Saturday, October 04, 2008

Children's Books Keep Me Up at Night (UPDATED)

Yes, there are times when I stay up way past my bedtime because I can't go to sleep until I find out what happens next. But sometimes, I'm staring at the ceiling because I am still thinking about something I read (or in this case heard) earlier in the day.

Yesterday I finally had a chance to listen to Mark and Andrea's discussion Pondering Self Publishing over at Just One More Book. Whether you are someone who write or illustrates books for children, or an adult who reads with kids, you'll find something valuable in their thoughts.
I listened to the Pondering Self Publishing podcast twice, spent some extra time reading the comments, and found myself nodding a lot. For this edition, Mark and Andrea offered their observations as people who are asked to review lots of children's books. They are very clear in asserting that they aren't experts. True, they may not be professional/traditional reviewers, but they are an expert audience: they are parents who read lots of books, on lots of topics, and can offer their own thoughts and the reactions of their daughters. They are the people (NOT reviewers) whom authors try to reach.

If you are an author or illustrator, I highly recommend that you stop by Just One More Book to listen to the podcast and read the discussion. It is more than worth your time. If you are an adult who reads with kids, I'd encourage you to listen to get the answer to the question "what should I look for in a good book?" Here are some ideas for quick things you can do to pick a good book, regardless of how it is published.

  • Look at the illustrations. Is the main character always in the same scene? Do you always see his/her face from the same angle, even if the background changes? Do their expressions match the text on the page?
  • Do the rhymes work? If this is a rhyming story, open the book to a random page and read the rhyme out loud (whisper-voice counts). Did you have to read it two or three times to make the sing-song element sound "right"?
  • UPDATED ITEM: Are there typos? Even the biggest publisher can make a mistake, so finding a typo or two isn't a problem. But, as Mark and Andrea point out, a regular pattern of errors detracts from the story and the quality of the product. This is particularly true when you are using the book as a way to supplement spelling and grammar.
  • What happened the last time you picked a book like this? Even if your reader/listener likes monster books, maybe s/he wants monsters to have friendly faces. This one might have dark colors and an air of spookiness.
  • How many >paragraphs are on a page? If the number of lines of text are twice the age of the child you are reading with, there may be too much text. For example, if you are reading with a 3-year-old, and there are four two or three-line paragraphs (9-12 lines), your reader may not stay with you.
The questions are offered as a way to help you decide if an unknown book is a good match for your reader or listener. If this isn't a child you read with, you can get helpful information on these same topics by asking someone who does read with the child.
  • What kind of images to they like: photographs?-illustrations in color? black-and-white sketches? cartoon images?
  • Do they like rhyming books?
  • Do they have a favorite subject?
  • Are there certain books they don't like?
  • How long will they sit for a story?
Reading with a child is so important, but it should also be fun. Here's to opening a great book!

3 comments:

  1. You should check out Bayard and their series of StoryBoxBooks, AdventureBoxBooks and DiscoveryBoxBooks.
    There's lots going on too:
    This Month Storybox has guest illustrator Helen Oxenbury featured.

    There's a Readathon happening in UK and Ireland - http://discoveryboxbooks.com/readathon.php
    There's a Ghost Drawing competition in AdventureBoxBooks assiciated with the Polka Theatre ( http://www.adventureboxbooks.com/competition.php )

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  2. Agreed, typos and grammatical errors can be irritating and a certainly not the sign of a good book, but we do enjoy finding them on occasion! As long as we're reading *together* its kind of fun when we stumble over them and stop and quickly discuss the correction. It also shows how the error interrupts the flow and that these details (so mundane in school) do matter.

    Actually, reading as many millions of books as we do, reading a not-so-good book together can be good for loads of discussion and loads of laughs. I know it's not necessarily *nice*, but we did once have an evening where we read 5 disappointing books in a row, and it just became so ridiculous and we just laughed and chatted so much that our 7 year old dubbed it "The Best Book To Burn" night, and still every so often says whistfully -- remember the Best Book to burn night?".

    IN FACT, I have a special spot for books we won't ever re-read and that night in particular we had so much fun that Bayla refused to let me put the books in the no-re-read bin, because she wanted to be able to re-live the fun we had reading them.

    Ok. This may seem mean, but after publishing 450 episodes of mega gushing over great books, I hope I'll be forgiven

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  3. I think that's a great idea, Andrea! Yes, it sounds harsh, but even the disappointments had value (discussion) and made great memories.

    Catherine loves to explore my office and pick books. She seems to gravitate to the corner where I have the books that make me go hmm-m-m-m!

    We're just reaching the point where Catherine is reading more on her own (today was her first spelling test) so I go back and forth on what to do with books loaded with typos and grammatical errors, and where every sentence ends with at least one exclamation point!

    As she gets more savvy, I can see *enjoying* these books in a new way. Thanks for stopping by.

    ReplyDelete

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