Throughout the time I have been reviewing books, I have had this simple question posed to me in many forms. “How do you write a decent review of a children’s title when in many of these books there is very little substance?” This is a good question and I would like to take a moment to answer it to the best of my ability.
The simplest answer I can give, is to write the review the same way you would any other book you read. Just because the book is smaller than others or does not have a complex plot, does not mean you need to treat it much differently. Here are some basic rules for writing an outstanding and complete review of a children’s book.
1. Read the book from cover to cover, noting the things you like about it either mentally or on a notepad. If there is something that you don’t like about it, be sure to take note of that as well.
2. If you can’t think of much to say about it, ask an expert. If you are reviewing a kid’s book and you happen to have a child of the proper age group nearby, ask them to read it (or read it to them) and ask them what they liked and didn’t like about it. Sometimes when I ask my children for their opinion on something it truly surprises me what they come up with. They can point out both likes and dislikes that as an adult, I may never have thought of. I mean, if you owned a company that sold hearing aids for elderly people would you ask a preschool teacher to distribute them to her students for an opinion? Sometimes us worldly and all-knowing adults come up empty handed when it comes to the world of children. Kids are honest and reviews should be as well.
3. When you begin to write your review, here are some things you might want to include:
What age group is this book going to appeal to. There are some books out there that will appeal to all ages and genders, but many of them are intended for a specific audience. If the book claims it is for ages 4-8, but you found it was either too advanced or not advanced enough to hold the attention of a child that age, say so.
When stating what you liked about the book, try to stay away from the old standards like “this book was fun because it had cute pictures.” Get a little creative. “The vibrant, colorful images in this book fill the pages completely and keep the child’s attention as you read.”
Be sure to include whether this book would appeal to one gender more than another. You may also want to include the length of the book. Can it be read in so short of a time span that you have to read it a couple of times for the child to be satisfied, or is once enough?
I always try to state what I think the book would be good for. Would it make a good bedtime story or a good book to read on a trip or whatever my opinion is about that usefulness of particular title.
You may want to include in your review if the book has any educational qualities. Does it help the child learn or reinforce a special lesson of some kind? Will it help them learn a new skill such as math or a foreign language?
Just because a book is not lengthy, does not mean there is nothing to be said about it. Did the book have a plot and were you able to follow it from beginning to end?
Can a child relate to any of the characters that are featured in the book? Were the characters likable or not and why.
When closing your review, be sure to include your opinion of the overall book. Did it reach the audience it claimed to? Did you feel it would be a nice gift for a child or worthwhile for them to add to their library and would you recommend the book?
4. When you write the review, do not be afraid to be honest. Just because you are reviewing a children’s book does not mean you are reviewing a child. As reviewers, our duty is to help the buyer make an informed decision. If you do not believe that a book would be good for a child of a certain age or if you do not feel it would be good for children at all, then say so. The author may not always be happy with the review or the reviewer, but if they have published a book, eventually they will have to face that someone, somewhere is not going to love their work. I always try to give a good reason for my rating of a book. If I liked it or if I didn’t or if I was neutral, I make sure to list the reasons why the book affected me the way it did.
5. stick with your opinion. On very rare occasions, I have had an author contact me who had updated a book I previously gave a low star rating, (usually for grammar and spelling errors) and asked me to read it again. This I will agree to. If I feel the new version warrants it, I will upgrade the stars if the errors have since been corrected. Never, under any circumstances, have I ever gotten a nasty note from one of the authors who were unhappy with my review and agreed to change my rating of the book. You have a right to your opinion. No matter what anyone else thinks, you have a right to express how you feel about a product you have had experience with. Just because the book is written for children does not guarantee it will be deserving of five stars and praise.
I hope this was helpful to those of you who were pondering this question. Happy holidays everyone and keep on reading!