Part One: Tools of the Trade
The Horn Book Magazine
A bi-monthly journal specifically dedicated to youth literature, from picture books to YA. While the magazine does feature articles, a good portion of every issue is given to book reviews, which are written by a staff of in-house reviewers. The reviews are well-balanced and extremely comprehensive, touching on the text, illustrations and sociological aspects of a book without relying heavily on summary. Organized chronologically by age level and genre, from picture books to fiction and non-fiction for older readers, the books reviewed for the magazine are evaluated prior to being assigned for review, meaning that if a book is reviewed in The Horn Book Magazine, it already meets a certain basic standard. Analysis trumps summary in Horn Book reviews, the contents of which are thorough, incisive and insightfully written. The overall impression is that The Horn Book Magazine is concerned with the books themselves, not with providing publishers with marketing copy.
The School Library Journal
Like The Horn Book Magazine, The School Library Journal is dedicated specifically to youth literature, from picture books to YA. The reviews are shorter than those in The Horn Book, with slightly less depth of analysis and coverage. Still, after a brief summary / description, most reviews focus on the analysis of the story, illustration and boards, with special attention given to a book’s social contextualization. The reviews tend to be friendly in tone, written not by in-house professional reviewers, but by librarians all over the country. This gives the reviews a practical, real-world focus, which makes them very accessible to other librarians, parents and teachers, if not as uniformly polished and detailed as the reviews in The Horn Book.
The Kirkus Reviews
The Kirkus Review is both on online and print publication. Unlike The Horn Book Magazine and The School Library Journal, The Kirkus Review evaluates both adult and children’s materials. Though is does not specialize in youth literature, it’s picture book reviews are thorough and well-informed. Reviews are shorter, like The School Library Journal’s, and they do contain a bit more summary on average than reviews in the two publications above. However, the descriptive aspects are balanced by quality analysis of a title’s prose and illustrations. The Kirkus Review also contextualizes titles by theme – for example, “naptime”, “new baby”, “series” etc. While the analysis is not as expertly in-depth as The Horn Book’s it is a good, trustworthy starting place that doesn’t give children’s books short-shrift. In addition, the website provides read-a-like suggestions and links to related reviews, making it a great selection tool, as well as a review source.
PBS Teachers – Recommended Books and Links
Recommended Books and Links is a PBS website that publishes a new selection of books and websites for teachers and librarians every month. The website includes reviews of the recommended books and sites, which span across grade levels from pre-school to high school, and subjects from reading to science. The website also includes a searchable archive of over 2,500 recommendation and reviews. The names and qualifications of the two reviewers are posted on the site’s homepage, along with the detailed criteria with which books and websites are chosen for review. The site allows for searching by subject area, and it also provides standards-based resources, making it a comprehensive tool for school librarians, as well as children’s librarians concerned with supporting the local curriculum. While the reviews are extremely short and lack detail, the site is a good place to start when looking for new or overlooked titles.
The Teacher Book Wizard by Scholastic
The Teacher Book Wizard is a tool that allows you to search for books by a number of criteria, including grade level, reading level and genre. The site also provides booktalks, videos, book trailers and discussion guides for its over 50,000 titles. Like The Kirkus Review’s website, The Teacher Book Wizard offers help with read-a-likes. In this case, it uses an engine that generates like titles based on adjustable reading levels. Unlike the websites and journals listed above, The Teacher Book Wizard does not provide reviews. Rather, it offers a brief summary of a title and information on the book’s genre and theme. The least comprehensive of all of the tools listed, The Teacher Book Wizard makes up in breadth for what it lacks in depth, making it a good place to start one’s search for age-appropriate titles.