- Drop dead gorgeous pictures. You want to frame every page.
- A good story, truly well written. Won't make the reading adult's brain shrivel into a raisin.
- A book kids won't loose interest in.
How many times, honestly, can you say you've found all three in one book? I have never - never - got a kid to sit all the way through Horton Hears a Who. How many books have truly gorgeous illustrations? So beautiful that they are almost universally admired?
One of my absolute favorite books right now, Just Being Audrey, has perfect illustrations. They are perfect! Julia Denos even got the little bump in you could see in Hepburn's jawline when she got older. I'm going to do a post about those perfecty perfect pictures on here some time. But you know what? I have a hard time believing that any kid could sit through a reading of it. The story just isn't that great. I can't see it becoming the family favorite for bedtime if I have my own kids someday. Heck, I don't remember reading it to myself the first few times I looked it through. The book feels like it was made for adults - I bought it at Anthropologie - and while I tell myself out loud that that's okay, an inside part of me mutters that it isn't. A book written for and marketed to children shouldn't be really only good for grown-up Audrey freaks.
I wandered around the kids' section at Barnes and Noble a couple of weeks ago, picking up every picture book that caught my fancy. I don't know much about trends in picture book styles, but that back wall seemed very short on good stories. They all wandered. Very episodic. The character's mom loves them, even though they're a pill. They play with their toys. They dance around the house. They get into trouble. Things like that. Olivia is episodic to me - and even in such a fantastic book, it still bothers me just a bit. In the considerably less interesting and attractive books I perused, the wandering was... well, insufferable. Nothing really happened. In my mind, a story has a beginning, middle and end. It does not doddle through every room of the house.
(Also, almost without exception, the stories at B&N were concerned with everyday things. I don't mind that, but when I was little I wanted some 'igh adventure in my stories! I didn't want to read about kids getting into trouble for having a messy room. I had to deal with that in real life!)
I am also sorry to say that there were a lot of ugly new picture books at Barnes and Noble as well. I know it's probably wicked hard to be an illustrator, but so many of the books seem like they're going to look outdated in five years. Or look outdated even now. Olivia, Eloise, Winne-the-Pooh and Madeline have all done their various amounts of aging gracefully - so it proves that it can be done. You might have to be a genius to do it, but it's clearly possible.
So. That was a lot of paragraphs to explain why The Story of Ferdinand is the best picture book on earth. Because it is the best.