On critiquing, reviewing and writing about children’s literature

“At a time when unpaid bloggers online are gaining influence at the expense of professionals, we need to convince the public that good reviewers exist, and are still worth listening to. Otherwise, our readers will continue to look to the internet for news, and the art of the book review will join the typewriter in the trashcan of Time.”

Criticism is fine : But do you have to spoil the plot? Joanne Harris: The Independent, May 15th 2012

Superbly put right? Regardless of how you may feel about Harris’ point (and, for the record, I think that she’s talking a lot of sense and that also the Trashcan Of Time needs to appear in the Tardis in the near future), I think there’s something here that bears wider weight and is worth unpicking.

I’ve recently embarked upon one of the steepest learning curves of my literary career. I write, for myself, and now I am learning how to write for others. Constructing a story is easy. Constructing a book is hard.

I respect anybody who can do that. I massively, massively respect that. And when I write about literature, I try to respect that. I am in awe of writers. Ultimately when I review, I review from the perspective of a fan. A fan who loves books, pure and simple, and I love being able to share that with people. I’d not refer to myself as a “professional” and that, I think is something more related to my superb ability for self-deprecation rather than anything else and especially not related to working online as opposed to traditional media.

I do wonder though what “professional” is in the context of literature critique?  Traditional media, of paper and print, is perhaps one of the most mutable cultural landscapes out of there and I’m not sure where the professional critic – or even if there is such a thing – lives any more. I could name you a number of superb children’s literature academics – but I’d struggle to name a “professional” children’s literature reviewer. I read a host of individuals who review children’s literature but I struggle to read more than a couple of pages of the literary supplement in the newspaper.

Ultimately I think Harris’ piece is raising more questions than it’s answering – which is precisely what it should do. I can’t comment for the art of the ‘adult’ literature review, but what I can do is, if you’re looking for children’s literature reviews you can “trust” and “respect”, that you really have no need to worry.

There’s a world of superb, critically astute, technically brilliant, beautifully artful, passionate bloggers out there. The only thing we need to be concerned about is what happens when they all decide to stop.

And er, if you’ve got this far and coped with this moment of self-reflexivity, thank you. Here’s a Pikachu being awesome.

8 thoughts on “On critiquing, reviewing and writing about children’s literature

  1. Thank you so much for sharing this! I think it’s really important for all of us who review books to be really intentional about what we’re trying to accomplish and how we go about what we do. Harris seems to take issue with the fact people are sourcing the “internet” for reviews but as you and I are both bloggers, I don’t take issue with this at all! I DO think she made good points about plot. Ah, I have so much to say I might have to carry this conversation onto my own blog as well. Thanks again!

    1. Thank you so much for your thoughts! I agree – there’s a whole world going on in that piece, a lot more than was perhaps initially purposed. I really look forward to reading what you think about it 🙂

  2. Interesting article from Harris. I’ve got a friend who reviews books for the Guardian, amongst other places, and she sent me a very snooty email when I dared to suggest that I’d like to try my hand at reviewing for lowly magazines that no-one had ever heard of. I got the impression that she felt her hard-won professionalism was being encroached upon by ‘amateur’ reviewers. As you say though, many bloggers write fantastic reviews, which are often more honest and informative than those in the press, if only because there’s none of the incestuous back-scratching (‘I’ll write a wonderful review of your book if you write a good one of mine’) going on.

    1. Firstly, thank you for your comment 🙂 Secondly – I’m really interested in the angle you pick up on quid-pro-quo reviews. Do you read Private Eye? It’s utterly fascinating because every now and then Private Eye goes behind those sorts of reviews and mercilessly exposes the connections between them all.

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