How Do You Know If It Is Any Good?: The Development and Application of an Evaluative Framework to Assess Contemporary Children's Books

How Do You Know If It Is Any Good?: The Development and Application of an Evaluative Framework to Assess Contemporary Children's Books

Kerry Lee (University of Auckland, New Zealand), Pamela Perger (University of Auckland, New Zealand), Monique Dunn (University of Auckland, New Zealand) and Jess O'Sullivan (University of Auckland, New Zealand)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-6046-5.ch001


Thousands of books are published every year both in paper form and online. For a parent or a teacher who is new to the profession, relying on the classics or well-known authors is one way to ensure the books children are reading have literary merit. Yet not all books stand the test of time, and are these traditional choices appropriate for 21st century children? With such a plethora of material now available, how can parents and teachers evaluate the material they are buying or reading to children? This chapter is not written for literacy specialists but rather for those who are keen to make informed book selection choices. It identifies key elements of quality contemporary children's books and provides guidance for their assessment.
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There are many forms of books, including text-books, mass-market books, trade books, and e-books. Each of these forms is designed for a different market and purpose. Before evaluating a book it is important to identify who it was written for. A ‘text-book’ is a book published for the instructional market alone, whilst a ‘mass-market book’ is a book published solely for the consumer market. These books (e.g., ‘Little Golden Books’) are generally inexpensive and often sold in supermarkets or airports. ‘Trade books’ are created for both the consumer and institutional market. These are sold to libraries and schools but are also sold to consumers through bookstores. Publishers are generally keen for a trade book to be popular in both the consumer and institutional markets and both quality and child appeal are considered when deciding on sales potential. Electronic books (e-books) may or may not have a printed equivalent. Their digital format allows multimedia and non-textual information to be included. In order to narrow the scope of this chapter, textbooks have been excluded as they are directed at an instructional rather than an institutional or consumer market. For this reason the term ‘book’ shall refer solely to mass-market books, trade books, and e-books for the remainder for the chapter.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Interactivity: The dynamic interaction between two or more components (not necessarily people/characters). This enables the reader to actively affect the story outcome through their choices rather than be a passive recipient of the story. In this way they are more intellectually engaged as they need to make decisions.

Radical Change: A type of postmodernistic approach to literature of today. Postmodern books designed to include digital characteristics such as interactivity, connectivity, and access. These books may be non–fiction or fiction.

Trade Books: Books that are sold to libraries and schools as well as general consumers through bookstores.

Graphic Novels: Novels which are made up of comic content and are illustrated comic fiction (popular with teenagers). The term “graphic novel” was first used in 1964.

Key Literacy Elements: Aspects found in written work that are required to make the story flow/ interesting/readable. Such as writing style, plot, characters, setting, tone, illustrations, design, appropriateness, motivation.

Evaluative Framework: A structured table/ outline used to identify key elements of a book.

Contemporary Children's Literature: Recently published children's literature.

Postmodern Literature: The qualities/elements that an author or illustrator use in contemporary books. These books reflect a broader and more liberal range of content as well as providing images which support and enhance the text.

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