Little, Brown Books for Young Readers’s “List of Attributes that Make a Good Children’s Book”

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Little, Brown Books for Young Readers’s “List of Attributes that Make a Good Children’s Book”

Little__Brown_and_Company-logo-9849B524CB-seeklogo.comIf you work in publishing in any capacity whatsoever, then you likely have a deep affection for Little, Brown. And not just because they are riding so high these days. Sure, they the publishers of a kind-of-sort-of-somewhat-successful series you may have heard of, but they also have one of the sharpest, most insistently singular lists around. Not just the thrill-a-minute money machines of James Patterson, but also cheerily commercial fare such as Vampirates, literary bestsellers that smart kids love such as The Mysterious Benedict Society, compelling and complex teen fiction about dark stuff in life such as The Hate List and North of Beautiful, and more more more. It’s just a great house with great books, and the people who edit there are pretty fabulous, too.

But this isn’t a love letter to Little, Brown—honest, it’s not. (My love is much too fickle and unpleasant to be captured in a mere blog post.) Instead, it’s a reproduction of a useful handout their editors distribute at conferences and which every writer should tack to his or her wall.The list of eminent attributes below may not all be required of a good book, but I’d wager most are true of the best books. How do these strike all of you? As things that need not be said? As constraints? Or as the distilled wisdom of the soldiers in the trenches of children’s books publishing?

Without further ado:

LIST OF ATTRIBUTES THAT MAKE A GOOD CHILDREN’S BOOK (in our opinion)

  1. Child or child surrogate (animal) is the hero/heroine.
  2. Author uses engaging, lively language with distinctive dialogue.
  3. Author is not condescending or cloying, and is careful about using stereotypes.
  4. Characters seem real, complex, dimensional, and show growth.
  5. Author/Artist creates a completely believable and interesting world for the story’s characters to inhabit.
  6. Possesses an economy of language and a coherent structure
  7. Includes details that appeal to a child’s sensibilities
  8. Story has clever twists and/or connections that make the reader say, “A-ha!”
  9. Isn’t overly predictable (although for some picture books, predictability can work)
  10. Makes a point without being overly didactic or preachy
  11. Illustrations (if applicable) expand in some way on the words of the story
  12. Story/art is compelling and makes reader want to turn the page to see what happens
  13. Has a clear climax, point of tension that is resolved in a satisfying way
  14. Author takes reader on a journey; opens up new world and ideas to the reader
  15. Story moves and/or entertains; makes reader laugh, cry, and/or think. This satisfying feeling should linger with the reader after the book is over.
  16. On repeated readings the book offers fresh revelations or details that may not have been caught the first time through
  17. Story gives enjoyment to the child and the inner child.
  18. Author is not afraid to be daring and takes risks—such as being willing to portray unlikeable characters or fantastical situations, take on controversial subjects, etc.
  19. Author has a clear, fresh, and interesting point of view on his/her subject.
  20. Be particularly careful about following any current trends; ideally the story should have some lasting value beyond mere trends.
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  1. And let’s not forget #21:

    Tack on James Patterson as co-author so it sells.

    Oh! Burn!

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  2. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Tara Lazar, Upstart Crow. Upstart Crow said: Now on the Upstart Crow blog: Little, Brown’s “List of Attributes that Make a Good Children̵… (http://tinyurl.com/yemq8qb) […]

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  3. What a great list. Little Brown is definitely one of those extraordinay publishers most writers (myself included) would love to be a part of, so seeing what they think makes a good children’s book is an invaulable tool.

    This is one of those posts I’ll share with my writing friends and store in my archives. Thanks for sharing!

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  4. Well now I know what I’m going to give the women in my writer’s group for Christmas; this list, framed.

    (Psst. Don’t tell Deb. She thinks I’m getting her a toaster oven.)

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  5. . . . for the most part, agendas/controversial issues noted in point #18 should be left at Puff the Magic Dragon’s door. As far as taking risks, may it be applied to overall dynamics, as in going way outside the box to entertain or to challenge children to internalize a matter so it matters to them. All other points are fantabulous!

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  6. This is a thought provoking twenty-step program, but it could be distilled to a few key tenets.

    ~Respect your readers… for they have given you their precious time
    ~Respect your characters… for they will not live unless you do
    ~Write about something you care about… for if you do not, it will show
    ~Work hard

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  7. Dandy list. Tacking up now…

    I tend to rely heavily on intuition so it’s nice to receive a chunk of frameworking advice (especially when it’s coming from Little,Brown).

    Thank you.

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  8. What do “resolved in a satisfying way” and “satisfying feeling” mean? Obviously, it’s different for different books and different readers. But in general, must stories offer young readers a sense of hope or uplift, if not a full happy ending? Or does a resolution that grows naturally out of the story and its characters provide enough of a sense of satisfaction on its own?

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  9. Thank you.

    I’d heard Connie speak and not only was she fascinating, but so funny and cool… yet I’d never been given this list. With this I shall sub tomorrow.

    Tis an admirable list.

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  10. I have just published a teen novel that has at least 17 or 18 of those characteristics. If interested in knowing more, just go to my website.

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  11. #5 – a completely believable world…I would say that believable to a child is something that pushes the envelope of truth. Adults wouldn’t think it’s believable to run away and join a society of really smart kids in attempt to foil the bad guy’s plans, but my son WANTED that to be true. And so, I suppose it was believable to him. Too realistic of a world = BORING.

    BTW, that Mysterious Ben Society IS great. I have author envy for sure.

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  12. “Sleep, my Bella. Dream happy dreams. You are the only one who has ever touched my heart. It will always be yours. Sleep, my only love.”

    Does that come under, “Author uses engaging, lively language with distinctive dialogue.” Or is it more, “Author is not condescending or cloying, and is careful about using stereotypes?”

    It must be the secret 21st Attribute: “If you’re making a billion dollars forget 1-20.”

    By the way, I believe The 21st Attribute is Dan Brown’s next book.

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  13. Thanks Michael Grant, you have resolved this discussion in a satisfying way.

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  14. So true, Michael Grant. Thanks for the major chuckle this morning.

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  15. Michael, I think you’re suggesting that there is something wrong with the text you’ve excerpted, but I can’t figure out what it might be.

    Of course, I also glitter in direct sunlight, so I may not be the best audience.

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  16. Thanks for this list. I love #20 and would recommend starting a new trend instead of following trends.

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  17. Thanks, Michael. I’ll be sharing this with a group next week. And, I appreciate the glitter explanation. I always thought I was getting a migraine.
    Ruby, I won’t tell the others…

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  18. I know it’s fashionable to hate on Twilight, and I haven’t read the books so I couldn’t say one way or another if they’re any good, but any author who’s managed to win over several million die-hard fans must be doing a damn fine job of #5 (creating an interesting world) and #12 (being compelling) at the very least.

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  19. […] Day By Day Writer Balancing work, life and the desire to create « Thankful for writing What makes a good children’s book November 28, 2009 Just a quick post today, because I don’t have much that I can add to the post I’m pointing you too. Upstart Crow Literary’s Michael Sterns posted a great list earlier this week from Little, Brown Books for Young Readers: “List of Attributes That Make a Good Children’s Book.” […]

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  20. […] This post was Twitted by bevrosenbaum […]

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  21. […] This post was Twitted by onbeyondwords […]

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  22. Little Brown: Thanks for your list. I am probably the 350,000 th kids’ book author who has written (this hour)-saying, but I have just that kind of kids’ book!
    Linda Pilkington

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  23. […] This post was Twitted by SMozer […]

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  24. […] Crow Literary founder Michael Stearns lists 20 things the editors of Little, Brown Books for Young Readers say make for a good children’s story.  […]

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  25. […] This post was Twitted by LeftyWritey […]

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  26. […] recurring traits of good children’s books (both novels and picture books). See the whole list at the Upstart Crow Literary blog (a cool place to peek behind the curtain of the writing and […]

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  27. […] a sneak peak at what Little Brown consider to be the essential ingredients? Well – thanks to Upstart Crow Literary – here it is. The recipe to a good […]

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  28. Michael,
    I recently discovered your 2009 article on “Attributes of a Children’s Book.” Your list is excellent and is something every aspiring children’g book writer should read. Well done!
    George K.

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  30. […] books in children’s hands: An introduction to their literature, Third ed. Boston, MA: Pearson. —http://upstartcrowliterary.com/blog/?p=811 Share this:TwitterFacebookLike this:Like […]

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  31. […] Little Brown’s List Of What Makes A Good Picturebook […]

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