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October 10, 2007



It's three teens, actually--Jocelyn, Traci, and moi. :)


Ah, I feel a part of this question.

I suggest trying books out on a kid audience - your child, your niece or nephew, your storytime session, your child's classroom, your teacher friend's classroom, your neighbor's kids. Or asking these kids. You can't do this for every book, but you can do it sometimes.

Kelly Fineman

When I read children's books, I read from the places where my inner child resides. Usually, I'm still 12, but that doesn't prevent me from enjoying picture books. Some that I really love, which some parents might not, include 17 things I'm not allowed to do anymore and The bunnies are not in their beds. Kid friendly means it appeals to actual kids - like, say the Captain Underpants books, or the Gossip Girls or A-List series, and not necessarily to their parents, so many of whom tend to view their own childhoods through a nostalgic filter, forgetting the things that actually made them laugh or cry or feel alone or afraid, and remembering a Leave-it-to-Beaverized version instead. Because I am actually 12, and because I read from that place inside me, I go with my gut on kid friendly, and I'm usually, but not always, right (based on conversations with actual kids and teens).


It's a tough question, and a subjective one... but also an important one. As a kids' librarian, when I'm adding to my mental catalog of books to recommend, I go on a few main criteria. In my personal reading habits, I'm short on patience for description and exposition, as a lot of kids are; I'm all about action! So if it's a pageturner, it goes in the kid-friendly bin. Likewise if it's got a realistic and engaging first-person kid voice.

If I'm getting requests from kids for the books, based on recommendations from their friends, again: kid-friendly. Problem with that is, a lot of this year's titles probably haven't reached that level of popularity yet, unless they're part of an ongoing series.

Another question I ask myself is, is this a book kids won't pick up unless it's on a required reading list from school? A book that has been deemed "good for you"?


There are tons of beautifully written books that are kid-friendly, but one red flag for me is when my strongest and most lasting impression of a book is of its language or style instead of its story or characters.

Ms. Simbe

I'm glad this question is part of the discussion going on in the kidlitosphere and around the Cybils in particular. I think it would be fabulous to include real live kids in the process somehow. Even if you just get some kid feedback on the shortlisted books--in the form of a "readers' response" or something. I think this would strengthen the process. If there's one thing I've learned about hooking kids up to books, it's that kid readers are often very unpredictable. I've worked with lots of students and recommended and assigned lots and lots of books, but I'm still surprised, frequently, by which books they love and which they don't. The best any adult reviewer or committee can ever do is make a good bet--based on their experience, on their knowledge of kids and on their knowledge of books, etc. The magic of a kid becoming a stronger reader and more thoughtful person from reading one of those "winners" is always going to be at least a tiny bit of a crap shoot. Lots of kids might love the books we love and honor. But they might not. One obstacle in putting kids into the process is that it's pretty tough for full-time classroom teachers to stretch their already thinly stretched days out to include new projects. I think classrooms are a great source for kid input--you're more likely to get a diversity of kid responses and broader representation of different types of readers. But I'm not sure how you'd get very many teachers and classes involved. That said, if the process is ever broadened to include kids, and y'all are looking for a class of engaged readers, I've got a pretty good one this year.

Sheila Ruth

One of the things that I find difficult about the concept of "kid friendly" and "teen friendly" is that, like everyone, kids and teens are individuals. What appeals to one may not appeal to another. Erin and I were on a committee together for last years Cybils, and I think her choices had less to do with being a teen and more to do with being Erin.

Having said that, though, I think that kid friendly (and teen friendly) is a useful yardstick to try to apply. To me, the main benefit of it is to broaden the range of books that might win an award. I think some of the other awards shy away from books that are silly, or shocking, or just plain fun, because they feel that they have a mandate to choose "good" literature. I think that by keeping "kid friendly" as one of our criteria, we can feel free to consider those books as well as the serious, deep ones that do also appeal to some young people.

Doret Canton

This is a hard question, but I've always believed a good story is a good story and it transcends age. If you want to share the book with everyone and it reads like non required fun, than you probably have a winner or at least a finalist.
If you are looking to reach kids who may not read as much, kid friendly could also be defined as a quick start, where the action hooks the reader from the first two chapters rather than the fourth or fifth.
Maybe it will help to put what is not kid friendly
There is no preaching
Not dumb downed, a good children's author knows how smart kids really are
No age conflictions
I can't think of anything else for this list, hopefully others will help fill it in


Thank you everyone for such a thoughtful discussion. Our convictions on "kid friendly" are constantly evolving due to this kind of input.

One of the concerns I raised recently is that if you aren't a librarian or teacher and don't have ready access to a big group of kids, you shouldn't be excluded from a discussion of "kid friendly."

I would hate to see bloggers who don't have kids discouraged from becoming panelists and judges, since we have many impassioned YA and fantasy fans in particular who are kids at heart.

Nor should pressure be put on our teen participants to speak for all teens, even if they're whiz-bang smart and super responsible (which, of course, they are).

I guess I'm in favor of an open-ended discussion, where opinions aren't discounted because they don't come from a narrow pool of kid-friendly experts, who are usually self-appointed anyway.


Thank you all for sharing your ideas and opinions on Kid-friendly. They will keep us thinking throughout this process!

John Mutford

Personally, I think a lot of the kid-friendly comes in the reading itself. When a parent, or teacher, or librarian reads it with genuine enthusiasm (and kids know when it's forced), it often rubs off on the kids. Then they are more likely to pick up those books to read on their own.

I haven't liked the trend lately of adults picking up overly sentimental or nostalgic books and thrusting them at children. I understand of course that children are capable of more emotions than happy, but I don't think they're all that into reminiscing about the good old days.

Ms. Simbe


I agree that we ought to keep the conversation about what constitutes "kid-friendly" wide open. I hope my comment didn't come across as being exclusive in that way. I'd say there are lots and lots of folks with great ideas on this topic.

What I've found, in my own classrooms, is that there are lots and lots of occasions where I was SURE, for whatever set of reasons, that my students would or wouldn't dive into a particular book. And I was subsequently proved dead wrong.

Yeah, I think there are criteria that up our chances of picking books kids will like. But, in my experience, even taking into account many such factors, it is still very much a matter of chance. Which is one of the things that makes it such fun work....


Ms. Simbe:

I agree with you 100%, that kids are an unpredictable lot. Good thing they're so darned cute, eh?


I agree with most of the comments already posted. Whether we recognize it or not, to some degree we're all professional 6-year-olds or 14-year-olds or pick any age you want. While story, characters have to be well written, etc. to be credible, there is a distilled pureness of intent that shines through the best kids books. We all respond to it or we wouldn't be reading them ourselves or trying to share them with kids. The fact that you can never predict how a child will respond to a story makes it even more important that we create as much diversity in the recommendation process as possible - not only for the Cybils but for the general culture by not leaving it up to a few "official" voices determining what is and what isn't a good children's book.


I put my answer in a post at my blog this afternoon,


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