How (& why) does a book receive a star?

630px-Red_starPerhaps you’ve loved a title, given it a glowing review, and checked the little box marked “Star.” But it didn’t get a star when the magazine came out. Or maybe you reviewed a title for SLJ, didn’t mark the box, but the book wound up getting an SLJ star all the same. What gives?

A lot of reviewers wonder about what seems like the rather mysterious process for selecting stars. It’s not a state secret, but there is a method to our decisions. Here’s everything you should know about how SLJ reviews become starred reviews:

  • The box marked “Star” in the Review Center is a nomination from you, the reviewer.



Screen shot 2015-05-13 at 7.56.14 AM


By checking that box, you alert your editor to the fact that this book is star-worthy and should be seriously considered as a contender. (Here’s something you might not know: If your review is glowing, chances are that we’ll consider your title for a star even if you didn’t check that box.)

  • Any review we see marked with a star automatically gets pulled and added to a monthly list of star contenders. We compile all the contender titles into a shared Google doc and as each editor reads the titles, we add our comments and thoughts.

Screen shot 2015-05-13 at 8.06.50 AM

That full list is, of course, top secret. In order to keep the integrity of our deliberations, only the editors know all of the titles that are under consideration each month.

  • At least twice per month, before we need to send the issue off to the printer, we meet to discuss and vote on all of the contenders. On a typical month, we’ll have about 60 or so nominated titles. We generally select less than half that number to receive a star.

So how do we whittle it down? It’s similar to serving on a book award committee–except we’re under a very tight deadline and our criteria is somewhat different. In a nutshell, an SLJ starred review is a book that is either outstanding and unlike anything we’ve seen before OR it’s an excellent example of that particular genre or format. When we give something a star, it means that we believe that *almost* every library should have it in their collection–or at least seriously consider it for purchase. Not all the editors have to agree, but we do need consensus.

When we are having difficulty making those decisions, we look to a set of criteria that the ALSC Notable Books committee uses–that we’ve adopted and revised:


  • Overall quality;
  • Originality of text and illustration;
  • Clarity and style of language;
  • Excellence of illustration;
  • Excellence of design and format;
  • Excellence in presentation of information;
  • Subject matter of interest and value to children;
  • Appeal to intended audience.

So how do YOU know if a book is worthy of being nominated for a star? It’s more art than science, but here are a few things to keep in mind as you read and write your review:

  • You love it. You think it’s a fantastic book. Why? Is it the storyline, the beauty of the writing, the subject matter that’s so engaging? Is it the artwork that speaks to you? Is it simply that it’s book on a topic that’s so desperately needed? Make sure that you articulate in your review the specifics about why it’s an excellent work.
  • How does it compare to similar books? Make sure you seek out other well-reviewed titles of a similar nature for comparison. For example, if it’s a gorgeously photographed book about frogs, I’d be sure to compare it to Nic Bishop–it is better, worse, about the same?
  • Who’s the audience? A book need not have mass popular appeal to receive a star, but it does need a potential audience for librarians to spend their precious dollars on it. It might be a good book, but should most libraries serving the intended audience purchase it? In other words, it’s “good,” but is it “great”? Better yet, is it EXCELLENT?

Here at SLJ headquarters, we read so many titles every week, it’s easy to forget individual ones. I often find that the books I wind up starring are the ones that stay with me–even weeks later. I just can’t get them out of my mind. That’s how *I* know I’ve got a star.