So, what makes a great suspenseful children’s book? One that is Newbery caliber? Here are a few elements I’m thinking about:
- Characters that have been developed so completely that I care about them. So much so that they become real to me. Sometimes so real that I become progressively more and more worried about their safety and will look at the end to be sure they are okay. (This is something frowned upon by some, I know. I can only promise authors of eligible books that I don’t always do this. It depends on how anxious I get.) A good example of such a book is the latest Harry Potter book. Boy did I care about those characters! And not because of all the hype or the fans or the movies. I cared about them because Rowling wrote to make me care about them and hope desperately that they had a future.
- A plot that I can’t figure out. One of the most amazing writers of suspense I can think of is Megan Whalen Turner, author of the Newbery Honor book, The Thief. She twists and turns her plots so much that rare is the person who isn’t surprised by the ending. Her latest, The King of Attolia, was one of my favorite books of 2006. Not only did I care about her characters, but I read to find out what was going on, what would happen. I had no idea how it would play out at all. (And for some reason I did not feel a need to look early at the endings of any of her books. See, I don’t always do it!)
- Minimal violence. The Newbery is a children’s book award. The award can go to a book that is appropriate for a fourteen-year-old (with more violence), but not a ten-year-old (with next to no violence). I admit, I’m squeamish. I don’t care for violence at all. That said, if it is necessary for the story, then I deal with it. There’s some, I seem to recall, in Nancy Farmer’s The House of the Scorpion, a book I thought well deserved its Newbery Honor.
- Elegance. Megan Whalen Turner’s books are simply elegant. The writing, the plotting, the setting, the characters, just everything. Ideally, a suspenseful Newbery book will have all of this!
So that is it for now. Any recommendations for 2007 suspenseful books for me to consider? Or other aspects of suspense I’m missing? (Probably plenty!)