Does Your Book Have “It”?

By Paul Czajak

Just recently I was interviewed by the Boston Herald about my series Monster&Me. Specifically Monster Needs A Costume, since it will be available in Target stores starting August 2014. The interview was great! The reporter asked me several questions and during the interview I was thinking, “Wow this is going to be a two page spread with the number of questions she is asking!” But of course even reporters have word counts and editors, and the article was not as extensive as I thought it was going to be. I am not complaining, even a little publicity is good publicity. Plus, it gives me a chance to talk about some of the questions the reporter asked that did not make the article. One question in particular really struck home because I hadn’t been asked it before and it made me think.

The question was, what do you want your books to have?

Now this seems like a bit of an odd question because I could have answered it in many different ways. I could say, a good moral message, or comedy, or bright illustrations and strong vocabulary. But when I thought about it, I remembered the books that I grew up with, the ones that I bought and read to my kids because I loved them when I was young. What made me grab those books again, well over thirty years later? What did those books have?

I couldn’t tell you, because I don’t know.

But that’s what I want my books to have. I want my books to have the staying power. Like these two:

HarrytheDirtyDog

BerenstainBearpicnic

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I want a child today to read Monster Needs A Costume and then thirty years later want to read it to their child. I know that isn’t too much to ask, right? But let’s be honest: isn’t that what we all want our books to have, that “it” that resonates with someone for the rest of their lives? What that “it” is, I wish I could tell you. For me, sometimes it was an illustration, like the The Berenstain Bears’ Picnic. I specifically remember a two page spread of mosquitoes chasing the Bears out of a swamp where they were picnicking. Other times it was the story, I loved Harry the Dirty Dog because I could relate to the dog getting dirty and thought it was hilarious. How did these authors create this staying power with their books in a time where word count is cut to the bare minimum and illustration tastes have changed dramatically? It is mind boggling when you think about.

I will make a deal with all the readers of this blog, if I figure out the secret recipe for longevity I will let you know it here at Writers’ Rumpus, but then you have to do the same. Let us know with your comments. What do you think the “it” is?

MonsterCover_small MonsterNeedsAChristmasTreeLook for Monster Needs A Costume soon to be in paperback available August 2014, and the newest Monster&Me, Monster Needs a Christmas Tree to be released October 1, 2014.

11 comments

  1. I agree that there is an “it” but I believe that “it” is different for every reader. An avid reader like myself may connect with the staying power of “it”. But a reluctant reader like many of my students may connect with a character that resembles them in a first time read, or a theme or like recently for my boys only reading group to the vernacular discovered with dialog. If only the “it” was so simply defined. I think we’d all be published.

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  2. Paul congrats on your book and yes, when I read to my two munchkins when they were young. I know a picture book also has to have that magic, so even the parents enjoy it. Reading the Hungry Caterpillar over and over and my favourite Where the Wild Things Are. Thats the magic I want to create.

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  3. There are some great comments here! I think we all can agree the “it” is different for every one but it needs to be universal to appeal to many. “It” also has to be the complete package. Not just funny since jokes get old. Not just surprising since that can lose its edge. It is a multi layered thing that readers can feed off of time and time again.

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  4. The “it” is magic. Plain and simple. It is the perfect potion of rhythm, connection, and story. It is the book’s ability to sweep you away to another time and place- a sweet invitation to song and dance within the mind.

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  5. I think the secret to longevity is rereadability…the stories that children beg to read over and over and over. What creates that desire can be different for everyone, but I would think it must have at least a few of these things: a universal theme, relatable characters, and something that makes the reader feel good (humor, imagination, happy ending, etc.) The hope I have for my books is a combination of those things, but most importantly, creating positive feelings that make a child fall in LOVE with reading…so much that they will start understanding who they are as readers and never shy away from it. Thanks for making me think about this important question, Paul!

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  6. If there was one recipe we’d all follow it! “It” for me is touching the reader in some way. Staying power for all our books sounds like the ticket to making happy authors. I wish that for you, Paul! Okay. For me, too!

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  7. I think “it” is something that is different for everyone. “IT” for my favorite books is either a great story, or poetic writing, or just even a character/image that I adore. If there was just one “it” for everyone, all the stories would be the same and “it” would get boring quick.

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  8. Not sure what “it” is, but I’d love to know. I also loved HARRY THE DIRTY DOG and THE BERENSTAIN BEARS as a child. When my children were born, I specifically looked for both books, so I agree they have staying power.

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