A Year in Review: 2019 Reflections on Reviewing Children’s Books

2019 marks a full year of reviewing books at Baby Librarians. Here are Jen and Margaret’s reflections, and their year in review.

Jen’s Year in Review

We’re apparently at the end of 2019. Somehow. This marks over a year of Baby Librarians, about one full year of receiving review copies of children’s books from publishers, another year of reading aloud almost daily, and hundreds of books read (I read 115 adult books as of 22 December 2019; I didn’t log the children’s books I read but I’m fairly sure I read more children’s books than adult ones). If you count rereads, then I think I read aloud close to 4000 books this year. Maybe 3500. This is what I’ve learnt from my year immersed in children’s books and reading with a toddler.

  1. You can’t trust publishers and blurbs on books that say they are good read-alouds. You probably shouldn’t even trust me when I tell you which books are good read-alouds. The only way to really know for sure is to read it aloud yourself, with your kid, multiple times. That way you can get familiar with the rhythm and pacing, the story and characters, and whether or not your child likes it and will sit through it. Reading aloud the same book multiple times also lets you know how much you like it. Are you still enjoying it the fifth time in a row, or are you reading it with gritted teeth by now?

  2. There are a lot of children’s books published. A lot of them are fantastic, even more of them are just mediocre. I have become very picky about what we buy and what we keep because of limited shelf space. My ultimate criteria for keeping a book is a bit nebulous: does it have that magic? Something a little vague, a little undefinable, but I’ll know it when I see it.

  3. I don’t like books with messages. Overt messages, that is. Basically anything with words like ‘kindness’ or ‘patience’  or ‘brave’ in the title will probably be something I will not like much. Not that these are bad books, or that they shouldn’t be published or written — some of these are very well done and I definitely see their value. But I don’t like them. As soon as a picture book tries to teach me a behaviour or moral, I’m done. Unless it is done in a subtle way, where the story, characters, read-aloudability take the spotlight.

  4. I don’t like made-up words. There are a few exceptions to this. But for the most part, I dislike books that have made-up words or are overly silly. For this reason, I hate Dr Seuss and Sandra Boynton.

  5. I have a bias towards non-American authors. My absolute favourite children’s books writers are from Australia, the UK, and New Zealand (Mem Fox, Julia Donaldson, Lynley Dodd come to mind as my top three as of right now). For some reason, those countries seem to produce books that are less obviously about morals, and the three authors who are my current top three write books that I think epitomise what a good read-aloud book should be.

These lessons are changing what I will be writing for Baby Librarians in 2020. Time will be even more limited next year as we welcome another little baby librarian to the family in April (appropriate, I guess, since Tilly is really more of a Toddler Librarian these days) and I suspect I will be more focused on sleep than anything else. And keeping a toddler and baby alive. So for next year, I won’t be writing long lists or reviews of books that are just good, or good enough. They’ve gotta have that magic. Thanks for reading with us in 2019, and happy reading in 2020! — Jen

Margaret’s Year in Review

Marian and Margaret reading together2019 marks our first full year of reviewing children’s books at Baby Librarians. Jen and I read a similar amount of books–as of December 23rd, I’ve read 120 adult books. I also haven’t kept track of the children’s books I’ve read, but we read somewhere between 5 and 10 a day, so you do the math! In addition to reviewing children’s books here, in the past year I’ve also reviewed children’s books at Book Riot (Jen does as well), The Bronzeville Bee, Think Inclusive, and even StarTrek.com. I write A LOT about children’s books. I also run the Baby Librarian’s Instagram. Here are some reflections, which are quite a bit different than Jen’s!

  1. The best books are found at the library. It doesn’t matter that I request books from publishers, that I worked most of the year in a bookstore with a massive children’s books section, I found almost all of my favorite children’s books from 2019 at the library. Libraries are amazing!
  2. Marian’s joy in reading a book helps me take joy in reading it as well, even if I initially don’t like it. This has happened several times. Sometimes I don’t see value in a book until Marian shows it to me. Children see things differently than I do, and some books weren’t made for adult enjoyment. She’s expanding my reading horizons! This has led me to review books I wouldn’t normally have.
  3. It’s easier to find children’s books I enjoy in genres I don’t specialize in. For example, I specialize in reviewing adult fantasy and fairytale titles. Yet, I find it incredibly difficult to find children’s books in these genres that I love. I’m so picky about these genres! But, reading children’s books has led me to find many picture book biographies I enjoy, as well as stories set in the real world with real-world problems that are quite good. I’m glad I’ve found these!
  4. Children’s books are art. I already knew this, to be honest. I’ve taken a few children’s books classes and that’s always been my opinion! But running the Instagram page has driven this home even more. So much work and creative effort go into creating a book.
  5. It’s hard to get publishers to send me diverse books. I wrote to publishers twice in 2019 requesting more books by diverse creators–authors/illustrators of color, LGBTQ+ creators, disabled creators. Of the 221 children’s books sent to me for review, 59 had at least one creator of color. That’s only 3.7% of the books after I specifically asked for diverse books! That’s the only diversity statistic I kept track of. In 2020, I’ll keep track of more; however, it’s much more difficult to keep track of sexuality and disability. This is extremely annoying, and I’m not sure it’s worth the time to write publicists for children’s books. I stand by my commitment to amplifying diverse children’s book creators, and that will not stop. There are several reasons why this number could be low: 1. Publishers aren’t publishing very many books by diverse creators (stats show this to be true, but not to such an extent as my numbers show). 2. Publishers aren’t spending the same amount of money marketing diverse books; thus, there aren’t as many review copies to send out to reviewers like me. 3. I’m not important enough to receive books I request.
  6. Halloween books are awesome! There are so many more good Halloween books compared to all the other holidays!

I now work between 30 and 40 hours a week, so I will have to somewhat lessen the amount of time I spend on Baby Librarians in 2020. I still plan to write once a week and post daily on Instagram. Unlike Jen, I enjoy making lists, though they do take longer! In 2020, I aim to write a list, a review, a roundup of recent releases, and a roundup of children’s book news a month. The news posts will be something new we do here. I may turn it into a newsletter; we’ll see! It all depends on time. –Margaret

Thanks so much for taking this journey with us!

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