Beyond the Cover: What to Look for in a Children’s Picture Book

This is a guest post by one of my former high school English teachers who is now retired and a published author.  She was wonderful then and is wonderful now.  I hope you enjoy her words and wisdom as much as I do!

By Saralyn Richard

Before I wrote and published Naughty Nana, I selected a children’s book based mostly on the cover. If it was appealing, I was good, and I ended up with some real duds. Now, like a connoisseur of gourmet foods and fine wines, I’ve developed a more sophisticated palate, so I thought I’d share some of my new-found criteria for what makes a fabulous picture book.

1. How well is the book constructed? Whether the book has a hard or soft cover, it needs to be durable enough to withstand many page-turnings by hands, both big and little. Is the binding secure enough to keep the pages intact? What kind of paper does the book have? If the book is flimsy, it’s just not going to hold up.

2. Is the book colorful? Many picture books have only one or two colors, while others have four. In my experience, children enjoy books with multi-colored illustrations that come from combinations of red, yellow, blue, and black. If the paper is coated, it will take the inks and produce vibrant and shiny pages, the kind children are attracted to.

3. Does the book have at least one relatable character? Most picture books have a target audience of children aged 1-3, 3-6, or 3-8. The main character should be someone who is similar in age to the person who is reading or being read to. It’s also helpful if there is some age, gender, race, or religion diversity among the characters, so the book has a wider appeal and teaches children about people who
are different from themselves.

4. Is there a compassionate message? Most children’s books are entertaining and/or educational, but not all of them present readers with a positive message, something that points the way toward ethical behavior, kindness, friendship, or love. Children’s minds, after reading a bedtime story, should be filled with uplifting thoughts and the importance of doing the right thing. I’m convinced that is key to making the world a better place.

5. Does the book lend itself to conversation between the child and the adult reading it to her? Are there questions that flow naturally from the story? Can the child draw conclusions, make inferences and predictions, generate explanations, compare and contrast, and evaluate the story? The best picture books are open to interpretation, providing room for healthy discussion.

As you shop for quality books for the youngsters on your holiday list, keep these five criteria in mind: Construction, Color, Character, Compassion, and Conversation. Hit all five, and you’ll know you’ve got a winner!



Saralyn Richard is a former educator and author of Naughty Nana, a children’s picture book, ranked #30 on the Goodreads list for Best Picture Book. For reviews and book orders, GO HERE.

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