Amanda Jacobs Foust from Denver, CO
Hi guys, I’m Desi from Old Worthington Library.
Hi-Dawn from Chicagoland
Hi All! Jennie from Arlingon VA (near DC)
Hi Everyone from sunny, warm NYC!
Misti Tidman from Mansfield, Ohio.
Hello! I’m Becky from Tampa, FL>
Hi, it’s Kent here from SLJ.
Hi all! Welcome to our first reviewer chat of this year!
hello everyone! Della Farrell here
This is Shelley Diaz, SLJ reviews manager
Debbie Tanner from sunny and warm Delray Beach, FL
Hi I’m Luann Toth and I assign all of the picture books.
I’m Della Farrell and I assign nonfiction :slightly_smiling_face:
We have some SLJ editors on hand to give advice, but any of you can jump right in to offer your own tips
Hi everyone! Ericka Greer from Monroe, Louisiana
Hi everyone! Mahnaz Dar here
I edit and assign YA and bilingual/Spanish books from time to time
Hi I’m Amy Seto Forrester from the Denver Public Library in Colorado.
I edit the adult bks 4 teen column and edit/assign graphic novel titles, as well as reference and professional reading books
Hi, this is Heidi Rabinowitz, librarian @ congregation b’nai israel in boca raton.
Hi all, this is Kiera, SLJ/LJ reviews director. Signing on a bit late!
Love that we’re getting people from all over the country!
Cool! I was wondering how much of the plot we should share in our review. I typically use the first portion of my review to tell about the plot and use the second portion to explain thoughts about characters, and reader intrest.
great question @afro75 thanks for starting us off
Liz Friend from Frisco, Texas
First, in case you didn’t realize, our ideal word count at SLJ is about 250 words
so, your task as reviewers is to sum up the plot, evaluate, and make a recommendation (or VERDICT) in 250 words
Regarding picture book reviews, I always appreciate hearing if a book is of an unusual size, small or large, which might make it difficult to shelve or impractical for group story times
For the most part, we like to see 2-3 sentences of plot summary. Editors, want to weigh in on this?
Yes, Shelley. I agree. In fact, I’d prefer a review that was a little less in depth on summary and gave us more analysis–more on character development or how effective the setting is or how likely it is that readers will enjoy the book.
In terms of where to put the description and where to put the evaluation, my tendency is to spend roughly the first half of the review doing the former and the second half doing the latter. But it depends on the book. Sometimes you can sneak in some great evaluative language while also describing the book.
As a school librarian, I’d like to know if it’s good for a read aloud or if it might be a good mentor text or if it’s really meant as a bed time story or something about how it might be used.
Hi, I’m Amy from Chicago Public Library. As a reader it really helps if the reviewer says what type of readers will love this book: fantasy fans, dystopian fans, fans of a particular author or series… read alikes really help.
Agree–more on evaluation is always preferred. As long as you “set the scene” enough for our readers to get the “gist” of the book in question.
And when it comes to historical events, less on the event itself and more on how the author handles the material
And please take a look at the short piece on our reviewer website, as a resource. https://contributors.slj.com/2015/04/anatomy-of-a-typical-slj-review/
What about comparisons to the author’s other works?
As a public librarian, re: beginning readers, I like to see more evaluation of the ways the content and design support beginning readers, rather than an analysis of the book as a read aloud or picture book.
Since we would like more discussion of the book than a synopsis, a good rule of thumb may to reveal just the bare bones essentials of the plot and also to mention whatever elements that may be referred to later in your review
Yes, setting the scene is a good way of putting it, Kiera!
What is most valuable from an SLJ review is the perspective of a fellow librarian and how the book works/or doesn’t work for someone’s collection.
I agree wholeheartedly. More about the art and design is mosrt welcome.
I am interested in what @imtanner had to say about commenting on the usefulness of a title in a school library setting. I think that it’s important to consider the audience when deciding what information to put in a review. What do school librarians want/need to know to make a purchase decision?
Yes, obviously a lot depends on the reading level, fiction vs nonfiction, etc…
SLMS want curriculum connections
I can definitely see the benefit of being more evaluative in my reviews. What is the overall purpose of and SLJ review, is our audience other librarians, or is this also for parents who might purchase books.
@wadhambooks and how does this title compare to existing ones
What if you get a book that you think is really badly written? As someone who likes to write fiction myself, I feel SO GUILTY trashing a book that someone spent years writing?!
re: @wadhambooks As a librarian/purchaser, I would like to know whether any book has wide appeal or whether it is best for a particular purpose/audience. I like when people say “for a large collection” etc
And I’m not so concerned with reading levels, but some of my favorite picture books this year are great as books for individuals to read but are terrible as read aloud.
Our primary audience is librarians and educators @afro75
I sometimes grapple with new language for describing characters’ dialogue in a fiction work. The word “authentic” feels overused.
I agree @imtanner – great info to know whether good for RAs
I think the Verdict statement can (and should) do a lot of the heavy lifting. I don’t love Verdicts that simply state “A good purchase for all collections.” Really? I love when they are specific, for ex: “A secondary purchase for libraries where sci-fi romance is in demand.”
@afro75 being critical is difficult, especially because your name is attached, but there are definitely ways to be critical and not harsh.
It is our solemn not to recommend books that are poorly written. People have limited funds and we can’t “stick” them with stuff we wouldn’t add to our own cellections.
Yes, so true, Shelley. I always try to give an example of something that I think is negative in order to support what may seem like a harsh statement.
adding to kparrott it’s helpful to note how a particular title stands out. for example, VERDICT Though there are numerous biographies on Kennedy for this audience, few focus solely on his role in civil rights, making this work a dynamic addition for U.S. history collections
Here’s a recent review that does a good job at evaluating even while describing the plot.
Taylor, Whitney. Definitions of Indefinable Things. 336p. ebook available. HMH. Apr. 2017. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9780544805040.YA-SP-Taylor-DefinitionsofIndefinableThingsGr 8 Up –In her engaging debut, Taylor skillfully captures adolescent depression and anxiety. Reggie, 17, feels alienated from her religious family after enduring several serious losses. Feeling emotionally abandoned, she is determined never to be hurt again. While picking up her Zoloft prescription, Reggie meets fellow teen Snake, who is in line for his Prozac. At first she is extremely resistant to Snake’s attention, but he pursues her relentlessly. She eventually succumbs to his charms, but that’s only the beginning of a very complicated relationship. Reggie’s queen bee classmate Carla is pregnant, and Snake, it turns out, is the father. The three teens’ tenuous connections periodically strain, break, and heal as they realistically stumble their way toward a sort of friendship and, ultimately, happiness. The main characters are well drawn and unique. The secondary characters are less so, but this doesn’t lower the overall quality of this novel’s insightful portrayal of complex teens struggling with mental health issues. VERDICT An emotionally engrossing and powerful exploration of depression and healing that many teens will find meaningful. A strong choice for libraries serving teens.–Susan Riley, Mamaroneck Public Library, NY
RE: picture books I always want to know the visual appeal and graphic design elements. Are the fonts “cheap” looking? White space???
You might also note in the VERDICT if it will be good for book club (stimulating conversations about ….)
And check out the transcript of our last reviewer chat about writing critical reviews: https://contributors.slj.com/2016/11/slj-reviewer-chat-transcript-from-november-2016-writing-critical-reviews/
@mkozikowski I hear you. The same phrases and words do get a bit overused in reviews. When it comes to describing dialogue, I’ve seen folks say things like “believable”, “relatable,” and “genuine.” Oftentimes, we editors sit with a thesaurus in order to keep things from getting too stale!
@aduffy Sticking to the facts to build your case may help and/or providing an example(s) from the book to bolster your point of view
Very helpful suggestions. Thanks!!!
A thesaurus has come to my rescue on several occasions!
@kparrott When writing reviews, the thesaurus is definitely my friend!
Much love for the thesaurus :slightly_smiling_face:
If we use text from a galley do we need to include a note so that it can be checked with the final edition of the title?
And please remember to include the grade level and VERDICT. They come at the beginning and at the end, respectively. people often forget
Left click over word for synonyms
Yes, I have thesaurus.com and merriam webster in my toolbar because i consult both multiple times a day.
@jpoyer Yes, please. That would be helpful for us to double-check the quote
Cool. I will definitely include the grade in my next review! This is super helpful.
Is there somewhere to get the grade level recommendation?
I also use Merriam-Webster online for definitions; it helps me understand a word better or to find a better word (also has synonyms)
@stefanie.n.hughes Great. We use Merriam-Webster, too
If I note something in my review that might be changed when the finished copy of the book is released, I leave a note in the notes field for the editor.
@stefanie.n.hughes We use that definition too! So you’re in good company.
It’s amazing how often you think you know what a word mean…until you look it up, haha.
I can’t stress enough how important it is to talk about the art in a picture book. You don’t have to be an artist or even know the specific mediums used, but you can describe how well it suits the story and how effective it is and how it works with the text.
@imtanner: We ask that reviewers recommend a grade level based on your own assessment. So, you can certainly look to see what grade level the publisher recommends, but ultimately we want you to suggest a grade range based upon the length, complexity of the text, the subject matter and situations, and general appeal. It may be in line with what the publisher is marketing, but it often is a bit more defined.
So true, @ilovespicturebooks — and that goes for graphic novels as well! The art is so key to these kinds of works.
@ilovespicturebooks this is so vital to me in my purchasing decisions!!! I care so deeply about the visual appeal
For example, I’ll get a book from some big publisher who says it’s for “grade 3 to 8.” But how many books really span such a huge range? I often find that what they’re marketing for grades 3 to 8 is really a middle grade work for grades 4 to 6.
Pictures can double what is said in the text, or pictures can tell more of the story or parts of the story not expressed in text.
I think I’m always surprised by this as the librarian. I’m reading Snappsy the Alligator to my kids this week and it really fell flat today, as opposed to Wolfie the Bunny, which I also adored. So I guess I’d just like to have some other reference point than just me!
If you’re not sure about the grade level, feel free to mention that in the notes field. The editors can dip in and take a look. Reviewing is often subjective, so having multiple looks doesn’t hurt
Do you find that publishers have a larger age span than recommended by librarians so they can sell to a larger audience?
oh yes, @dfarrell And speaking of NF, it’s always great to give context about the person/event the book is focusing on, but it’s even better to focus on how well the book does this–is it accurate, fair, etc.
Many, many picture books have a message, but it’s all in the delivery as to whether it comes across organically or is heavy-handed and preachy.
Sorry I must exit, going into a program. I’ll read the rest of the chat from the archive. Thank you!
great to hear from you @mkozikowski
It can be tricky, for sure. Even works by the same author or in the same series can vary from book to book. I try to think about the general audience–imagining that there are kids reading below level and above–so I look for that sweet spot where most of the audience for a particular book will be. Remember, our grade levels are suggestions, not prescriptions. Every librarian buying the book for her collection will have to ultimately decide where to place it. Our grade levels are a guide only.
I have to leave as well, I look forward to reading the archive!
@ilovespicturebooks I always go back to K. T. Horning’s book “From Cover to Cover”. She has one of the best outlines I’ve seen of the basic language and criteria that can be used to evaluate art and images, especially for non art majors, which most of us are.
Yes, @sdiaz101 and sometimes we editors may even spend time debating an age range, esp. if the book has that dreaded “audience problem”!
When it comes to NF, I think it’s also important to note how extensive and accurate the back matter is.
Back matter matters!
It’s one thing to have a time line, and another one to have an accurate time line without important and obvious dates missing
That kind of info would go into the evaluation portion of the review.
i find it so helpful when reviewers note if they suspect diag may be invented or if a piece of information may be inaccurate
I like to check URLs in back matter. It’s surprising how many don’t work/are questionable in authority.
I know I have had teachers requesting books with specific back matter elements (time line, glossary, maps, etc.), so it’s great if those elements are mentioned in the review as being particularly good (or not…)
@ilovespicturebooks And it’s also important to describe the quality of the animation or cinematography in a DVD review.
I really like looking at the end papers in picture books. I haven’t had the opportunity to review picture books yet, but I find end papers really do add depth to a story. For example the book “Carnivores” by Aaron Reynolds starts with a whole bunch of animals in the end papers and the final end papers with only the carnivores left. I think it adds to the humor in the story.
@m_tidman we generally include attributes (glossary, index, etc.) in the bib head of each review
Indexing is important too; it’s hard to find info in a poorly indexed book.
@stefanie.n.hughes Yes–especially important with reference works.
“See also” in a index is especially important for younger students who might not of multiple search terms.
@kparrott I also try to remember to never underestimate what children are capable of understanding. I’ve often been surprised how children resonate to books that I initially thought (or that SLMS told me) might be beyond them. Case in point–“The Whipping Boy” with an audience of diverse kids who had extreme poverty in common.
And when it comes to novels, the things that we’re looking for are evaluation of pacing, character development, world-building, setting, dialogue, etc.
I meant, younger students might not think about multiple search terms. If they only have one in mind and there is no “see also” they can have a hard time
Going back to the anatomy of a review, I think one of our aides can be to look at Newbery criteria. Are you thinking about plot and structure, characters, etc. You may not decide to write about all these things, but it gives you a good starting point.
@afro75 I love to see how illustrators use the end papers as an opportunity to expand upon or even tell the story. The picture book is like a mini play. The format allows for the story to be told on the end pages, the title page. Every turn of the page is marked with drama.
So, a short summary, but then get into what makes the book good or bad.
Just think of your review like a sandwich: Grade level and Verdict are your slices of bread, plot summary are your condiments and lettuce/tomato, and the evaluation is the “meat” or protein. :smile:
Don’t forget the special sauce!
I recently looked at multiple reward criteria and created m own worksheet containing important questions/points about setting, character, plot, etc., and I think I have a fairly comprehensive evaluation tool.
Who assigns the star rating?
@stefanie.n.hughes Would you be willing to share? That sounds like a fantastic tool.
Sure. Where should I post it or who should I send it to
Going off on a side track–how do y’all decide who reviews what book? If I haven’t gotten an assignment in several months, does that mean I’ve been weighed, measured, and found wanting?
I was wondering that too!
Reviewers are free to nominate a book for a star, if they think it’s outstanding. Then our stars committee sits down with all of the stars nominations in a round of meetings to reach a consensus. @dabron
I find that a glossary of terms helps me evaluate non-fiction picture books or picture books that have text in other languages.
@stefanie.n.hughes – I’ve made something similar for library staff for our yearly “best and brightest” round up of kids & teen titles. Would love to share and compare :slightly_smiling_face:
Plot is always a big thing for me because when I do book discussions with kids, I love to talk to them about rising and falling action and denouements and even how a book with say too much going on maybe unenjoyable.
If characters are racial minorities, should that be specifically mentioned in the review?
Please feel free to share your resources with your primary editor, or even via Slack.
In answer to who gets what books, it depends on the kind of book. So, I assign all of the middle grade fiction and chapter books. If you included the genres you prefer when you applied to be a reviewer, that information is in your record. If I have a specific genre in hand, I’ll look for a reviewer who specifies that she enjoys that genre. Otherwise, I look to see what kinds of books you’ve reviewed in the past and base new assignments on that.
Most nonfiction reviewers have a subject they specialize in or at least are very knowledgeable about
Yes, and if you haven’t received an assignment for a while, it’s more often because editors are bogged down by deadlines or we’re editing the current issue and haven’t had a moment to do assigning.
If you’ve not gotten an assignment in a long time, chances are it’s an oversight. Sometimes we forget to “clear” your record, so it can look like you’ve got an active assignment when you don’t. Just drop us a line and we’ll hook you up with something new.
if there is a particular subject you love or hobby you might have let me know!
Sometimes the files haven’t been updated so we don’t know that reviewers are available. It never hurts to check in. I always have tons of picture books to review, but I try to give people the types of things they’ve asked for or have proven to be good at in the past.
the more i know about your interested the better I can assign :slightly_smiling_face:
As for diversity, please take a look at our resources on our reviewer website: https://contributors.slj.com/category/diversity-matters/
Maybe a yearly profile update survey to send out to reviewers?
In a nutshell, we think it’s important to mention diversity, if it’s important to the plot, but also if it’s a wonderful/horrible representation and people should be made aware of it
How do you review the plethora of non-fiction books that come from curriculum-focued publishers like Capstone or Enslow? Many of the biographies I used to get did have source notes, but they were secondary sources like People or US magazine. Meaning they didn’t talk to the celebrity they were writing about :wink:
oh! @wadhambooks we cover series nonfiction in our biannual supplement Series Made Simple
We find that our readers are hungry for more diverse books and we want to help them make the best purchases they can for their communities and schools.
That’s a great idea. We usually send a notice about summer hiatus or leaves in the late spring. How about we send around a general “call for updates” at the same time? Or maybe in the next newsletter? @sdiaz
I hope that answers your question @dabron
People’s jobs or research topics change all the time. Feel free to contact us if you have an interest in a specific type of materials.
It does. Thank you
@kparrott will do!!
I would love to review some picture books @ilovespicturebooks . I really enjoy them.
Are there any questions that you guys have for us? anything that’s particularly difficult or tricky when you write reviews?
Will do. You can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
If there’s a specific need or list of vocabulary that perhaps we can create and help you with, please let us know
The 250 word count limit is firm isn’t it?
It’s pretty firm. Our reviews range from 185-260 at the most, but 260 is pushing it.
I can usually whittle mine down. But sometimes, I feel I leave pertinent information out for the sake of the word count.
@dfarrell So true. That goes for DVDs, too. Let us know what you would like to cover, even the most esoteric subjects. You never know what might get submitted to us.
But remember, librarians don’t have a lot of time, so we don’t want to read overly long reviews.
It’s hard, I know, but you could always leave it in, and editors can help you cut it down.
Sometimes it’s a good idea to make a list of the truly crucial things you want to say in your review. Then try writing sentences from there. I find that’s a good way to keep myself from rambling on too much.
I currently review picture books and the occasional short chapter book but I would be interested in receiving audiovisual material from time to time or audiobooks
@afro75 you can also write any additional concerns related to a title you might have in the Notes field
that’s what we’re here for! And we want to include as many reviews as we can in an issue, and it’s more possible if the reviews are short.
I’ve had most of my reviews published, but was wondering why one wouldn’t be.
The notes field is your friend! As are your editors! I have written reviews and said “I know the plot summary is way too long, but it’s so complex I don’t know how to get it down any more. HELP!”
I also wanted to say to feel free to email us if you left out the gr level or VERDICT or anything else.
yes absolutely, we’re here to help, as @jennie_rothschild points out!
@brendak that may be related to timing. occasionally i’ll hold off on a review for a certain issue or until it get closer to the pub date
I also try to be sneaky and introduce evaluative elements within my descriptive statements to save space. For example, instead of saying, “A story about a little girl coming to terms with the loss of her favorite stuffed animal. The illustrations are lush and atmospheric, while the text is lyrical,” I would condense to “In this lushly illustrated and lyrically told story, a little girl comes to term with the loss of a beloved stuffed animal.” Maybe not saving all that much space, but one sentence is doing the job of two!
sometimes reviews publish in our online Xpress reviews. you might find your review there…
But please, don’t send us reviews longer than 300 words. :wink:
thanks again, everyone, for joining us! feel free to jot down your last few questions.
What’s the #1 thing you wish reviewers would do that we often don’t?
Thank you for hosting this!
Thank you. Very informative and helpful
And thanks for joining us on a Monday afternoon! If you have ideas for future chats, please don’t hesitate to reach out to us.
@jennie_rothschild one thing we can’t always do is double-check every character name or plot point–so if you guys can make sure to fact check things like a person’s name (is the protag’s name John or Johnnie?) or other minor points, it would be a great help. We try to check everything, but we are editing hundreds of reviews a month.
Thanks everyone for the great “conversation”
@mahnaz yes!!!!!! esp. for nonfiction!
@jennie_rothschild include grade levels, verdicts, check spelling, and use “readers” instead of “the reader”
Thanks as well!
Have a great rest of your week!
Thanks Keira, Shelley, Luann and everyone else at SLJ!
Thanks, everyone! :slightly_smiling_face:
I have to go assign some picture books. @afro75 You’ll be hearing from me later. Thanks.
I’m so sorry I missed the chat! I was teaching but I look forward to trying to make the next one!
I’m sad I missed this chat, but it was helpful reading through it! Thank you!