A guide to good books is an extremely difficult attainment. Choosing ‘good’ books for children has always been a challenging task. On what grounds should one book be preferred over another? Experts from institutions, authors, editors, publishers, librarians, educators and those working to further the interests of children both in public institutions and in private organisations don’t always agree. In fact, there is not a unique criteria, but we can help by giving some essential, trustable, criteria. The ultimate choice depends on the experience and sensibility of the adult choosing the book.
Books like The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum (published in 1900), The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry (published in 1943) or The Guardian of the Stars, The journey of Anais with the wind by Davide Amante (published in 2018), can certainly be considered ‘good’ books, fully trustable for young readers of any age, just to give three examples published in three different periods. However there are many more good books available.
As a general approach, we recommend o follow a limited number of significant considerations and fundamental criteria, as well as allowing your personal experience and sensibility.
Essential criteria are:
Theme, contents and the degree of engagement
Sufficiently interesting, raises curiosity, is able to amaze intelligently, involving. The theme and contents should be child-friendly, and they should engage the reader sufficiently. The elements of plot and the characters should be well designed.
A good book always introduces new ways of thinking and new points of view over life and the world, with the aim of showing children that what the see in life should not remain limited to their own context but should expose the many aspects of the world. This does not mean disregarding one’s own culture and context, on the contrary it means reinforcing one’s own context by becoming fully conscious of its values, in an open world where also other contexts and values exist and deserve respect.
Children should relate with the contents and understand them, if they find the contents too easy or boring, the book should be avoided. The material should appeal to children and attract them, help them form a connection with the book. The themes and contents should be such that let children engage with the book and learn new things, including going beyond their own cultural or geographical area. Interesting contents tend to stimulate children’s imagination and guide them in developing a relation with characters and often an entirely new world that enlarges their horizons. This in turn ensures an emotional development, the ability to compare and discuss with others new worlds, the ability to see from others’ point of view and go beyond one’s own perspective.
Plot (including characters) and structure
Is fully developed, the book aims at something, leads the reader somewhere, there is the perception of a beginning, a development, an end.
A clear beginning, middle, and end help children, contents arranged with a logical and emotional progression that makes sense are fundamental to a children’s book. Characters should be well identifiable and thoroughly defined, dialogue has to be interesting, there should be humour, evocative descriptions and action should be to a certain degree exciting. All these factors combine to make a book that children love.
Simple and yet articulated, but not intricate, impenetrable, attention-seeker. The language should be child-friendly, and should likely enhance the pleasure of reading and the child’s ability to read and comprehend.
The book contains thoughts, feelings, emotions and descriptions expressed in words. The objective is that children see and experience these by reading, think about them, develop their own views around them. Richness and diversity of language used, degree of innovation and the degree to which the language is easy to understand for the reader are fundamental.
While contemporary reading and commercial trends set an age level for each book, the age of children should not be considered such an important factor. On the contrary it could be a limiting aspect. We suggest not to be too rigorous as to the reading age.
It is fundamental that a children’s book enable children to make connections and the degree to which a book enables a child to make connection is a good value indicator. A good book should introduce children to other parts or aspects of the world beyond the known world, should take children from the known to the unknown, should allow children to connect and compare.
Illustrations, Design and Production
Illustrations, design and production should be suitable for the book. Illustrations should be reasoned and coherent with the story and they should highlight important moments, events, characters or objects described in the story. Black and white or color illustrations are all correct and sound. Illustrations should correspond to the general framework of the story and there should not be a logical gap between illustration and story.
The book should teach values, these should be appropriate, inclusive and mind opening values, presented in such a way that would encourage children to think over them. The contents should work in the context of the child, and should be culturally sensitive. (that is, it does not disrespect any social group).
Books do impact on the development of values and morals in children. A story influences children in developing their point of view, in organizing their thoughts, in understanding their emotions and in establishing their relations with others.
Often a good book can be read over and over, and each time it will unveil a new detail, a new point of view.
Superficial, repetitive or even unsettling books should be avoided. Books designed for the sole purpose of astonishing should be avoided. Books that disrespect any social group or value should be avoided. Books that don’t encourage discovery, comparison, open-mindedness should be avoided as well.