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On Robin Smith’s “A Letter to Parents” (from Sept/Oct 2006)

When it comes to second-grade reading, veteran teacher Robin Smith has seen it all. As the parent of a second grader, I have seen many things that we won’t go into, but seeing my eight-year-old reading voraciously isn’t one of them. I know he can read; if given the choice, however, he prefers not to. […]

Special Effects: What Makes a Good Fantasy?

“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?

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?

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?

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?

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 […]

Judging a Book by Its Cover (Because Sometimes That’s All We Get): What Makes a Good Bookstore Book?

As an independent bookseller, I have both the luxury and the responsibility of actively choosing every title on the shelves of my store. It’s a source of great pleasure but also much soul searching, because in order to keep my doors open I have to carry certain books that are not at all to my […]

A Letter to Parents: What Makes a Good Second-Grade Book?

Dear Parents, Reading is a big part of every second grader’s life. But reading can be fraught with anxiety for these new readers. Most seven- and eight-year-olds in my classroom can read, but their reading levels vary widely, and they are not yet very good at finding books for themselves. They often notice what everyone […]

Tell the Truth, but Tell It Slant: What Makes a Good Poem?

I might be working with kids labeled disadvantaged or gifted; it might be librarians or English teachers (also disadvantaged or gifted). I write the same thing on the board every time: The wounded soldier staggered past the house. Then I ask what’s wrong (I use the word wrong because I’m bold and reckless). Usually everybody […]

Beyond Oral History: What Makes a Good Holocaust Book?

There continues to be a flood of books for young people about the Holocaust, even more now than a generation ago. This is partly because many survivors who for so long did not want to talk about their horrifying personal histories are now breaking their silence. Every time I get a new one to review, […]