Thursday, July 15, 2010

What Makes a Good Book (Part 6) by Marilyn Courtot

The following is the final part in a six part series written by CLCD President Marilyn Courtot. Aimed at reviewers and writers, we ran a new part every month.

Types of Books

When you read a children’s book, pay attention to the characters. In a good book, they will be well developed with multifaceted personalities. It is important for children to see the good and bad in the characters, and to avoid stereotypes. Individuals are rarely totally good or completely evil.

Think about characters from books that you read. Did Jo March of Little Women or Philip in The Cay seem real to you? Did you share their worries, joys, and everyday experiences? I know that I did. These characters were well defined and they did things that kids can understand. Books, more than any other medium, allow children to understand the thinking process. They afford an opportunity to put oneself safely into a situation and allow the reader to relate to the way the character responds to situations. To be believable, the character must respond in a logical or realistic way, and the character should learn or grow during the story.

In a picture book, the format doesn’t lend itself to much character development, but it can be done. Patricia Polacco has successfully created memorable characters in her picture books as have Mem Fox and David McPhail. In chapter books, more characterization is needed and writers like Patricia Giff, James Howe, and Elizabeth Levy are skilled at providing three dimensional characters.

For young adults, realistic and believable characters are essential. They can provide solace through shared experiences and answers to the trauma and angst of the teen years. Books by authors such as Bruce Brooks, Betsy Byars, Katherine Paterson, and Paul Zindel, to name a few, exhibit fine characterization in their novels.

Marilyn Courtot
Publisher and Editor

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