February 12, 2015 by librariannikki
Selection Tools & Review Writing
LIBR 263-10 Materials for Children 0-8
by Nicole Crowson
Instructor: Beth Wrenn-Estes
San Jose State University
February 12, 2015
A significant part of being a Children’s Librarian is knowing which books are best sellers, which titles are popular and new, and which have merit. A librarian can easily follow the best-seller charts for children’s books and learn each year which titles have won the big book awards. However, the library shelves of a children’s collection is made up of much more than that. I have chosen five selection tools and review sources of children’s literature and media to evaluate. These five resources were chosen because they all provide different, yet important, information that will aid in a Children’s Librarian or Collection Manager’s book selections for the library. Two are paid subscription review journals, two are websites that provide free content access, and one is a book that one can purchase (or borrow from a library, as I did). These selections include book reviews, recommended reads, and booklists for children from birth to 8 years of age.
Professional Review Journals
School Library Journal (SLJ) is one of the most useful selection tools that a selector of children’s materials has access to. This monthly journal reviews exclusively youth materials for all age ranges. The reviews are broken down into sections for Fiction, Series Fiction, Nonfiction, Series Nonfiction, Databases, Reference Materials, Digital Picks, Professional Reading, and DVDs, Audio & Music. Graphic novels are included in the section for which they belong; either Fiction or Nonfiction. Certain sections are necessarily broken down further into age/grade groups. SLJ has chosen the age groups as PreK – 4, Grade 5 – 8, and Grade 9 and up. Each review provides bibliographic information for the title, date of publication, ISBN, and retail price. Additional information may be included, such as LC number, if available in eBook format, and if an index, glossary, or map is present. The titles being reviewed are either recently published, will be published during the month that the issue is dated for, or will be published within the next month or two. The reviews for the titles in the youngest age group (PreK to 4) seem to follow the format of providing the plot summary, describing illustrations, providing objective information such as the design and/or organization of the book, and providing a verdict. The reviewer may include some subjective thoughts about the book throughout the review, but the verdict is where the reviewer really lays out their opinion about the book. Examples from the February 2015 issue include, “Highly recommended for its broad appeal and adaptability as a read-aloud or independent read” (Leon-Barrera for Good Dream, Bad Dream/Sueño Bueno, Sueño Malo:The World’s Heroes Save the Night!/¡Los héroesdel mundo salvanla noche!), “Despite the book’s charms, the inconsistencies in illustration make it hard to recommend” (Estrin on Is It Passover Yet?), and “This is a great addition to any library, whether readers are looking for a lesson on teamwork or just an enjoyable story” (Davison on When You Need a Friend) (The Book Review…, 2015). Additional useful information is included in some reviews, such as comparisons to similar books, suggested titles that will supplement the book well, or a setting suggestion where the book may be most useful. Some reviews are starred, which indicates that those titles have been deemed “Excellent in relation to other titles on the same subject or in the same genre” (The Book Review…, 2015). Overall, the SLJ has many strengths as a review source for children’s materials. It covers materials in a variety of formats and for all age groups. Opinion and summary are blended well in each review, and the verdicts are helpful in deciding whether to purchase or pass on the title. Its main weakness is that it is not able to provide more reviews – more children’s materials are being published or released in a month’s time than a review journal could ever cover. Its other drawback is that one must pay a yearly subscription fee to read the majority of the reviews published. Fortunately, the SLJ does have a website where non-subscribers are free to read the starred children’s reviews as well as themed booklists, articles, and additional content not published in the print issues.
Publisher’s Weekly (PW) provides reviews on books for all age groups. The bulk of most issues cover adult fiction and non-fiction titles. However, they do review new children’s picture books as well as youth fiction, non-fiction, and graphic novels. I reviewed the January 26, 2015 issue and also found a feature named “Telling Tales”, which provided reviews on a handful of children’s fairy tales and nursery rhymes. For the 0 to 8 age range the picture book reviews and books listed in the “Telling Tales” section were most useful. All of the titles in the “Fiction” section were for slightly older readers; either in the 8 to 12 or 12 and up age range. All of the Nonfiction titles listed were also for older readers. There was one title reviewed in the Comics section with the suggested age range of 7 to 10. The reviews begin with bibliographic information which includes the number of pages, retail price, and ISBN. The reviews tend to describe the book’s story and illustrations in great detail and you can almost picture how it would look sitting in your lap. However, the reviews can be long and wrought with direct quotes from the book’s text. At times the wording of the reviews are somewhat awkward, particularly when information about the book is offered in parentheses. Of course, some reviews are better than others. One reviewer described what themes could be found in the book and provided previously published titles for both the author and illustrator. Another reviewer concludes his review by suggesting the title be read aloud alongside another title. Reviewers do not have to recommend the title reviewed, in fact one reviewer states that the book Party Croc: A Folktale from Zimbabwe (2015) “has a lack of momentum” and “the closing message…gets lost in a muddled conclusion” (p. 168). These types of insights are some of the most useful when making title selections. At the end of each review a suggested age range is provided, and the month of publication is listed. All of the picture books reviewed in the January issue were listed as to be published in March. I found it curious that none of the reviews provide the name or qualifications of the person who wrote it. I consider this to be a weakness in a review journal, as this information should be freely available as to demonstrate the authority the reviewer has in the field of children’s literature. Some reviews are starred, and a star is awarded only to “books of exceptional merit” (PWxyz, LLC, n.d., para. 16). Although the number of reviews on children’s materials in PW are minimal in comparison to other children’s review journals, it is a good option if a selector would like to receive advance reviews on children’s titles each week.
Picturing the World is an annotated book list of 250 informational picture books for children. In the book’s introduction the author provides information on how she decided which titles to include and what parameters were set. Her goal was to include excellent non-fiction books published only in the past five years with the target audience between ages of 3 and 10. (Most of the suggested age ranges I saw for the titles in this book were for 4-8, 5-10, and 7-12. The lowest suggested age was 2 and the highest was 14). The author chose books by starting with award-winning and nominated books (she provides a list and description of all of the awards mentioned throughout the book) and also tried to include some great informational books that may have been otherwise overlooked by librarians because they were not award winners, honorable mentions, or reviewed in professional journals. During the introduction she also discusses the importance of reading informational texts during the early years in a child’s life. The annotated book list is organized into chapters according to subject, then broken into smaller subject headings within each chapter. The chapter titles include: “Ourselves and Our World At Home and School”, “The Natural World Around Us”, “The World We Make”, “The Things We Do”, “The World of Faith and Festivals”, “Our World and History”, and “Our World Today”. As an example, some of the subjects included in the “The World We Make” chapter include Food and Farming, Construction, Equipment, and Things That Go, Inventors and Inventions, and Flight and Space Travel. The annotations included for each title are presented much like a review you would see in a professional review journal. First, the bibliographic information about the book is listed which includes the year of publication and ISBN number. A suggested age range for the title is also provided. The annotations describe exactly what information is provided in the title as well as a description of the illustrations and how they are used throughout the book. Any awards and/or honors the title received is also listed. The author provides additional useful information, such as how the book can be used (i.e., in the classroom or for an independent reader). Even though all of these books are recommended, the author does not omit weaknesses a book may have, such as a lack of source notes. Comparisons to similar titles are not a standard part of the annotations, but can be found for certain titles. If the book is part of a series, the author makes note of this and provides the titles of other books in the same series. At the end of the book there are three indexes to make finding certain titles easier; Title, Author & Illustrator, and Subject. This is a superb resource for librarians who would like to add books to their early children’s non-fiction collection and/or better support the Common Core State Standards that are now being followed in most public schools. The strengths of this bibliography are that the titles are relatively new (so out-of-date or inaccurate information should not be a big concern), it recommends books for nearly all non-fiction subjects that interest children, and the annotations are well written with useful information. A weakness may be that in time some of the titles will become outdated; hopefully new editions will be published to keep an updated list available.
The Children’s Choices Reading List is produced each year from a joint committee supported by the International Reading Association (IRA) and The Children’s Book Council (CBC) (International Reading Association, 2014). The book selections are chosen by approximately 12,500 school children throughout the United States who vote on over 500 titles which were published in the past year. The reading list is comprised of three sections; selections for Beginning Readers (Grades K – 2), Young Readers (Grades 3 – 4), and Advanced Readers (Grades 5 – 6). The 2014 Children’s Choice Reading List includes 26 Beginning Reader selections and 32 selections each for the Young and Advanced Readers lists. Children voted on both fiction and non-fiction titles, but they are not listed in separate categories. Each selection provides basic bibliographic information and a small annotation. The annotations provide either a brief plot summary or a snippet on what the book is “about”, plus the reason(s) why the book appeals to children. Unlike a review, the annotations do not provide details about the illustrations or literary elements, nor is a reviewer’s subjective opinion expressed. The short annotations are well-written and to the point. I find value in this book list because they are favorite books from the year chosen by children, unlike many other book lists in which the titles are selected by librarians, teachers, or publishers. The books are chosen based on only one factor; the kids love them. The quality of a book’s writing and/or illustrations is probably not considered when children cast their vote, which is a unique component of this book list. Some selections on the list may never make another recommended reads list simply because adults may deem the book as junk fiction. The compiled annual book lists are freely available to download from the International Literacy Association’s website, all the way back to 1998. Children’s favorite books rarely ever age, so it is worth looking through each year’s book list to make sure your library has a copy of every selection in your children’s collection.
The Children’s Book Review (TCBR) is a website “devoted to children’s literacy. [They] publish reviews and book lists of the best books for kids of all ages” (The Children’s…, n.d.). The website’s main page provides many categories in which a user can browse. If a librarian or selector were using the website as a selection tool for children’s materials between the age of 0 and 8, I would suggest browsing the applicable age categories, which are listed as 0 to 3 and 4 to 8. Within these age categories you can find book reviews, book lists, best seller lists, and author interviews. The most recently added content is listed first, so it is easy to find recently reviewed books. Reviewed books tend to be recently published (within the past six months) or will be published very soon. Most of the reviews are on children’s fiction, although the website states they review both fiction and non-fiction titles. All of the book reviews begin with the title’s bibliographic information as well as the number of pages, a suggested age range, and a “What to expect” line, which lists a few words based on the book’s subjects or themes. The reviews include a plot summary, illustration descriptions, the reviewer’s take on why the book would appeal to children, and what a child may learn from reading the book. The end of the reviews usually give a final statement on how the book can be used; for example being an entertaining bedtime read . A fantastic inclusion seen in online reviews that you don’t usually get from print reviews are full-color illustration examples from the book, which were provided in many of the reviews I read on this site. All of the reviews provide the reviewer’s name, which links to a small biography. You will not see any negative reviews on TCBR because is part of the site’s review policy, which states “Submissions are evaluated based on the following particulars: literary value, illustrative quality, and over-all presentation. Our reviews are always positive because we only appraise those books with the strongest potential impact on the reader” (The Children’s…, 2009). Because all materials have positive reviews librarians and selectors should be confident that the items reviewed on the site are purchase-worthy, and will be told exactly why a title has value in the review itself. Beyond the reviews, there are some excellent children’s book lists worth looking at. An example is their recommended books for children on dealing with loss, grief, illness and trauma. If you are looking for reviews or book lists on a particular topic or genre, the site has made browsing and searching easy with such categories as Animal Books, Bedtime Books, Board Books, Fairy Tales, Humor, Mysteries, and so much more. The website is updated continually, so this is a great resource that selectors can return to throughout their work week.
The Book Review. Fiction. Preschool to Grade 4. (2015, February). School Library Journal, 61(2).
The Children’s Book Review. (n.d). About The Children’s Book Review. Retrieved from http://www.thechildrensbookreview.com/about
The Children’s Book Review. (2009). Review policy. Retrieved from http://www.thechildrensbookreview.com/about/policies/review-policy
International Reading Association. (2014). Children’s Choices 2014. Retrieved from http://www.reading.org/Libraries/choices/cc2014.pdf
Isaacs, K. T. (2013). Picturing the world: Informational picture books for children. Chicago, IL : American Library Association.
[Party croc! A folktale from Zimbabwe, by M. R. MacDonald] (2015, January 26). Publisher’s Weekly, 262(4), 168.
PWxyz, LLC. (n.d.). About us. Retrieved from http://www.publishersweekly.com/pw/corp/aboutus.html