Thursday, May 31, 2012

What Makes a Good Book (Part 1) by Marilyn Courtot

The following is the first in a six part series written by Children's Literature President Marilyn Courtot that we posted back in 2009. Aimed at reviewers and writers, we will be running a new part every month. 

Basic Construction and Illustrations

When evaluating a book for a child, there are a lot of characteristics to keep in mind. But lest you feel overwhelmed, remember that if you have been reading books, especially children’s books, you have probably developed an innate ability to select the good ones. You just may not realize what influences you and why. This, first in a series of columns, will address the features of a good book.

Let’s look at the basic construction of a book. Consider the quality of the fabrication—will it hold up to repeated handling and reading? Look in particular at the binding and cover construction. If the slip jacket is removed, will the cover still have appeal? Is the paper of good quality, or does it tear easily? Look at the book’s size and shape. If the book is for toddlers then keep it small for little hands. Oversized books are usually not appropriate for those under nine—they are just too big and too heavy.

Next, look at the illustrations. Are they clearly reproduced? Are the color registration and clarity acceptable? Although black-and-white helps babies clearly distinguish objects, color is very important for older kids. Colors do not need to be vibrant or garish to appeal to children; studies have shown that pastels are soothing and can encourage learning.

Also, are the illustrations appropriate to the story or text? Do they enhance and exemplify the text, or do they head off in an entirely new direction. Author/illustrator Chris Manson commented that “the children’s book market is really the best place in the publishing industry for full color art. Sometimes it blows away the story.” He believes that illustrations need to be in balance with the story. Illustrations should make the story bigger, but not different. 

Marilyn Courtot 
Publisher and Editor


  1. This article points out all of the critical aspects of selecting a book for a child. As a parent I look at the quality and coloring of books and whether or not they are durable and easy to handle for a child's small hands.

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