'The best books, reviewed with insight and charm, but without compromise.'
- author Jackie French

Wednesday 15 June 2011

Guest Post: What makes a good children's book?

So, I was asking myself that question, "what makes a good children's book?"  And of course it depends on who is answering... the child or the parent.

Well, you should go to the ultimate source, so I asked the 5-year-old Pink Kid, "What's your favourite book?" Of course, I was hoping she'd say my own books Making Rainbows or Moon Ghostie Manners, but of course she didn't.  

"Hairy McClary from Donaldson's Dairy!" she exclaimed. But then (because we were looking at the Penguin site at the time, she saw the cover of Jane Tanner's Isabella's Secret ... "Oh, no! This one, I have this one. I LOVE this one with the fairies!"

Well, I love Hairy too, and no one can argue against the fact that Jane Tanner does the best fairies in the business! But what about Diary of a Wombat and all those lovely picture books with Australian animals? 

And then there's multiculturalism which is a great theme this year... what about a book that deals with children from different cultures? Nope, these are not popular with the Pink Kid. She likes 'FUNNY', 'BEAUTIFUL' and 'SHINY'. (Also, I should emphasise 'funny', not 'amusing' or 'humourous'. Amusing and humourous are too subtle. We're talking 5 years old here).

I still reckon that parents buy A Very Hungry Caterpillar to teach their children about the wonder of a caterpillar turning into a butterfly, and kids like it because it's the biggest banquet they've ever seen!  Pink Kid virtually salivates when we get to the part about the cake!

So here we are. Parents buy, and often choose, the books. Ah, the glorious power! I’m guessing that mothers (mostly) and fathers (sometimes) are our key audience and marketing targets as picture book authors. When my children choose their favourite books, they rarely pick the ones I do. Guess which ones we usually buy - those I pick, or those Pink Kid picks?   

This tug-of-war between  educational, humourous and interesting on the one hand, and 'FUNNY', 'BEAUTIFUL' and 'SHINY!' on the other – who wins it?  Hmmm…

So perhaps that's it then, the 'best' children's books are those that bridge the gap between the adult wants and the child wants. So books like the Hairy McClary series and The Very Hungry Caterpillar.  Adults get to smile, kids get to belly-laugh, it's visually attractive -- and not too boring to read aloud for the 100th time.

So small Pink Kid sits in the corner while I gleefully read Diary of a Wombat (having refused to read Disney Princesses yet again). I smile at the wombat slowly training the family he adopts and relish the wonderful illustrations, while Pink Kid sort of listens, sort of waits for it to be her turn to choose from the stack of fantastic books in the corner that I chose and bought...  bwahahaha!

Pauline Brasch says she is NOT the author of Isabella’s Secret, Hairy McClary from Donaldson’s Dairy or, indeed, Disney Princesses, but is the author of other books for children. You can learn more about her book s right here or check out her blog at jinxpicturebooks.blogspot.com.