Review: From Cover to Cover

From Cover to Cover (revised edition): Evaluating and Reviewing Children’s Books by Kathleen T. Horning. HarperCollins. 2010. Personal copy.

It’s About: Evaluating and reviewing children’s books. Lordy, but subtitles make my job easy.

The Good: From Cover to Cover was published in 1997. Thirteen years later, yes, a lot has changed in publishing and children’s publishing, and a revised edition of this classic is both timely and appropriate.

I own the 1997 edition and read it a few years back; I did not do a chapter by chapter comparisons of the differences in the editions. The VOYA review (available online at Barnes & Noble) notes some of the updates. (I’ve blogged about the 1997 edition in What Is That Thing You Do and Shannon Hale Asked Me A Question).

If you are reading and reviewing children’s books — or reading reviews of children’s books — Horning’s book is a valuable, must-own reference book. It breaks down terms and terminology, pointing out what to look at and what to evaluate, using many examples of books and reviews. I’ve seen the posts or tweets asking “what is so and so in a book called”? The answer is here. Horning also addresses the purposes of a review, particularly those found in review journals. So people who wonder “why does a review have x y or z but not a,” the answer is here.

As a blogger, I found Horning’s book invaluable. Most bloggers aren’t professionally trained; we don’t go to a class or school. This type of guidebook, with structure, suggestions, examples, is a great tool to add to one’s professional reference collection. Plus, it’s that great combination of “easy read” and “tremendous depth.” This is not a scary university classroom book, all dense and footnoted with small type. It’s cleanly and simply written — well, the way a review should be. It includes a ton of information, to the point where if you were highlighting or post-it noting the book, it would be covered with yellow and tabs of paper.

For example, what is it a blogger does? It’s helpful to know, both as a blogger and reader of blogs. Is it book evaluation? “Critical assessment of a book“…”in order to formulate an opinion of the book.” A book review is a “formal written expression of the critical assessment.” Also, as Horning explains, reviews are used “to call new books to the attention of potential readers,” and to help in “selecting, classifying and evaluating” books. Criticism is looking at “literature in perspective and places a book in a larger context.” Horning also addresses such issues as how to write about a book without turning into a censor. (Personally? I think book blogs are a little of this, a little of that, with a pinch of uniqueness.) (Edited 9/19/10 to add “about a book”)

As with any type of reference book, bloggers will want to use some parts of the book and leave the rest. For example, Horning notes that in a professional review, your three year old’s response to a book doesn’t matter and it’s better to save that anecdote for a holiday newsletter. It’s true that each three year old is different, so one child may hate a book another loves. If I’m looking to spend a library’s money, I don’t care about the reviewer’s child’s response. However, many blogs serve a purpose other than professional reviews. The child’s reaction may add to the tone and purpose of the blog, helping to create a relationship between blogger and reader. While a blogger should pay attention to what Horning says about sources in books, other parts (such as your child’s response) may be put aside if the purpose of your blog is different than “reviewing” in the way that Horning uses the term.

As noted in the VOYA review (and as is shown by the book subtitle), young adult literature is not covered. So, on the “great books still to be written” list, add a current book about reviewing and evaluating young adult literature.

Horning briefly addresses children’s literature blogs (and, disclaimer, my 2007 School Library Journal article on blogging is included as a source). However, this is a book about reviewing and evaluating children’s books; it is not specifically about children’s lit blogs. So no, there are no lists of blogs or blogging “how to”; and there shouldn’t be in this type of book. If someone wants to write a book about the very unique niche of book blogging (and the even smaller niche of children’s book blogging), go for it.

7 thoughts on “Review: From Cover to Cover

  1. This was a good post for me to read. I write from how I react to literature, as well as how my daughters react to stories on my blog. When I was teaching, I found that I took a personal approach to reacting to literature as well. I guess I didn’t know any other way to do it, plus, I like to bring myself (thoughts, feelings, experiences) into the story. But I think this book would be a good resource for me to read because I have a lot to learn about how to review a book in a professional way.


  2. I think that even if we do retain our own personal voices and opinions, it’s good to know what “professional review” actually is or isn’t. If someone says “you’re not a reviewer” and they mean the types of reviews Horning writes about — well, yes, we’re not that type of reviewer. And that’s OK. And if you want to be that type of reviewer, well, then we know.

    I think I’m a mix, in all honesty: some days very personal, other times very librarianish, sometimes more a critique. One of the things I like about blog reviews is the personal brought to the review.


  3. Even if I tried, I know I could never be Horning’s type of reviewer. I consider myself more of a book talker, spreading the word about children’s books. What I can’t understand is why a child’s response would not matter…ever. Who is the target audience here? When I read other kidlit/mom blogs, I certainly care about the response of the child because more likely than not, my child will have a similar response, especially if both kids are the same age and gender. So, you see, I’m having a little trouble understanding the statement, “If I’m looking to spend a library’s money, I don’t care about the reviewer’s child’s response.”


  4. Janelle, because age & gender alone don’t dictate what children like. As a librarian, I need to see the forest, not the trees, in terms of children. Will most children like this book, not whether one child doesn’t like scary things (or, on the other hand, loves scary things). Will most teens like this book, not whether or not one teen only reads Austen so nothing but classics belongs in the library. Is this book fitting a need because there have been no other books like it recently?

    Now, book talking? Which now isn’t about the books in the library for all but what book for one child? There, I see much more of a value in individual children’s reactions (either what you see in person or learn via blogs). A blog review that says a child likes action and this book works, in that context, is valuable.

    But for spending my town’s money? I cannot rely on one person’s child when spending tens of thousands (or more for bigger systems). And for spending my town’s time, in researching those books? I also cannot justify looking at all those blogs of individual taste versus one reviewer that talks about the book, not the reader.


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