There are about 6000 trade books published each year for children and young adults, including both hardcover and paperbacks. How is a librarian supposed to keep up with this flood of books, especially when they have less time to spend in the library and they are being asked to manage more and more types of media as well as books? The answer is that librarians are relying increasingly on book reviews to help them sort out the good from the bad and to find the right books for their needs. But how do you know which reviews to use and how much weight to give to each review’s opinion? That is the purpose of this article. By profiling the most popular review sources for children’s books we hope to give you enough information about them to allow you to make better decisions about which reviews to use and how to evaluate their recommendations. All of these publications focus on recently published books and so you would have to look for guidance on older books.
This publication is part of the American Library Association and so it of course is written to help librarians more than bookstores or teachers. It reviews both books for Adults and books for Youth. Bill Ott has been the publisher of Booklist for many years and the Children’s Book Editor, Ilene Cooper, is very well respected by librarians. The subscription rate in 2009 was $109.95 per year.
All titles that appear in the publication are recommended for purchase. In other words, there are no negatively reviewed titles in Booklist. The only problem with this policy is that you don’t know what titles have been considered but then left out because something was wrong with them. That would be good information to know.
Booklist was started in 1905. It is published twice monthly through the school year and once a month in July and August. The books for Youth are divided into Older Readers for junior high and high school, Series Fiction, Middle Readers for grades three to six, and Books for the Young for preschool through grade two. There is also coverage of reference sources, audio books and video titles for youth. In addition to reviews there are a very small number of interviews, articles and an editorial in each issue.
Booklist does supplement its income by selling space advertising. Some people feel that review journals should rely on subscriptions only because of the fear that titles will get in the journal based on who buys ads rather than who has the best titles. But in today’s economy it is very difficult to put out any professional publication of quality without selling some advertising.
Any title in Booklist is recommended but a number of titles each issue will be starred, which means they are superior to the titles that are just recommended. Quite frequently there will be a color cover shown with the starred titles reviews. Another helpful notation is that some of the adult titles are marked YA as appropriate for teenagers. The youth reviews are written by a group of about a dozen reviewers who are on the staff of Booklist. There is some turnover but in general, as you read what this group has to say through numerous issues about books that you then acquire, you begin to develop a feel for the dependability of each reviewer.
In choosing titles to review they focus on books in English that will be distributed in the U.S. Although they will review original paperbacks, they focus much more on hardcovers because titles produced only in paperback don’t seem to be meant for the libraries.
In addition to Booklist, ALA publishes Book Links six times a year. This publication builds on the children’s reviews in Booklist to help tie good useful titles to the curriculum. Each issue deals specifically with several narrow curricular topics.
Booklist can be found online at www.ala.org/booklist/. By subscribing to the online service you get access to over 100,000 reviews and features from the past 15 years of Booklist. One of the benefits of the online reviews is that you can search for them by subject, Dewey range, publication date and numerous other criteria. Each online review is linked to WorldCat?, OCLC’s worldwide union catalog.
Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books
This publication started in 1945 and has been associated with several universities. It started as a publication of the University of Chicago and then, in the 1980s, was moved to the University of Illinois, where it is associated with one of the largest schools of library science in the country. In 2005, although it continues to be produced by the same staff at the University of Illinois, it moved its printing and distribution to Johns Hopkins University in Maryland. The Bulletin is published monthly, except in August. The current editor is Deborah Stevenson.
As the name implies, the Bulletin only reviews books for children and young adults, not adult books. They only review books, not videos, software or audio books. They are somewhat selective about what they review as they will review only about 900 titles out of the 6000 published each year. However, they will give a book a negative review, rather than all titles in the publication being recommended. Titles of special distinction are given a starred review. The “Ad” and “M” titles are ranked below a regular recommendation. An “Ad” title is acceptable if the librarian feels they need extra material on a subject beyond what the recommended titles can provide. An “M” title is marginal and should only be purchased if you have to have something on that subject and can’t find anything else.
The Bulletin has very limited advertising in it, sometimes only one ad to an issue. There is also usually one small article in each issue. Almost the entire publication is taken up by reviews. No covers are shown in the Bulletin and the publication is in black and white. In 2006 there were about 3500 subscribers to the Bulletin. Subscription rates for 2009 were $93 per year for an institution. The online version can be added for an additional $37.
The reviews are written by somewhat less than ten reviewers that are on the staff of the Bulletin. This gives a lot of consistency from issue to issue and allows the subscriber to become accustomed to each reviewer’s “style.”
The Bulletin staff picks out a group of the very best books each year, a list they call the Bulletin Blue Ribbons.
The Horn Book Magazine
Bertha Mahony started this publication in 1924 and it has specialized in reviewing children’s literature ever since. In 2009 the Horn Book was purchased by Media Source, the parent company of Junior Library Guild. Based in Boston, the Horn Book is published six times a year every other month. The annual subscription fee in 2009 was $49. The two issues per year of the Horn Book Guide are available for an additional $39. Circulation in 2009 stood at about 8500 paid and promotional subscribers. The current editor is Roger Sutton. The audience for the magazine is quite broad, including librarians, teachers, parents, and bookstores.
In addition to the reviews each issue of the Horn Book has a number of articles, columns and editorials. Their reviews are divided into Picture Books, Fiction, Poetry, and Nonfiction. Audio books are covered as well. There are always a few starred titles that are singled out as superior to the rest. There are quite a few ads from publishers in the pages of the Horn Book.
The reviews are written by about a dozen staff reviewers so you are able to get familiar with each individuals approach to reviewing. Almost all the reviews are favorable so if a title is not liked they will not include it in the publication. However, some of the reviews may include unfavorable as well as favorable comments. Some covers or illustrations from books are shown but the publication is all in black and white.
The same people also publish the Horn Book Guide. This is published semiannually to review the new Spring and Fall titles. About 2000 reviews appear in each issue. There is an expanded group of about 100 reviewers who are contracted to handle this large number of reviews. Unfavorable as well as favorable reviews will be included in the Guide, with a rating system of 1 (outstanding) to 6 (unacceptable).
The Horn Book is also known for the Boston Globe/Horn Book Awards for children’s books that they co-sponsor.
The Horn Book Guide Online is available at www.hbook.com. This searchable database of reviews from the Horn Book Guide includes over 62,000 reviews from 1989 to 2005. Institutional access to the Guide Online is from $150 to $300 per year, depending upon your population served.
This publication was started in 1933 by Virginia Kirkus, the former head of the children’s department at Harper & Bros. It was originally aimed at bookstores but there now seems to be an equal emphasis on bookstores and libraries. Kirkus Reviews is published twice a month and includes both adult books and children’s books, although much more space in each issue is devoted to covering adult titles than children’s titles. It does not review other media. There is no advertising in the pages of Kirkus. The annual subscription fee for both print and online versions is $450 per year, although there are lesser rates for libraries. The current Children’s editor is Karen Breen. Kirkus Reviews was an independent publication until it was purchased by VNU Business Media, a media conglomerate, in the 1990’s.
The reviews are done by a group of staff reviewers, supplemented by outside reviewers to some extent. Both positive and negative reviews will be contained in Kirkus. You will generally find the earliest review of a title in Kirkus because they will base their reviews on galleys they get several months before the book is actually published. No covers are shown in the reviews and the publication is all in black and white.
Kirkus Reviews are available online at www.kirkusreviews.com. The reviews are searchable by various criteria and there are about 300,000 adult and children’s book reviews from the past 30 years available. In December 2009 Nielsen Business Media announced that Kirkus Reviews would be shut down.
Library Media Connection
This publication from Linworth Publishing started in 2002 but is a combination of two former publications, The Book Report and Library Talk, that date back to 1982. The Library Media Connection combines reviews with articles, columns and news of interest to the school librarian. LMC has about 11,000 subscribers and the annual subscription rate in 2009 was $69. There is quite a bit of advertising in each of the seven issues of LMC per year.
The book reviews in LMC are done by a network of working school librarians, rather than by professional reviewers. The reviews fall into the categories of Picture Books, Fiction and Nonfiction. Some titles may be singled out as highly recommended, some titles may be somewhat flawed or of a very narrow focus so they are identified as only additional selections, and some titles are just plain not recommended. There are numerous full color covers provided within the review section.
Past issues of LMC from September 2001 on, including each review, are archived at www.librarymediaconnection.com. There is no additional charge for access but the reviews are not searchable other than by scrolling through the issues.
Midwest Book Review
This volunteer organization started in 1976 to try to help public and academic libraries in California and the upper Midwest with their book acquisitions. For children’s books, they have a monthly publication called Children’s Bookwatch. All the MBR publications give a higher priority to reviewing small press titles that you probably won’t see elsewhere, although there are always major publisher’s books reviewed in each issue too. Each issue of Children’s Bookwatch will have about 100 titles reviewed, divided into Picture Books, Chapter Books/Easy Readers, Books in Series, Fiction, and Biography. Children’s video titles are also reviewed.
There is a large group of reviewers that contribute to the MBR. For the most part they are working librarians and not professional reviewers.
All issues of MBR from September 2001 on are available free of charge on their website, www.midwestbookreview.com, including all reviews. There is no longer a printed version available from Midwest Book Review. The MBR reviews are available through Cengage Learning via their Book Review Index and online through Lexis-Nexis and Goliath.
This publication, now part of Reed Business Information, has been in print since 1872. It primarily serves the publishing and bookstore markets. It has about 27,000 paid subscribers and its annual subscription rate in 2009 was $250 a year. An online subscription is available for $180 per year.
Both adult and children’s books are reviewed. In addition to books, PW will review audio and video titles. The reviews are done by a professional staff but it is not possible to know how many reviewers are involved or to get a feel for how individual reviewers approach things because the reviewers are not identified.
There are not a lot of children’s books reviewed each week, maybe 15 to 20, and, because of the focus on bookstores, there may be board books and novelty books reviewed that are not appropriate for libraries. Starred reviews are given to titles that are judged outstanding. A very small number of full color covers are shown with the reviews.
You may access at no charge all the book reviews appearing in PW since 1987 in a searchable online database at www.publishersweekly.com.
School Library Journal
This publication started in 1954 as a section in the much older Library Journal and was originally called Junior Libraries. SLJ reviews books, audio, video and Internet resources for children and young adults, specifically for the library market. It is published monthly and has over 33,000 subscribers. While the reviews are critical to each issue, SLJ is also the most extensive source of news, columns and editorials on what is going on in the school library world. The annual subscription rate in 2009 was $137. This magazine is in full color and is full of advertisements of all sorts. The current publisher is Ron Shank, a long-time ad sales representative for School Library Journal and Library Journal. The parent company of SLJ and LJ, Reed Business Information, also publishes Publisher’s Weekly.
SLJ will review about 5500 books each year. To accomplish this large task, rather than relying on staff reviewers, SLJ works with hundreds of practicing librarians who volunteer to review titles for publication. The only problem with this approach is that you’re never quite sure how much credibility to give to the review of an unknown librarian without an identifiable track record. The book reviews are grouped by ages Preschool to Grade 4, Grades 5 & Up and Adult Books for High School Students, as well as each age group being divided into fiction and nonfiction sections. Outstanding titles are given starred reviews and there are both positive and negative reviews. A very small number of full color covers or illustrations are shown with the reviews.
A semiannual supplement to SLJ, Curriculum Connections, helps teachers and librarians identify relatively new titles that address very specific parts of the curriculum.
You may access at no charge all the book reviews appearing in SLJ since 1987 in a searchable online database at www.slj.com.
Voice of Youth Advocates
This magazine was founded in 1978 by librarians Dorothy M. Broderick and Mary K. Chelton. It is now owned by Scarecrow Press, which is part of Rowman and Littlefield Publishing, and based in Lanham, Maryland. VOYA is aimed at professionals who work with young adult books, such as librarians and teachers, not the general public. The magazine is published bi-monthly and includes columns, articles, and news, as well as the reviews of books for young adults aged 12 to 18. The magazine is in full color and a few of the reviews will show the title’s cover. The current editor of VOYA is RoseMary Honnold. In 2009 it had a circulation of 7000 and its annual institutional subscription fee was $57.
VOYA includes about 150 reviews per issue and will review videos, audiobooks, and websites, in addition to books. The reviews are done by a small professional reviewing staff. Each review is signed so you have a chance to get familiar with each reviewer’s work. There is a sophisticated set of reviewing codes based on the quality and popularity of the title, with a scale of 1 (low) to 5 (high). In addition, the grade level the book is best suited for is indicated, either middle school, junior high, high school, or an adult title recommended for young adults. VOYA reviews fiction, with special categories for science fiction, fantasy, and horror. VOYA reviews nonfiction, with a frequent look at series nonfiction. VOYA also reviews reference and professional books.
Many of the articles and features from VOYA are available on their website, www.voya.com. But their book reviews are not online.
There are quite a few individuals who have made it their life’s work to study children’s literature, keep up with all the latest books, and help librarians and teachers find the right books for their purposes. They keep busy giving workshops at library meetings, doing district in-services, publishing newsletters and using their websites to make information on the latest children’s books available.
A couple of the better-known national figures in this area are Carol Hurst and Peggy Sharp.
Some of the large urban newspapers like the New York Times and the Chicago Tribune will review books, including some children’s books. But even the Times will do a very limited number of the new children’s books. Their reviews are meant primarily for parents, not for educators, and they are mainly choosing titles from the best-sellers list.