Tuesday, May 25, 2010

My Glamorous Life as a Book Reviewer

Part II
by Keri Collins Lewis

Marilyn Courtot, founder of the CLCD is a treasure. We’ve never met, yet she is unfailing in her prompt attention to emails, candid in her responses (more on that in a future post!), and fervent in her love of children’s literature. She asked if I had a specific genre I preferred to read and review, or if I was open to whatever they needed to send at the time.

With the heart of an adventurer, I agreed to take anything they sent. And have I ever been glad!

When my first box of books arrived, and with shaking hands I opened the box (reused and labeled with a Famous Publishing House’s name and logo!), I gasped. An advanced reader’s copy (ARC) of the YA novel The Nature of Jade by Deb Caletti. The delightful Italian folk tale Priceless Gifts. F&Gs of A Duck at the Door with the illustrations unfinished--a glimpse into one author/illustrator’s process. A dark YA thriller from the “Traces” series titled Final Lap. And another picture book. Five books in all, which had to be read and reviewed in a month. After work each day I’d rush home, curl up on my bed with a book, and lose myself in the worlds others had created. I crafted reviews and followed Marilyn’s precise guidelines.

Since January 2007, I’ve reviewed about 38 boxes of books--everything from books destined for the educational market to illustrated biographies to movie tie-ins. While it may sound glamorous, and the time and effort are rewarding, reviewing books is not, as I once thought, simply sharing my opinion. To me, reviewing books for the CLCD combines efficient plot summaries (without giving away too much!), identification of ways to tie the book to the curriculum (which may require research), and respectful treatment of both the book and its creator/s (I’m not trying to hurt anyone’s feelings, I promise!). I struggle more over reviews for books I don’t enjoy, books I find poorly-written, or books that fail in some way, whether it’s in the design, content, illustrations, depth, or originality, than books I fall for from the first page (such as The Year the Swallows Came Early). I want to be sensitive for the author’s sake yet candid for the sake of customers who rely on the CLCD to inform their purchases.

So that’s my experience as a book reviewer. It may not be as glamorous as I’d thought originally, but it has been greatly rewarding, as Marilyn and her box packers have shared with me books I never would have read otherwise.

Any reviewers out there have stories to share? Perhaps a favorite discovery?


  1. I followed Keri's link to review her article about reviewing. I've been following Keri's reviews, links, and thoughtful comments for years. As a teacher of at-risk adolescents (aren't they all?) in a juvenile hall in Yreka, CA, I've appreciated Keri's recommendations. I can't tell you how incarcerated youth devour books while locked in their cells. We even run a weekly book club, started by An Oprah Angel grant in 2008 and continued by our local Friends of the Library, in which the students read, discuss, and write about YA novels, poetry collections, nonfiction, and short stories. One additional draw is that they get to keep the books. They've over 25 books in the last year and a half. Any suggestions for new books?
    Beverly Walls, Lead Teacher, J. Everett Barr School, Yreka, CA

  2. A link from Keri's blog brought me here, and it was a pleasure to read her thoughts on reviewing. My experience in book/story-reviewing mirrors hers: it is far more difficult to write a review about a piece that is less than stellar. As Keri pointed out, a good reviewer must balance atop the sometimes-thin wire of integrity by simultaneously maintaining compassion for the author and responsibility to the potential reader. As one who has enjoyed Keri's reviews, I can say that she always manages to do so successfully and with gusto and humor. js