My Book Review Plan

It’s like when a kitten tries to bite something to death. The kitten clearly has the cold-blooded murderous instinct of a predator, but at the same time, it’s this cute little kitten, and all you want to do is stuff it in a shoebox and shoot a video of it for grandmas to watch on YouTube.
― Jesse Andrews, Me and Earl and the Dying Girl

Part One, in which I talk about observations and technical book purchasing.

YA Librarians are ordering books in an interesting time.  Not that long ago, teens wanted to read TFIOS.  Now, I’m finding, they’re very interested in a more diverse cast of characters with a more diverse realm of issues.  I recently recommended The Rest of Us Just Live Here by Patrick Ness, a great work of magical realism about a boy and his friends who aren’t the heroes of their town.  In it, we meet his crush (a black Finnish girl), his best bud (a math-loving, football-playing, gay male), and a variety of other characters.  Because they break stereotypes (giving them a more real feeling) and likely because their high school troubles are varied, the teens loved it.  They’re also interested in people who identify as trans-gender.  For this, I have recommended books like George by Alex Gino, The Art of Being Normal by Lisa Williamson, and None of the Above by I.W. Gregorio.  (If you’re a Public School Librarian trying to workshop something like this, you should check out the Magpie Librarian’s blog about George which you can find here.)

It’s likely no surprise that there was recently a call for more diversity in literature and the response of teen readers is awesome.  I’ve noticed reviewers of monthly scholarly publications, such as Kirkus and Voya, also looking out for these details.  For example, last month in Kirkus I noticed that books with white narrators were called out as such.  If it felt too common or didn’t have enough depth of characters, it was mentioned in the review.  Some of those books still received good ratings, but I don’t believe any of them received starred reviews.

So, naturally, between my community of teens and these professional reviews I have gathered several great sources from which I order my carts of books.   My top 3 faves are: Kirkus, Goodreads, and School Library Journal.  Often times, I read the review in School Library Journal and Kirkus, then go to Goodreads.  The idea is that I will get a broader sense of readership by cross-checking sources.  Plus, if other people like myself are posting reviews to Goodreads, it should be a more diverse (and perhaps accurate) source of review.  And, occasionally, I find some people gave zero love to a book in a professional source, but the every day readers of Goodreads loved it.    Although the reverse is also true.  When it comes down to it, ordering for popularity, series, and your teens’ interest works out the best.

I also want to give a shout-out to Voya because they also do book reviews (albeit a little weirdly), but more importantly for their reviews of programming ideas.  I cannot wait to do Table Top or RPG gaming, and I love reading about other library’s tech programming. Last month there was a great Sphero article, which was nifty because at the TPL we also do Sphero programming- we just started in March.  So, thanks Voya!

Part Two, in which I discuss reviews from a different angle.

So, I personally love writing reviews for books.  If it was a fantastic book, if it was meh, or if it was really terrible- I love sharing that with the Goodreads community.  I think that even if you don’t finish a book or an audiobook, you should write about it and write about what turned you off.

I’ve also been playing around with teen reviews.  Not just book-talk, which my teens and I do regularly, but actually collecting physical reviews.  This isn’t a new idea for librarians, but my library has a teen blog (which I keep up with, thanks to the ability to schedule posts in Blogger!) and it is the feature for the TPL teen page.  At the end of this month, we are supposed to be getting a new website.  As the groundwork continues to be tweaked, I want to see teen reviews become a regular feature.  I can recommend books til the cows come home, but the teen who reads fantasy may be able to capture someone that I couldn’t.  It also gives an opportunity to participate and feel active at the library, both in it physically and virtually.  While this would be awesome to gear up for spring, my master plan is to incorporate it into Summer Reading.  Previously, teens have read a book and turned in a slip of paper with that book’s title and their name on it to be entered for a gift card raffle.  I’m keeping that, but for the first 3 (or the  second 3, haven’t decided yet) I will also ask for a book review.  These will need to be turned in with the slip of paper and then posted (with names or anonymously) throughout the summer on our blog and website.  I am SO excited for this!  I’m constantly seeking ways to keep the teens engaged in the space and make it feel like theirs, and I’m hoping this transfers digitally.  I’ll post about the results of this in the fall.  For now, I’m hoping that it can help them somehow, from writing to street cred, to being able to show a college or job they were actively engaged in their library.  It’s sure to be interesting.

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