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Selection Criteria for Children’s Books: Subjective Appeal

This post is the second in a series outlining selection criteria for children’s books.  The series starts here with “How to Choose Children’s Books,” if you want to read from the beginning.  Last time, in laying out the road map for this series, I introduced the notion of a book’s subjective appeal, i.e., the considerations that might make a book appealing to a child.  In this post I will begin discussing subjective appeal in more depth, and in particular I will argue for the importance of considering subjective appeal among the selection criteria for children’s books.

Selection Criteria for Children’s Books: Subjective Appeal

So, here is the central—and what I take to be very important—point: choosing a kids’ book with subjective appeal is not optional.  Rather, it is a crucial, non-negotiable part of the selection.  Now, this might go without saying for most of us: of course we aim to choose children’s books that kids will like!  However, this is not obvious to everyone.  I have in mind here a certain kind of parent or caretaker that tends toward the “all business” approach to child education and development.  This kind of adult might tend, at least sometimes, to read a book to a child because it is good for the child, regardless of the fact that the child would rather not be reading it.

I know that adults with this tendency are out there because I sometimes exhibit it myself!  For example, my wife and I are trying to help our children learn French from a young age.  Part of the way we encourage French language learning is by reading French language children’s books to them, such as a French translation of Goodnight Moon, by Margaret Wise Brown, called Bonsoir Lune.  My kids enjoy this to a certain extent, but they get tired of it pretty quickly, and when they do I sometimes turn into a book nazi, forcing them to attend to a book that they’re not enjoying.

However, this kind of practice—where we neglect what is enjoyable to a child—can have disastrous effects.  First of all, it tends to erode the child’s desire to be read to.  (My children are definitely less inclined to go back to the French language books after an episode like that.)  And that fact is, of course, terrible given all the amazing relational and emotional (not to mention cognitive) benefits that derive simply from an adult sitting down and reading a book to a child.

However, as if that were not bad enough, forcing a child to bear with a kids’ book they don’t like also erodes a child’s desire to read at all.  In other words, such a practice may well contribute to turning the child off of reading altogether.  Keeping in mind that what we want to cultivate in a child is a love of being read to, and a lifelong love of reading in general, it will be crucial to choose children’s books that a child will enjoy reading, i.e., kids’ books with subjective appeal.  After all, do you consistently read things you find boring or unappealing?

Subjective Appeal is Not Enough

There is one final caveat to my emphasis on the importance of considering subjective appeal when choosing children’s books: simply choosing a book that a child will like is also not enough.  Why?  Because sometimes children like books that are not so good for them (so do adults!).  For example, my kids love the Captain Underpants series by Dav Pilkey (click here for my review), which I don’t think serves them well.

The implicit point here is that we, as adults, have certain developmental goals in mind for the children in our lives, so we also need to consider those goals when choosing children’s books (I’ll say more about what constitutes a book’s developmental value in future posts). So, given a child’s proclivity for certain forms of junky books, and given that we have certain developmental goals in mind for our children, that a book has subjective appeal for a child should not be enough to seal your choice, but it is a crucial start since it encourages a love of reading.  Plus it is just plain great to see a child enjoying something!

In the next post in this series, “Choosing Children’s Books with Age-appropriate Themes”, I will begin to discuss the particular factors that contribute to a book’s subjective appeal.  Specifically, I will take up the topic of the themes of appealing children’s books.

Thoughts? Start a discussion in the comments!

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  1. […] Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (Book 5) will have much subjective appeal for children older than ten years.  First, the plot is gripping and intricate.  Although it is […]

  2. […] I will continue to discuss the particular factors that contribute to a children’s book’s subjective appeal—i.e., the considerations that render a book appealing to a child—taking up the role that a good […]

  3. […] subjective appeal of these multicultural children’s books consists in several factors.  First, the themes of […]

  4. […] the developmental value of the picture book lies chiefly in its moral teaching, its subjective appeal lies chiefly in Pinkney’s stunningly beautiful illustrations. Pinkney uses a combination of […]

  5. […] minimal description, the soul of this juvenile fiction book—and what I take to be its central subjective appeal—is a particularly boyish brand of pessimistic humor. Think Beavis and Butthead with the volume […]

  6. […] subjective appeal of this picture book—i.e., what makes it attractive to children—lies centrally in its […]

  7. […] factors give this picture book subjective appeal for young children.  First, the book is just funny.  Kids love how the egg jumps in the nest, and […]

  8. […] subjective appeal of this board book—i.e., that which makes the children’s book appealing to babies and […]

  9. […] fan of good stories in children’s books.  However, it is important to emphasize that not every subjectively appealing children’s book must have a story.  For example, a good ABC book might simply march through the […]

  10. […] this article series focused on the criterion for choosing children’s books that I have called subjective appeal. As I mentioned at the beginning of this series, when choosing kids’ books adults should look […]

  11. […] most attractive feature of this baby board book, and the central locus of its subjective appeal for babies and toddlers, is Eric Carle’s beautiful bold illustrations.  The final illustration […]

  12. […] subjective appeal of Beezus and Ramona lies chiefly in the humor of Ramona’s antics.  From the reader’s […]

  13. […] two main criteria that should govern the selection of kids’ books.  First, adults should choose children’s books that have what I call “subjective appeal”. In other words, adults should choose books with qualities that make them attractive to children. […]

  14. […] Children’s Books: How to Choose Them, Part 2 – Subjective Appeal […]

  15. […] it is summed up in the term “developmental value”: good children’s books are books that both appeal to kids, and help them to […]

  16. […] addition to its subjective appeal, Ten Little Fingers and Ten Little Toes reflects several qualities that make it developmentally […]

  17. […] In this series of articles I have suggested that choice-worthy children’s books have both subjective appeal, and developmental value.  In other words, good kids’ books are appealing to a child, and help […]

  18. […] book has so much subjective appeal,  I don’t really know where to begin.  How about the writing?  The writing.  Collins […]

  19. […] my focus group (my seven-year-old daughter!) is any indication, this picture book has substantial subjective appeal.  First, Yaccarino turns Cousteau’s life into an interesting story.  In my view, telling a […]

  20. […] my view, the central subjective appeal of this work of young adult fiction is its storyline.  Everything about the story is complex, […]

  21. […] highly recommend Catching Fire. First, the book is bursting with subjective appeal. The plot has the many exciting twists we’ve come to expect from The Hunger Games, the deepening […]

  22. […] from the library or buy, either as a gift or for their personal library. We really hone in on kid appeal and writing. Art is very subjective, so we try not to put undue weight on the illustrations, but […]

  23. […] to say, this picture book has a lot of subjective appeal.  Kids will love the illustrations, which are beautiful photos of the incredibly cute baby […]

  24. […] subjective appeal of the book (as for the others in the trilogy) remains in Collins’s gripping plot-line, her […]

  25. […] things make this board book appealing to toddlers.  First, the theme of Pippo Gets Lost—losing something—is an experience that most […]

  26. […] aspects of this book will appeal to young readers, aged nine to 12 and up. First, the story is gripping. Brian Selznick tactfully […]

  27. […] you think is genuinely valuable, then it may be a good choice (assuming it’s also a book with subjective appeal).  However, if the answer turns out not to be something you want your child to act out or embody […]

  28. […] Subjective Appeal: Excellent Storytelling, Multifaceted Characters […]

  29. […] follows.  In the first part of the series I will discuss the factors that make up what I call the subjective appeal of a children’s book.  In other words, I will try to explain the considerations that might make […]

  30. […] Seeds of Change has tremendous subjective appeal.  Children will drink in the beauty of Sonia Lynn Sadler’s vivid illustrations.  Each page […]

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