Children’s Picture Books: Finding the Gems


Christmas time is getting closer and picture books make great gifts for children.  With so many children’s picture books out there, how does a person choose?


“Literacy is one of the greatest gifts a person could receive.”  -Jen Selinsky

Here are some questions I ask myself when choosing a children’s picture book for a preschool aged child:

  1. Who are the characters?  I like a book with strong characters who can solve a problem independently.  I think about whether or not these characters model behaviour I would want to see in my own children.  I would also want to avoid stereotyped characters and to see more diversity reflected in a children’s book.  I like characters who seem authentic or unique.  A good example of this would be Jamaica Tag Along by Juanita Havill.  Jamaica’s character is strong and the other characters are also strong, authentic and diverse.
  2. What values are emphasized?  Do the characters in the book appreciate nature?  Do they value cooperation?  Do the characters tolerate and accept differences?  Do they show empathy? What values come through in the story?  For example, when the three little pigs build their houses, the one who works the hardest is the one who is safe from the wolf.  This story values hard work and it also values family relationships as each pig provides a safe haven for his brother who is escaping from the wolf.
  3. Do the illustrations actually support the text in the story?  Do the illustrations actually add further components to the story?  Can the illustrations stand alone as artwork?  A really great example of this is the book Something From Nothing by Phoebe Gilman where there is an entire sub story told completely through the illustrations along the bottom of the page.  Sometimes I prefer a book which uses real photos as illustrations because it connects the reader more closely with real life.  I feel that non fiction books are more powerful with real photos.
  4. What kind of language is used in the book?  Does it seem appropriate for young children?  Are there at least a few new words introduced that will add interest and further expand a child’s growing vocabulary?  A series of books that accomplishes this very successfully is the Hairy Maclary Series by Lynley Dodd.


  1. Is the story t.v. or movie based?  I usually avoid these.  I want the children to wonder what will happen next.  If it is based on a tv show, children may know the story  and there is little opportunity for sparking imagination/creativity.  There is little opportunity to wonder.
  2. What do the reviews say?  Of course we need to take reviews with a grain of salt but if there is a general trend that gives the book a thumbs up then it means that readers are responding positively to the book.  If the book is unfamiliar to me or from an independent author I do take a look at reviews.
  3. Will the subject matter appeal to the child I am buying for?  Do they love dinosaurs? cooking?  artwork? Do they love trucks? fairies? animals? counting? alphabet? I try to buy according to the child’s preferences so that even if the child is not all that interested in books, the subject matter will spark enough curiosity for the child to listen to the story.

What do you look for in a children’s book?  Please share your comments.

Happy Reading!  I hope you find some gems.  And when my first book “Katie Shaeffer Pancake Maker gets published, I hope it makes your list of favourites!


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