Monday, April 20, 2009

In Search of Good Books, part 2

What makes a good book? Timeless, classic, enthralling... There are many ways to describe a good book, but ask me to define what a good book is, and I find myself at a loss for words. I can tell you if I like it or not, describe the plot or characters, or explain how hard is was to put down once I had gotten into the story. But what exactly made it so good? It's intangible to me, but thankfully not everyone shares my loss of words. In rereading the first half of Honey for a Child's Heart over the course of the last week or so, I began to piece together a better understanding of why I love certain books and despise others.

So what are some qualities of a good book?
  1. A good book is an experience. "It introduces us to people and places we wouldn't ordinarily know. A good book is a magic gateway into a wider world of wonder, beauty, delight, and adventure. Books are experiences that make us grow, that add something to our inner stature." It is a combination of the what we encounter on our journey as well as what we take away from it that elevates some books higher than others.
  2. A good book contains good writing using "imagery and word pictures that inspire the imagination." It is this capturing of imagination that brings a book to life in our home. I know a book is good when I have to tear myself away from it to go fix dinner or just go to bed. I know I have found a great read aloud when my kids are asking for just one more chapter or suddenly begin incorporating all or part of the story into their pretend play.
  3. A good book has to be relevant. On some level I have to be able to relate to it. "Good books are about the stuff that makes up life. Most books are about relationships-siblings and friends, parents and children- and the emotions these relationships engender-joy and sorrow, hate and love, admiration and envy, anger and hope. Every child needs to see the possibilities of being human, watch the consequence of choices, and have their hearts stretched by goodness and courage in action." It's what causes my kids to cheer for one character when he succeeds or muse "if only he had ... instead" when he stumbles.
  4. A good book teaches without preaching. "A good book has a profound kind of morality...the sort of force that inspires the reader's inner life and draws out what is noble. A good writer has something worthy to say and says it in the best possible way. The author respects the child's ability to understand. Principles are not preached; they are implicit in the plotting of the story." The best example of this that I have read is The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. I remember watching the light bulb go off in Jessie's mind when we reach the scene where Aslan allows himself to be killed on the stone altar. Suddenly, she figured out on her own the similarities between Jesus and Aslan and spent several minutes explaining them to me.
  5. A good book works for any ages. Something that my kids and I can both enjoy reading whether we read it together or they simply bring the book to me to show me what they have discovered on their own. "The quality of the idea, the skill of the plot, the depth of the characterization, the distinctive style of the author-that's the best I can do by way of defining a good book. When you find one, you recognize it."
This is just some of the information that I gleaned from the first half of Honey for a Child's Heart. While all of these answers are true for good books, I think that perhaps the best image of what truly makes a good book for me what captured in the following quote.

"Stories that make for wonder. Stories that make for laughter. Stories that stir one within with an understanding of the true nature of courage, of love, of beauty. Stories that make one tingle with high adventure, with daring, with grim determination, with the capacity of seeing danger through to the end. Stories that bring our minds to kneel in reverence; stories that show the tenderness of true mercy, the strength of loyalty, the unmawkish respect for what is good." -Ruth Sawyer (taken from Honey for a Child's Heart)

Happy reading!!

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