At this year’s annual SCBWI conference, a panel of editors discussed the perfect book. For me, it’s always been hard to nail down what makes a perfect book, and forget about naming one…there are just too many, and the type of book I’m obsessed with generally changes from year to year. It’s kind of like falling in love…you can’t always list the things you’re looking for because there’s some element of magic involved and you just know it when you find it.
That said, after the panel, artist-extraordinaire David Diaz and I held our own impromptu panel in the hotel lobby, and pressed people to name one perfect children’s book and explain why it’s perfect. Here were some of the answers:
Wringer by Jerry Spinelli: “It has it all! Suspense, drama, humor, and it’s so well-written. Amazing message without being preachy. It’s not what you think it is. Best book ever, by far.”
The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton: “Perfect in every way. Beautiful writing, realistic, funny, sad, dramatic, exciting, hopeful.”
Monster by Walter Dean Myers: “So completely original and different from anything else out there. Very kid-friendly, exciting, riveting from start to finish, realistic in every way. It doesn’t wrap up with a tidy little ribbon in the end, and it will keep you thinking long after you finish.”
Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson: “Perfect depiction of a post-trauma, depressed teen girl, but it’s also funny and hopeful at times. Flawless writing, very real characters, and very kid-friendly. Impossible to put down.”
Holes by Louis Sachar: “Has so much going for it, it’s hard not to love it. It has drama, humor, adventure, plot twists that will keep you guessing, magical realism weaved in, and awesome characters that kids love. It’s kind of like a fable or fairy tale, but set at a prison camp for kids…brilliant!”
The Giver by Lois Lowry: “It’s dramatic in a parallel universe kind of way, but the writing is so intense and real, you feel like the story is really happening to you.”
Interestingly, this little exercise made me identify exactly what goes into my perfect book (talking specifically MG and teen novels here). First, it needs to grab me immediately and move quickly. Yes, I was a reluctant reader as a kid. There. I said it. Moving on. It has a realistic mix of action, drama and humor, and depicts real kids (not 13-year-olds who speak like 35-year-olds). I can’t stand dialogue that sounds stuffy and forced and too grown-up. Last, it must must must be kid-friendly, meaning, as a 13-year-old I would have completely understood it’s nuances and messages, and would have chosen to read it over and over, enjoying it thoroughly every single time.
Can you guess which of the above titles is my answer? And I would love it if you could add your perfect book as well. Thanks!