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Ask The Publisher: How Do You Choose Your Children's Books

Ask the Publisher

Hello, everyone and happy March!

I recently had the pleasure of speaking to a writer’s group. As usual there were lots of questions, but many centred around a single theme⎯how do we make our children’s literature acquisition decisions?

In brief, these are our key criteria:

1. Writing

Is the writing style simple and straightforward? Does it follow basic rules of grammar and punctuation? Does the writer use engaging language? The vocabulary in the book should be relatable but somewhat challenging at times to the intended age group of readers. Learning a few new words from a book makes reading it a more valuable learning experience.

2. Plot

The plots are interesting, straightforward and focus on action rather than description/setting/characters’ thoughts and motivations. Caveat—fantasy requires more description/setting for world-building.

3. Character

The book has a central character who is a believable child confronting the world with energy and imagination. These characters tend to be underdogs who need to deal with theoretically more powerful enemies. There’s a clear distinction between the good guys and the bad guys. Best-selling children’s books act as wish-fulfillment fantasies for their readers. Therefore, despite their theoretical lack of power, main characters perform well under pressure, win against great odds, and win the admiration of others as a result.

4. Themes

Does the book have staying power? Books that skillfully take on universally relatable topics such as fear, love, and adventure tend to stay relevant. Books stand the test of time when their authors write about topics that matter.

5. Multiculturalism and/or Diversity

Is the book currently, or could it easily become, multicultural? Does it demonstrate diversity? Many good children’s books are inclusive and informative about the many cultures of our world through the use of diverse characters, stories, songs, and traditions from around the globe, or are even written in a bilingual format. Children’s books that honour various cultures can affirm students’ identities, teach them about their fellow classmates and community members, and begin to increase understanding between cultures at an early age.

6. Engagement

The book is so exciting that readers will want to devour every page, and they are rich and thoughtful enough that every page will be worth devouring. Would a child feel they had learned something cool after reading this book? High quality children’s books teach children to think and wonder about their world and about themselves. Children want to be challenged, made to think and reconsider; they want to learn and grow and become wiser. Kids will like a book with a great story. But they will only love a book that makes them see the world in a new way.

7. Audience

Is the book appealing to children and adults alike?

8. Series Potential

Is it, or could it become, part of a series?

9. Marketability

Is the book marketable? If the majority of the above boxes have been successfully addressed, then the book is normally a good acquisition choice and normally would sell very well. However, there are situations where there is nothing intrinsically wrong with the manuscript but we will still pass on it. We might already have a book like it in our list or another publisher might have recently published a similar book (or we know of an imminent upcoming release).

As always I am happy to hear your thoughts and questions.

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