At KidLitCon in Seattle a couple weekends ago, there was a session on reviewing critically, and lots of discussion about how a critical review is not necessarily a negative review.
But then a statement about reviewing critically on the Cybils site, and a comment about book recommendations vs. critical book reviews in an excellent wrap-up article had me feeling a little bit defensive. I do only review books I like. But I maintain that by no means disqualifies me from calling them “reviews.” Yes, I’m writing recommendations, but I try to tell the reader why I liked the book.
The word that came to mind was “flavor.” I want to give my readers enough information for them to figure out if they will like the book I’m reviewing. I want to give them the flavor of the book, so they know if that’s what they are in the mood for. This is why I so often include quotations from the books I review. Then my readers can “hear” the voice the author is using and see if it appeals to them. I want people to get a feel for the book.
As a librarian, my mantra is “every book for its reader.” I don’t like to write negative reviews, since I don’t want to imply judgment of the person who enjoys that sort of book. Now, I do think that every book I review on my site has some level of excellence. (And believe it or not, despite my volume of reviews, there are some books that I read but don’t review because I don’t really recommend them.) But I want to give you enough information about the book so you can decide if it is right for you at this particular time.
Mind you, judging for an award is quite different. I enjoy the Heavy Medal blog very much, which discusses potential Newbery books, and love debating in the comments the strengths and weaknesses of the books they mention. That’s a different kind of critical thinking. After all, choosing a book for an award requires different information and different discussion than telling a friend this is a good book and I think you might enjoy it; here’s what it’s like.
To me, it’s the difference between telling someone the flavor of a cookie or critically evaluating the skill with which the cookie was made. Both are a lot of fun, and I very much hope I’ll get to be on an award committee some day. But on this blog, I’m trying to let you know all the wonderful flavors that are out there.