What makes for good children’s books? In this series on how to choose children’s books, 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 her grow.
One characteristic that can affect the developmental value of a kids’ book is the complexity of the book’s story. In this article I will explain what I mean by “story complexity,” and what I see as the connection between the complexity of children’s stories and social development (e.g., emotional and intellectual development). I will draw on prominent examples of recent juvenile and young adult fiction to illustrate my points: J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series, and Rebecca Stead’s Newbery Medal winner When You Reach Me. While what I have to say will apply mostly to older children, I will also try to give some rough guidance on choosing complex stories for younger children.
Children’s Stories and Social Development: Complex Characters
Viewed one way, the basic elements of a story are characters and plots. Both of these elements may contribute to the complexity of a story. First, I will discuss how the characters in a story may contribute to its complexity. A complex character is one whose mental, emotional, and behavioral activity is developed by the author to such a degree that she seems deeply true to life. Continue reading →
Title: When You Reach Me
Author: Rebecca Stead
Age Category: 9 to 12 years +
Genre: Middle-grade Fiction
When You Reach Me: Summary
Miranda—the protagonist of the 2010 Newbery Medal-winning juvenile fiction book When You Reach Me—is a twelve-year-old latchkey kid living with her single mom in New York City in the 1970s. She’s smart, she’s funny, and she reads only one book: A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle. Her mother—a would-be lawyer with a keen sense of justice—was forced to drop out of law school when she had Miranda. Now she works unhappily as a paralegal and dreams of winning the game show The $20,000 Pyramid so she can quit her job.
Miranda has lost her best friend, Sal, who lives in her apartment building. One day, while the two of them were walking home from school, a neighborhood kid named Marcus punched Sal, and from that day on Continue reading →
“The Caldecott Medal was named in honor of nineteenth-century English illustrator Randolph Caldecott. It is awarded annually by the Association for Library Service to Children, a division of the American Library Association, to the artist of the most distinguished American picture book for children.” Continue reading →