The secret ingredients to a great children’s book

Finding a great children’s book is a matter of necessity for parents and teachers — and something the rest of us tend to ignore, at least until we have no choice.

But whether we realize it or not, most of us also have a strong connection to children’s books. And waiting until we need a quick birthday present for a niece, nephew or friend’s kid means we’re more likely to buy from a small, stagnant pool of perennial best sellers, in turn skipping over dozens of worthy titles that have the same potential to influence young readers the way classics like “Goodnight Moon” or “Where the Wild Things Are” have for decades.

“I don’t have kids and I’m not around them all the time, but I love being around my niece, and I have a huge collection of children’s books,” said Joshua Viola, the founder of Denver-based Jam Publishers, which issued its first two children’s books this summer. “There are some really neat concepts in children’s books that allow you to tell a different sort of story than in other genres. And as a creative person, I like having this outlet to dip into so many different things.”

The success of Viola’s adult-focused Hex imprint, which has published the nationally reviewed and locally best-selling horror and sci-fi anthologies “Nightmares Unhinged” and “Cyber World,” inspired him to expand into the children’s book market this year. He feels his debut titles — “Boomer and Friends!” (which he wrote, with illustrations by Lindsey Bell and Aaron Lovett) and “The Zoo’s Secret” (written and illustrated by Bell) — highlight an underappreciated artistry in the genre.

“I meet people who say, ‘I have this great idea for a kid’s book. We’ll just dumb something down and it’ll work!’ But while a book like ‘Boomer’ may have far less words than a novel, I had numerous critiques and re-writes for it,” Viola said. “And the first thing is the art: the style, the composition, the colors. That…

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