Stacked in Our Favor

Thoughts about libraries, education, children's literature, writing, art and being connected

Friday, October 1, 2010

Reviewing Style

It has been a joy this week to watch people come to the library to review the books. The conversation that happens when people find a book they love, or hate, is unstoppable. You can see the feelings bursting out, needing to be shared.

The way that individuals are going about the process is fascinating to me. No two people seem to approach it alike. The Caldecott Manual’s sample form has a place to check off which publications have reviewed the book. So I decided to provide the reviews of each material. Some people don’t want to read the reviews at all. They are just checking off the boxes. Others want to  read them to see what they missed. One of my colleagues, who was unsure of her own knowledge, is scanning the reviews to glean vocabulary to expand her reviewing skills. She does this BEFORE she looks at the book.

This blew my mind. Most of us are creatures of habit. We get so used to doing it our way that it is hard to see any other possibility. I approach reviewing books like I do film adaptations of books. Before I see the film I must read the book. I will pass on an intriguing film if I haven’t had time to read through. Why? I feel that visual images are so strong they will dominate. At least that is the way it is for me. I need to read the book and conjure up my own mental picture of the characters, the scenery and all the details. If I do this first, my character can live very nicely in harmony with the filmmaker’s vision. In fact, my characters can sometimes be strong enough to banish the filmmaker’s vision. If I see the movie first, it’s all over. The filmmaker will intrude and ultimately win.

So when I look at a new book, I don’t want to know what someone else is thinking. I need to find out for myself. I need to be clear of someone else’s critical eye. They may be much more knowledgeable than I, but I want the opportunity to make my own observations and my own mistakes first. After that, I like to look at the reviews. It’s sort of like trying to do that crossword puzzle before peeking at the answers.

Seeing my colleague dive into the reviews first astounded me. I found I had to hold myself back from running over and correcting her. The big lesson for me here is to see how many ways there are to do this thing. My colleague is not having any trouble coming up with insights of her own. Nor is she having trouble in expressing them or defending them.

One day I returned to the library after doing an errand to find three participants huddled over a book. The idea of reading a book that way for review purposes would never have occurred to me. Each of them added a different perspective to the viewing. While we will discuss and expand our own visions, this group was doing it immediately. It was interesting to watch.

Personally, I feel like an old dog. I don’t feel much like veering from my way of reviewing the book first, by myself, before letting someone else’s voice get in my head. I’m finding it hard to do as people review books I haven’t gotten to yet. They have enthusiasm or distain to share and I want to be there to share it. So I’ll have to find a way to allow myself to grow along with the process. 

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