Monday, October 02, 2006

It's Not Always Good News . . .

. . . when you get your book reviewed in the Horn Book. Although the headline on the Magazine's book review section has stated for at least thirty years that "most [emphasis added] of the books reviewed are recommended," we do try to keep everybody awake with the occasional mixed or negative review. I got an email today from a publisher perplexed about a negative review one of their books had recently received--perplexed, not aggrieved--thinking we only reviewed Thumbs Way Up. Sometimes we review such titles because they're getting a lot of publicity (thus our very mixed review of the second Harry Potter), or because other reviews have been overenthusiastic and we want to provide some dissent (we're publishing a negative review of the new Jamie Lee Curtis next month for just that reason) or because we just can't help ourselves, like the time I got that 20th Century Children's Book Treasury between my teeth and Would. Not. Let. Go.

8 comments:

Lynn said...

I like reading a dissenting review; it beats a wishy-washy review any day of the week. I have sent books back after having a chance to read them myself and wondering if I read the same book the reviewer did. So, reading valid reasons why a respected reviewer of children's literature does not like a particular title helps with critical collection development choices (money, money, money). They not only keep the reviewer honest, but the selector as well.

I must admit I purchased the Jamie Lee Curtis book in question, Is there really a human race? and have not had the opportunity to view it personally because it's checked out of the library. The Publisher's Weekly review was not sparkling, but SLJ had it as a starred selection (though I admit to disagreeing with SLJ reviews more than once).

Anonymous said...

good to see that Hornbook isn't going to be just a shill for publishers.

James A. Owen said...

I've reviewed books, and I've written books that have been reviewed. And in both cases, I've found a balanced review is always more likely to be persuasive in encouraging readers to give a decent book a try.

(At least, moreso than a flat-out glowing review.)

I've recently surprised two reviwers of my own work by NOT getting upset by their critical remarks. They'd expected me to blow up. I was mostly happy that they liked the parts they did, and in one case, grateful for the excellent criticism!

By the way, like the new avatar photo, Roger.

Keir said...

As a recommend-only journal, we often receive the same response over at Booklist: "I thought you guys only wrote nice things." But, like you, we will give negative reviews to high-demand books. (I wrote a post in a similar vein last week on Likely Stories.) I'm enjoying your blog!

Rebecca said...

One reason I read the Horn Book is that your reviews include analysis. I've been disappointed many times by the New York Times-style plot synopsis. They put me in mind of fourth-grade book reports. Bravo, HB.

Anonymous said...

I remember a negative review of a book --one published by the publishing house where I work-- that just warmed the cockles of my heart. Keep it up.

MotherReader said...

Okay, I understand that you sometimes give negative reviews. But I didn't understand Horn Book's review of The Day the Dinosaurs Died, an easy reader non-fiction book in your July/August issue. The reviewer notes that the book notes the that the dinosaurs come to horrific ends and also notes that's not for the squeamish. She says of the illustrations that "they do go a bit too far in portraying humanlike anguish and fear on the faces of the dinosaurs." But, yet, it seems like a recommendation to me. In this case, with such a mixed feeling to the review - personally, I thought the book was horrible for young readers - why even highlight it in Horn Book at all?

Roger Sutton said...

I don't have The Day the Dinosaurs Died here at home, but I know that we reviewed it because it was a treatment of dino-things that was unusual in the easy-reader format, which tends toward the cozy and humorous. Even beginning readers can have a fairly bloodthirsty streak which I thought this book recognized and respected.