Monday, July 9, 2012

Book reviews

Good reviewers have their own sense of style and write readable and enjoyable reviews.

Masha Kabakow Rudman
Children’s literature: resource for the classroom

Writing a book review
Reviewing demands a careful thinking and analysis of the work under discussion; it demands that you keep asking yourself why you reacted the way it did; it demands that you present ample proof to your reader to substantiate your views.

Harry Tietelbaum
How to write book reports

This module provides you with the skills required to write reviews of children’s, intermediate and young adult literature. While successful book reviews share many characteristics in common, the reviewing of juvenile literature presents some specialized challenges.

All book reviewers, regardless of the type of literature they review, share some characteristics in common. In Children’s literature: resource for the classroom, Rudman presents a list of 11 characteristics exhibited by fine reviewers and reviews:

  1. A sense of children, their needs, and how they respond to books.
  2. A sense of the enthusiasm and passion for the material.
  3. A sense of respect of the creator for a book and for the creation process.
  4. A sense of style.
  5. Sense enough to avoid preconceptions, adages and old saws.
  6. A sense of humility.
  7. A sense of history of the genre in which they are reviewing, a knowledge of past books of the author and illustrator, and an ability to make comparisons in a review.
  8. A sense of balance or proportion between plot and critical commentary.
  9. A sense of your audience.
  10. A sense of contemporary adult literature, art, film, and theatre and an historical perspective on these forms.
  11. A sense of humour. (101-103)
The full text of Rudman’s guidelines may be found in Appendix A.

It is important that reviewers come to each new book with a fresh eye. They need also be aware their own biases and not let those interfere with their objective response to a particular book.

In addition, as stated above, the reviewer must also have a sense of history: to be able to fit a book within the context of an author’s work and within the larger context of children’s literature. Furthermore, the reviewer should understand the function of literature in our society.

Elleman notes that the reviewing of children’s books is different from the reviewing of adult books. And that difference is primarily due to differences in the market between adult and children’s books:

... children’s books are written, edited, published, reviewed, and purchased by adults, for children –a situation that does not exist in the adult market, and one that frequently set off the widely debated question of the importance of child appeal in a book. (148)
Adult reviewers of children’s books must always keep the ultimate audience, that is children, in mind when reviewing books.

Who reads reviews?
Library staff, both public and school, increasingly rely upon reviews when making purchasing decisions. Teachers, as well, use reviews when deciding what books to present in the classroom. And finally, reviews are used by the general public when deciding what books to buy for their children. But regardless of who reads the review its content should remain essentially the same. Most book reviews provide an evaluation of a book, based on its literacy qualities. They may also include an assessment of the projected popularity of the book. Sometimes reviewers place the book within the larger context of the book’s genre or the author’s other work. Library staff also appreciate comments about any potentially controversial material.

If the book you’re reviewing doesn’t belong to you, then use small slips of paper to make passages you want to refer to as you write your review. Don’t rely on your memory to help you find that outstanding description of setting at a later time. While you’re reading the book, you need to do some thinking about it as well. Pay attention to your initial reaction of the book: did you like it? Did the book appeal to your emotions, your intellect or to both?

Try to make some connections: is this the first book by this author? If this author has written more than one book, try to put the book in the context of his/her body of work. You may also compare the book to others in the same genre, or others that discuss the same theme.

If time and circumstances permit try the book with some children. For a younger audience try the book as a read aloud and see how the children respond. For older children, ask them to read the book and discuss it with you.

The second rule of book reviewing is that you should avoid making an “instant” decision about a book. Take your time: reread as many times as you need to locate and evaluate all the literary elements. Look for effective (or not effective) passages that you can use in a review.

Some do’s and don’ts for first time reviewers

Writing reviews is a skill that improves with practice and effort. A good way to begin developing this skill is to study several reviews of the same book as they appear in different publications. Note the essentials that seem to be the same in each and the differences in light of the source’s reading audience.

(Donelson and Nielsen, 291)

The following list of do’s and don’ts provides practical tips for the first time reviewer:

Some do’s

  • Talk about intriguing aspects of the book. Library staff can, in turn, use what you said to sell the book to a reader.
  • Talk about controversial material. Library staff need to be aware of any issues that may surround the book you are reviewing.
  • Talk about cover illustrations. Many young readers choose their books strictly on the basis of their covers.
  • do give a clear recommendation or non-recommendation. Be sure to explain your reasons.
Some don’ts

  • Don’t assume your reader has read the book. Most will have not. Therefore, you must provide enough information that an informed purchase decision can be made.
  • Don’t over-praise a book. Remember to remain objective in your praise. In the past, children’s literature has suffered from too many laudatory reviews and not enough objective criticism.
  • Don’t get snarky. It’s acceptable not to like a book, but you still need to remain objective in your comments about a book. Reviewers need to be especially wary of books that present a different value system from their own.
  • Don’t quote directly from the publisher’s blurbs. Blurbs are meant to sell books and they are hardly objective.
Assessing literary qualities
An important part of writing a book review is assessing its literary qualities. Assessing means not only indicating what the various literary elements of a particular book are, but also evaluating how effectively the author has used those various elements.

The following section provides a brief review of the literary elements used in evaluating and reviewing literature.

Setting is where and when a story takes place. The importance of the setting varies from story to story. For example, the setting in historical fiction is often considered to be an integral part of the story. An author’s description of that setting may very well determine how successful historical fiction is. Conversely, in some realistic fiction the setting is of little consequence. Above all, the setting must be clear, believable, authentic and consistent. 
Point of view describes who is telling the story. Authors choose from three types of narrators: first person, omniscient and limited narrators. Whichever style is used, it should fit the story and be logical. The voice needs to be logical and consistent throughout the story.
Characters form the heart of the story. In most books you should be able to identify the protagonist, that is the main character who carries the action of the story, and the antagonist, that is the character (or non human element such as nature) who acts against the protagonist.
Characterization describes how the characters change and grow in the story. Characterization is revealed through what the characters say and do and what other characters say and do about them. Any character growth should be logical. Books for intermediate and young adult readers can show a depth to characterization that is not possible in books for younger children. Any character development shown must be consistent with the character’s age and gender.
Plot is what happens in a story. Readers of all ages, but especially younger ones, want characters who overcome obstacles and encounter conflicts on their way to reach their goals. It is also important that the story moves in a related sequence to a logical outcome. Most books follow this pattern: 
  • Beginning  
    • Sets the stage. Characters, setting are introduced. Conflict starts. 
  • Middle
    • Builds momentum and development. Characters grow and develop as they encounter obstacles on their way to their goals.
  •  Ending
    • Reaches a satisfying conclusion. Most intermediate readers prefer a happy ending, but young adult readers can handle a more ambiguous ending.
The theme is the main idea of the book. It is the book’s central core and it shows us the author’s perception of life. There are a wide variety of themes in children’s literature: some books discuss serious life concerns, while others are written more as entertainment.
Style refers to how the book is written. It includes the author’s choice of words, the sentence patterns and length and the rhythm of the language. Also included in style is the author’s use of imagery or symbolism. When evaluating an author’s style consider the age of the intended audience.
Poor writing can be easy to spot: the style is often repetitive and the dialogue will seem stiff and artificial. Beware also of books that are too obviously didactic.

Reviewing nonfiction books
By virtue of their content, nonfiction books, such as informational books and bibliographies, have special reviewing criteria. These criteria are outlined in the modules that discuss those genres.

Assessing controversial material
Library staff need to know if there is anything that might be considered controversial in the book that is being reviewed. Heyleman states –

... it is important that a reviewer informs us if there is a probable controversial issue in the book, be it strong language, explicit sex, violence, or whatever. ... in the interest of giving full and complete information about the book, a reviewer should alert the librarian to any real problem area (148).
The author also notes that while some library staff will use this information as an excuse to buy a book or remove it from the shelf ... “the rest of us want a review to be as informative as possible, not so that we can avoid conflict, but so that we can deal with.” (148)

Writing an effective book review
Donelson and Nilsen point out that all book reviews tend to all sound the same:

... reviewers need to approach their task with the same creative spirit with which authors write books. They need to think of new ways of putting across the point that a book is highly recommended or that it has some unique quality that readers should watch for. (291)

Following these guidelines will help you fashion an effective book review:

  • capture your readers’ attention with your first sentence: remember that those reading your review have many things competing for their time: you must hook them right at the beginning. Tietlebaum suggests several different ways of starting a review including –o placing the book within the context of the author’s worko locating the work within its genreo introducing some significant information about the authoro stating the theme of the work (42-43)
  • consider your audience: put the book into context for them. Compare the book to others written by the same author or other books in the same genre. Provide some information about the author.
  • Provide an informed judgement: try to summarize your over-all opinion of the book in one sentence. Buttress your opinion with direct quotes from the book.
  • Consider what the author intended: evaluate how well you think he/she succeeded.
  • Don’t simply provide a plot summary: provide more information about the book: the characters, the setting, the theme. Allow those reading the review to make an informed decision.
  • Be accurate in everything you say about the book and its author: double check your statements to ensure accuracy.
More tips about the reviewing of children’s books may be found in Appendix C.

Building a file of book reviews
Virtually all library staff have to rely on reviews when making purchasing decisions. There’s simply not enough time to read all the new books published each year. To make more effective purchase decisions use more than one periodical when reading reviews. A list of reviewing periodicals is included in Appendix D. Clip the reviews for the books you decide to purchase. If possible, try not to buy books based on publisher’s catalogues as they tend to be too laudatory in their descriptions.

Consider, also building review files. Review files contain the following:

  • Information about the author
  • Reviews of the author’s works
  • Your responses to reviews of the author’s work
    • Did you agree with the reviewer’s comments
  • Short, one paragraph summaries of author’s books in your collection
    • Note especially any details that make the books different
    • Jot down characters’ names and brief descriptions
You might wish to develop your own system of symbols or shorthand for indicating the literary qualities and popularity of a book. One system, used in the periodical, Voice of youth advocate, is shown in Appendix E.

Donelson and Nilsen suggest that you also note any special uses for the book:

Librarians sometimes write their descriptions in the form of a booktalk identifying a page they could read aloud, while reading teachers note the level of reading difficulty, and English teachers may mention how the book might illustrate a particular literary principle. A youth worker might make a note about the potential of the book as a catalyst to get kids talking along certain lines, whereas a teacher who anticipates that the book could be controversial is wise to note positive reviews and honors. (287)

When organizing your review files, use whatever pattern seems logical to you. For example, files may be organized by subject matter or theme, age level or genre. The key advantage to keeping review files is that they can be pulled and reorganized for any number or purposes including booktalking, creative displays and building bibliographies. Review your files on a regular basis: doing so will remind you about books that you can recommend. And if you can’t remember a book title or author’s name, a quick trip through your files will probably jog your memory.

Works cited
Donelson, Kenneth L. and Alleen Nielsen. Literature for today’s young adults. 5th edition. New York: Longman, 1997.

Kamerman, Sylvia E. Book reviewing. Boston: The Writer Inc. Publishers, 1978.

Rudman, Masha Kabakow, ed. Children’s literature: resource for the classroom. Norwood: Christopher-Gordon Publishers, Inc., 1993.

Teitelbaum, Harry. How to write book reports. New York: MacMillan, 1998.

Appendix A: Qualities of a reviewer
The following excerpt discusses 11 qualities needed in a book reviewer.

Qualities of a reviewer
There are many qualities that need to be brought to the reviewing and evaluating process. Most fine reviewers and fine reviews exhibit eleven characteristics that are quite easy to identify.

  1. A sense of children, their needs, and how they respond to books. We are, after all, engaged in a peculiar pursuit. Most children’s literature is written by adults, published by adults, and selected and reviewed by adults. The child or children, however, stand as the ultimate test of any book. We need to ask ourselves constantly, “Will children, or a child, understand and appreciate this book? Does this author have something to say to a child?”
  2. A sense of enthusiasm and passion for the material. In evaluating books for children, who are not by and large cynical or pessimistic, there is no room for being jaded. A good book review should make you want to read the book and use it with children. Although certain famous, or more accurately infamous reviews – such as Dorothy Parker’s review of The House at Pooh Corner, “Tonstant weather froed up” – are certainly amusing, I do not think we should aspire to them. Good reviewers, using those fine words from Helen Garner, should aim to “light a torch, not wield a sword.”
  3. A sense of respect for the creator of a book and for the creation process. Good reviewers are interested in determining what the author or illustrator has actually set out to do and in evaluating how well he or she has done it. In The Art of Fiction (1948), Henry James says that fiction is a tower with a thousand windows; at every window stands a writer. Obviously, the vision is going to be different from every window. The critic cannot make a judgment about where the writer’s eyes should look or what they should have seen. This principle is one of the most frequently violated in children’s book reviewing. There is an amazing tendency on the part of the reviewer to play author and editor than to review the book that is in front of them. This tendency to play editor was one of my own besetting sins as a young reviewer. I actually wrote in The Horn Book Magazine, in a review of Almedingen’s Anna, “Pallid in comparison with some of the great heroines of Russia fiction – women of mettle like Natasha of War and Peace – Anna, at least, has a certain charming simplicity:” A senior reviewer pointed out that possibly the author had not wanted or needed to create War and Peace, or Natasha for that matter, for young readers. We should not in reviews talk about the book that might have been; we simply need to do justice and to be completely fair to the book – the one that has actually been created.
  4. A sense of style. Good reviewers have their own sense of style and write readable and enjoyable reviews.
  5. Sense enough to avoid preconceptions, adages, and old saws. Good reviewers are not concerned with fitting a book into their particular theory of children’s literature. On occasion, authors of books can get away with their adages and old saws, but it is not a privilege we have as reviewers. As John Updike says in Picked-Up Pieces: “Do not imagine yourself a caretaker of any tradition, an enforcer of any party standard, a warrior in any ideological battle, or a correction’s officer of any kind.”
  6. A sense of humility. To make sure that I maintain my humility, I keep next to my desk two classic Horn Book manqué. The first is a review by Ruth Hill Viguers, third editor of The Horn Book, in which she says, “Children, however, do not enjoy cynicism. I doubt Harriet the Spy’s appeal to many of them.” The other is by Anne Carroll Moore; its opening salvo sets the tone for a long, essentially negative review: “I may as well confess that I find E.B. White’s Charlotte’s Web hard to take from so masterly a hand.” Reviewers do the best job they can, make the best judgements they can, but they need always to remember that they can make mistakes, be aware that they are fallible, and be willing to reevaluate books.
  7. A sense of history of the genre in which they are reviewing.
  8. A sense of balance or proportion between plot and critical commentary. This varies from book to book: good reviewers tell you what a book is about and why they think it succeeds or fails so that as a reader you have some idea of their critical perspective.
  9. A sense of your audience. You have to know who your readers are, what they know about books, what they need to know about books, and what similar points of reference you actually have.
  10. A sense of contemporary adult literature, art, film, and theatre and an historical perspective on these forms. Every now and then I am amused by those who see a particular children’s book as on the cutting edge of art. Children’s books are rarely on the cutting edge of anything, but we need to see them in the wider context of adult literature and art to understand this.
  11. A sense of humour. Last, and most important, this is one of the qualities most lacking in children’s book reviewing. Children’s books are a great deal of fun. Children’s book reviews are often very dull. Whether they are funny in print or not, however, children’s book reviewers need a sense of humour so they can evaluate the material they read.

Rudman, Masha Kabakow, ed. Children’s literature: resource for the classroom. Norwood: Christopher-Gordon Publishers, Inc., 1993.

Appendix B: How one book reviewer prepares to write a review
The following article explains how one book reviewer and writer analyses the books he is reviewing.

Book annotation speaks volumes
Add up the NB!, HA, HAW, and UGHs
Novelist and travel writer Paul Theroux once said, “A book isn’t really yours until you’ve made notes in the margins.”
There are readers who believe it is sacrilege to write in a book, and librarians like to foster that notion, the better to make their volumes acceptable to the next borrower. But when it comes to books I own, I tend to belong to the Theroux school.
There are many reasons why someone like me would want to mark up a book. As a reviewer, I want to keep track of the essentials, to make it easy to find a passage I want to quote or paraphrase. As a teacher, I want to be able to refer back to examples I’d like to use in class. As a writer, I want to refresh my memory on how another writer handled a particular problem. As a reader, I want to highlight my favourite passages.
Marking important sections is a habit you pick up in school. I remember being taught a method that proved quite successful in condensing texts to two or three pages of study notes. You used a yellow pencil for main ideas, blue for supporting points, red for definitions. You went back over your markings and assembled notes that could be condensed even further, the objective being to distill a whole course to a single page.
I often think back to that method when I see a student going through a textbook with a yellow magic marker, highlighting every single line. I can only assume he expects to learn through osmosis, the material mysteriously moving up through the marker into his arm and up to his brain.
While the colour system works for social science text books, I found I had to develop a different method for works of fiction. The tool I use is a soft pencil – 2B – so that I don’t make a dent in the page. I would never use a pen – that’s too final. The idea is that, if some day you want to sell the book, you can erase all the pencil markings. 
Now to reveal the secret code.
Alongside any passage that contains information important to the plot or the theme, I draw a vertical line and print NB. If it’s especially significant, I underline the NB. If I think I’ve discovered the key to the whole work, I’ll use two underlines.
Alongside any passages that seem particularly well said, I’ll draw a vertical line and put in a check mark. Something brilliant demands two or possibly even three check marks.
So that I don’t have to flip through the pages looking for these marks later, I write a terse summary of the section I marked on the first page of the book, just inside the cover. The summary is a one-line phrase and it’s accompanied by the page number. When I’ve finished reading the book, there will be a list of these, sort of a handy-dandy index. I can refresh my memory of the book by going over the list.
There’s more. Alongside any passage that strikes me as funny, I print HA. If it’s hilarious, I put an exclamation after the HA. If the book is supposed to be a comedy, I can tell whether it succeeds or fails by adding up the HAs.
Alongside any passage that is raunchy, I print HAW. Very raunchy: HAW!
If something occurs in the text that takes me completely by surprise – a peculiar plot twist or an uncharacteristic way of saying something – I use a single exclamation mark.
If a book misfires or just doesn’t grab me, I won’t give it many NBs or check marks. If a passage is especially bad or cloying or sickening, I’ll print UGH. (I’m not the only one who does this. Carol Shields showed me a copy of a book she’d been reviewing and I noticed an UGH in one of the margins. It was used to mark a metaphor that didn’t seem to work.)
I have just been reading Barney’s version by Mordecai Richler. Take a passage like this: “In my declining years, I continue to linger in Montreal, risking icy streets in winter in spite of my increasingly brittle bones. It suits me to be rooted in a city that, like me, is diminishing day by day.” This rates an NB because it gives information pertinent to our hero.
Now consider this: “All that’s flourishing (in Montreal) now are FOR SALE/A VENDRE signs, sprouting up every day like out-of-season daffodils on front lawns ...” This gets a check mark because it strikes me as well said. You might have guessed that my copy of Richler’s novel contains a great number of HAs and HAWs but absolutely no UGHS.
People tell me they like reading one of my books after I’ve marked it up because it reveals a lot about the way I think.
Slice of Life is a weekly column featuring Manitoba writers. David Williamson’s next book is Anniversary, a play he co-authored with Carol Shields, to be published in the spring.
Williamson, D. Book Annotation. Winnipeg Free Press.
Appendix C: How to review children’s books
This excerpt provides specific details on how to review many different types of children’s, intermediate and young adult books.

This material is excerpted from a brochure prepared by the Children’s Services Division of the Santiago (California) Library System. 
To paraphrase T.S. Eliot, “The rudiment of criticism is the ability to select a good book and reject a bad book; and its most severe test is its ability to select a good new book, to respond properly to a new situation.”
The well-known specialist in children’s literature, Zena Sutherland, points out these responsibilities of the children’s book reviewer:

  1. Be objective in your evaluation of the book.
  2. Be aware of controversial themes, sex mores, and unconventional language.
  3. Know the field of children’s literature so as to have a basis for their evaluation.
  4. Know children, their needs and wants.
  5. Know the audience for whom the review is being written.
  6. Judge each book on its own merit.
  7. Read the book cover to cover!
  8. Consider the book as a communication. Popularity and literary quality are not the same thing. Both aspects must be taken into account; they should be in balance, and this balance should be carefully considered.
  9. Compare this particular book with others in the genre or on the same subject or by the same author.
  10. Be aware of the problem of translating a book into English:a. Is it true to the original text?b. Is it idiomatic?

When feasible, try to use the author’s writing style, or a few of his or her words, phrases or sentences to help convey the flavour of the book. But do not paraphrase a plot or give detailed recapitulation of contents. Three or four sentences are enough; not more than one should be devoted to the plot.
Watch for any biases:

  1. Are sexual, racial, or age groups treated fairly?
  2. How does the author’s treatment of them affect the impact of the book?
  3. Is the author’s opinion presented as fact?

Types of children’s books Picture books The picture book at its best is a fusion of text and illustration. Illustrations should extend and interpret the story. Ask yourself the following questions about the picture books you review:

  1. Does the fusion work?
  2. Will it work for children?
  3. How do you evaluate the design, originality, art work and appeal?
  4. Do the mood and style of the picture match the text?


  1. How good are they at stories?
  2. How does this collection compare with others of the same kind?
  3. Are the stories available in other collections?
  4. Is it a book for children, or a book for folklorists?
  5. Does the style reflect an oral tradition, or is this a literary treatment?
  6. Do the stories and style truly represent the culture from which they come, or do they reflect a bias from the author’s culture?
  7. Are sources, parallels, or other relevant information provided?

Fables, myths and epics Older children are the primary audience for the pithy – if sometimes didactic – wisdom of the fables, although many individual fables have been skilfully presented in picture-story format. Children may not understand the complexity of symbolism in myths and legends, but they can appreciate the drama and beauty of the stories. The great epics can satisfy a child’s need to admire deeds of high courage.
Poetry Poetry should present a new perspective with an economy of well-chosen words.

  1. Does the poetry speak to the child, not at or about him or her?
  2. Evaluate poetry for its uniqueness and its use of language.
  3. Check for variety in –a. Meter – the number of feet in a line, or the combination of the number and the kind of metrical feet (iambic pentameter, for instance).b. Rhyme – the repetition of sound at the ends of two or more lines or within lines.c. Scheme – pattern of rhythm within a poem.d. Type –i. Lyric – a short poem (ode, sonnet, etc.) usually with a musical qualityii. Narrative – poems that tell a story and are usually rather longiii. Dramatic – the pattern of rhyme within a poem
  4. For an anthology of poetry, check the availability of the poems elsewhere.
Fiction Here we can use the same criteria we bring to judging adult fiction – with some special additions relating to children’s books:

  1. Consider plot, characterization and style.
  2. Is the story absorbing, convincing, and carefully worked out to an honest conclusion?
  3. Is it entertaining without being moralistic?
  4. Will the reader meet real characters and watch them grow?
  5. Good fiction should offer an appealing story, told smoothly, with freshness, and originality.
  6. Compare the novel with previous work by the same author, or with books on the same theme by other authors.
  7. From whose point of view is the story told?
  8. Tell if the book is from one of these sub-categories:
    1. humorous stories
    2. mysteries
    3. animal stories
    4. historical fiction
    5. adventure fiction
    6. realistic stories
  9. Complexity of plot development and concepts presented should be geared to the level of the child’s development.


  1. Does the book aim toward high standards of literacy quality?
  2. Is it accurate and current?
  3. Will it appeal to the audience for which it is geared?
  4. Do the illustrations clarify the text?
  5. Notice the presence or absence of

a. tables b. maps c. appendices d. picture credits e. index f. glossary g. bibliographies h. table of contents i. suggestions for further reading
Biography Biography for children is frequently not documented carefully for accuracy, and it is therefore particularly important to check the author’s credentials – in addition to testing it against some of the following criteria:

  1. Can you determine if the subject was the author’s own choice, or was the book contracted for by the publisher?
  2. Does the author “know” the person and the field?
  3. Does the biographee come through as a human being, or as a colorless paragon?
  4. Is the dialogue based on imagination, or on diaries, letters, etc.?
  5. Have the incidents included in the biography been wisely chosen to give a true portrayal of character and personality?

Science Here are some special points to check out:

  1. readability – Is the language untechnical enough for the audience?
  2. accuracy – Is it essential to compare books/authorities for authenticity of information?
  3. currency – In fields where knowledge is rapidly changing, will the book soon be obsolete? Is it already?
  4. illustrations – Drawings and photographs should be sharp, clear, detailed, positioned, and captioned to aid understanding.
  5. index & bibliography – A thorough, usable index is a must.
  6. Beware of:
    1. oversimplification – Concepts should not be confused with facts.
    2. anthropomorphism – Treating animals as though they have human characteristics.
    3. teleology – Ascribing purpose to anything in the natural environment, e.g., “Squirrels bury acorns so they will have food in the winter.”
    4. animism – Attributing conscious life and spirit to material things such as rocks, and plants.
How to books Craft, cooking, making things, knitting and other how-to-do-it books should fulfill the basic criteria:

  1. Are the directions clear and complete?
  2. Do the instructions include safety precautions?
  3. Do the projects encourage creativity, or are they cut-and-dried recipes?
  4. Is the finished product worth the effort?

Sports books Just as sports are full of action, sports books should be exciting, compelling, and dramatic:

  1. Does the author create dramatic moments without resorting to clichés?
  2. Are statistics used judiciously without bombarding the reader?
  3. In how-to sports books, are the skills ones which the intended audience can really attempt?


  1. Does the book make past eras come alive for the reader?
  2. 2. Check the author’s accuracy and note any biases.
  3. Does the author attempt to present the “facts” from more than one point of view?

Kamerman, S. Book reviewing. The Writers Inc. 1978

Appendix D: Reviewing journals

This appendix contains information about how to evaluate published book reviews. It also lists information about major Canadian and American periodicals that review children’s, intermediate and young adult literature.

Evaluating selection aids It’s a fact of life: most librarians cannot possibly keep up with all the books that are constantly being published for children and intermediate/young adult readers. Consequently, relying on reviews to assist with purchase decisions has become a way of life. However, this method is not foolproof and needs to be supplemented with as much reading of the actual books possible ... 
... Most libraries can afford to subscribe to only a few ... periodicals, so it is important to make an informed judgment about which periodicals you use when looking for reviews. 
Consider the following questions when evaluating each periodical:

  1. Does the periodical have a published policy statement regarding its reviews?
  2. Does the periodical provide written guidelines for its reviewers?
  3. What criteria are used to evaluate the books reviewed?
  4. How does the periodical acquire the books it reviews? And how are those books assigned to individual reviewers?
  5. How complete is each review?
  6. What criteria does the reviewer use when evaluating books?
  7. How quickly does a review appear after the book’s publication?
  8. Are titles from one particular publishing house more likely to be reviewed than titles from another?

Each periodical has its own strengths and weaknesses. Reading reviews in several periodicals will help you to maintain a balanced view.
Appendix E: One reviewing system
This appendix shows the reviewing system used by the periodical, Voice of youth advocates. BOOK REVIEW CODE

5Q Hard to imagine it being better written.
4Q Better than most, marred only by occasional lapses.
3Q Readable, without serious defects.
2Q Better editing or work by the author might have warranted a 3Q.
1Q Hard to understand how it got published, except in relation to its P rating (and not even then sometimes).

5P Every YA (who reads) was dying to read it yesterday.
4P Broad general YA appeal.
3P Will appeal with pushing.
2P For the YA reader with a special interest in the subject.
1P No YA will read unless forced to for assignments.

Grade level interest
M Middle School (defined as grades 6-8)
J Junior High (defined as grades 7-9)
S Senior High (defined as grades 10-12)
VOYA. Reviewing code.

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