Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Why I Review Books

Over at Chasing Ray, Colleen Mondor has written a piece entitled Building Credibility: Eighth in a Series on Reviewing. This was, in part, prompted by recent discussions around the web about and their launch of "for-pay" blog tours for authors. I don't want to re-hash all that here, but do want to address the general issue of reviewing.

Many of the blogs in my feed reader are written by librarians and professional reviewers. I learn a lot by reading their work and am a better-informed reader because of the time and energy they put into their personal and professional sites. These are folks who review books for a living, so their goals and purposes in writing are very different from mine.

Why do I review books? I must answer this question by first telling you who my audience (or intended audience) is. I review books for teachers. I see great value in helping them find books that they can use for instruction across the curriculum. I want to highlight books that otherwise may not find their way into the classroom. I want teachers to see the value of poetry across the curriculum. So, in attempting to do this, I review books that suit this purpose. The downside to this approach to reviewing is that you aren't likely to come across reviews here that are highly critical. While I will point out the strengths and weaknesses of books I recommend, I won't highlight books that I think are problematic. My reviews also tend to discuss the instructional implications or fit of a book, something not seen in other reviews.

I am cognizant of the credibility issues that plague blogging book reviewers, and wonder if blogs like mine detract from the credibility of "real" (paid and/or professional) reviewers. I don't have an answer to that, but hope and believe that those who read TMRE regularly know who I am and what I try to do, and will recognize the value in my approach to reviewing, as different as it may be.

As a wrap-up, I suppose this is a good place for a little full disclosure.
  • I do not get paid to review books. (This is not said with any sense of haughtiness on my part or disdain for those who do get paid. There is a very real need for professional reviewers. I am not experienced enough for this, nor do I have time to take on a job of this magnitude.)
  • I do not receive money for this blog. There are no ads (paid or otherwise) and clicking links will not generate money for anyone except the Cybils. Money generated for the Cybils is for prizes for the winners.
  • I do receive free books from publishers on the order of 20 or 30 a year, though as a member of a Cybils nominating panel last fall I received far more than usual. The books I receive are put in my teaching library and used by preservice teachers in their courses, field placements and student teaching. Books I cannot use are donated to two local elementary schools for use in their libraries.
  • I am not a particularly fast reviewer. This may make me a poor investment on the part of publishers, but I promise that I do get around to reviews in good time!
  • I generally review only nonfiction and poetry. Once in a while I will review picture books or chapter books if I can find a direct connection to the teaching of math, science or social studies. Some books are reviewed here, while others appear on my other blog, Open Wide, Look Inside.
So, now that I've talked about why I review books, what say you? Why do you review books?


  1. I started out in professional reviewing, which I really enjoyed for a lot of reasons, but I also found it frustrating. Most of the time, you review what you're given, whether you have anything particularly interesting to say about it or not. You also work within the confines of the publication you're writing for in terms of what you can discuss, word count, etc. While I understand the importance of these reviews and rely on them tremendously in my work, reading for me is a passion, and I have many other things I want to say about the books I encounter, and those are the kinds of things I talk about in my blog reviews. So I'll talk about books I'm using in storytimes and other programs, do comparison/contrast type essays, talk about trends. Sometimes I just want to talk about what I love, and blogging is a great way to do that.

    An interesting aspect of the whole blogging reviewers vs. professional reviewers debate is that very few people ever mention that professional reviews vary quite widely in quality, are subject to the reviewer's taste and preferences, are often biased, and frequently don't address issues that are critical to whether a book is going to work in particular environments (the quality of the cover, for instance). Many, many professional reviewers are cozy with authors and publishers. It seems to me that any criticism one could throw at bloggers could be thrown just as easily at professionals. The best of the blog reviewers are reliable because one can learn the bloggers' tastes and preferences, and I've found that I follow most closely the blogs that suit my purposes. So, for instance, I *love* your reviews, Trish, because I'm always looking to strengthen my nonfiction section and to find books that will be both interesting and tie into the curriculum (as we work with a lot of teachers here at WPL), and I find those a-plenty here from someone who understands books *and* teaching. It's a wonderful perspective.

    Okay, so I had a lot to say about that today.

  2. You talk about reviewing for teachers, but you also provide a GREAT service to us librarians (though I'm currently not a working one).

    I just wanted to add that it's so interesting to me that any of us need to stop and say, 'we don't get paid to do this.' I mean, what blogger does? Aren't we all just book nerds doing this for free? Running our mouths about books we love, 'cause we can't help ourselves? That's certainly my case. I look at 7-Imp as being an awful lot like a fan site in that way.

    I think you're post is great; I'm just remarking that it's interesting that any of us would have to point this out anymore. I guess that's 'cause some bloggers do get paid in some ways, but honestly, I don't pay close attention to it all. I just do my thing 'cause I can't keep my mouth shut about books.

    And thank goodness you provide reviews, too. TMRE is such a valuable resource.

  3. Excellent discussion, Tricia! I started reviewing because I was reading books I loved, and wanted to talk with other people who loved these kinds of books. What keeps me reviewing, however, is the occasional feedback that I get from parents or teachers or librarians that they find my reviews helpful in discovering books to recommend to kids. That makes me feel like, in my own small way, I'm making a difference. And, as Adrienne talked about, I think that there are people for whom my blog, such as it is, serves their purposes. Just as there are blogs whose review titles frequently get added to my TBR list, because I know and trust the blogger, and because their reviews tend to line up with what I'm looking for (books that will engage kids, and make them love reading).

    Like you and Adrienne and Jules, I'm not a professional reviewer, and I rarely write negative reviews. Like Jules, I'm a fan - I want to bring great books to people's attention. I certainly don't get paid, though I receive quite a few review copies.

    Something about this topic sure seems to make us long-winded, doesn't it? Thanks for the discussion.

  4. I think we all have a lot to say about it because when you put the kind of time into blogging that we do (and I must take a moment to acknowledge that you guys all do WAY more reviews than I do), you have to spend some time asking yourself why you're doing it. It's one of the things I wound up talking to a lot of people about at the Kidlitosphere Conference last year.

  5. True enough, Adrienne! And I hope to be able to talk with you about things like this more at the next Kidlitosphere conference.

  6. Word, Adrienne! It's a lot like a part-time job. Sometimes I question my sanity. It's a lot of work for no pay. Well, traditional pay, I should say, 'cause it pays off in the ways Jen is talking about. I truly do feel like more books (for children) than NOT are kinda craptacular (how's that for professional-sounding?), and so I feel like those of us who blog about the ones that don't talk down to children as if they're idiots are providing a service, if that makes any sense.

    And for me the primary reason I blog about new books -- this is still true and has always been the case -- is 'cause I'm suddenly not in librarianship at the current moment (to stay home with two young kids), so -- 'til they enter school -- I MUST have something to keep me intellectually stimulated. And this helps me keep up, too, 'til I return to work some place.

  7. I second Jules' mention of blogging for intellectual stimulation -- my professional life has nothing to do with books, and although archaeology isn't so bad, I really like reading and talking about books more....

    Here’s why I blog, with my reasons arranged in order of selfishness: I like talking about books, and I like reading books before their release dates. I like having email exchanges with authors and illustrators, and I like the feeling of being part of a larger community of people interested in children’s books (and I think it would be a lot less fun to read blogs if I didn’t have one myself). I really like having books to give to my local library. I like saying to the world that I loved a particular book, so as to help the book reach a larger audience. I wish I could say that I love making recommendations that helped other people with their Reading Needs and Wants, but neither of the two comments (well, maybe a few more) I got last year said anything about that .

    I am constantly deciding to write more about the books that I love, rather than aspiring to be among the first on the block to review new books, but since I was on the Cybils YA nominating committee, I have been blessed (?) with lots and lots of books from publishers. And whenever a new books come in, I decide that I will write more reviews of new books…what I lack is a Clear Vision For My Blog. I envy you in this, Tricia, although I am certain I would not be able to stick to a Plan anyway….

  8. Hmm. There's a little square in my comment that was meant to be a smiley face. It is so tricky convaying wry-ness/irony with written words.

  9. I'm fairly new at blog reviews (started our blog in mid-February), but I blog because I love being part of the children's lit blogging community. This is a community that loves children's books, can't wait for the new releases (ARCS are the best!), want to make a difference for children, parents, teachers, and librarians. We love to comment on posts that really get us excited about a book we hadn't heard of before. We get excited when we find out someone has commented on something we wrote about. We are connected to people some of us don't even know because of our shared passion for children's books.
    So, it would seem I agree with everyone (especially Charlotte) who's put their 2 cents in before me. We do it because we love it!!
    But the biggest gift that has come about from my reviewing books on our blog and reading others' reviews is that my students have the best and most current books made available to them because of the knowledge I gain -- they become a part of this fabulous culture of readers.
    How lucky are we!

  10. I guess I am a professional reviewer in the sense that my profession allows me the credentials to review for journals like School Library Journal. I'm not a paid reviewer except that I keep the book. Why do I do it? I learn a lot from spending time with each book. I will spend several hours with a picture book thinking about its language and images; I may need to look at other work by the same author/illustrator; or I may need to examine the method of writing or illustration. Recently I reviewed The Blacker the Berry by Joyce Carol Thomas, illustrated by Floyd Cooper. There was a lot there I had to think about and it took me weeks, (and it took some research). It's pretty exciting to see what comes in the mail. I believe I am a better school librarian because I continue to explore the literature in depth.
    (oh, there was a poster wondering about how any blogger might be making money -- Amazon Associates make money when their book review blog has a link back to Amazon)

  11. Thanks to all who have commented. I agree that I do this to share a love for books that I want others to know about. Sometimes I feel like I'm preaching to the choir, and wonder if I'm really helping folks find new books. One thing I know for sure is that I love being a part of this community.