What Makes a Good Picture Book Biography?

abe lincoln crosses

What is a picture book biography? Its simple title gives us everything we need to know: it is a picture book and it is a biography, and it is both of those things simultaneously and symbiotically. Imagine two spotlights on a stage. One light illuminates picture books, where story and style and the turn of […]

What Makes a Good Sports Novel?

center field

“Mike backed up at the ping of the ball against the metal bat, sensing a long, high fly. He felt a flush of joy. He was exactly where he wanted to be, in the center of the universe, racing a baseball, sure he was going to win.” Robert Lipsyte’s recent novel Center Field starts with […]

What Makes a Good Book for All Ages?

mouse and his child

My many years of book reviewing have taught me that most books labeled “for all ages” are anything but. Such books are generally big and richly illustrated (and expensive); they tend toward the parabolic, offering “life lessons” of one sort or another. In short, they are books for adults with a weakness for cheap piety. […]

What Makes a Good YA Road Trip Novel?

bray_going bovine

“All I wanted was to go somewheres; all I wanted was a change.” And with this simple statement, the chain of events leading to Huck Finn’s trip down the Mississippi River begins. Mark Twain published The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn one hundred and twenty-five years ago this February, but Huck’s adventures with Jim — the […]

What Makes a Good Graduation Gift?

brave irene

Since you know you can count on somebody else to purchase Oh, the Places You’ll Go! and Chicken Soup for the Soul for the new graduate, the Horn Book staff and reviewers thought we might offer some alternative suggestions, based on personal experience — both what we’ve given and what we’ve received — and on […]

What Makes a Good Board Book?

color zoo

Before launching into any venture, whether it be conducting a meeting, planning a toddler story time, or simply making a trip to the grocery store, I take a cue from my inner two-year-old and ask why. Why am I doing this? What do I hope will happen? Thus, when faced with the task of assessing […]

What Makes a Good Read–Aloud for Middle Graders?

cleary_ramona the pest

Back in the fifties, in my crowded parochial elementary school, the highest form of good luck landed you in Mrs. Sheeran’s fourth-grade class. The fact that Mrs. Sheeran wasn’t a nun marked her instantly as different. But more significant than her street clothes and married name were two admirable practices. First, every day at 10:30 […]

What Makes a Good Pop-Up Book?


Those of us who work with kids, be it with reading, swimming, or Wii-ing, know one important rule of thumb: first we have to get their attention. In the book world, in addition to the word underwear or the newest installment in a hot new series, movable books — with tabs to pull, wheels to […]

What Makes a Good Banned Book?

In The Night Kitchen

Max imagined himself into the land of the wild things, and the censors said NO. Mickey fell out of his clothes in full-frontal view, and the censors said NO. When Judy Blume gave Margaret her period, gave Tony Miglione wet dreams, and answered Deenie’s questions about masturbation, the censors said “too much information,” and they […]

What Makes a Good Science Book?

branley_gravity is a mystery

Google “best books for children,” and you’ll get lists of (mostly) fiction books characterized by imaginative writing and excellent pictures — great stories with captivating illustrations. Why should the elements of a good science book be any different? As far as engaging stories go, science writers have it made. Who could invent a Tyrannosaurus rex, […]