How to Spot a Good Book (Even When You're Not a Literary Critic)

grandma reading with two children

They’d done it again.

I knew they would because they always did.

We’d no more than set our big toes over the threshold of our small town library before both of my tots beelined directly for the book baskets lining the windowed south wall.

What was so irresistible? The local cache of Barney, Marvel superheroes, Barbie, and all things commercial and mass market in one handy place.

As usual, we checked out three of those books for each child along with a large stack I’d quickly and quietly selected on their behalf.

Once we were back home, the experiment started again: whose selections would get picked from our library pile more often? Which ones would they ask for again and again?

I'm no scientist but years of data collection revealed clear results: without fail, my quietly-chosen titles were loved and enjoyed and read repeatedly.

And the books with trademarked characters? They languished at the bottom of our pile, no love lost.

To be clear, books based on recognizable, popular characters aren’t bad. They just aren’t always good either.

Getting motivated to read what basically amounts to the stilted transcript of a Batman episode is about as easy as asking Fancy Nancy to lay off the accessories: you can do it but not without some serious effort.

(Lest you think we're picking on just one kind of book, we've read plenty of cringe-worthy titles that don't come with a licensing deal.)

With time and energy in short supply, reading good books makes much more sense than slogging our way through so-so ones. Besides, we're convinced the secret no one will tell you is all about good books. 

So what is it that separates the exceptional from the mediocre? Here at Literaseeds, we think it boils down to two things:

1. Good books are engaging.
Simply put, a good book draws you in so that your kids (and you!) are invested in the story. You’re rooting for the characters, no matter who or what they are. You want to see how it ends. And you find that you’re interested even when you already know the outcome.

2. Good books are worthwhile.
Good books have a payoff, a sense of time well-spent. Sometimes that comes in the form of a valuable lesson, a new skill, or an experience your kids identify with. Other times, and arguably most powerful of all, good books evoke emotion and prompt conversation.

One of our family’s favorites featured a group of kids building a fort out of cardboard boxes, which was something my kids loved doing themselves at the time. The kids in the story have to resolve several differences of opinion to see their fort take shape. To see their favorite pastime and the realities of sibling life validated in the pages of a book was pure delight for them and gratifying for me as well. We received even more than a story from that book — we felt known and understood.

There are a couple more things that separate exceptional books from mediocre ones, but they're so important we'll share them in their own videos and posts. Stay tuned!

In the meantime, what qualities would you add to this list?

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