Saturday, September 02, 2006

Last of the striped pajamas

Late yesterday afternoon I checked my bloglines account to see what was new. Aside from missing Blog Day 2006, what filled me with some anticipation was seeing Read Roger had posted the September/October Horn Book issue was out. Because I snagged Booklist and School Library Journal as first to see, we get to tag journals as "first see" and get them before they hit the regular stacks, I am second in line to view Horn Book Magazine. I look forward to seeing the online samples of book reviews and am glad when Roger posts on his blog they are available. Two things were linked from the post that were of particular interest to me; an article titled Stars that explains the enigma of Horn Book Magazine starred reviews, and Roger's review of The boy in the striped pajamas (it's the second review, scroll down).

First things first, since working on a children's book review blog for the library and resource center I have been doing research on the process of reviewing books. While in grad school we were required to write book reviews weekly, bless Dr. Kimmel, and I had forgotten how difficult the process can be. The journal articles I found were rather dated. This article will be joining the bibliography amassed for the blog. Secondly, one of the children's literature professors was thrilled to be able to get Horn Book Magazine's for his class to use when evaluating books for a specific assignment. He will be thrilled with this article as well and I'm sending along the link.

I was anxiously awaiting his book review and was not disappointed. In part it reads:

"For both its plot and emotional impact, the novel depends completely on readers’ acceptance of Bruno’s naiveté (often telegraphed by the phrase “his mouth made the shape of an O”) as well as their belief (or at least suspended disbelief) in a fictional world poised between fable and realism, each of which compromises the other. If Auschwitz is the metaphor, what’s the real story?" - Roger Sutton, Horn Book

The review ties in nicely with the discussion in his article Stars. Collection development of children's literature is a large part of my job. It is a task taken seriously since not only do the children's literature professors use titles for classroom instruction, but also because what I buy may find it's way into a classroom and read to students by students. While I rely on professional reviews to make individual purchases, nothing takes the place of reading a title myself and knowing if it fits in with the curriculum I am supporting. It's a conundrum. There is no feasible way for me to read every book before purchase, hence review resources. Not every professional review is one I agree with after reading the book.

My raving about the pajama book aside, it has definitely illustrated to me the necessity of remembering collection development is an art and not a science. There are going to be a few dud purchases, that is why we weed collections. There are going to be books I waffle about adding to the collection, that is why I am lucky to have access to databases containing professional journals with review resources. I have been reminded of the importance of reading reviews critically when choosing books for the juvenile collection.

Update: 9/10/06

I promised not to blog about this book again, so instead of a new entry I am adding an update. This afternoon I am doing collection development for the juvenile collection using School Library Journal as my review resource. Along with Booklist, Book Links, and Horn Book Magazine, SLJ is one of my primary journals for book reviews. With my list of ISBN's on the table, I had just moved into the grades 5 & up catagory and what to my surprise did I see but a starred review for the pajamas. A well written review that includes a professional opinion, I beg to disagree with her conclusion and am a bit horrified by the star it was given. In a quest to be fair and provide another viewpoint, here is an exerpt from the review:

"His combination of strong characterization and simple, honest narrative make this powerful and memorable tale a unique addition to Holocaust literature for those who already have some knowledge of Hitler's 'Final Solution.'" - S. Scheps, SLJ Reviews, p. 202, Sept. 2006

I now have three different professional reviews on this book; Booklist (wishy-washy), Horn Book Magazine (not positive), and School Library Journal (starred). Not surprisingly, I am most pleased with the one I agree with.

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