Stuart Johnson, Deseret Morning News
Taking part in children's literature conference at Utah Valley State College are Margy Layton, left, UVSC President William Sederburg, Jennifer Holm, Carla Morris, Mark McVeigh and Janet Stevens.

OREM — A good children's story must have a simple plot. And in some of the best children's books, says one editor, the plot practically doesn't exist.

Take, for instance, "Little Bear," by Elsa Holmelund Minarik and Maurice Sendak. The story is about a bear — a metaphor for a little boy — his parents and grandparents.

The plot of the 300-word book moves slowly, barely at all, said Mark McVeigh, a senior editor at Dutton's Children's Books, a part of Penguin Group, a publishing company.

The story, one about the love found in a family, led to the "I Can Read" series used in classrooms across the United States.

"Very little happens in any of these stories," McVeigh said.

McVeigh called "Little Bear" one of his favorite books at a recent forum about children's literature at Utah Valley State College.

About 300 people — teachers, authors, illustrators, librarians — attended the two-day event, which included a session with McVeigh and other writers and educators who identified their favorite children's books and explained what made them good literature.

They said good children's stories often use animals to personify emotions and events of children's lives.

Yet the messages can be powerful for adults, too.

"Dog Heaven," by Cynthia Rylant, describes a world of endless dog biscuits and fenceless yards in the canine afterlife.

The book is a favorite for Janet Stevens, an award-winning illustrator whose work appeared in "Cook-a-Doodle-Doo."

"It is so uplifting when you lost a dog," she said.

"Schools and libraries have limited budgets," said Carla Morris, who has worked for the Provo City Library since 1979. "We're always looking for good books to read out loud."

Morris looks for books with carefully chosen words and descriptions.

She recommended "When I Was Young in the Mountains," also by Rylant with Diane Goode.

"Children need to be read to out loud," Morris said. "They need to stop and listen to descriptions."