1. High quality children's books are captivating.
A well written children's book captures the imagination of its readers. This is done in a number of ways - through the story line, the way it's written, the illustrations and the presentation of the story as a whole.
Captivating children's books are often based on topics or themes that are interesting to children. This varies with the age of the child. For example, young children often enjoy stories about animals which take on the roles of human characters. They walk and talk, eat and run.
When I'm choosing books for our boys, I have a rough idea of what they like. For example, they love stories about pirates (yes - they're true boys). However, I also choose books that are outside their 'current' interests in order to introduce them to other subjects. Really, it comes down to the way in which the text and illustrations are woven together.
A well written story can be about something that you'd not even think to be of great interest. For example, we've just read a story entitled,'Harry, the Poisonous Centipede', written by Lynne Reid Banks and illustrated by Tony Ross. While centipedes aren't actually on the top of the boys list of interesting topics, this book captivated the boys attention so much that they kept crying out for "more, more, another chapter, pleeeeaasssee!"
2. High quality children's books are well illustrated.
Quality illustrations are essential for young children. They help to maintain children's interest and extend their concentration periods for longer.
The best children's books have illustrations that tell the story, detail the setting in which the story takes place and brings the characters to life. The illustrations make the story live! They inspire the imagination and help children to what the words are describing.
Often, the illustrations expand the story beyond the text itself. For example, in 'Boris the Spider', written by Damian Harvey and illustrated by Daniel Postgate, the illustrations show how different members of the family interact with the spider. This element of the story, which adds humour to the story, has been woven into the illustrations and cannot be seen in the words alone.
I confess, if a book's not well illustrated, it doesn't get much of a look in at our house. For me, the illustrations are extremely important. Often they tell their own parallel story as well.
Illustrations in children's books can be a great way to introduce different forms of art. For example, some books rely on collaged pictures, others are drawn, some are painted. Some illustrations are realistic while others and abstract. Illustrations allow you to talk about different visual elements such as colour, shape and texture. This is a great way to develop your child's aesthetic awareness.
One of our favourite books which contains great illustrations is 'Class Two at the Zoo', by Julia Jarman and illustrated by Lynne Chapman. The colours in this book are fantastic. The drawings of the snake are full of such character that it's hard not to like him despite the fact he is slowly devouring class two for dinner!
3. High quality children's books are well worded.
Quality children's books use words that just seem to flow. They draw you in so that you have no choice but to turn the page because you absolutely have to know what happens next! They often use rhyme, rhythm, repetition and humour.
One of our favourite books which uses rhyme is 'The Terrible Plop', written by Ursula Dubosarsky and illustrated by Andrew Joyner. This is book is a pleasure to read because the words flow so smoothly.
Great books also introduce new words in a context that children can pick up their meaning. They expand children's vocabulary.
4. High quality children's books books balance the amount of text and illustrations.
The amount of text on a page varies according to the age of the children the book is designed for. Younger children require fewer written words as they have shorter concentration spans and need the illustrations to expound the words they are hearing. The type of sentences, and the vocabulary used, need to match the ability and level of the child.
'Hog and Frog', written and illustrated by Susan Syddall, shows how text and illustrations can be balanced to maintain the interest of young children throughout the story.
Actually, it's much harder to write a story with fewer words as each word must be carefully chosen for a specific reason. There's little room for excess words. It's sort of like packing a small car for a long journey. There's only a limited amount of room. Everything that goes in must be there for a valid purpose or it gets left behind.
In general, the more text on a page, the older the child needs to be to comprehend and appreciate the story. Longer text requires increased listening, comprehension and concentration skills therefore the readers need more maturity.
5. High quality children's books balance the pace of the story.
The author keeps the story moving so that the child's interest is not only captivated but maintained. There's a sense of 'turn-the-page-quick-because-I-want-to-know-what-happens'. Will the snake really swallow Gerty and Anita? Will the Jake be able to rescue Great Aunt before the pirates return? Will Harry the Centipede really go up the Up-Pipe? Turn the page! I've got to know!
6. High quality children's books have great endings.
Maybe the ending saw a problem solved. Perhaps something unexpected happened. Possibly there was a humorous twist at the end. Regardless of how the author finishes, you're left hungry for more. Great books leave you with a smile on your face which says 'that was terrific!'. You feel the time you gave in reading the book was well spent.
After reading a good book, we often do an internet search to see if the author has written any other books.
7. High quality children's books teach.
There are a millions things you can learn through books. Even fiction books can be used to teach children. For example, a story about a boy who wanders off at the zoo can teach the importance of staying close to a responsible adult. Stories can reinforce self-esteem concepts. They can expand children's knowledge about the world around them and how it works. Each book is different and can subtly reinforce valuable principles. Alternatively, they can simple introduce a joy about language and using words. There's so much learning that can be found in all sorts of books but that's another subject.
8. High quality children's books are enjoyed by the reader and listener.
While children's books are obviously designed specifically for children, the best ones are also enjoyed by the adult reading it. If I'm enthralled in the story I'm reading, it's much easier to develop a reading environment that will captivate my children's imagination and attention as well. It's a win-win situation.
We hope these points will be of help as you create your own list of 'family favourites' to read and enjoy with your children. Enjoy exploring the world of books together!