How and Where
I was asked how I decided what picture books end up on my book review blog. I do not review books on my blog in exchange for a free copy of that book. I look through several book sources featuring the newest picture books being released and then reserve them at the public library. Ironic that I live on the same street as the library? Well…it was one of the attributes of buying the house.
I should add that I am fortunate to be in an area of the USA where several of the library systems are ranked highly in the nation. I often am able to add a reserve to books that are “on order” and not even released yet. I appreciate the quickness that librarians in the Central Library Consortium of Central Ohio Libraries catalog and process those books and get them into the libraries for people like me always hungry for the latest in picture book literacy.
Sorry. I digress. Not a surprise. I have the attention span of a hummingbird. That could be why I prefer picture books over children’s chapter books? So, that is how and where I get the picture books. But, what is it that I think makes a picture book worthy of being reviewed on my blog? There are eleven qualities that I look for as I’m going through the large piles sitting on my dining room table.
Because picture books really rely on the story being told with illustrations more than other types of books, I have to admit that I look at the cover first and then flip through to look at the pictures. Do they match the spirit of the story? Are they unique? Do they vary with close-ups, double-page spreads, and white space? Would another medium have worked better?
Title. Catchy title? Is it funny? Do the words rhyme? Is the font scary or silly in the title? Kids do judge a book by its cover and the title really can grab a child’s attention (and mine). Will it be remembered easily? Does it sound like another famous book?
I look at the type of font that is used. Is it in cursive? I have many students who sadly cannot read the cover’s title, because cursive writing is not taught until they are older (or even at all). Is the font large enough for a child to read? A smaller font usually tells me that the picture book is one that an adult would read to a child. Since I’m an elementary school librarian, I am looking for books that my students can read with a large font. Does the font’s size vary with the actions and conversations in the book? Are there different fonts for different emotions?
The words. Does it have word patterns or words kids like to say? Does it have a repeating refrain that kids would like to say? Is there alliteration? “Fee Fi Fo Fum” Does it rhyme well, or is it too cliché? Are there words kids like to say aloud like “underwear” or “banana”? How is the rhythm of the book? Does it match the illustrations? Onomatopoeia? Similes? Metaphors?
Is the theme of the book something children find interesting in their world? Can they relate to the story? Sometimes it is okay at the beginning if they have no idea what the theme is as long as they know it by the end of the book. Is the theme too mature or immature for the targeted age group?
Is it funny? Is it kid-friendly humor or hokey? Does it give a funny perspective to a common situation? Students are always asking me for funny books. If it is not funny, and let’s say, a serious story, is it told in a way that young readers can understand?
How does the story flow? How is the plot? Does the plot move along? Is there a problem that needs to be solved?Are there so many characters that the reader cannot remember them? Can they identify with the characters? Is there a resolution? Are the readers able to relate to the problem and how it is solved? Is the story too long or wordy?
Is there any participation from the reader? Interactive? Do they have a role? Will it make the students think of comments or questions in their heads as they read? What if it is a story without words? Will students be able to think of the story as they see the illustrations?
I look for diversity, multiculturalism, and various relationships. Is this a book about children that are not usually represented? I want all children to find books in the library that are like them, but also books not like them as well. Will this book help them understand others like them and others NOT like them? Will this expand their world? Will this encourage connections with others? Will the book open their horizons to other worlds? Will they see themselves in the story for the first time? Will they understand a fellow student’s life a little more after reading the book?
Sometimes, a book just stands out. Unique. No one has done anything like it before. The reader experiences a shared aesthetic experience with other readers. Do we think about the book after it is read? Do students talk to me about it a week later? Do they retell the story to Wolf Wolf, our library’s stuffed plush?
Curriculum. (I can hear the groans from here). Yes. Sometimes I am actually thinking, “Wow. This book really explains a certain unit of study, or this book could be read first as a hook to a certain unit of study.” I know. I know. But, sometimes, a good picture book can make the topic more understandable for children. Fun.
Two Things I Avoid
I have had several teachers ask me to buy a book just because of the author. Well, that gets tricky. I don’t want to buy books by an author just because they received an award for a book written two decades ago. I expect the same quality. If the book is not up to snuff, so to speak, I don’t review it. I do buy it though for the library if a teacher requests it as part of their classroom author study. I am sort of a softy about teacher requests.
I do not write-up bad reviews for books. I may read 30-40 picture books before I find one that I feel deserves to be in my blog. So, I do not want to write-up all those books I did not choose and why as well as those I think stand out. But, just because it is not in the blog does not mean I did read it. There are thousands and thousands of books these days. I’m so excited to see all of the Canadian, British, and Australian books now immigrating into the USA bookstores and libraries. So many new books each year. What an exciting time to live. It would not be impossible for me to miss some great ones.
My passion has always been picture books and now I can share that with more people through the internet as well as with my school’s staff and students. It makes me happy to be able to do this now and work as an elementary school librarian. It has also been a blessing to be on the same avenue as a public library. This is quite a convenience. I go in several times a week and usually with my husband in tow to help me carry all the books. By the way, yes, at times, my house does look like an explosion of books and cat toys all over the place. I have a very patient and understanding husband with a great sense of humor.