When I first started working on my manuscript (a middle-grade adventure/fantasy), my only concerns were 1.) Making the dialogue sound true 2.) Making sure the reader wouldn't be bored to tears. As I get deeper and deeper into the manuscript, however, I am beginning to wonder. What does a reader look for in a children's book? What do I, as a parent, look for in a book for my own daughter?
Of course, the answers to these questions are as diverse as the children and parents out there. Here is my own personal wish list. Feel free to add anything you feel is missing in the comments section below. I would love to hear from you!
1.)The book appeals to both genders.
I was browsing a certain online bookseller looking for my daughter's favorite series, Ivy and Bean when I saw a suggestion for a book series called, The Never Girls. I'd never heard of it before, so I clicked on it. Apparently, the premise for this series is that four girls get lost (somehow) in Never Land. Yes, the (Disney-fied version of) Never Land of Tinker Bell and Peter Pan. The front and back covers are very girly (not pink, but pale purple, and maybe sparkly). From the reviews of the book, it seems that all the readers are young girls.
So what's the problem, you ask? I don't have a problem per se. My own daughter reads Ivy and Bean, as I just mentioned, and that is also a series that appeals overwhelmingly to young girls. But she also reads books with gender neutral appeal, like anything by Roald Dahl. And I'll borrow books from the library about race cars and dinosaurs, and other random subject matter, especially if it's subject matter that's not typically thought of as something girls would be interested in.
So what's my point? I don't want to make it seem like I'm attacking fairy books, or Ivy and Bean, or any other books that are (gasp!) marketed toward young girls. But I do feel like we need to present a balanced world to our children. And if our children are lucky enough to have access to books, then a great way to expose them to the world is through books that show both sides, "boys' world" and "girls world." Why not let your son read The Never Girls or your daughter pick up a Ninjago book? Or better yet, why not let them read books that just have a great story, and are not trying to over-market a brand or product? *end rant*
2.) The book shows ethnic, class, personality, and ability diversity, in a genuine, and not token way. (whew!)
Growing up as a minority in the U.S, I always got excited when I saw someone who looked vaguely Asian on television. It was the same way for books. I think the first character I encountered who was Asian American was the Chinese-American girl (whose name I cannot remember) from Zilpha Keatly Snyder's The Egypt Game. That book was great in that it had ethnic diversity, but also family diversity. The main character, April, was living with her grandmother after a divorce at a time when divorce was something almost unheard of.
Of course, diversity doesn't always have to mean something serious. On a lighter note, I love how Ivy and Bean of Ivy and Bean are imperfect in their imperfections. Bean hates to read (which makes me giggle considering she is a character in a book) while Ivy likes to make magic spells. I love that they are both weird and crazy and not obsessed with their test scores and soccer practices.
The world is wide and the kinds of people in it are many. If my child and I can learn something but also empathize with the characters, then I would say the book was a good read!
3.)The author tells a good story.'Nuff said! Read on, write on!