How I Evaluate and Recommend Picture Books is written by Angela Ferraris, The Retired School Librarian.
I have many questions as I evaluate children’s books to make the best picture book recommendations. I’ve read and shared thousands of books as an elementary school librarian. Contrarily though, I may only chose one from a stack of thirty books I can recommend.
Enjoy the Book
I taught my students to read the book, feel the emotion, and hear the words. Above all, get the aesthetic experience. (I still do that when I first pick up a book). Undoubtedly, I never asked questions while reading a picture book aloud for the first time during story time. It was afterward that I examined the book more closely…or not. Sometimes, it’s enough to enjoy a picture book. With this in mind, my main goal was to teach the joy of reading.
Having a mock Caldecott Read-In with my students was one of the best ways I taught how to evaluate books and give picture book recommendations to others. I borrowed about a hundred picture books that were stand-outs. However, I also threw in(without telling them) those that were…(well)…not ones I would recommend.
I allowed the students to grade with a 😁😐☹️ face. They then voted for the one they thought would win the Caldecott Medal Award (a medal given annually to an American illustrator). Next, we had thoughtful conversations about how they evaluated picture books. Lastly, they would use persuasive thinking to get others to vote for the same book they nominated.
An important issue I emphasized was that when the award was announced and their book was not chosen, it did not mean it was unworthy. Subsequently, we would talk about famous books from the past everyone loved that have not won any medals.
I still use these questions when I recommend a book, but ONLY AFTER I first read the book on its own. Undoubtedly, I love the beauty of picture books and want to feel their “soul. ” Analyzing them is secondary.
- Are these words appropriate for an elementary-aged child? Are they using these words in a child’s everyday life?
- Do the words flow in a legato style when they should? Are they short and choppy when they are supposed to be?
- How do they sound when read aloud? Does it sound like a tongue twister but not supposed to sound like one?
- Are there patterns? Rhyming? Rhythms? How do the words sound to the ears? Do they sound awkward? Are they forced?
- Do the words convey the correct emotions and mood of the book? Do the word choices match the emotion? Is it supposed to be funny? Sad? Silly?
- Do the page turns of the book interrupt the idea?
- Is the story unique, or has it been done several times already?
- Is the font a good fit for the book? Is it large enough for a child to read?
- Where do the words appear on the page? Are they all over and difficult to follow?
- How is the story being told? Are there too many characters? Is it confusing to follow? Predictions? Surprises?
- Is the topic of the story something children can relate to currently in their lives? Is it too complicated? Should it be a board book instead? Babyish?
- Dialogic reading? Is this story something they talk about with others? Or is it more of a listening book that someone reads aloud? Or is this one better read alone?
- What is the perspective of the story? Who’s telling the story?
- Are the words talking down to a child? Are they morally heavy?
- What is the medium(s)? Was it digitally rendered? Was it a hybrid?
- What is the level of technique? Does it stand out? Is it unique? Is there a style?
- What are the visual elements? Line, shape, color, value, form, texture, space. How is the white of the page being used?
- What colors are being used? Are the colors symbolic? Is color therapy being used? Complimentary colors? Bright? Dark? Contrasting?
- Do the text and illustrations go well with one another?
- Are there details in the illustrations not told in the text?
- Would I know the book’s story if I took the text away?
- Is the title prominent? Or is the author’s?
- Are the colors matching with the tone/mood of the book?
- Is the font style easy to read?
- Is there a blurb on the back?
- Do the front and back covers correlate?
- Does the cover represent the story inside?
- Does it grab your attention?
- Does the front flap give a summary of the book?
- Does the back flap tell about the author/illustrator?
- Are the pasted-down end pages white? Are they illustrated? Does the story begin or end on them?
End of the Book
- Is there an author’s note? An illustrator’s?
- If a nonfiction–is there a timeline, biographical notes, bibliography, index, suggestion reading, or photos? More information?
- Who is the author? Is this their first book? If a nonfiction picture book, is this person an expert on the subject? Is this a celebrity? What country are they from? And does that matter?
- Is this a well-known author? Is it just like the others they have already written? Is there a repeated formula?
- Is this book being translated? Was something lost in the translation?
- Who is the illustrator? Is this their first book? Are they an artist well-known in other mediums?
- Is this book political? Have an agenda? Age appropriate for elementary students? Developmentally appropriate? Is this a topic a child would care about in elementary school?
Star Rating Explained
Another key point of my evaluations is that I do not share picture book recommendations that deserve a half to two and a half stars. I’m not going to be that person. As shown below, the lowest star I give is a three, while the highest is a five.
If I’m on a site that does not allow half stars, I round up.
While I read these books, I always remember that the person or persons creating this book in my very hands is someone’s dream, someone’s “baby,” that they worked really hard on and are willing to share with the world. This is why I don’t share bad reviews. I simply put it back in my tote bag to return to the library. In addition, it may be a child’s favorite book, and I don’t want them to read online that I did not recommend that piece of literature and with the reasons why it was not up to par.
Even after retiring, I still read children’s books, especially picture ones. I was lucky to have found my passion and was paid for sharing it. I still enjoy my love and can now share it online with a broader audience of book lovers and book worms. The picture book recommendations are ninety-nine percent ones I check out of the public library. I appreciate the Central Library Consortium and am thankful for being in an area in the USA with such outstanding library systems.