You are probably familiar with the two Charlotte Mason book labels– twaddle and living books. Charlotte Mason's standard is high. Really high. If you read through all her quotes and apply them, you will be left with very little to read your young children.
While I want to avoid blatant twaddle (Captain Underwear, Goosebumps, books with product tie-ins like Blue's Clues, etc.), there are books we love that aren't exactly worthy of the "living book" stamp. Because of this, I've formulated my own personal standard for makes a book a good book–one that is worthy of a home on my boys' bookcases. Here are my five marks of a good book.
1. The tale is well told.
The story makes sense and isn't too predictable. The vocabulary is good because the author wasn't afraid to use some words that might be new to children. The rhyme and rhythm are enjoyable; they don't make me want to poke my eye out!
2. The story inspires.
The story inspires me as well as my children. It inspires us to live right; it inspires us to learn more; it inspires pretend play. The story stimulates my children to draw with a purple crayon (Harold and the Purple Crayon), to make soup (Stone Soup), to gather leaves and make a leaf person (Leaf Man), or to play in the snow (The Snowy Day).
3. The book begs to be read again.
If the story is well told and inspiring, we will want to read it again! A good book is like a treasure chest. Each time you open it, you will see a different jewel that is hidden within.
4. Parts of the story become part of our family culture.
I know exactly what my children are referring to when they say, "Aha!" or "Oh, Bother!" or "Tut, tut, it looks like rain." It actually warms my heart when my kids quote from Winnie-the-Pooh. It's like a secret bond or an inside joke that I share with my kids because I read aloud to them . . . because I read a good book aloud to them.
5. The pictures are beautiful or interesting.
I never really thought about this aspect of a good book until I read Read for the Heart by Sarah Clarkson. She makes the point that picture books are the very first pieces of art that our children will ever see. Of course we want that first art to be beautiful. I had to tack on the word interesting as well. Some of our favorites don't have beautiful art work, but interesting art also serves an important purpose. The bottom line is that the art should be visually stimulating.
"A children's story that can only be enjoyed by children is not a
good children's story in the slightest." -C.S. Lewis