Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Reviewing Children's Books for Major Journals

I am often asked why I don't review for the major children's lit review journals (Horn Book, School Library Journal, etc.).

Back in the 1996, I was a book reviewer for Horn Book Guide. I occasionally review a book for them now, but that is rare. I don't recall exactly when I quit, but there were several reasons. I was a grad student then, and doing a thorough review takes a long time.... I needed that time for my studies.

There was another reason, though, that I stopped reviewing for them on a regular basis. That reason is the subject of an article I wrote that was published in Studies in American Indian Literatures. The article, "Contesting Ideology in Children's Book Reviewing," is online here.

In the article, I discuss the rejection of a review that I submitted. I gave the book a negative review because it shows a boy playing Indian. My review was rejected. The editor, Roger Sutton, said "We review books not on the basis of what they say, but on how well we judge them to say it." He said he understood my objection, but that Horn Book was not the place for that critique.

I thought he was wrong, and I was pretty steamed. I sought to explore my idea that Horn Book was not serving librarians with its adherence to literary criteria. I learned a great deal through that exploration, as articulated in the article.

That was ten years ago.

Since then, I've met Roger and many others. As Sherman Alexie said, the people in children's book world are really nice. Within this community, there are points we will never agree on. But we keep talking.

In May of 2006, I started this blog as a means to keep talking in an unfiltered, unedited, unrejectable way. Here, I share my perspective, research, and expertise on representations of American Indians in children's books, pop culture, etc. I sought to make it a resource, too, linking to items written by people that I've learned from. In some ways, it is a cyberspace classroom.

This cyberspace classroom allows me to provide reviews and a perspective that I can't give you through the mainstream journals. In some ways, it is a journal.

Last week I asked people to write to me, telling me how they use the things I put here. I learned it is used in college courses, and by librarians, as a selection aide. Authors wrote to me, too, as did editors. If you're among those who wrote, please know that I am deeply grateful. Your words confirm my belief that this is an important undertaking.


Anonymous said...

Interesting. I have been able to give books for HBG low scores for ideological reasons -- although come to think of it, every time I have tried, I have had a back-and-forth with the editors, and when they have finally agreed there has always been an agreement that the book went about proving its ideological point very poorly, and I was otherwise able to review a poorly. I admit that I have been much more generous to books whose ideology I thought was necessary, and have looked much more closely for problems with books which I found incredibly ideologically problematic, but they're always had to be some other reason for giving a poor score to the ideologically problematic books.

Kirkus trusts its reviewers much more.

Phil K said...

A question on a book- The Frog Prince: A Tlingit Legend from Alaska, retold by Eric A Kimmel, illustrated by Rosanne Litzinger. Have folks reviewed this children's book Or generally know about this publication for children.

Debbie Reese said...


I don't have the book. I looked it up and think it is PRINCESS not PRINCE.

Do you have it? Does Kimmell provide a source note?