A Good Book

A Good Book

by Jill Philby

When I was in elementary school, I remember thinking to myself, “I will always read chapter books that have pictures. They are so much better than books without!”  In my mind, if a book had wonderful illustrations, then the story was probably wonderful, too.

To my sister at that age, a good book meant a horse book.  To one daughter, it meant a book in which everyone was nice to everyone else.  To another, it meant a funny book. To my best friend, it meant a teen romance. 

No matter what the story is about, though, good books have a well-written plot that keeps your attention, themes that you can easily identify with, and, hopefully, illustrations. 

But there is one other quality that isn’t quite so clearly defined.  A good book is one that your child wants to read. That book may not be well-written or have beautiful illustrations. It may not have won awards or critical acclaim.  It may not be the newest or most popular book of the moment, but it will be a book your child is excited about.

So, what books get kids excited? Both the 2014 and 2019 Kids and Family Reading Report from Scholastic found that what kids really like in a story is humor.  Picture books like Adam Rex’s “Unstoppable!” or “Something’s Wrong” by Jory John, juvenile chapter books like Matthew Swanson’s “Ben Yokoyama and the Cookie of Doom” or “Lions and Liars” by Kate Beasley, and young adult novels like “Going Vintage” by Lindsey Leavitt or John Green’s “An Abundance of Katherines” are all great choices when your reader is looking for a good laugh.

Broken down by age group, children ages 6-8 want books with characters that “look like me.” Great diverse choices include Saadia Faruqui’s “Meet Yasmin!” series, David Adler’s “Kick It, Mo!”, “Jasmine Toguchi: Mochi Queen” by Debbie Michiko Florence or Juana Medina’s “Juana and Lucas.”

Readers ages 9-11 prefer books that “have a mystery or problem to solve.”  Mystery or adventure books like “Malamander” by Thomas Taylor, Max Brallier’s “The Last Kids on Earth”, or Chris Grabenstein’s “The Smartest Kid in the Universe” are exciting stories that rely on kids to get the world out of trouble!

Middle grade teens ages 12-14 want books with characters who are “smart, strong or brave.” Newbery winner “The Last Cuentista” by Donna Barba Higuera, graphic novel “Swim Team” by Johnnie Christmas, and Anne Ursu’s “The Troubled Girls of Dragomir Academy” all tell stories of girls having the courage to change both their own lives and those of others.  Nic Stone’s “Clean Getaway” involves a grandmother and her grandson taking off on a cross country trek, exploring family relationships and having the courage to face the truth.

And, finally, older teens, like many adults, want books that let them “forget about real life for a while.” While humorous books can certainly lighten life, great, intense fiction like “The Prison Healer” by Lynette Noni, “Beasts of Prey” by Ayana Gray, or “We Were Liars” and its newly released prequel “Family of Liars” by E. Lockhart can just as easily take you away for a while.

Letting your child decide what qualifies as a good book is powerful.  When they take time to browse, they are learning about what interests them and how to make choices.  They learn to ask themselves if the story is an interesting one, if the illustrations intrigue them, and if the reading level is a comfortable one--or if that even matters. They learn how to decide if a book is a good book for them, or not.  And when they find, and read, a good book, they get excited!

I still get excited when I read a chapter book that has illustrations, but I know that what I really want is a well-written story with wonderful characters and an intriguing plot. One that I want to email the author about so that they know that their story got to me.  One that I want to talk about and have everyone else read.  One that I am still thinking about, years later.  Maybe that’s a good book to you, too?