Friday, August 31, 2007

The Perfect Book -- Eve

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!

- Eve


Becky Levine said...

I'm not even going to try and guess yours! :) But I was just talking to some friends about two perfect books, so I'm jumping in on that.

My Father's Dragon by Ruth Stiles Gannett. Elmer is going off on an adventure. Not by himself, though, with a cat that really knows what it's doing. Risk with a safety net, right there. Elmer takes his backpack along, with anything he might possibly need. Each chapter, once they get to the island, follows the same basic structure, so once the child gets through the first of those chapters, they can relax into the adventure part and just happily anticipate which of the backpack items Elmer will use to get out of danger. And then the child can pack their own backpack and totally make-believe all over the house and town. This was a book written by an author who knew kids could handle way more on the conceptual and vocabulary level, and who recognized how much a regular pattern will help a young reader along.

2)The Mouse and the Motorcycle by Beverly Cleary. Boys, boys, boys. Not a girl in sight, just a boy, a mouse, and a motorcycle that can be powered by mouth noise. The boy character is ill, but SO not powerless, because the biggest power he has is the motorcycle love that lets him communicate with Ralph, the mouse, who shares that love. And Ralph--he's another boy, through and through, so even when the boy isn't in the story for pages and pages, the boy reader has someone who he can totally identify with. The storyline is tight and, even though it was written decades ago, moves fast enough for any movie-watching, video-playing kid today.

Disco Mermaids said...

Eve, did you notice that all of your titles were one-worders (if you don't count The)?

So I'm gonna add to that and say Stargirl, also by Jerry Spinelli. Heartbreaking. Fascinating. Beautiful. Pitch perfect.

- Jay

Anonymous said...

I would say LOOKING FOR ALASKA (three words, jay!) because of the perfect blend of brilliant writing, drama, humor, romance, action and message.

SPEAK is also on my list, and since I haven't had coffee yet, the rest of my mind is made up of fuzz.

Oh, btw, I launched my new interview series:
AUTHOR CHAT: WITH...and today we have the fabulous Jenn Laughran (literaticat) from Not-Your-Mother's-Book-Club. I have a terrific line-up of guests coming up, too. Please come visit. =)


cynjay said...

For some weird reason, I'm guessing Eve liked Holes. Don't know why.

One of those books I didn't like (but I'm not about to tell you which one!), so there you go.

I'm expanding this to picture books to include No David and Alice the Fairy by David Shannon, and all poetry by Shel Silverstein. Alice the Fairy is one of those I-wish-I'd-done-that books, but you really had to be the author/illustrator to make it work.

I loved From the Mixed up E.L. Konigsburg and read it a million times as a kid.
My son would probably vote for both Hoot and Flush by Carl Hiaasen.

Jackie Parker said...

I'm with cynjay. I think your fav was Holes.

However, I'm in Speak's camp.

And I HATED Wringer. blech. So dark.

LindaBudz said...

My all-time perfect book is Charlotte's Web. So simple, yet so powerful, with skillfully drawn characters. And, I still cry at the ending.

More contemporary (besides 13RW, of course) might be Whale Talk by Chris Crutcher. His MC came through so clear to me.

My guess: Monster?

Disco Mermaids said...


I'd add: THE HOBBIT (I think it's the only book I read during the middle school years, and it has one of the best first pages ever...go read it right now!); FRINDLE (makes you want to stand up and cheer); RULES (a gem of a book, even if you don't have a connection to a child with autism, *any* child would want to read that book); SIDEWAYS STORIES FROM WAYSIDE SCHOOL (yes, Louis Sachar is my hero, and this book is weird, wacky and three favorite W's.)


Laini Taylor said...

Ooh! Great list -- since I read mostly fantasy, I haven't read all of those but many have been on my "mean to read" list -- now even more so.

For me, the list would be pretty different, and would start with The Golden Compass. I need to think about the rest!

SamRiddleburger said...

Perfect picture book:I am a Bear by Risom & Miller

Perfect young reader book: Mouse Soup by Arnold Lobel (runner up, Small Pig by Arnold Lobel)

Perfect big kid book: The Remarkable Journey of Prince Jen, by Lloyd Alexander

Judy Enderle said...

Speaking of perfect books, I had to share this with you. Way up here in the northwest, there's a fabulous bookstore called Village Books. They publish a newsletter/catalog a few times a year. In the issue I received today there's a review of Jay's book:


"Holy cow! If you have anywhere to go in the next day or two, do not pick up this book. Wait until you can read it for an extended period of time because once you start you will not want to stop. Clay comes home after school and finds a box addressed to him. This simple little box contains cassette tapes (tapes!) recorded by Hannah Baker before she committed suicide. Slowly the tapes are making the rounds as everyone on "the list" learns the part they played in Hannah's ultimate decision. Controversial and definitely for mature readers, this book is an amazing read." Sarah

I'm hooked! Congrats! Jay!!!

Judy E.

Natalie said...

These are all such good titles! I'm also going to guess that HOLES is Eve's favorite--maybe because I know she was writing about some street-wise, tough kids who go out in the wilderness (is that right?) and the characters in HOLES are street-wise (mostly) kids who find themselves out in the middle of nowhere.

One of my favorite all-time books for kids is TUCK EVERLASTING by Natalie Babbitt. Aside from the fact that the author has a cool name ;-) I loved the language in this, and the plot keeps kids on the edges of their seats. I read this to a few fourth grade classes of mine because the language is so beautiful, yet is isn't over 4th graders' heads. It was also a great way to discuss a dilemma where there's no right or wrong answer (Did Winnie make the right choice when she didn't drink from the spring? What would you have done?)And the plot--I used to read aloud to the class right before recess, and on one sunny, gorgeous day I closed the book and told them to line up to go outside, and they asked if they could skip recess to hear the end of the book. We took a vote, and it was unanimous. They all wanted to stay and hear the last few chapters. the nine-year-olds had spoken. :-) I loved that.

Katie said...

I am gonna agree with Laini and say The Golden Compass or Magyk. Although I listened to Magyk which made it more like a good movie. Did anyone read Homer Price as a kid? I remember loving that book. However, the fact that I remember nothing but the title might mean it is really quite bad?

p.s. Jay's Stargirl pitch made me race out and get it. can't wait to read it.

Disco Mermaids said...

Wow, guys! GREAT list. Looks like I'll be spending Labor Day weekend reading a bunch of perfect books! Thanks, Judy E, for the shout on Jay's book. It's pretty freaking perfect, if you ask me. So, I'll add TRW to the list right now!

To be honest, there are three books on the list that I consider "perfect"...the other three, I actually didn't like. Funny. I guess it shows us how subjective this all is.

Thanks for the suggestions, guys. Interesting that many of your perfect books were written long ago. Hmm...