What Makes Good Children's Literature

Published: 23rd March 2010
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As a children's author (http://TinaTurbin.com), I'm often pleased to find that I've inspired children and adults to write children's stories of their own. A question they wonder is what exactly makes a good children's book. Whether you're a children's author, illustrator, parent who reads to your child, or someone who is shopping for a children's book to give to a cherished child, it's important to know the components of a good children's literature (http://DannyTheDragon.com). What is it that makes kids books and picture books so high-quality and compelling? This question perhaps can't be easily answered, as delightful children's books come in all shapes, sizes, and varieties, but it's worth taking a look at it.

Even before I became the mother of three children, I had a profound interest in children's books and at the age of sixteen began writing kids books of my own. There was something that drew me to the magical storybooks which I grew to love as a child but never grew to forget as I got older. Finally, after my children were grown, I decided to turn a lifelong dream into reality as I decided to write a story that I would publish. It was a story about a dragon named Danny and his adventures with his little companion, Skipper, and it was called Danny the Dragon Meets Jimmy, the first book of an entire series, which even includes a soon-to-be-released Danny the Dragon Cookbook. As I wrote the story, I grew to understand what makes a children's story truly enchanting for its readers -- the young and young at heart alike.

First, it's important that a children's book have a charming protagonist with whom readers can identify. It seems that children tend to literally identify with characters they love; in their imagination and games, they often pretend they are indeed the beloved protagonists of their favorite movies, TV shows, and books. So what qualities should a children's story protagonist have? If you study the most popular children's stories of the last few hundred years, many characters have a superhuman trait or superhuman power, but at the same time they have a human frailty about them which most people have in common -- such as a fear or anxiety about something or something in their life that is causing them stress. In Jack and the Beanstalk, Jack is a regular, poor boy with magical beans, and Harry Potter of course finds that he is a wizard. Jack's magical beans and Harry's magical genetic endowment delight children, while Jack's hard circumstances and the fact that Harry is an unloved orphan earn the sympathy of children everywhere. In Danny the Dragon, I sought to have these same qualities, and I have met many children who truly love and identify with Danny. Of course, some wonderful children's books lack a protagonist, such as Goodnight Moon or some very delightful counting and alphabet books. This is why nailing down what makes for good children's books can be a challenge.

Next, children love an obstacle, encounter, or discovery, or a series of these, which capture their attention and imagination. This perhaps can be the trickiest part of writing a children's book. People tend to inherently know what makes a good story. You can usually tell right away if an acquaintance weaving a tale for you is a good storyteller or not. Do you care about the outcome? Is there something the people in the story stand to lose? Does your heart pound or do you hold your breath?

Language is another important part of children's literature. It is usually bold language in unique combinations with charming rhymes or rhythms which hold the attention of children. If you're no Shakespeare, or Dr. Seuss, don't worry about it. Do your words have impact? Are they fun to say and can the children easily follow them? Do they remember the words long after the story is told? These are some of the questions you may want to ask yourself.

One of the most important components of an illustrated book is, of course, its illustrations. Most children's books offer several delightful illustrations. I spent an entire year searching for the perfect illustrator for Danny the Dragon Meets Jimmy. I had an exact vision of what I was looking for, and chances are so do you. Don't compromise your vision, but continue to search for the right illustrations and pictures for your kids story. I recommend communicating as exactly as possible what you're looking for. I also recommend bold colors and shapes, which children tend to adore in their favorite illustrated kids books.

Finally, there should be a discovery made or a lesson learned which challenges children to look or think in a new or different way. A theme that they can apply in their own lives, at school or at home, will be welcomed with open arms. Not only is reading a great way to build language skills and imagination, but it's an important way to teach values that will be relevant to children for the rest of their lives. When I read to kids from my children's book series, I never cease to be surprised by how quickly they catch on to the sophisticated lessons about how a family handles surprises and acceptance. Its themes of helping each other, accepting the differences of others, and treating others how one would want to be treated are embraced by children of all ages.

In the end, enduring children's literature can't be replicated according to any formula, although the points above will always remain important. Whether a children's story truly captivates the imaginations of children and adults alike, ultimately depends upon a quality that is perhaps as elusive and magical as the imagination itself.

For more information on Tina Turbin, visit http://TinaTurbin.com.
For more information on Danny the Dragon http://DannyTheDragon.com.Tina Turbin (http://TinaTurbin.com) is a published children's author, writer, researcher, humanitarian and Mom. She wrote her first children's story at age 16. She has always enjoyed many years of working with and helping children and their families. The Danny the Dragon series (http://DannyTheDragon.com) fulfills a passion of hers to delight children and their families through her enchanting characters in her writing. Tina's style as an author conveys to the young and young at heart and imparts acts of kindness.

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