For the longest time, I didn’t read children’s book reviews. I used to work for Junior Library Guild, which is a K-12 collection development service, so I read pretty much everything–six months to a year before it came out. By the time a book reached the buzz circuit, I already knew what I thought about it.
It was my job to be a picky reader. JLG chooses one book per month for its various age and subject groups, which means rejecting a lot of books that have nonetheless passed the test of getting published in the first place. Wooden dialogue? Implausible ending? Grrr.
Reading the entire lists of every publisher in town gives you a certain perspective. When fresh boxes arrived in the office, I would tear into them, thinking, Please, not another anachronistically spunky girl. No more best friends who die in the penultimate chapter. I’m tired of outcasts who save the day, I have had it with kindly old shopkeepers, and do any residents of small towns actually say “I reckon?” JUST GIVE ME SOMETHING NEW TO READ. Because isn’t that what every reader really wants?
As you might imagine, I developed a sort of crotchety outlook. I felt at odds with the chirpy world of blog and newspaper reviews. As for more critical trade journal reviews (Horn Book, Kirkus, etc)–like I said, I already had my opinions.*
Now that I’m no longer inundated, the (fewer) books I read don’t feel quite as tired. Not having to sort books into “accepted” and “rejected” camps means that even if a book has its flaws, I’m a little more free to enjoy the parts that are good (notably: picture books with blah stories but stunning art).
But I’m still crotchety and reluctant to show it here. As a reader, I have my criticisms, but as an illustrator, I know how hard it is to make a book. And I write this blog as an illustrator. That means no reviews, at least for now. I’m more interested in ferreting out lesser-known gems, sharing techniques, and interviewing amazingly creative people.
And I still don’t read reviews. (Mostly.) Do you?
*As I re-read this, I thought to myself, “Yes, but don’t you want to know others’ opinions?” Well…maybe. Opinions are more interesting when they come from people you know–my colleagues at JLG, for example. I also tend to think about a book’s artistic success or failure as some intrinsic quality of the book, rather than as subjective to the reviewer.