Let’s Start at the Very Beginning: What Makes a Good Alphabet Book?

johnson_alphabet city

Trying to figure out what makes a good alphabet book is like determining what makes a good meal for a child. It’s a matter of taste as well as developmental maturity. A baby might be partial to mashed peas, a toddler to plain pasta, and a six-year-old may prefer the textural complexity of a peanut […]

How to Choose a Goose: What Makes a Good Mother Goose?


It is a truth universally acknowledged that every English-speaking child is the better for an early friendship with “Mother Goose” — early meaning from birth, because nothing boosts language development better than those catchy rhymes and rhythms. Scholars and educators alike praise the virtues and resonances of these traditional rhymes. They are essentials of both […]

Sexed: What Makes a Good Sex Ed Book?

harris_it's not the stork

Growing up Catholic, I was always afraid of something: unconfessed sins; demonic possession; Sister Alice, my grade school principal, who once clamped her talons on my shoulder and marched me to her office for having a boy’s name magic-markered across my palm while receiving Holy Communion. But the one thing that gave me recurring nightmares […]

Beyond Barney: What Makes a Good Dinosaur Book?

jenkins_prehistoric actual size

Step into the science section of any library or bookstore (you know — the section way in the back) and you are guaranteed to find plenty of dinosaur books. Few science books written for children get star treatment of the kind reserved for these creatures. You’ll likely find grisly stories of death and destruction, heartwarming […]

What Makes a Good Gift Book? Step Aside!

gift book

I find it hard to give children’s books as presents. First, because I’m afraid my friends and family will think I’m just unloading surplus copies from the office, but mostly because it seems completely impossible to know just which book to give. How was I to know that “everybody” had already read Holes in fifth […]

Special Effects: What Makes a Good Fantasy?

stewart_edge chronicles

“Fantasy is our imaginary life’s blood,” Tamora Pierce told me recently. “It is simply an extension of our myths and legends, our fairy tales and our folktales. It is the stories we tell ourselves to give shape to our dreams and desires, and the forces that we suspect are working beyond where we can see […]

Working with Fear: What Makes a Good Thriller?

werlin_killer's cousin

For years, while my publisher tried to call my books mysteries, I’ve insisted that no, they’re thrillers. It’s a lowbrow term, connoting blood, guns, and nefarious activities. Basically, thrillers tend to be about nasty people doing bad, illegal, and/or unethical things, although usually there’s also a blameless individual around as protagonist who is endangered body […]

It Takes a Multicultural Village: What Makes a Good Translated Book?

anno_anno's counting house

What makes a good translated book? When Roger Sutton asked this question of me and Cheryl Klein, the editor with whom I work on our imprint’s translation efforts, it seemed that our answer might possibly be unacceptably short: it’s the writing that makes a good translated book. What more could we say? What more is […]

In the Beginning: What Makes a Good Beginning?

peck_teacher's funeral

Before the War . . . … the evenings lingered longer, and it was always summer when it wasn’t Halloween, or Christmas. Long, lazy light reached between the houses, and the whole street played hide-and-seek, called only by olly-olly-oxen-in-free and supper time. Before I could keep up, I rode my brother’s shoulders, hung in the […]

Don’t Tell the Ending! What Makes a Good Ending?

rathmann_10 minutes till bedtime

We hear a lot about how stories should end: the ending should be inevitable, and yet we shouldn’t be able to guess exactly how it will occur (see Macbeth). It should be consistent with the story’s other elements (see Romeo & Juliet). It should make us cry without embarrassment (see King Lear). It should make […]