is crucial for a writer, especially if you want to make a living out of it.”
http://judes-writing.blogspot.com/2006/05/lists.html

I believe she is absolutely right.

To help you with your own research, I decided to create a small directory of sites that lists best-selling children’s books:

www.angusrobertson.com.au/Products/KidsTop50_2006.asp

www.amazon.co.uk/exec/obidos/tg/stores/static/-/books/amazon-bestsellers/026-3837167-7435604

http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/talking_point/1979418.stm

www.carnegiegreenaway.org.uk/index.html

http://www.carnegiegreenaway.org.uk/shortlst/sht_carn.html

www.nytimes.com/pages/books/bestseller

www.ottakars.co.uk/Internet/home/welcome.jsp

www.redhousechildrensbookaward.co.uk/readsoftheyear.htm

www.thebookseller.com/?pid=7

http://www.carouselguide.co.uk/


Here is also a quick list of websites that review children’s books and might help you work out for yourself what makes a children’s book great.

http://www.wordpool.co.uk/ Includes a very useful list for reluctant readers.

http://bookcarousel.blogspot.com/ Specialises in picture books

http://www.timesonline.co.uk/section/0,,23119,00.html

http://books.guardian.co.uk/childrenslibrary/0,,148043,00.html Identified by age and includes classics of the month

http://booksforkeeps.co.uk/

If you know of any others please let me know.

Before I go, I thought I would let you know what I think makes a children book great.

I think a great children’s book is one which views life through the eyes of the child so the characters come to life as real people. It doesn’t matter what genre it is, what point of view it is in, or what age it is aimed at, if the characters are believable and you can really live their experiences as you read each page, you’ve written a great book.

3 comments:

Atyllah said...

Where I wonder, does that leave the sage advice of writing the story that simply flows from you, the one that you must write - the one that defies market trends, for market trends are fickle and what is today's bestseller is tomorrow's tired old, same old story.
It's a tough path to navigate - but I do think gripping plot, strong characters and active narration and dialogue go a long way to making a children's book a success.

Mindy T. said...

Wow! Thanks for a really informative post. I've just started blogging the children's fantasy novel I co-wrote and hope it's "great." Of course, that judgment will be made differently by different readers. Maybe you'll stop by sometime and let me know what you think. Thanks again for a great blog.

http://tandariltree.blogspot.com

Anita Marion Loughrey said...

Thanks Mindy,
I'll take a look at your blog. I'm always interested in reading other people's work and hearing their points of view. Thank you for taking the time to post on my blog too.
Anita