Monday, July 30, 2012

Graphic novels

(C) Art Spiegleman,

Graphic novels represent a unique partnership between words and art. They are especially appealing to reluctant readers.

  • Sturdy, lengthy comic book
  • Single story OR
  • Told through sequential art
  • Series of inter-related stories
Other terms
  • Trade comics
  • Commix
  • Graphic album
  • Illu-novel
  • Gekiga
  • Anime
  • More expensive than regular comics
    o Do not sell as well
  • Less familiar to traditional comic buyers
    o Considered less collectable
  • But ... sturdier, easier to handle
  • Add interest and depth to your collection
  • Preferred reading choice of many intermediate/young adult readers
  • Have their own language
    o Creators juxtapose pictures and words to create new images
    o Use words and pictures in a new way
    o Represent a unique partnership between art and words
The Role of the artist
  • Like a movie director
    o Breaks down the action into individual panels
    o Composes each panel
    o Controls timing of story
  • Supplies settings and descriptions: visually
    o Uses shadow, angle, setting and costume
    o Not a series of separate illustrations
    o Must flow seamlessly
The Role of the writer
  • Creates the original story
    o Like writing a (screen)play
  • Must understand the interplay between art and text
    o Text should not distract from the art or vice versa
  • Good writing is essential: strong story line
    o Create a seamless whole
  • One cannot exist without the other
Evaluation criteria: the art
  • Must balance text against the art
  • Style of art
  • Art appropriate to the story?
  • Things mentioned in text that should have been illustrated?
  • Does the art distract from the story?
  • OR does the text distract from the art?
  • Words and art
    o Are interdependent?
  • How does the artist handle the “talky bits”?
  • Do the illustrations ...
    o Provide subtle commentary on words?
    o Move the story forward?
  • Elements in text that should have been illustrated?
  • Look for a balance between the art and the words
    o Should not distract from one another
  • Illustrations should reflect a high standard
    o Technically, artistically
  • Cover illustration
    o Appropriate for content?
Evaluation: overall
  • Book itself
    o Physically well produced and attractive?
  • Story line
    o Coherent, imaginative, interesting, well written?
  • Language
    o Accessible and appropriate?
  • Treatment of race, gender, social class?
    o Problem with older books
  • Violence
    o Natural or gratuitous?
  • Text
    o Legible or obscured by pictures?
Younger readers: Tintin
  • Created in 1929 by Georges Remi, started as PamPam
    o Nazi sympathizer
    o Didn’t like kids
  • Signed his work: Herge
  • Began life as a newspaper supplement
    o For children
    o The stories sold
  • Adventures: investigate reporter
    o Timeless
  • Precise drawing style
    o Clear line rendering with few shadows
    o Very detailed drawings
  • Well plotted stories
    o Combine both dramatic action and humour
  • Sells about 3 million books a year
    o 36 different languages
    o Merchandising
    * Montréal
    o Movies and animated television stories
Some cautions
  • Portrayal of women
    o Purpose to serve men
    o It was the era
  • Depiction of racial minorities
  • Right-wing politics
    o Behind the story
    o Kids won’t remember
  • Captain Haddock
    o Drinks
    o Smokes
Younger readers: Asterix
  • Originally French
  • Most famous Gaul in history
    o With companion Obelix
  • Second most famous comic in Europe
  • Creators were influenced by MAD magazine
  • Rewrites ancient history
    o Focus mainly on run-ins with the Romans around 50 B.C.
  • Many visual and verbal puns
    o Might need explaining
  • Satire, parodies of classics
    o References to other stories
  • Has endured the same criticism as Tintin
  • Judge for yourself
Younger readers: Marcia Williams
  • Retells hero tales and legends through graphic novels
  • Very distinctive cartooning style
  • Very bright, colourful books
  • Painless introduction to classics
Intermediate readers: Elfquest
  • Best selling independent comic
    o Winner of every major comics award
  • First published in black and white
    o Now collected and printed in colour
    o Beautifully detailed illustrations
  • Tells the story of the Wolfriders
    o Conflict with humans
  • Follows pattern of traditional quest
For young adults: Maus
  • Pulitzer Prize winner
    o Unusual
    o First – and only – graphic novel winner
  • Shows persecution of Jews during World War II
  • Distinctive characters
    o Jews are mice, Nazis are cats, etc.
  • Story is framed in present-day New York
  • Artist’s father tells his story of survival in concentration camps
  • Black and white illustrations
  • Unusual perspective
    o With angles
Reasons for including
  • Appeal to all ages
  • Especially intermediate and young adult
  • Assist poor readers
    o Offer fast-paced action, dramatic conflict, heroic adventure
  • Encourage unmotivated readers
  • Special appeal for gifted students
  • Connect with visual learners
    o Use powerful images with strong emotional appeal
  • Develop strong language arts skills
  • Stimulate readers to explore other literature
    o Link modern superheroes with other culture heroes
  • Promote visual literacy
    o Develop critical eye for art and artistic styles
  • Fear challenges
    o Unfound
    o BUT age appropriate
    * Watch what titles are brought
  • Generate favourable publicity
    o Provide focal point for young adult programming
  • Junk literature
    o Meet needs of community
    o Many serious works
    o Unique form of popular culture
    o Different ways of storytelling
  • Inappropriate messages
    o Violence, sexism, anti-social behaviour, hatred, etc.
    o Identify comics and graphic novels that are appropriate for users
    o Many positive role models
    * Superman, Wonder Woman, Spiderman
  • Using one’s abilities to help others
  • The value of perseverance, striving to be your best
  • Won’t hold up to library use
    o Treat as current browsing collection
    o Collect trade paperback collections
    o Extend shelf life
    * Plastic magazine covers
  • Fear of theft
    o Deface slightly
    * Stamp library name on margin or inside cover
    * Punch small hole in cover
    * Valueless to collectors
  • May bring about an increase in holdings
    o Patrons donate unwanted comics
Selection concerns
  • Age appropriate
    o Comics Code Authority
  • Educate yourself
    o Seek guidance/preview all comics
    o Reviews, websites, journals, retailers, patrons
    o Reference catalogues
  • Recognize authors, publishers who use mature themes
Selection criteria
  • Popularity
  • Tie ins
    o Television
    o Movies
    o Video games
    o Toys
  • Age level
  • Genres
  • Writing quality
    o Originality of plot and characters
    o Character development
    o Dialogue
  • Artistic quality
    o Layout
    o Storytelling flow
    o Drawing skill
    o Lettering
    o Colouring
    o Artistic style
  • Reputation of writer and artist
  • Reputation of publisher
  • Awards
  • Colour vs black and white
  • Develop statement for collection policy
  • Once scorned
  • Now accepted
  • Significant genre
  • Expand your collection
  • Appeal to all your patrons
Brenner, Robin. The Real Deal. 2002.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Evaluating fantasy, science fiction and horror

Fantasy is a worthy genre of literature for all children. It challenges the intellect, reveals, insights, stimulates the imagination, and nurtures the affective domain.
Donna E. Norton
Through the eyes of a child
Fantasy, science fiction and horror
Most children enjoy fantasy as a change from the here and now, or as a breathing space in the serious process of growing up.
Zena Sutherland
Children and books
This module discusses three closely related genres: fantasy, science fiction and horror.

Defining fantasy
Fantasy stories are tales of pure imagination. Instead of being rooted in the here and now, fantasy is clearly rooted in the imagination. Hillman explains the differences between fantasy and realistic fiction:
By definition, fantasy is more abstract than fiction. All fiction requires a suspension of disbelief to enter the time, place and circumstances that a author creates. However, fantasy pushes the boundaries of realism, as it invents and constructs metaphors for the real world. Fantasy demands more from readers – more attention, more suspension of disbelief, and more imagination. (130)
Modern fantasy for children began with the ground-breaking book, Alice in Wonderland (Carroll, 1865). It was followed by several other noteworthy fantasy books including At the back of the north wind (MacDonald, 1871) and Peter Pan; or the boy who would not grow up (Barrie, 1903). The first American fantasy book written for children was The Wizard of Oz (Baum, 1900). The first Canadian children’s fantasy book was The Golden pine cone (Clark, 1950).

Authors create fantasy by altering one or more characteristics of everyday reality. When creating fantasy authors work with three key literary elements: setting, time and characters. How authors manipulate those elements is what distinguishes fantasy from realistic fiction:
  • Setting: Settings vary widely in fantasy stories. They may be grounded in reality as is the setting for The Borrowers (Norton, 1953) is, or they may consist of parallel worlds, accessible to a chosen few, such as the lands of Narnia, in The Chronicles of Narnia (Lewis, 1950). Sometimes the setting is totally imaginary as in The Hobbit and The Lord of the ring (Tolkien, 1938). The richness of detail included in the descriptions of the setting are what set fantasy books apart from traditional folktales. Some authors, such as Tolkien, include maps to further extend the readers’ experience.
  • Time: Time and setting are closely related. Characters in fantasy may go back in time, they may go ahead in time, or the story may take place in current time. Often protagonists are surprised to find out how little time has elapsed when they return to the real world.
  • Characters: Characters in fantasy may include miniature humans (The Borrowers), humanized animals (The Wind in the willows, Graham, 1908), hobbits, dwarfs and wizards (The Hobbit, Lord of the rings) or totally fantastical such as the grinning Cheshire cat and the hookah smoking caterpillar in Alice in Wonderland. (For more information about the stereotyping of characters in fantasy, see Issue in Fantasy discussed at the end of this module.)
Low and high fantasy
Fantasy is often divided into two main categories: low fantasy and high fantasy. The key difference between these two types of fantasy is the setting. In low fantasy, the setting is not fantastic. For example, the setting of The Wind in the willows is typical English countryside, including a river, meadows and even a mansion. What makes the story a fantasy is that the characters, who are all animals – Rat, Mole, Toad and Badger – all wear human clothing, live in human-like surroundings and have very human-like adventures. High fantasy, on the other hand, is set in an imaginary world created by the author. The Hobbit, and The Lord of the rings, for instance, are set in Middle Earth, the imaginative creation of their author, J. R. R. Tolkien. Modern high fantasy evolved from the medieval romances of the 11th and 12th centuries. In high fantasy the created worlds forms the core of the story. Hillman explains –
They are close enough to the primary world to allow identification, yet far enough away to allow the creation of fantastic creatures and unlikely occurrences. (135)
One other difference between the two types of fantasy centres around their themes. While works of high fantasy, such as The Lord of the Rings, tend to deal with eternal issues such as the conflict between good and evil, works of low fantasy, such as The Wind in the Willows, discuss more “homely” issues, such as how to control an impulsive friend. Beyond these two basic categories for fantasy, commentators on children’s literature have divided this genre into several subcategories. Here are the categories that appeal to intermediate and young adult readers:
  • Articulate animals: Characters are animals who display a balance between animal and human characteristics. Readers may strongly identify with the animal characters. Stories that feature articulate animals include The Jungle book (Kipling, 1894) and Catwings and its sequel, Catwings return (LeGuin, 1988, 1989), and Silverwing (1997) by Canadian author, Kenneth Oppell.
  • Strange and curious worlds: Imagine a fantasy world peopled with talking white rabbits and playing cards or boys who never grow old and spend their time fighting a pirate with a hook for a hand. Examples of strange and curious worlds include Alice in Wonderland and Peter Pan.
  • Little people: Building upon our age-old fascination with “wee folk”, these stories feature creatures such as trolls, gnomes and fairies. Sometimes, the characters are humans – but in miniature. Examples of little people stories include The Borrowers series, and The Secret world of Ogg (Berton, 1961).
  • Peculiar characters: Imagine a nanny who uses her umbrella to fly, or a mouse who can ride a motorcycle. Books that feature peculiar characters include Mary Poppins (Travers, 1934) and The Mouse and the motorcycle (Cleary, 1965).
The appeal of fantasy for both intermediate and young adult readers is two fold. First, the lure of a good story, well told, is strong. Most fantasies contain an ample dose of action and suspense. Because the stories are frequently set in imaginary worlds, they don’t become dated as realistic fiction does.

Second, are the deeper qualities to fantasy – qualities that children may not even notice. In order to enjoy fantasy, children don’t need to know that they may be reading a story that is as old as humankind – the struggle between good and evil. As adults we need to let them simply enjoy the story and the characters.

Themes in fantasy
Themes in fantasy are as varied as the literature itself. As noted previously, high fantasy often revolves around the fight between good and evil. Authors of high fantasy often draw upon older sources for their inspiration. For example, The Prydian chronicles (Alexander, 1964) contain many references to Welsh mythology; The Chronicles of Narnia are a Christian allegory, and The Dark is rising (Cooper, 1966) series contain many references to the legends surrounding King Arthur.

Low fantasy may explore themes found in other types of literature for children. Silverwing, the story of two bats and their quest, explores the theme of survival.

More information about the motifs found in fantasy literature is contained in Appendix B, “Six Basic Fantasy Motifs”.

Evaluating fantasy
Even though they may take their readers into wild and imaginative lands, or introduce them to weird and wonderful characters, fantasy authors are not exempt from following the standards of good writing. As with all types of fiction, well written fantasy will contain believable and interesting characters, authentic settings and well developed plots. But fantasy has special evaluation criteria as well: centering on the elements of fantasy and how the author uses them. The fantastic elements, be they characters or setting, must be believable and central to the core of the story.

The key to a well written fantasy is the author’s use of logic, consistency and believability. Authors of fantasy may ask readers to suspend their disbelief and enter into a world of make-believe. Therefore, it is critical that the reader believes in the fantasy and can understand and enjoy it. Logic, consistency and believability runs through the major elements of a fantasy story, setting, plot and characters:
  • Logic, consistency and believability in setting: In high fantasy, the author presents the reader with a created world. Even a created world must have rules and the author must ensure that those rules are followed consistently throughout the entire story. In low fantasy, which takes place in the real world, enough details must be provided to make the story seem believable.
  • Logic, consistency and believability in plot: High fantasy is often centred around a difficult and dangerous quest. Readers are often encouraged to cheer for the hero, even when the quest seems doomed. In both high and low fantasy, characters’ actions must always be consistent with their personalities and lead to further developments in the plot.
  • Logic, consistency and believability in characters: Fantasy is full of many wonderful characters: dragons, wizards, and little people, to name a few. All characters, no matter how fantastic, must be believable and behave in a consistent and logic fashion. Glazer notes –
The best characters in fantasy remain humanlike, even when cloaked in animal identities, flung into weird lands, or placed under magical spells. They are fearful when readers would be afraid. They are unpredictable up to a point, just like real people. (382)
More tips on evaluating modern fantasy may be found in Appendix A, “Evaluating Modern Fantasy”.

The Value of fantasy
Reading fantasy literature gives children new ways to look at old problems and help children deal with their lives. Fantasy encourages the use of imagination: by daring to imagine and dream along with the story, children are empowered to solve their own problems.
Sutherland sums up the value of fantasy:
Fantasy helps children understand reality even as it provides them with a flight into other worlds that are incredible, exciting and satisfying. (259)
The best of fantasy literature for children explains how things are, but it also lets readers explore how things might be.

Issues in fantasy
Modern fantasy is not without controversy. The portrayal of minority groups within this genre is sometimes problematic.

A case in point is the very popular book, The Indian in the cupboard, and its sequels (Banks, 1980). The first in the series, The Indian in the cupboard, focuses on a young boy, Omri, who puts a small plastic Indian inside a magic cupboard. The Indian, Little Bear, is magically brought to life and is portrayed as savage and naive. He speaks in a sort of pidgin English.
“Little Bear not lie. Great hunter. Great fighter.”

“Any white scalps?” Omri ventured to ask.

“Some. French. Not take English scalps. Englishmen friend to Iroquois. Help Indian fight Algonquin enemy.” (Banks, 33)
Throughout the book, Little Bear contains to speak in subhuman grunts and partial sentences. In addition, many of the details used to describe Little Bear are inaccurate and perpetuate stereotypes about Indian people. For example, Little Bear is described as an Iroquois fighter, but he is dressed more like a movie version of a generic Plains Indian chief. He is given detailed knowledge of Plains tipi decoration although the Iroquois lived in long houses.A further problem with the novel is Omri’s treatment of Little Bear throughout the story:
Omri may be learning to respect Little Bear as a human being; he himself is learning how to behave as adults do toward children. Unfortunately, his nascent paternalism is directed at an adult from another culture whom he perceives as parents often perceive their children. (Stott, 17)
Stott also points out that although Omri behaves in a benevolent fashion towards Little Bear – he provides him with food, shelter, a wife and medical aid – the boy is clearly in control. His behaviour vividly demonstrates the characteristics of an imperialistic control of a subject people:
At a time when Native peoples are rediscovering their traditions, developing a pride in their cultural beliefs and achievements, and struggling to achieve the dignity of self-government and economic independence The Indian in the cupboard transmits unacceptable viewpoints and messages to young and Native readers alike. (18)
All of this is not to say that The Indian in the cupboard and its sequels should be removed from the library’s shelves. Understanding that this series reinforces many negative stereotypes about native people and also contains many factual errors gives those who work with children the tools to discuss the books in a more informed way.More information about how to deal with controversial books may be found in the Censorship module.

Defining science fiction
This is a genre that is changeable, multilayered, rich in variety, frequently represented by works that are intellectually challenging to read.
Bonnie Kunzel
To boldly go ... science fiction a personal odyssey
Mosaics of Meaning

Originally, works of science fiction were based on scientific fact. However, not everyone agrees about a clear cut distinction between modern science fiction and fantasy. Authors may write in both genres and the lines between the two types of fiction have become increasingly blurred.

Jacobs and Tunnel offer this explanation:
The magic of fantasy is unexplainable; it is just there, without source or reason. But the magic of science fiction is an extrapolation of science fact, rooted in scientific possibilities and how those possibilities may affect societies of human or alien beings, or both. (83)
Frankenstein (Shelley, 1817) is considered to be the first science fiction novel. Written to entertain a group of friends who included the poets Lord Byron and Shelley’s husband, Percy Shelley, the book explores the nature of the creation of life, as a scientist, Victor Frankenstein, creates a human being. Although the book is still read today, it has been superseded by the famous Universal movie (1931). The image of Boris Karloff playing the monster is truly part of our popular culture.

Other early writers of science fiction included Jules Verne and H. G. Wells. Verne’s Twenty thousand leagues under the sea (1870) is clearly a classic: readers can follow the journeys of the demented Captain Nemo as he pilots his submarine through the ocean. H. G. Wells’ War of the worlds (1898) was the basis for the famous broadcast by Orson Welles on October 30, 1938, that panicked much of the eastern United States.

These books were intended for an adult audience although children did read them. They were not considered science fiction; the term was not coined until 1926 when it appeared in the first issue of Amazing stories (Egoff, 274).Science fiction continued to appear mostly in magazines until the 1960’s. During this decade an increasing number of authors began to write both novels and short stories in this genre: some specifically for young readers.

Science fiction truly became part of popular culture with the success of the movie 2001: a space odyssey (1968) based on a short story by Arthur C. Clarke. The continuing popularity of the television series, Star Trek, attests to science fiction’s influence in popular culture. Paper back novelizations or series books that extend movies such as Star wars and Jurassic Park continue to be popular with young people.

Appeal of science fiction
Science fiction allows the reader to see other worlds, their inhabitants and to ponder challenging questions:
Which is superior, human or machine? Does it matter how one is created? Are sophisticated robots truly alive? Might the computer, the thinking machine, pose serious threats to human beings and their lives? (Lukens, 22)
But on an even more basic level, science fiction appeals because “it is exciting.” (Donelson and Nilsen, 171) Although Buck Rogers has been left behind, the appeal of modern science fiction still centres on the thrill of the adventure. Furthermore, according to Donelson and Nilsen, science fiction writers don’t write down to their audiences:
Science fiction allows anyone to read imaginative fiction without feeling that the material is kid stuff. (170)
The characters in science fiction appeal as well; true heroes can still be found in this genre:
Science fiction presents real heroes to readers who find their own world often devoid of anyone worth admiring, of heroes doing something brave, going to the ultimate frontiers, even pushing these frontiers further back, all important at a time when many young people wonder if any new frontiers exist. (170)
Science fiction holds a special appeal for teens:
At a time when teenagers are questioning who they are, what life is about, what their place in it is, and what the future will be like, they are presented with a body of work that assures them of a future completely different from present experience. (Kunzel, 384)
Furthermore, even if the teen reader encounters familiar themes such as coming of age, fitting in, being accepted, the “trappings will be different, far-flung and fanciful as the minds of the author and receptive reader can make them.” (384) And many teens enjoy the encounters with the strange, the weird and the truly bizarre that they find in science fiction.Kunzel, a devoted science fiction fan, explains its appeal:
I read initially for the “Wow” effect, but I kept on reading and enjoying science fiction because I loved having reality shaken up, opening a door and stepping into an entirely new universe, going for a spaceship ride and investigating new worlds ... that became more real than what we experience while awake. (398)
Themes in science fiction
Science fiction poses possibilities. And while those possibilities may not always be positive, the reader of science fiction is encouraged to speculate, to answer the question: “What if...?”

Actual themes in science fiction vary widely. Many moral questions and social issues are explored in this literature. The nature of human relationships is an often repeated theme. Conflict – with other humans, aliens or the environment – frequently forms the basis for the plots.

There are many categories for science fiction: in Teen genreflecting, Herald lists books for 14 different categories. Much of contemporary science fiction has lost its true scientific bent, since most of the writers, especially those who write for young readers are not scientists. (Egoff, 273)

Here is a summary of the characteristics of five major science fiction categories that appeal to both intermediate and teen readers:
  • Adventure: As noted above, adventure forms the basic appeal of most science fiction. Adventures may be wild and wooly; heroes zip across galaxies and battle strange alien creatures, sometimes even finding romance along the way. Adventure based science fiction will keep the reader turning the pages of the story, but there is often a deeper sociological or environmental theme found in these stories. Adventure science fiction may be cautionary: warning the reader about some predicted disaster, or it may be a survival tale: pitting the protagonist against an alien antagonist.
  • Time travel: Travelling backward or forward in time has been a recurring theme in science fiction since H. G. Wells wrote The Time machine (1895). As human beings we are fascinated with the thought of traveling backwards in time and the resulting consequences: will the protagonist’s actions change the future course of events? We also all speculate about what the future holds for humanity and the small planet we inhabit.
  • Space travel: Although now a reality, the idea of space travel continues to fascinate. Space travel offers the reader stories with “the right stuff” who still push the boundaries of our imaginations as they travel through universes, known and unknown.
  • Cyberpunk: As computer technology continues to dominate our lives, some wonder where it will all end. Cyberpunk first appeared in the novel, Neuromancer, written by Canadian William Gibson (1984). The book explores a dark future with a society devoted to getting high on alcohol and drugs, except for “Cowboys” who get their high from linking themselves to computers.
  • Utopias and dystopias: One of the oldest forms of literature in the Western World, utopian literature combines elements of both fantasy and science fiction. Utopian literature often reflects authors’ personal beliefs about their own society. The first utopian novel, The Republic, was written by Plato in the 5th century B.C. Another work important to the development of utopian literature was Thomas More’s Utopia (1516). In the late 1800s peoples’ real-life attempts to form utopian societies were reflected in a number of popular utopian novels: Erewhon (Butler, 1872), Looking backward (Bellamy, 1888) are two key examples.
Dystopias only began to appear in the mid 20th century. Donelson and Nilsen note:
Dystopias are more dramatic and exaggerated than their counterparts and for that reason are more successful in attracting young adults. Dystopias warn us of society’s drift toward a particularly horrifying or sick world lying just over the horizon. (181)
Brave new world (Huxley, 1932), Animal farm (Orwell, 1954) and Nineteen eighty-four (Orwell, 1940) are early examples of dystopian literature. Still read today, these books are “part prophecy, part warning.” (181) Two modern classics are The Giver (Lowry, 1993) which presents a future society which appears perfect, but only on the surface, and Canadian author Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s tale (1985) which shows the reader a sexually repressed society that appears after a holocaust in North America.

Donelson and Nilsen point out that dystopian literature will not appeal to every teen: it requires “more thoughtful and intellectual” (180) readers to fully appreciate all the subtleties.

Evaluating science fiction
When evaluating science fiction look for the same literary elements as fantasy. Characters should be well defined and believable, settings must seem plausible and plots need to be fast paced and interesting. Where science fiction differs from fantasy, however, is in the details and the plotting: “the details contain many scientific truths and possibilities, while the conflict and solution rely on scientific content.” (Rothlein and Meinbach, 47) In order to achieve credibility in science fiction, the author must create a world where science underlies every aspect of society.

The Value of science fiction
Science fiction opens the readers’ minds to many different possibilities. Readers can speculate about the future by imagining, along with the author, that certain events or conditions actually exist. Science fiction readers are exposed to both more questions and social issues:
Science fiction challenges children to believe and confirm that they can achieve anything their minds conceive. It enables them to evaluate how they might live their lives and what types of changes would have to be made and helps them come to terms with moral and ethical issues.
(Rothlein and Meinbach, 48)

In short, the reading of science fiction stretches the imagination.

Issues in science fiction
As with other forms of genre fiction, there is some hack writing in science fiction. And while a few ill-written books never hurt any reader, try to guide younger readers towards the better authors in this genre. Both Teen genreflecting and Genreflecting (1995) offer lists of suggested books. It’s also useful to keep an eye on award winners when looking for well written science fiction.

A second consideration is that science fiction readers do not always choose “age appropriate” books. Teen readers may move back and forth between science fiction written for young adults and that intended for an older audience. In reading contemporary adult science fiction they may find strong language, and explicit sexual references. “Sex in science fiction – be aware – it may be there” says Kunzel (416). Although most science fiction written for younger readers does not contain mature themes, there is a growing trend to include this sort of material in books for young adults.

Furthermore, some adults may be uncomfortable with some of the themes discussed in science fiction. But as Kunzel points out these issues are handled differently in science fiction:
One of the truly remarkable things about science fiction is the fact that there is such universal and wide-ranging acceptance of issues that might be controversial in another format. In novels written both for an adult and a young adult audience, the complexity of thought and the unique vision an unusual ideas are in the forefront, with controversial issues relegate to a position that is subservient to the progress of the story. (416)
Science fiction is highly valued for its ability to discuss thought provoking issues in an interesting way.

Horror fiction
The oldest and strongest emotion of mankind is fear, and the oldest and strongest kind of fear is fear of the unknown.
H. P. Lovecraft

Horror fiction is the most controversial form of genre fiction written for intermediate and young adult readers. Filled with vampires, psychopathic killers and incestuous families, horror fiction continues to fascinate young readers and appal many adults.

Horror fiction has one purpose: to scare the reader. Horror author Graham Materson says, “Fear is the prime ingredient of all successful horror novels.” He continues, “If you succeed in making your readers sleep with their bedside lights on, then you’ve achieved something special.” (15)

Defining horror: shock vs terror
Those who come to horror fiction for the first time need to distinguish between shock and terror. Shock is a visceral experience. It comes from sensory overload. For example, we scream in terror at the first sight of the shark in the movie, Jaws. But we also recover quickly from the shock and then look for more.

Terror, on the other hand, is a more lasting emotion. It is that creepy feeling that gets under our skin and stays with us. Terror scares us, but it also disturbs us. Terror is the memory of a book or movie that stays with us for a very long time.
Great fiction is rarely about shock, but rather more lasting emotions; it digs beneath our skin and stays with us. (Williamson, 160)
For those adults who don’t read horror, its appeal to younger readers can be hard to understand. Furthermore, horror is often read by those younger readers who wouldn’t dream of reading any other fiction. The most common reason given for reading horror is the plot: “You can’t put a horror book down,” is heard over and over again.

Another reason for horror’s appeal is that many teen readers delight in being scared:
Horror scares us, and the relief following the realization that the horror is not real brings pleasure. Horror is fun because it is scary and shocking. Not only does it scare and shock those of us who re ad horror, but it has the added value of scaring and shocking those who wonder how anyone could read the stuff in the first place. It is especially fun, of course, to shock those in authority, such as parents, teachers and librarians. (Kies 1-2)
Klause also points out that sometimes teens identify with the monster in the horror story they are reading, but sometimes they also identify with the victim. Both represent roles that teens play in our contemporary society.

As a writer of vampire stories, Klause understands their particular appeal. Boys find the stories to be a source of power while girls find that the stories allow them to safely indulge in an otherwise taboo activity. (Klause’s article, “Why Vampires?” is included as Appendix C at the end of this module.)

Themes in horror fiction
Teen Genreflecting
lists ten different subgenres for horror: everything from the occult and supernatural to werewolves, vampires, medical horror and splatter punk.

The most prevalent theme in horror fiction is a story that is as old as the human race: the fundamental struggle between good and evil. The most common reaction to that struggle is fear and horror fiction plays upon readers’ fear of the dark, monsters, ghosts, witches or whatever horror the writer can create.

The challenge faced by modern horror writers lies in creating new fears or taking the old ones and presenting them in a new way. Many of the old monsters, such as werewolves and vampires, have lost their ability to scare us. A good horror villain is one that “evoke[s] pity and sometimes even genuine sympathy, as well as terror.” (Williamson, 63) A quick survey of contemporary horror shows some new late twentieth century fears such as incest and child abuse (V.C. Andrews). Terror can even be found in such everyday objects as cars and dogs (Stephen King).

Evaluation criteria
The criteria that is used to evaluate other kinds of fiction may also be applied to horror. Four literary elements are especially important in this genre: plot, characters, setting, and theme.
  • Plot: Horror writers, like other storytellers, need to tell a good tale. Attention should be paid to beginnings: characters are introduced, the setting is described and the conflict is set in motion. The heart of horror lies in the explanation – or lack of it – given by the author for the horror contained within the story. Traditionally, authors have had several choices: they can explain away their story by saying it was all a dream, perhaps induced by over indulgence in alcohol or drugs. They can attribute the story to the ravings of a madman. They can tell us it was all a prearranged trick. Or, by providing no explanation, authors of horror fiction can convince the reader that the story really happen. Douglas E. Winter supports the latter way of telling a story:, explanation, whether supernatural or rational, is simply not the business of horror fiction. One source of horror’s popularity is that its questions are unanswerable.
(Williamson, 159)
  • Characters: An equally important premise in horror fiction is that the reader must identify with the characters in the story. As noted above, some readers will identify with the monster, some will identify with the victim. That identification is key: good horror involves the reader in the story. Human characters need to be believable and their motivation must also make sense. The monster or the threat contained within the story must also be believable. Writers may choose to break some of the conventions surrounding a monster. For examples, the vampires created by Anne Rice, do not succumb to usual vampire threats such as garlic. Making her vampires immune to the usual dangers allows Rice to explore the idea of immortality in her books.
  • Settings: As with other types of fiction, setting in horror fiction contributes to the mood of the story. Often horror has a contemporary setting, making terror seem even more real. Do vampires really walk among us? Sometimes the setting may be a remote or unusual location: back country woods and small, isolated rural communities are popular. Placing characters in this type of setting means that they are removed from easy access for help. However, the author must take care not to overdo the Gothic aspects of the setting as that will take away from the credibility of the story.
  • Themes: Horror is all about the struggle between good and evil and the emotions that conflict calls up in the reader. As noted above, contemporary horror writers face a particular challenge as the old monsters don’t scare us any more. But the heart of horror fiction hasn’t changed –
[the horror] author exerts the power of maker and creator to produce new fears (or old fears in startling new forms) on the page. The writer is able to discover fears in characters which are almost unrecognizable in their shape and color, yet they still have the power to move to terrify us.
(Williamson, 41)
The Value of horror fiction
The value of horror fiction lies in its ability to hook non readers. Young people who would never dream of opening a book will eagerly consume horror. Alert library staff can gently suggest other genres – such as mystery and suspense or adventure, that a young horror reader might enjoy. To combat the seemingly endless tide of R. L. Stine and Christopher Pike books a few years ago, many different organizations produced lists of alternatives (see Appendix D).

In addition, horror fiction may act as a safety valve for some of its readers. By confronting their own fears – within the confines of a book – the readers of horror fiction are better able to deal with them. Horror fiction encourages experimentation – but in a safe way.

Finally, well written horror touches its readers:
[horror] thrusts below the surface to touch the subterranean depths that lie within us all. It strives to bypass the representational, the mundane, the “reality” of the four senses. Instead, its quest is to awaken that which was hidden and secret: wonder, passion, astonishment, primeval dread.
(Williamson, 43)

Issues in horror fiction
Bad taste is the complaint most often levelled at horror fiction. Again, we turn to the definitions of shock and terror discussed at the beginning of this module. For horror writers, shock is easy to achieve. The difficulty is that readers demand more – authors have to “up the ante” each time to get the same reaction from their readers. Terror, however, is not that easily achieved. It depends on building a relationship between the author and the reader. The writer who spells it all out – to every last gruesome detail – simply ends up boring his/her readers. Horror writer, Graham Materson, advises those interested in writing horror to
Choose your words carefully when describing scenes of horror. The more matter-of-fact you are in your language and your treatment, the more goosebumps you can raise on your readers’ skin with being tasteless. (18)

Skilled horror writers understand the difference between shock and terror and focus on achieving the latter in their stories.

Many critics of horror fiction are also genuinely concerned about the lack of moral values in much contemporary horror. Traditionally, in horror the “good side” has won. Evil is vanquished for another day. But, as we near the end of the 20th century, it seems that evil is winning more than it is losing. Combine that theme with lots of blood and gore and you have a subgenre of horror called splatterpunk.

Difficult to describe precisely, splatterpunk emerged in the 1980’s. Fuelled by Vietnam, rock and roll, and the horror movies of the 70’s, splatterpunk was a direct reaction to the conventions of traditional horror. Splatterpunk is noted for its portrayals of contemporary society:
It is a harsh, gritty, urban scene full of weird punk people involved in unsavoury activities. Music, drink, and drugs are often found in splatterpunk, and sexual morality of any sort is missing. The protagonists are usually young – some are teenagers – groping for sense in a modern world gone mad. Even the most sheltered reader cannot deny that the world has changed and that splatterpunk may well be no worse than a reality we may not want to fear. (Kies, 139)
Splatterpunk continues to attract attention: while some older, established horror writers decrie its excesses, others see it as a healthy trend within an established genre. By pushing the boundaries of what is acceptable within horror fiction, writers of splatterpunk continue to attract new readers to horror fiction.

Splatterpunk is a target for one common criticism of horror fiction: its lack of humanity:
The best of horror fiction contains chills and frights, but it’s not constructed around a scream but rather around a solid core of human experience. (Williamson, 69)
Horror fiction continues to be about the human experience. The best of horror fiction encourages the reader to identify with the characters, to believe in their world, and to experience their hopes and fears.

Works cited
Banks, Lynne Reid. The Indian in the cupboard. New York: Avon Books, 1980.
Donelson, Kenneth L. And Alleen Pace Nilsen. Literature for today’s young adults. 5th edition. New York: Longman, 1997.
Egoff, Shelia and Judith Saltman. The New republic of childhood. Toronto: Oxford University Press, 1990.
Glazer, Joan I. Introduction to children’s literature. Upper Saddle River: Merrill, 1997.
Herald, Diana Trixier. Teen genreflecting. Englewood: Libraries Unlimited, 1997.
Hillman, Judith. Discovering children’s literature. Englewood Cliffs: Merrill, 1995.
Jacobs, James S. And Michael O. Tunnell. Children’s literature briefly. Englewood Cliffs: Prentice-Hall, 1996.
Kies, Cosette. Presenting young adult horror fiction. New York: Twayne Publishers, 1992.
Lukens, Rebecca. A Critical handbook of children’s literature. New York: HarperCollins, 1995.
Masterson, Graham. “Horror of horrors,” The Writer. August 1987, 15 – 18, 45.
Rothlein, Liz and Anita Meyer Meinbach. Legacies using children’s literature in the classroom. New York: HarperCollins, 1996.
Stott, John C. Native Americans in children’s literature. Arizona: Onyx Press, 1995.
Sutherland, Zena. Children and books. 9th ed. New York: Longman, 1997.
Vandergrift, Kay E. Mosaics of meaning: enhancing the intellectual life of young adults through story. Lanham: The Scarecrow Press, 1996.
Williamson, J. N. ed. How to write tales of horror, fantasy & science fiction. Cincinnati: Writer’s Digest Books, 1987.

Appendix A: Evaluating modern fantasy
This excerpt from Discovering children’s literature provides criteria for developing a personal response to modern fantasy.
Subgenre My personal response 
Animal fantasy  How believable are the anthropomorphic animals?
Which animal characteristics do they retain while adding human ones? 
High fantasy  Is the main character heroic enough?
How believable is the secondary world?
Is the quest dramatic and purposeful?
What philosophical truths underline the heroic quest? 
Time fantasy  Is the passage between times convincing?If two time periods are shown (e.g. historical and modern), are they both authentic?
Are characters compelling and the plot well paced?
Science-fiction fantasy  Does the technology seem contrived?
What does the human dimension add?
in what way does the story raise questions about the future?
Extraordinary characters and inventions  Are characters stereotypical?
How plausible is the relationship between extraordinary and ordinary?

Appendix B: The Six basic motifs of fantasy
This excerpt from Children’s literature briefly discusses the six basic motifs that are found in fantasy literature.
Even though all modern fantasy stories contain some sort of magical element, some stories will have a higher fantasy quotient than others. Madsen (1976) determined that there are six basic fantasy motifs, and if a story contains all six it is either a classic fairy tale or an example of modern high fantasy. However, if a story contains but one of the following motifs, it certainly is still classified as fantasy literature:
  • Magic. Magic is fantasy literature’s most basic element and is often a part of the setting, thus explaining otherwise unexplainable events. In Lloyd Alexander’s The High King, magic is evident in the very fabric of the mythical land of Prydain. Powerful wizards are able to harness the magic in Prydain’s atmosphere, an oracular pig can foretell the future, and people try to use magical objects to manipulate their destinies. However, in White’s Charlotte’s web the only hint of magic is the ability of the barnyard animals to think and speak like humans. In fact, this is the only of the six motifs that appears in the book.  
  • Other worlds (secondary worlds). In much of fantasy a special geography or universe is established, a place wherein magic may freely operate. Sometimes these worlds are, as in the fairy tales, simply long, long ago. Of course, Alexander’s Prydain is just this sort of “other world,” almost recognizable as the world we know but with a difference set of governing rules. Other well-known fantasy worlds include the land of Oz (The Wonderful wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum), Middle Earth (The Hobbit by J. R. R. Tolkien), Narnia (The Lion, the witch and the wardrobe by C. S. Lewis), and Neverland (Peter Pan by J. M. Barrie).
  • Good versus evil. The age-old theme of good versus evil is what myth is all about, and modern fantasy stories have a strong mythological base. “Fantasies are concerned with how good and evil manifest themselves in individuals” (Madsen 1976, p. 49). This basic theme, of course, gives rise to the conflict in a story, and, once again, without conflict, there is no story. Fantasy readers usually have no trouble aligning characters on the sides of light and dark, as fantasy characters are typically not fence sitters. 
  • Heroism. Natalie Babbit (1987), drawing upon the writings of mythologist Joseph Campbell, explains that the hero’s quest will always follow an age-old pattern that is the backbone of today’s fantasy stories. This “hero’s round” is a circular journey, ending where it began, and is a time-honored template for fantasy stories. These six elements, drawn from Babbit (1987), most commonly structure the hero’s quest:
    • The hero is called to adventure by some sort of herald. Taran in Alexander’s Prydain Chronicles is lured to adventure by Hen Wen, a magical pig whom he follows on a wild chase much the same way Alice follows the white rabbit (Alice’s adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll). Heralds from other stories include Gandalf (The Hobbit), Toto (The Wonderful wizard of Oz), and Mr. Tumnus (The Lion, the witch and the wardrobe).  
    • The hero crosses the threshold into the “other world” or into a place that is no longer safe and secure. The hero leaves a place of relative safety and enters a world of danger. Sometimes he or she will pass from the familiar modern world into a forbidding secondary world, as when the children pass through the magical wardrobe into the land of Narnia (The Lion, the witch and the wardrobe) or Dorothy is whisked from Kansas to Oz (The Wonderful wizard of Oz). In some stories, the hero already lives in an imaginary kingdom, as Bilbo Baggins does in The Hobbit, and is compelled to leave hearth and home to undertake a perilous journey. 
    • The hero must survive various trials in his new environment. Heroes often face both physical hardship and emotional setbacks. They may suffer the pain of long treks through bitter winter weather or the pain of having dear friends relinquish their lives for a noble cause. They will likely be driven to examine their own hearts. The quest becomes the hero’s refining fire. 
    • The hero is assisted by a protective figure. Protective figures provide a sense of security in a tension-filled world. Older, wiser, and sometimes more powerful, the protective figure may serve as the hero’s mentor. Readers will identify Dallben (The Prydain Chronicles), Gandalf (The Hobbit), Glinda the good witch of the North (The Wonderful wizard of Oz), and Aslan (The Lion, the witch and the wardrobe) as protective figures. 
    • The hero matures, becoming a “whole” person. Did Edmund change in The Lion, the witch and the wardrobe? How about Dorothy in The Wonderful wizard of Oz? Both of these characters matured significantly during the course of their quests. Taran from the Prydain books grows from a foolish boy to a man worthy of ascending to the High Kingship of Prydain. The hero motif involves the age-old rites of passage theme wherein the young are initiated into the ranks of adulthood. 
    • The hero returns home. This step completes the “hero’s round”. In each Prydain book, Taran returns to his home on Dallben’s farm, and then symbolically finds “home” when he discovers his true destiny in the final book, The High king. In the high fantasy novels discussed in this section, all the young heroes return home as their quests draw to an end.
  • Special character types. Fantasies may include characters who either come from our legendary past or from an author’s vivid imagination. These characters are rarely typical humans. Characters from our legendary past come from traditional tales: fairies, pixies, giants, wicked witches, ogres, vampires, wizards, dwarves, elves, and so on. Some special character types created in recent years by fantasy authors have become almost as well-known, such as Tolkien’s hobbits and orcs, which appear in The Hobbit and the Lord of the Rings trilogy.  
  • Fantastic objects. Characters in fantasy stories often employ magical props in accomplishing their heroic or evil deeds. These objects are imbued with power, such as magic cloaks, swords, staffs, cauldrons, and mirrors. Some well-known props are Dorothy’s pearl slippers (The Wonderful Wizard of Oz), the White Witch’s wand (The Lion, the witch and the wardrobe), and the dreadful ring that falls into Bilbo’s hands (The Hobbit).
Some books operate strongly in only one of these six motifs, like The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame and White’s Charlotte’s web where talking animals qualify as “magic”. On the other hand, Baum’s The Wonderful wizard of Oz operates in all six of the motifs and is thus classified as a high fantasy.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

A Select list of recommended series books


Series books come and go with alarming speed and regularity. Just when you think you know what’s hot with your readers, a new series appears with tie-in to a TV show or movie. However, series books are worth including in your intermediate/young adult collection because they:
  • May used to tempt reluctant or bored readers and
  •  Will improve circulation statistics

    Consider purchasing series books with lasting value in hardcover. Those series that will not be so popular in two to three years should be purchased as paperbacks which can be discarded when they no longer circulate.

    It’s also worth noting that many authors, especially in the fantasy/science fiction genre, have published more than one series. Young readers will often methodically read every book in a series and ask for more by the same author.
    Also, a series may be continued by another author. Check these books carefully, sometimes a new author takes a series in a different direction. The recommended ages noted in the list are a combination of a young person’s reading ability, the grade level and the interest level of the book. Many young readers will try a book that challenges their reading ability if they are interested in the subject/genre. Some of the books included also make great read-aloud choices from about grade 4 to about grade 8.
    Criteria for inclusion in the list:
    1. I, or my intrepid reviewer, have read at least one book in the series.
    2. Series is considered to be of lasting value.
    3. There must be four or more novels in the series.
    Realistic fiction: older readers

    AuthorTitle of series (number of books)Age
    Phyllis Reynolds Nayer  Alice (16) 11+ 
    L. M. MontgomeryAnne of Green Gables (10)  10+ 
    Cynthia VoigtTillerman Family Cycle (7)  11+ 
    Don Trembath  Harper Winslow 10+ 

    Fantasy and Science fiction: younger readers
    AuthorTitle of series (number of books)Age
    T. A. Barron Lost years of Merlin (5)  6+ 
    Bruce Colville  My teacher (4)  8+ 
    Lloyd Alexander  Prydain chronicles (5) 10+ 
    John Christopher  Tripods (4) 10+ 
    Susan Cooper The Dark is rising (5) 10+
    Brian Jacques Redwall (16) 10+ 
    Madeline L’Engle Murry Family series (6) 10+
    Mary Norton The Borrowers (6) 8+
    Garth Nix Seventh tower (6) 6+
    Tamara Pix Circle of magic (4) 10+
    J. R. R. Tolkien Lord of the rings (3) 9+
    C. S. Lewis The Chronicles of Narnia (7) 9+
    James Gurney Dinotopia (20) 9+

    Fantasy and Science fiction: older readers
    AuthorTitle of series (number of books)Age
    Douglas Adams Hitchhiker (5)  12+ 
    Piers Anthony Xanth (5)  12+ 
    L. Frank Baum  Oz (7) 10+ 
    Terry Brooks  Sannara (4) 12+ 
    Marion Zimmer Bradley Darkover (23) 12+
    Orson Scott CardEnder (6) 12+ 
    David Eddings Belguard (5) 12+
    Robert Jordan Wheel of time (11) 12+
    Mercedes Lackey  Bardic voices (4) 12+
    Anne McCaffrey Dragonriders of Pern  (4) 12+
    Frank Herbert Dune

    Historical fiction: older readers
    AuthorTitle of series (number of books)Age
    Various authorsThe Canadian girl (20)  10+ 
    Various authors Dear Canada (9)  12+ 
    Jean Auel  Earth's children (5) 12+ 
    Mildred Taylor Logan family (8) 12+ 
    Lawrence Yep Golden Mountain chronicles (7) 10+
    History of China 

    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.