Friday, 14 March 2014


When you have a book published, your heart slips into an anxious state, especially with a book that really matters to you.  If your book is a “big book” – a title that the publishers have high hopes for, based on your name and previous sales -  you may possibly be involved with publicity events, bookshop visits, parties, celebrations and prizes. All gloriously outgoing, in their way. Enjoy your moment.

However, some responses arrive more quietly: welcome to the written world of Children’s Book Reviews. 

There was a time when paid-for articles by known and knowledgeable reviewers appeared in newspapers and magazines. I recall a full-old-page TES piece by Anne Fine excoriating a Melvin Burgess book, which all agreed did wonders for the sales. Those generous and thoughtful page-spaces have largely disappeared. Now reviews have a far smaller word count, some as low as 50 words a title. Smaller specialist magazines and quarterly journals do exist – I’d be glad to hear of any good titles in the comments -  but reviews and reviewers seem to be moving on line. 

 Many of the current book-blogs are excellent - let me know your favourites and/or try out the blogs in the ABBA sidebar - but this open pasture does mean that anyone, of any age or experience can join in. I’ve seen such reviews on Amazon and – rather oddly - within some of the Guardian children’s book section links, and despaired.

This “everyone-a-reviewer” world has brought forth strange creatures: adults who trash a title because their toddler hasn’t enjoyed a book written for significantly older children; fundamental moralists calling foul and filth; people who don’t feel the need to read the whole book first, and even children and teens trying out the power of their own critical voice.

It's tough, Harsh words do sting the author, even when they aren't deserved. Sometimes it’s best not to look at reviews at all. I can’t be alone in having the slightly critical phrases seared across my memory, no matter who said them, whilst the kind, hopeful and encouraging praise is almost all forgotten? 

One should feel glad to be noticed, of course. It might not happen. There can just be the Big Silence.

Maybe your book doesn’t fit easily into review categories? Maybe every space is taken up by the same “big” titles reviewed everywhere? 

If you wrote a series for seven or eight year olds, you might have had no reviews. Such small books are rarely important enough for reviews,no matter that children might love them. And back before the rise of the Roald Dahl Funny Prize, funny books were rarely reviewed either. Some of this is changing, slowly.

Another awkward thing was that once a book – your book!- had had its span of publicity and reviews, that title was rarely mentioned again.  The book seemed to be sent to the Quiet Corner, along with you, the author. No more time to make an exhibition of yourself.  That’s done.

So this is why, when An Awfully Big Blog Adventure had been running a while, we tried to encourage more Book Reviews by setting up an Awfully Big Review section.

Every four days, a new review appears, written by one of the ABR review team. They all have experience in books and children’s literature, or bookselling, or writing, or working with children or all, and more. Our ABR reviews are about books we’ve chosen, and titles we’d like to share with people - adults or children - as appropriate. While we may have a quibble now and again, we don’t do negative reviews. Better to celebrate the good books!

ABR isn’t exclusive, either. The titles aren’t just by members of the Scattered Authors Society. Our chosen books are usually personal copies, rather than free proof copies arriving in publisher’s jiffy-bags, pre-publication. So you might find titles that have already have been published, may even be in paperback, may even be - sssh!- a little “older.” Yes, already published books getting another friendly moment in the sun - and that’s a good thing.

ABR reviews are wide in their scope. We review titles for all ages, including adult books, although personally I’d love to have more picture books and books for young & mid KS2 readers. People chose their own review style too, so the pieces range from the quietly formal to someone enthusing about sharing a picture book with young children, and the word-length is only limited by what works on the blog-page. Variety can be a good thing.

Ooops. I forgot. ABR does, currently, have only one rule. A title, no matter how grand or good, gets only one chance of a review. Why? Because Awfully Big Reviews wants to leave room for as many books as possible, to share the good news..

So, if you haven’t already done so, please do click on Awfully Big Reviews button – top left hand of the blog page - and see what’s over there right now. Not forgetting huge thanks to all the generous ABR reviewers too! Happy reading!

Penny Dolan


Sue Purkiss said...

Very interesting summing-up of what's happened to reviews, Penny - thank you!

Joan Lennon said...

So true about the relative volume - and memorable-ness - of scorn and praise. And thank you, Awfully Big Reviews, for the good work you do!

Pippa Goodhart said...

I am going to send you all to my review of Penny's wonderful book, A Boy Called M.O.U.S.E, because I want to make the point that the opportunity to make comments on a review add to it too. So read including the comments, and then remember to give your own views of books in the comments part of other reviews. They all help to build-up a really useful overall view of a book.

Penny Dolan said...

Thanks, Pippa - not for the personal book mention although smiley thanks for those nice words too. Comments on reviews are most welcome.

But just an extra click through to read the reviews will do!

Pauline Chandler said...

Such an encouraging piece, Penny, reminding me of why I love being an ABBA reviewer, simply to celebrate and spread the word about good books. Thank you!

Sue Bursztynski said...

I feel your pain, Penny! What you say is true. And these days, it isn't only ABBA that gives only one chance of a review. If you're part of a series of non fiction children's books, when te publisher decides to shut down the series, your book is gone forever. One of my books sold out but I never got a cent in royalties because most copies went through Book Club. It's now POD, but if people don't see it in the shops or read reviews, hw do they know it's available? So, it won't get more reviews because nobody knows it's there and nobody knows it's there because it's not getting reviews! I will certainly check out your button. I may have to send your reviewers a copy myself because nothing of mine is currently available in England.

madwippitt said...

Lovely blog Penny! Which is worse - the big silence or the snippy review? Still trying to decide!