Cybils Press Release
Gilda Joyce, Psychic Investigator

Horn Book Magazine: What Makes a Good Book?

I've been reading the September/October issue of The Horn Book magazine. I've found it to be quite timely, as I think about the new Cybils children's and young adult blogger's literary awards. The idea of this issue (according to Executive Editor Martha V. Parravano) is to "aid Horn Book readers in the never-ending, nebulous, yet necessary search for "good."" I highly recommend that you seek out the entire issue, but in the meantime, here are some highlights:

  • Author Richard Peck (Here Lies the Librarian, The Teacher's Funeral, etc.) writes about what makes a good beginning for a novel. He describes a specific example that he selected after talking with a large group of fifth graders about what might interest their teachers.
  • Deborah Stevenson (library and information science professor and editor of The Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books) takes on the broader question of what it means to call a book "good" when we encompass so many personal and external ideals in our decision-making. She says (among many other points) that "just as one learns writing by writing, one must learn reading by reading", and that we judge new books according to their relationship with books that we've already read and liked or disliked. She says "That's why external checklists of literary merit aren't sufficient to enable somebody new on the scene to judge in the same way as an experienced reader; why, ultimately, writing about what makes a good book can't provide a methodology to those who haven't already found many books good". So, all of you reviewers out there, the more you read, the more you'll be qualified to read and evaluate books. And, as most of you are reviewers because you love to read already, this works out well.
  • Arthur A. Levine (editorial director, Arthur A. Levine books) writes about what makes a good translated book. He starts out with a high-level calling: "Our mission is to publish books that we love, books we would pass on to young readers with the enthusiasm that is born of a delightful reading experience; the kind of experience only a truly outstanding writer can provide." He also discusses the fact that the best translated books should gain something "extra" from having been written somewhere other than in the United States. I've noticed this recently in my own adult mystery reading. I love Andrea Camilleri's Inspector Montalbano series and Donna Leon's Guido Brunetti series because each transports me to a different part of Italy, with details that only someone who has lived extensively in the area can provide.
  • Kate O'Sullivan (Houghton Mifflin editor) writes about editing books to boast about. She says: "Over time, I've found that a good read most often lies at the intersection where place, personality, and events meet." She also discusses the importance of a convincing point of view, emotive honesty, and the particular balance required for picture books.

There is lots of other great stuff in this issue: with articles about what makes a good thriller, holocaust book, second-grade book, poem, fantasy, and ending. All in all, there are many nuggets of advice for the writer or the reviewer. And of course, there are lots of interesting reviews, too. A few books that I wrote down to add to my list were:

Happy reading!