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What Makes a Great Children’s Book

Children who take an interest in books at a very young age often go on to become prolific readers in later life. I have often sat in low lighting on the bedroom floor reading away, long after my children have left for the land of nod, engrossed in a wonderful story!

If you are an avid reader yourself it is very likely that you will still recall the details of your most beloved tales from your childhood but it’s rare that we understand why they were so enthralling. Thousands of children’s books are published each year and for all age groups, yet do we understand what makes particular books stand out and become the classics for each generation?

In theory, there should be slightly different requirements for different age groups!

Parents of very young children state that they are drawn to books which are:

  • Simple to understand.
  • Familiar in many ways but still exciting.
  • Stretch their understanding and knowledge of words.
  • Teach something to the child which they can relate to.
  • Beautifully illustrated in a way which draws the child’s imagination

Books like ‘The Very Hungry Caterpillar’ are still relevant today even though this particular book has been around for 47 years! Yet all of the above criteria are covered; the caterpillar is endearing and familiar, there is counting, there are familiar foods, the story has a reason, the illustrations are beautiful yet simple and the book is also tactile with its holes and shapes.

Similarly, books like ‘Room on the Broom’ and ‘Where the wild things are’ appeal massively to children who are becoming more adept at reading (5-8 yrs) but still like the familiarity of simple stories which stretch their vocabulary and understanding of more complex emotions. They are adventure stories with strong characters but told in a way which is still familiar and non-threatening. 

What about older readers?

Well, the Harry Potter Series and The Chronicles of Narnia are still hugely popular for children aged 8 to 14 according to Goodreads top 50 rated books.

It seems as though adventure stories are the ones which appeal to the older children too. Perhaps the reason why some books remain favourites for decades is the exact same reason why some new books become instantly popular whilst others remain lower down the reading chain. They all have a common thread:

  1. They have strong characters who the reader can relate to.
  2. They can be challenging and make the reader think and reconsider their understanding of common concepts.
  3. The world within the story is slightly unusual, exhilarating, sometimes a little threatening but still appealing.
  4. The story is clever and thought provoking, either in concept or vocabulary.
  5. The content is usually instructional or motivational in some way.
  6. There is often a social consciousness – based on discrimination or prejudice.
  7. Many contain light touches of humour which make threatening situations seem manageable or less scary.
  8. Last but not least; – they are all so exciting that the avid reader will want to devour every single page, (usually in one sitting).

It seems that the things that make a young child’s book a good one are also true for older children. The story may become more complex and the vocabulary more challenging but essentially they have common factors which make them great.

Anyone who thinks that writing a children’s book is a simple matter of thinking up a few short sentences and then adding some pretty pictures should consider reading a few of the many books which are consistently favoured by children, of all ages. They are complex creations, well thought out with endearing characters and a story to tell which appeals to a much wider audience.

Children’s books have to be far cleverer than adult books because they are written by adults who can still remember exactly what it was about their childhood reading that drew them into the enthralling world of the written word in the first place!

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