Saturday, January 07, 2006

What Makes it a Good Book?

What are the requirements for a book to be considered "good"? Does it need to have an important theme? Unique characters? A trendy structure? A complicated plot?

If a book has none of these, but it initiates interesting conversation, can it still be called a good book?

I was going to nominate BABYMOUSE: QUEEN OF THE WORLD and BABYMOUSE: OUR HERO as the Worst Books of 2006. (It's a little early, I know, but I definitely thought they'd qualify.) To make my case for the Worst Book nomination, I brought them to a group of boys in my classroom that was comparing and contrasting two different graphic novels: the CAPTAIN UNDERPANTS books and the BONE books. After listening to what they had to say about CAPTAIN UNDERPANTS and BONE, I put out the BABYMOUSE books, sort of flipped through them to show what they look like inside, and waited for the boys to recoil in horror from the splash of pink and hearts and the obvious girl main character.

It didn't happen.

A couple of the guys really wanted to read BABYMOUSE next. They all agreed BABYMOUSE fits in the category with CAPTAIN UNDERPANTS and BONE -- more like BONE because there's no text like there is in CAPTAIN UNDERPANTS, but more like CAPTAIN UNDERPANTS in the style of the comics. One guy did very politely admit that he would never in all the world pick up such a "girl" book to read, no matter if it had comics in it or not, but he was willing to take it home and read it just to see if it was as bad as he thought it would be. (It wasn't.)

Here's what ultimately made me decide not to go ahead with the Worst Book nomination: BABYMOUSE has started a whole-class on-going conversation on the inaccuracies of gender stereotypes of all kinds. Good conversation is worth as much to me as a Newbery sticker on a book cover.

Which again begs the question of, "What good are the awards?" and "How can a committee pick a BEST out of all the varied books that were published in 2005?" Apples and oranges.

That said, I'll still stick my neck out and list my favorites for the 2005 Newbery. (Unlike Franki, I think I'm done trying to finish reading one or two more before the announcement.)

In no particular order:

EACH LITTLE BIRD THAT SINGS by Deborah Wiles
PRINCESS ACADEMY by Shannon Hale
PROJECT MULBERRY by Linda Sue Park
A WREATH FOR EMMETT TILL by Marilyn Nelson

2 comments:

  1. Anonymous10:14 AM

    And so, would a graphic novel even be considered a good book? What kind of readers and reading habits do lists celebrate or foster?

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  2. Question One: SURE! Why not?

    Question Two: Not sure where you're going with this. If you are wondering about readers who keep lists of the books they've read, I'd say that's a great thing for readers of any age to do. You don't need to have a particular goal for how many books you read of any certain kind, just the act of writing down the date you finished and the title and the author (with or without any further comments) gives you an interesting record for reflection or for memory jogging.

    If you mean by lists "lists of award winners" then the kinds of readers who make it a habit to read books that are on the award lists are reading what some people believe to be among the best books published in that category. Seems like a good way to weed out some of the dross. If you agree with the choices of the people who made the list, that is. And if you don't, well, you are a THINKING reader! Hooray for that!

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