Children's Literacy Round-Up: October 7
Children's Books and Margaritas

Young Adult Book Genres and Negative Book Reviews

I don't have time for a full round-up - I'm leaving for Austin, TX first thing in the morning. But there are two discussions going on around the kidlitosphere that I think are interesting.

First, Anita Silvey has sparked a bit of discussion regarding the interests of current young adult readers. She wrote in a recent School Library Journal article that she thought that young adults were turning more to genre fiction (fantasy, mystery, etc.) instead of reading the traditional realistic novels that started with A Catcher in the Rye. This discussion has been taken up on a number of blogs, including Read Roger (who is tired of the large number of young adult fantasy novels coming across his desk) and Original Content. I agree with Gail Gauthier that it's nothing new for young adults to read genre fiction (Agatha Christie was my crossover adult novelist). I also have to admit that I tend to agree with Roger Sutton - to me there seem to be an awful lot of classic fantasy novels being published, and I've found for myself that I find more realistic novels refreshing. It's not that I don't like fantasy. It's just that in large doses it all starts to blur together for me.

The second topic undergoing discussion concerns book reviewing. Chasing Ray, A Fuse #8 Production, Blog from the Windowsill, Mary Pearson and A Chair, A Fireplace, and a Tea Cozy have all been discussing whether or not reviewers should post negative book reviews. The question is: should a book reviewer tell the truth about all books, or is it ok to write about the books that you like, and quietly skip the books that you don't like? I don't think that anyone is advocating writing positive reviews about books that the reviewer doesn't like. But a lot of people take a (as Wendy labeled it) "first, do no harm" approach, in which we don't write about the books that we dislike. I tend towards this myself, though I have posted a few lukewarm reviews of books.

Back in August Esme Raji Codell addressed this topic on her blog (when a reader asked her why she was rarely critical in her reviews). She said "I feel that when someone writes a children's book, they are trying their best to create art. They are trying to do something peaceful or thought-provoking in the world. They are trying to share something with a child. Whether or not I consider the effort to be completely successful, I have to respect that effort and those instincts, and I have no desire to "bust on that."" I think that I have tended towards this philosophy, too. I read really quickly, and I know that there are times when I don't give a book a chance. So who am I to then post a negative review about the book? Maybe I was just in a bad mood. Maybe if I actually finished the book, I would like it. Also, like Liz, I have very limited time for my reviews. I'd rather use that time to recommend books that I liked, rather than dissecting why I didn't like a particular book.

The whole debate has made me think about this in depth, however, and I think that I may try my hand at talking directly about some of the books that I haven't cared for. Fortunately, again like Liz, I'm a "book-liker". There actually aren't so many books that I read that I don't enjoy (at least within the genres that I tend to frequent). Therefore, it's usually easy for me to talk in a positive manner about the books that I read.

What do you think, readers of this blog? Would you like to see more negative reviews of books I don't like? Or are you happy with reading recommendations for books that I love? (I incidentally owe you reviews of Salem Witch (My Side of the Story) and Penny from Heaven, both of which I did like.)

© 2009 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved.

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