Thursday, October 27, 2011

COSCBWI October Meeting: Choosing The "Best Of" Books

My goodness, this month is just flying by!  Our COSCBWI October meeting featured a great chat on how "The Best Of ___" books are chosen with librarian Claudia Fett.  Claudia works in the Upper Arlington school district and spends her days instilling a love of reading in kids.  Outside of the school day, she reads mountains of books to keep up with what's on the market and to help her decide what she should acquire for her library (and ultimately share with her students!)  With so many books out there--and more being added constantly--Claudia says she often relies on reviews and awards to help her choose what books to pick up.  Some of the reviewers and organizations Claudia recommended checking out include the Horn Book Magazine, NY Times Reviews, School Library Journal and any websites with starred reviews.  But how do books get chosen as the pick of the litter?
The "best" books are, of course, subjective to opinion.  But a fair assessment includes a panel of multiple readers who follow a list of criteria in order to bestow the title of "best" on a certain book.  Claudia has experimented with this process with her students, giving them the opportunity to determine their own "Best Books of 2011."  She compiled criteria from various committees and reviewers, creating a list her students could use when rating books.  The criteria varies from committee to committee and reviewer to reviewer, but most are generally objective observations including originality, readability, quality, and kid-appeal.
Claudia gave us a taste of being the book reviewer by handing out books and asking us to judge them based on the criteria her students used to evaluate picture books.  The criteria list included aspects such as, "Do the pictures match the words?" and "Do you want to read this again and again?"  I choose a humorous little book called, "The Runaway Wok" by Ying Chang Compestine.  In it, a poor boy buys an old, beat-up wok on Chinese New Year, unaware the wok is magical and will dupe the royal family into giving the less-fortunate one heck of a feast.  The illustrations were detailed, funny, and adorable--and who can resist a mischievously grinning wok?  I gave the book 4 out of 5 stars, rating it high in terms of art, content and originality, but lower in re-readability.  (It was a little dense, so I couldn't say I was raring to read every single word over and over again!)  It was interesting to evaluate the book with a list of criteria.  Usually, I can judge a book however I darn well please.  But with certain aspects chosen for me to look at, I felt I was forced to give a more objective review.  This activity was great for emphasizing how important specific criteria is for funneling subjective opinions into as-fair-as-possible judgments.  Criteria lists certainly make you focus more on what's on the page rather than what opinions and preferences/biases you already have in your head!
Because librarians are so intimate with books and children, it was wonderful to hear Claudia's input on the literary world.  Librarians are "in-the-know" for what books are missing from the market, too, and what books she's dying to have in her library.  Shhh...I'll spill the secret on what she'd like to see, but it's just between you and me, okay?  ;)  Claudia says that in her opinion, the market is in dire need of kid-friendly, non-fiction books on plants, amphibians, invertebrates, and unlikely friendships.  So, if you happen to feel like writing a book on sequoia trees or have a passion for newts and octopi, the time may be ripe for you to pounce on those publishers!
I hope to see you at our next meeting featuring the lovely author of East, Edith Pattou!  (And in case you've been wondering where I scampered off to the past week or so, well, let's just say I've been a little busy with a special project.  But I can show you what I've been up to in just a few more days!) 

Note: Cover art of The Runaway Wok is from Amazon.  You should check out the book--it's adorable AND makes you want to go get some Lo Mein!

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