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Tuesday, October 15, 2013

When Reviews Are Wrong

Librarians read reviews to learn about new books. Most use those reviews to select the titles to be purchased for their library collections. They rely on reviews in reputable sources to provide honest assessments of books. Some librarians, like me, go beyond the reviews, using them as tools, as one perspective about books. Only after reading books myself do I make a collection addition decision. Though I review books here (and at various speaking engagements) and can hardly stop myself from sharing oral reviews in bookshops, I have not attempted to become a reviewer for one of the national review publications. But I have been tempted. Especially when reviewers completely misunderstand or misrepresent books in their reviews. 

Take a recent SLJ review of David LaRochelle's Arlo's ARTrageous Adventure. The reviewer wrongly claims that "the art in the book is based on the unfortunate premise that art museums are stuffy and boring." The reviewer goes on to claim that kids will believe the artwork comes alive just for Arlo. It ends with the suggestion that readers who understand the myth that culture is boring are the best audience for the book, rather than tainting the enthusiastic minds of those unexposed to that idea. The reviewer did not understand the book at all!

David LaRochelle noted this in a recent interview: “The book is a reflection that there are lots of ways to approach art. It doesn’t have to be a serious chore; it can be a joyful experience.” He spent many hours at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts while making the art for the book. The intention was clearly not to perpetuate a myth about boring culture but to encourage readers to marvel at art, to wonder about those who create art, to view ourselves and our world with open eyes. I have yet to share this book with a child who believed art to be boring. Readers young and old love the idea that Arlo's grandmother appears to be an art expert, yet her pronouncements are quickly turned around by the artwork and the boy's imagination. I hope readers of the review will go beyond the reviewers wrong assessment and get this book in the hands of all readers.


  1. Reviewers hold a lot of power and I agree, sometimes they are sloppy readers. Maybe they should all be required to read a book to students in a library before writing the review!

  2. We need more reviewers like you, Jewel. I think authors & illustrators who publish have such courage.
    Will you be writing a response to the review in SLJ?

  3. Thank you for such a kind antidote to a less-than-flattering review! One of the things that I've had to learn as a published author is that not everyone will like what I create, or interpret it in the way that I had hoped. It can be frustrating and discouraging, especially when reviewers hold so much power, but everyone is entitled to his or her opinion. I'm glad that YOU took away from the book what I was hoping readers would!