Top 4 Features of a Great Book

Dear Book Lovers,

I thought occurred to me the other day. What exactly makes a good book? We can all name books that we loved, they may be the books that you reread and each time feels like the first time. You can probably even name books you didn’t like at ALL. They may even be the ones you tossed aside and opted instead to “reclaim your time.” Whatever the case may be, I decided to sit down and list out what I feel makes a great, page turning book. 

Compelling Story

This first one feels obvious. The story must be interesting. It should be unpredictable and keep you on the edge of your seat wanting to know what happens next. If there is a lesson to be learned (picture books are often good for this) that’s even better. Take readers to a new place or open them up a new experience through your story and chances are high that you have a great book. 

Engaging writing 

Great writers just have a way with words that draw you into their work. You can picture every scene, have connections with characters that feels real, and find the story resonates with you for whatever reason. I like to say that when the writing is REALLY good, it makes me want to throw something! For my adult book lovers, Tayari Jones is a master at this. I cannot even understand how she strings together words the way she does. Young book lovers, Elizabeth Acevedo also has a glorious way with words. 

Relatable Characters 

When I read a book, I want to understand the characters. Everything they do needs to make sense based upon what the writer presents about their personality and background. As a reader, when I understand a character’s plight or have a really strong emotional reaction to them, that makes everything about the book even better. 

A Strong Opening and Satisfying Ending

Ideally, the first sentence of the first paragraph should hook me. If it makes me laugh or shocks me, I know I am going to keep going to see what happens. Sometimes first sentence doesn’t happen but certainly the opening pages or chapter should set the tone and pique my interest. 

Similarly, the ending should satisfy. That doesn’t mean that all the loose ends are tied up in a perfect bow. Rather, it should bring things to a close in a way that makes given everything that has happened. If a character has been rebellious the entire book and nothing has broken them of the tendency to be that way, I want one final act of rebellion in the end or some self awareness that maybe came about as a result of being rebellious. Something along the lines. I love when I have finished a great book, close it, and just give a happy sigh. Now THAT is some good reading! 


In the comments below, tell me what you think makes an amazing book. I would love to hear from you!


These Hands (Book Review)

Have you ever stopped to think about the power we possess in our hands?  I mean, in this very moment I am using my hands to type this post. I’m using them to push my glasses further up my nose every so often. Earlier I used them to turn the pages of some amazing picture books that I will review here on the blog. So with that idea in mind, I present These Hands written by Hope Lynne Price and illustrated by Bryan Collier. This is a beautiful picture book that will teach young children about everything that hands can do. Some are immediately relatable, such as tickling, writing, and clapping. Others, such as helping grandma to walk, may lead children to learn about new experiences. 

The pictures are absolutely gorgeous. Firstly, many have a textured element that is different from standard illustrations. Secondly, the illustrator does a great job conveying action.  There is a page where the main character is getting her hair done and it looks so lively. I could swear I could actually see her mother parting her hair. 

These Hands is for young readers 3-7 years old.

Jasmine Toguchi, Mochi Queen (Book Review)

Dearest Book Lovers, do you have older siblings? Can you recall instances where you got frustrated because they were able to experience things first? Perhaps your kiddos can relate and desire the chance to one up their big sister/brother. If these sentiments ring familiar, then you’ll love Debbi Michiko Florence’s Jasmine Toguchi, Mochi Queen.  

Jasmine is tired of doing everything after her big sister Sophie. Just once she wants to lead the way in doing something and she wants it to be something BIG! When her family comes into town to celebrate the New Year, divine inspiration strikes.  Jasmine is going to help pound the rice used to make mochi, a yummy dessert they enjoy during their celebration. Pounding mochi is a task typically reserved for the men in the family as it requires lots of strength to execute properly. Rolling the mochi balls is what the girls and women do and this year is the first time that Sophie is old enough to participate. Yet another task where Jasmine cannot be the first! So she sets out to become the first girl in her family to pound mochi. Will Jasmine’s father think she’s tough enough to join in? Will her mom and grandmother, with their focus on tradition, allow her shake up the rules? Grab a copy of Jasmine Toguchi, Mochi Queen to find out!

Your young reader will enjoy this tale of determination and relate to Jasmine’s desire to create her own path in life.  She is truly a character that you will find yourself cheering on. Bonus? Jasmine Toguchi is a series so you can enjoy more of this spirited character.  The way this page turner gently brings you into its world and makes everything so engaging, I am certain you will like to read more. And if you find that this sweet read leaves you craving a little treat, there is helpful surprise at the end of the book that can help you out. 😉 

Jasmine Toguchi, Mochi Queen was written by Debbi Michiko Florence and illustrated by Elizabet Vuković. It is for young readers 6-9 years old.

Clayton Byrd Goes Underground (Book Review)

Grief can be an overwhelming emotion to navigate. How are you supposed to handle seeing and talking to someone everyday and then one day they’re just totally gone? It is difficult for everyone, especially children. With their pure view of the world, they ask the questions that adults don’t have real answers to: What happens when we die? Where does the soul go? 

In the beautifully written Clayton Byrd Goes Underground, Rita Williams-Garcia presents the story of Clayton Byrd–Bluesman in training. He loves nothing more than to spend time with his grandfather and play his harmonica. Cool Papa is a blues musician and Clayton studies under him every chance he gets. This is much to his mother’s frustration since Juanita doesn’t care for the lifestyle that comes along with the music world.  

When Cool Papa dies unexpectedly, it sends Clayton and his mother through a whirlwind of emotions.  Juanita tries to reconcile losing the father that she had a tense relationship with ; the father that she felt abandoned her during childhood. Clayton is shattered having lost his best friend. His mom didn’t love Cool Papa the way he did.  How could she possibly understand how he feels? Wrapped up in emotions Clayton skips school and what follows is a crazy adventure that involves traveling through the subway system, playing music for money with a group of teenage boys, and the police! To learn more about the outcome, grab a copy of Clayton Byrd Goes Underground from your local book retailer or library. 

This book is for young readers 8-12 years old.

Fishing Day (Book Review)

The Jim Crow era found Black and White people living separately, with the latter feeling that they were superior.  Of course we know that thinking was incorrect and prevented Black people from progressing the way we could have (and absolutely should have) if our basic human rights were protected from day one.  Still, there is a lot to be said for how many Black people continuously believed in spreading love to others. After all, hate can be a heavy load to carry in your heart. 

Fishing Day, written by Andrea Davis Pinkney and illustrated by Shane W. Evans, explores the experiences Reenie and her mother have when they go fishing. They go to the Jim Crow River with their secret trick sure to make all the fish nibble on their lines. However, on this particular day, Mr. Troop and his son Peter (better known as Pigeon) come along. The two families stay in their separate spots along the river, observing the Jim Crow laws that said Black and White people couldn’t interact. Pigeon starts acting out, throwing pebbles at Reenie and her mom when his dad proves unsuccessful at catching fish. 

Instead of retaliating, Reenie sets out to help Pigeon. She teaches him how to be calm and attract fish. From that day on, Reenie and Peter find ways to be friendly toward each other.  This beautiful display of kindness shows that even in the face of hatred, love can take you very far. 

For young readers 5-9 years old

Nikki & Deja: Substitute Trouble (Book Review)

When Deja’s beloved teacher Ms. Shelby-Ortiz  is out of school unexpectedly due to an injury, her classroom gets turned upside down. Nobody lines up properly, people talk out of turn, students lie about what lesson they’re on, and much more! On top of that, they get the WORST substitute teacher ever! He doesn’t do anything the way Ms. Shelby-Ortiz does and it shows in his classroom management skills (or lack thereof). Deja and her best friend Nikki decide that they don’t like any of this. They set out to give the substitute some helpful tips and try to get their classmates to behave. Unfortunately, their efforts somewhat backfire and the girls learn that not every situation is as bad as it seems. Especially when there are worse situations around the corner!

Nikki & Deja: Substitute Trouble was written by Karen English and illustrated by Laura Freeman.  Your young reader will likely relate to the shenanigans that can occur when a substitute teacher fills in for the day.  It will serve as an excellent reminder that students should respect adults in the classroom and that failure to do so has real consequences. 

This book is for young readers 6-9 years old. 

What’s Your Truth?

I am a writer. 

I know what you’re thinking, “Well, obviously you’re a writer.  I’m reading words you’ve written right now.” Fair point. However, what I mean is that I am more than the writer of this blog. I am a writer of children’s literature. Prior to today I would have inserted the word aspiring. I am an aspiring writer. But no more.  I am claiming who I am and what I want to do with my life. I am standing boldly in that truth. 

What caused this shift? Last week I attended an amazing writer’s workshop at the Highlights Foundation. I learned a lot about the various categories of children’s books, met other writers who have a phenomenal way with words, and spent some time getting my own ideas down on paper.  It was the perfect spark to ignite my flame. So I am done with tip toeing around my dreams. I’m claiming it ALL even if I am still working to get there. 

I know this is a departure from my usual content but I felt it was important to share this with you all. Book Lovers, what is your truth on this glorious Friday? What declarations are you making? What goals are you working toward? I would LOVE to hear from you!


If you are a writer and want to learn more about the workshop offerings at Highlights, check out their website here 

With the Fire on High (Book Review)

In my opinion, a good writer is more than just someone who can weave together a compelling story.  It is someone who do can that while simultaneously eliciting emotions from readers. Book Lovers, I am here to inform you that Elizabeth Acevedo is a good writer. No, that’s too small. Acevedo is a phenomenal writer. In, With the Fire on High, she presents the story of Emoni Santiago who is a teenager starting her senior year of high school.  Emoni has more responsibilities than your average teenager. She balances parenthood with helping her grandmother (who is her sole guardian) pay the household bills. The kitchen is Emoni’s safe space. It is where she gets to unleash her creativity and tell stories through her dishes.

Emoni is settled into a routine of sorts until 12th grade begins and everything gets turned on its head.  There is the new culinary arts class that has the potential to teach her lessons and take her places she never could have fathomed. There’s the cute new boy who…likes her? And so much more! Throughout the story, Acevedo presents readers with a nuanced character. Yes, Emoni was forced to grow up quicker than most and has learned to handle her responsibilities head on. However, that does not stop the insecurities from making Emoni question herself and her future.  How she rises about everything will have you wanting to knock some sense into her on one page and crying happy tears over her victories a few chapters later.
With the Fire on High is a young adult book recommended for readers 13 years or older. Some of the themes, such as teenage parenthood and sexual interactions, may call for guided dialogue with younger readers.  Those themes, along with ones around caring for family and persevering through difficult times, are presented with care and readers of a slightly younger age will probably have the capacity to handle it. This book makes for excellent discussions so enjoy it with your young readers!

Separate Is Never Equal: Sylvia Mendez & Her Family’s Fight for Desegregation (Book Review)

Years before the landmark case Brown v. Board of Education found racial segregation of public schools across the United States unconstitutional, Mendez v. Westminster School District found victory for students in California. In Separate Is Never Equal: Sylvia Mendez & Her Family’s Fight for Desegregation, we find our protagonist Sylvia frustrated by teasing at school.  She feels like she doesn’t want to return to school because the other students are mean.  Her mother sits her down to remind her that a lot of people fought for her ability to get an education and encourages her to remember that.

Why did they have to fight? Flashing back three years earlier, author Duncan Tonatiuh explains how the journey began.  Sylvia and her brothers were denied admission to their neighborhood school. They were told that, “Mexican children must attend the Mexican school.” Their father questioned everyone from the local principal to the superintendent and received unsatisfactory responses. It ultimately escalated to two trials where the case was argued that all children should have a right to receive a solid education and attend neighborhood schools.  Racial segregation was causing students more harm than good. In both cases, Sylvia and her family were found to be in the right and won their trials against segregation is California schools! A battle that began in 1944 did not reach full resolution until 1947.

For me, the biggest takeaway from Separate Is Never Equal: Sylvia Mendez & Her Family’s Fight for Desegregation is that it is always necessary to fight for one’s human rights.  It may not be a quick fix, but it is certainly worth it in the end to make life better for future generations.

This book is for young readers 6-9 years old.

Sasha Savvy Loves to Code (Review)

It’s the last day of school and Sasha Savvy is excited to put fourth grade behind her and start summer vacation. She is looking forward to visiting local museums and traveling with family. The biggest excitement of all? Summer camp! As she tries to decide on what classes to take, her mother introduces her to a new option–coding.

Sasha Savvy Loves to Code, written by Sasha Ariel Alston and illustrated by Vanessa Brantley-Newton, tells the story of how Sasha Savvy becomes interested in coding. This book provides readers with a high level understanding of the computer language and how programmers use it develop apps, games, and more. It breaks down the process of coding with a helpful acronym- Communicate, Organize, Demonstrate, Express. In addition to informing, Sasha Savvy also promotes girls getting involved in STEM and having the tenacity to achieve all of their dreams.

My favorite part of Sasha Savvy Loves to Code is that it takes readers on a realistic journey. We start with Sasha being unfamiliar with coding and questioning if she’ll enjoy it.  Then she learns enough to peak her interest and goes on to persuade her best friends to join her. Once in coding class, Sasha’s enthusiasm is temporarily dampened but she receives the support necessary to regain her focus. All of that feels so realistic of children that age!

Sasha Savvy Loves to Code is an informative and inspirational read. It is an early reader chapter book for book lovers 7-10 years old