What, you thought you could just walk into a bookstore and buy a book? How do you determine whether or not a picture book is worthy, not only of your book budget, but also the limited bookshelf space in your home?
A good picture book has universal appeal and is worth adding to your home library regardless of the ages of your children. I have learned, with regret, that most titles do not remain in print forever, and used copies are often exorbitantly priced.
I began investing in my personal collection of picture books almost twenty years ago. One of my earliest purchases, Reynard the Fox by Alan Vaes, is a lovely volume, but has been largely ignored. This morning, my 11yo son brought it to me, sharing the details in the illustrations he had particularly enjoyed.
My nearly twenty-year-old investment is accruing interest.
How do you develop a good picture book library? A trusted review or booklist is a great place to begin, but the purchase decision is subjective. Here, in extended detail, is the process I generally follow from first sight to final say.
An Alphacritical Approach to the Evaluation and Acquisition of Picture Books for Personal Collection Development
Appealing artwork (yes, I first judge a book by its cover.)
Book title (Is it clever? Promising? Or yet another “I love you” book?)
Curiosity (Am I intrigued enough to pick it up?)
Discovery (I open the book…)
Endpages (Sometimes plain, but there are often clever devices such as quilt designs in The Quiltmaker’s Gift or the Elephant and Piggie books)
Frontmatter (The story might actually begin on the title page)
General storyline (Either flip through or read it)
How it’s written (Quality matters)
Illustrations (Beautiful or dippy? Do they enhance the story or just break up the text?)
Juvenile appeal (Will this appeal to the intended audience? Is it written for children, or a nostalgic book for adults?)
Keep reading? (Is it good enough to finish, or have you closed the book already and put it back on the shelf?)
Love the ending? (Satisfying conclusion? Predictable?)
Make a difference in your life or someone else’s? (Do you see the world in a fresh way?)
New pleasure or experience? (Does it make you laugh? Help you love your neighbor?)
Other’s opinions (Ask a child or a friend if you aren’t sure or if you love it and want to see if they agree)
Purchase or borrow? (Will this be readily available at your library, or is it worth buying so you can read it for years to come and share it with friends?)
Questions to share with a listener or another reader (Did you notice? What was your favorite…)
Read it again? (And again and again?)
Story (Is it beautifully written? For explanation, see here)
Truth (Does it profoundly reflect God’s Truth? Again, see here)
Universal or limited use? (A good picture book has universal appeal, for multiple ages and seasons of life.)
Value (Okay, do I buy it new? Used? Order on Amazon or support my local independent bookstore?)
Where do I shelve it? (Ummm…)
X (Cross palms with coin or sign the check or credit card confirmation)
Yes!!! (You did it!)
Zealously share it. Read it aloud. Or leave it lying on the coffee table for someone else to admire the artwork, behold the book title, and curiously discover the book. Because that’s how your investment accrues interest.
If my family were establishing a picture book collection for a new library on a desert island, here are the first ten we would put in our backpack:
- The Frances Books by Russell Hoban (yes, all seven of them)
- Virginia Lee Burton trio: The Little House, Mike Mulligan, and Choo-Choo
- Mr. Squirrel and the Moon
- Shark vs. Train
- Heckedy Peg
- Bartholomew and the Oobleck
- The Girl and the Bicycle
- A Visitor for Bear
- The Spider and the Fly (ill. By DiTerlizzi)
- My Lucky Day
(Thank you for indulging my creative whimsy. That’s more than ten, so I’ll have to leave behind the can opener, I guess.)
Looking for more great suggestions? There are plenty of enticing lists in the forthcoming Redeemed Reader Companion!