Monday, June 18, 2007

Writing a Book review

Libby White and Ellen Cole, book reviewers and editors, par excellence, guided us on how to write a good review.

Libby pointed out that writing a review is not a plea to feed the author's children. She stated the importance of knowing the subject that you are reviewing. You should be able to verify the facts, compare the work in question to similar works, and determine if the book adds to the reader's understanding of the subject.

She also emphasized the need to act as a professional: READ THE DIRECTIONS (her emphasis), and get the review in on time.

Some other hints are: avoid long strings of adjectives, "cutesy" expressions, avoid passive voice, avoiding restating the title or the opening sentence, and leave out the author's (or reviewers) biographical information unless it's directly relevant.

Ellen continued the talk with a discussion of the place of the book review. She mentioned that 95% of books published have no advertising; book reviews might be their only exposure.

Ellen shared her 4 secrets:

Know thy audience. You are providing them a service by helping them make collection choices which basically means budget choices. If you are writing for AJL, you need to be aware of all branches of Judaism. You also have to be aware that non-Jews may also be using your review.

Know thy publisher. Get guidelines from the publisher. AJL has a pamphlet "Excellence in Jewish Children's Literature" (This is also available from the AJL website) Guidelines of this type will tell you what criteria to use in judging the book. Remember to keep to the word limit.

Know thy book. Judge if it's appropriate to the age range you've been given. Decide if it's Jewish. Determine if the text and the illustrations match each other in age appropriateness, tone, and accuracy. Reviewing books for teens can be especially tricky. The book should contain the teen perspective, not what adults assume would be the teen perspective. Make sure to mention if the books contains sex, drugs, or death so that librarians and parents can decide if the themes are appropriate to a particular teen.

Know thyself. Did you like the book? Describe why or why not. You are absolutely entitled to your opinion based on your own experience and taste.

1 comment:

silverlr said...

Adding my own comments to the ones from Ellen Cole and Libby White:

1) Don't be afraid to be critical. "If you can't say something nice, don't say anything at all" is definitely NOT a guideline for reviewers. Constructive criticism is essential in reviewing. Saying something favorable when nothing favorable is deserved does no one - not the reader, the librarian, the author, or the publisher - a favor!

2) Be very wary of publisher's comments and grade levels. Their marketing departments want to sell books to the widest possible audience and that isn't always appropriate. Use AJl guidelines, instead and use your own professional judgment.

3) The best and most helpful reviews contain comparisons of the book being reviewed with others similar to it. An experienced reviewer has a large, if not vast, book knowledge in her/his background and should be able to make comparisons.

4) Book reviews should be relatively objective. The reviewer's personal circumstances are usually not pertinent. Personal comments and biases should not color one's critical opinion of a book. Nor should a review by colored by the awards or honors that a book has already won.

5) A good book review is based on recognized critical standards, such as those that are gained by education and wide reading. The reviewer's personal likes and dislikes are usually not not pertinent and should not color a critical evaluation.

6) For reviewers, tough love is the watchword. A good reviewer respects readers, authors, and books but does not let her/his judgement be clouded by adultation or author worship, that fatal flaw among children's librarians.

7)A good reviewer is aware that every book can make a difference. It can expand readers' imaginations, stimulate the intellect, make readers' more sensitive to the world around them. Or, it can do the opposite: pandering to the cheapest and most crass in popular culture. Reviewers should develop their own taste by reading widely among the classics and the best of modern literature.
Linda Silver