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

Saturday 15 December 2012

Our Views on Children's Books

To wrap up a spectacular 2014 for KBR, we thought we’d share with you some fun views on children’s books. With each member of the KBR team filling quite specific roles in our personal lives (as well as roles for KBR), we hope you enjoy this glimpse into the way we independently view kids’ books in general. 

Agree? Disagree? Enter the dialogue-leave a comment.

Tania McCartney – Author
Susan Whelan – Editor
Anouska Jones – Publisher
Jo Burnell – Speech Therapist
Sarah Steed – Librarian
Anastasia Gonis - Reviewer

What makes a good children’s book?
Tania: Unique ideas, thoughtful emotional connection, humour, evocative text.
Susan: A story that engages a child’s mind – their imagination, curiosity and emotions.
Anouska: Originality, great writing (and illustrations, if applicable).
Jo: Language, vocabulary, story.
Sarah: One where the reader can recognise something of themselves or their world/imagination/dreams.
Anastasia: Anything that engages the reader.

What should books do for children?
Tania: Transport them to other places, fill their hearts and minds.
Susan: Have some kind of impact – entertain, educate and encourage them to think, feel and/or laugh.
Anouska: Entertain, inspire and, along the way, foster a love of reading and learning.
Jo: Expand their worlds.
Sarah: Entertain. Inform. Inspire.
Anastasia: Keep them wanting more books.

What makes for striking illustration?
Tania: Authentic expression.
Susan: Something that complements the action and mood of the story.
Anouska: Illustrations that ADD depth and meaning to the text.
Jo: When they are springboards for the imagination.
Sarah: Simplicity.
Anastasia: Something eye-catching, detailed, and colourful.

Are there too many illustrated chapter books?
Tania: For older readers, yes. For younger/struggling readers, no.
Susan: These are a great transition tool, but we need to make sure we aren’t deliberately ‘dumbing down’ the experience of reading a chapter book.
Anouska: No.
Jo: There can never be enough; they help reluctant/struggling readers connect with story. 
Sarah: Yes. We need them, but not too many.
Anastasia: Yes.

What makes for a great character?
Tania: Reality, flaws, emotion, humour, strength, quirk.
Susan: Someone who is authentic and relatable.
Anouska: Qualities/traits the reader can relate to or engage with.
Jo: Uniqueness, a different perspective and way of expressing it.
Sarah: Where readers can imagine themselves in the character’s shoes, or be inspired by their story.
Anastasia: Someone/something believable.

Do characters need to be likeable?
Tania: In some way—even if it’s an irksome, unlikeable way.
Susan: No, even unlikeable characters can engage the interest of readers.
Anouska: No. But they need to provoke emotion.
Jo: Not but there needs to be something redeemable about them.
Sarah: Absolutely. What’s likeable tends to depend on the individual though.
Anastasia: Not necessarily.

What do you think of books with morals?
Tania: No. Unless they’re cautionary tales. It’s all about tongue-in-cheek.
Susan: These need to be delicately written. Blunt, obvious messages read like a lecture, not a story.
Anouska: Fine, as long as the message isn’t rammed down the reader’s throat!
Jo: Hate. Love narratives that reveal the cause and effect of actions and choices.
Sarah: There is definitely a place for them, as stories help shape us.
Anastasia: Alas, they are a dying breed.

Do picture books need strong plot lines?
Tania: Sometimes yes, sometimes no. What they need is vision and a strong voice.
Susan: Not always.
Anouska: Not always.
Jo: Powerful story needs a strong foundation. This won't always be plot.
Sarah: Not necessarily.
Anastasia: Just a simple message.

Is typical story construction important?
Tania: Writing with joy and authenticity is more important. And a good editor.
Susan: The story needs to have shape and purpose. A story that drifts rarely engages readers.
Anouska: Not always.
Jo: No. Left of centre rocks, but we need to be able to follow along. 
Sarah: To a degree. It really depends on the audience and your intention in reading it.
Anastasia: Yes.

What children’s book elements completely engage you as an adult?
Tania: Out-of-the-box concepts, striking imagery, humour, whimsy, cleverness.
Susan: Humour, genuine characters, engaging illustrations, and clever use of language, rhythm and tone.
Anouska: Brilliantly original storytelling through great text and outstanding illustrations.
Jo: Quirkiness, humour, heart, suspense, intrigue.
Sarah: Illustrations and certain types of humour.
Anastasia: Detailed illustrations, messages, characters.

What kind of books don’t work well?
Tania: Overly structured, obvious, badly-edited, same-old-same-old, amateur illustrations.
Susan: Overly moralistic stories and stories with awkward rhymes and rhythm. Picture books where the content and illustrations don’t complement each other.
Anouska: The overtly worthy, try-hard kind.
Jo: Those that preach or condescend.
Sarah: Picture books with too much text.
Anastasia: Books without imagination.

What book genre do you favour?
Tania: Picture books followed by junior fiction.
Susan: I love reading YA fiction that deals with real issues. I also enjoy picture books and middle fiction with clever use of language and an element of humour.
Anouska: Picture books.
Jo: Anything well written and a little bit unexpected.
Sarah: It would be a toss up between historical and mystery.
Anastasia: Picture books.

Name three of your favourite children’s books of all time.
Tania: The Narnia series by CS Lewis, Nanberry, Black Brother White by Jackie French and Where Do We Go When We Disappear? by Isabel Minhós Martins
Susan: The Dot and Ish by Peter Reynolds (sorry, sneaking in two there as by the same author), Hooray for Diffendoofer Day by Dr Seuss (with Lane Smith and Jon Prelutsky), The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle.
Anouska: Black Beauty by Anna Sewell, The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame and The Tale of Peter Rabbit by Beatrix Potter.
Jo: Because of Winn Dixie by Kate DiCamillo, How to Mend a Broken Wing by Bob Graham and the Samurai Kids series by Sandy Fussell.
Sarah: We’re Going On A Bear Hunt by Michael Rosen and Helen Oxenbury, Animalia by Graeme Base, The Harry Potter series by JK Rowling.
Anastasia: Fox by Margaret Wild and Ron Brooks, Hans Christian Andersen Fairy Tales, The Savage by David Almond