Friday, August 5, 2011

Reviewing children's books

How can a writer get started reviewing children's books, and why do it anyway? Leonard Marcus, who has reviewed for the New York Times, Parenting Magazine, and Horn Book, offered some suggestions at the SCBWI conference in LA this afternoon.

Don't write reviews to get rich. You won't. If you love children's literature, write reviews to support it and in particular to help others distinguish what's good. If you're a writer, review as a way to get to know the field and better understand your own niche within it. Before long, publishers will be sending you free books, and some editors will even begin to know your name.

Suppose you already write reviews on Amazon and maybe Goodreads. How do you rise to the next level? Marcus suggests offering to write reviews for your local paper, your school, library, church, or synagogue. Build a portfolio of reviews that you can then take to a larger paper or magazine.

These days, of course, you can also write reviews for blogs, your own or others'. I've moved on from that to writing reviews for the New York Journal of Books, an online book review journal that doesn't pay but does publicize its reviewers' own books.

As to how to write a good review, Marcus suggests aiming for 500 to 700 words. Try to internalize the book; read it more than once, and try to see how it's constructed. For him, a review is a way to explain to himself why he reacted to a book the way he did. Wordsmith with as much care and conviction as you use in your own writing.

With the plethora of books being published in every sort of medium, parents, teachers, and librarians can use the help of good, careful reviewers to find books that are authentic, sparkling, or moving. And because reviewing requires close reading and analysis of what worked and why, it can really help authors improve their own writing. I recommend it.

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