The Complexity of Children’s Stories and Social Development

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by J.K. Rowling cover art
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 seriesHarry Potter series, by J.K. Rowling, and Rebecca Stead’s Newbery Medal winner When You Reach MeWhen You Reach Me, by Rebecca Stead, Newbery Medal Winner.  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.

If you would like to read from the first article in this series, How to Choose Children’s Books,” click here.

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


When You Reach Me: Summary and Review

When You Reach Me by Rebecca SteadWhen You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead
Title: When You Reach MeWhen You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead
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 MeWhen You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead—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 TimeA Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L'Engle 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


Children’s Book Awards: 2010 Caldecott, Newbery, King, and Geisel Winners

A quick post to announce the winners of several prestigious awards for children’s books, revealed today on the American Library Association (ALA) website for children’s book awards.  I aim to review many of these children’s books in the weeks and months ahead.

Children’s Book Awards: Caldecott

children's books caldecott medal newbery medalchildren's books caldecott medal newbery medalchildren's books caldecott medal newbery medal
First, the 2010 winner of the Randolph Caldecott Medal is The Lion & the Mouse illustrated and written by Jerry Pinkney (click here to see our review, “Picture Books: Caldecott Medal Winner, The Lion and the Mouse).  Two Caldecott Honor children’s books—think “runners-up”—were also chosen: All the Worldchildren's books caldecott medal newbery medal, illustrated by Marla Frazee and written by Liz Garton Scanlon, and Red Sings from Treetops: A Year in Colorschildren's books caldecott medal newbery medal, illustrated by Pamela Zagarenski and written by Joyce Sidman.  The ALA website for children’s book awards states the following of the Caldecott Medal:

“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