What Makes a Good Book, a Good Book?

Tastes in literature vary as greatly as tastes in cuisine. With such diversity of opinions, how does
a school community decide which books are worthy of their students’ time and attention? Below
you will find some of the values we hold in determining what makes a good book, a good book.
We have tried to apply the following set of criteria in making decisions to include or exclude a
Dumbed down literature that is absent of rich ideas, message, and inspiration.
Living Books:
 Living books have high literary quality. They are well-written using elevated language
that is beautifully arranged and conveys meaning in a powerful way. The books should
contain content (ideas, themes, details) that inspire. They should not talk down to the
target reader. A child will often imitate what he reads and therefore needs well-written
books as models.
Living books depict life/human condition in a vivid and engaging way (not necessarily
through realistic means). Living books are the books we “fall” into.
Living books should have beautiful illustrations that show artistic quality and model
excellence. The illustrations should be interesting, captivating, and able to hold the
attention of the reader. Illustrations should enhance the child’s imagination, not limit it.
If a book has a beautiful text and mediocre illustrations, consider reading the text prior to
showing the child the illustrations.
Living books are enjoyable by adults as well as children. If you do not find it interesting,
then your child will likely find it boring as well.
The text of a living book should stimulate thinking and/or feeling. It should spark
conversation, questioning, curiosity that leads into imaginative play or self-initiated
research – more books by that author, more books about that subject.
Choosing literature for a child should also take into account the age appropriateness of the
themes of the book. Even if a child can fluently read a book well above their age, this does not
mean that they should read books at that level. The reading level of a book is determined not
only by the difficulty of the words and sentence structure, but also by the maturity of the content.
A child will not find a book interesting if the characters are wrestling with life issues that are
beyond the child’s experiences and development. They will also miss the humor of a selection if
it is too sophisticated for their age. A child can find a book disturbing if it exposes them to
Role of Good Literature
realities of life they are not yet ready for. For this reason, it is important to take into
consideration the grade level suggestions on the reading list. Teachers and parents should take
care to know each child personally and to keep in mind each child’s temperament and maturity.
What may be an adventure story for one Class Four student could be too scary for a more
sensitive, tender hearted child.
Literature can be a wonderful tool to teach children about life. Story can capture both the head
and heart as readers experience second hand the character’s life. Therefore, it is important to
intentionally expose children to these valuable life lessons but to do so with sensitivity and
 Characters doing things children can relate to through real life experiences or the
fantastic wishes every child has.
 Good examples and bad examples. When using a bad example, there should be textual
elements that show the consequences of their choices and/or the tone should paint the
character in a negative light – i.e. How does the author want you to view the character?
 Temptations = the usual suspects (i.e., anger, lying, cheating, etc.)
 Focus on strengths of character rather than on opinions regarding trendy issues. This
means a preference for timeless, universal themes.
 SHOW, don’t TELL, the truths of life. Not didactic – children tune out sermons in
 Avoid racial stereotypes and stick to universal truths and matters
Character qualities that can be emphasized through the reading:
Role of Good Literature
Good habits
“It is like pulling teeth to get my child to finish a book.”
Do not insist that your child finish every book he/she picks off the shelf. You do not
finish every book you pick up as an adult. However, we do not want to encourage pogo
stick reading habits. Insist that your child give a book a fair chance, 25-50 pages
depending on the length of the book. If, after giving the author a chance to capture their
attention, they are not enjoying the book, then let them choose another book. Use
common sense. If a child repeatedly does this, ask one of your child’s friends (or their
parent) with similar interests for book recommendations. Then, help your child see the
book through to the end. They may need to discuss the book with you each day so that it
feels like a shared reading experience.
“Well, at least he is reading.”
While this phrase is often used to justify allowing a child to read anything, it does not
serve the child well in developing good, life-long reading habits. While you might
initially need a twaddle book to get a child excited about reading, you do not want to
allow them to continue in a superficial literary diet. Their hearts, minds, imagination, and
spirit will be anemic as a result of such decisions. Act as a good “coach.” Get involved
in what your child is reading so that they can develop a more discriminating pallet.
“How do I know if the book is too hard?”
A good rule of thumb is if the child struggles to decode (sound out) five or more words
on the page, then the book is too hard for the child to read independently.
“My child can read on their own now.”
at an early age, your child will enjoy a family read aloud time all the way through high
school. YES, we know many families who have actually done it! The parents love it as
much as the kids do because they get to read the books they never read in school. It will
be worth it, even if it is only once or twice a week as they get older and extra-curricular
activities seem to dictate your schedule.
From Honey for a Child’s Heart, Gladys Hunt
“A good book is a magic gateway to a wider world of wonder, beauty, delight, and
adventure. Books are experiences that make us grow, that add something to our inner
stature.” p.14
Living books give children wings. Proverbs: a word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in
pictures of silver. p.14
“Any good book can be used by God in a child’s development, for a good book has
genuine spiritual substance, not just intellectual enjoyment.” p. 18 – even if it is not a
Christian book
Role of Good Literature
“What is unfamiliar becomes close and real in books. What is ridiculous helps children
see the humor in their own lives. Sympathetic understanding is a generous by product of
sharing the emotions of others in stories. Books are no substitute for life, but a keener
pleasure comes to life because of books.” p. 18
Role of Good Literature
Bloom, Jan. Who Should We Then Read? Authors of Good Books for Children and Young
Adults, Cokato, MN, BooksBloom, 2001.
Hunt, Gladys. Honey for a Child’s Heart: The Imaginative Use of Books in Family Life. Grand
Rapids, MI, Zondervan, 1989.
Kilpatrick, William. Books that Build Character: A Guide to Teaching Your Child Moral Values
Through Stories. New York, NY, Touchstone and Schuster, 1994.
McCallum, Elizabeth and Jane Stott. The Book Tree: A Christian Reference for Children’s
Literature, Moscow, ID, Canon Press, 2001.
Wilson, Elizabeth. Books Children Love: A Guide to the Best Children’s Literature. Wheaton,
IL, Crossway Books, 1987
Role of Good Literature