The Art of the Book Review: School Library Journal staff and reviewers discuss the review process
One of the main talking points you’ll see again and again when it comes to fighting book challenges is that you should be able to back up any purchase you make with your collection development policy. Many collection development policies cite professional review sources as one of the major ways library staff find quality materials to add to their collection. For library staff that work with youth, School Library Journal (SLJ) is a go-to professional review source. That’s why SLJ put together the webinar: From Book Submission to SLJ Star: Insight on the School Library Journal review process to explain what goes into their reviews. For this webinar Shelly Diaz, Reviews Editor for School Library Journal, is joined by Mahnaz Dar, Senior Editor, Professional Reading & Reference for SLJ, Ashley Leffel a middle school librarian and reviewer for SLJ, and Kiera Parrott, former Reviews Director for SLJ and LJ. Diaz explained in the intro to the webinar that the reason SLJ created this presentation is because of the question librarians were coming to them with about the SLJ review process, either because these librarians were actively dealing with a challenge or feared a challenge might happen in their community. She goes on to say that she hopes the information in the webinar will help teachers and librarians defend their students’ right to read. The webinar outlines the basics of what goes into creating reviews for SLJ, like who writes for SLJ and how they write their reviews including a strong verdict statement. They also spend a lot of time discussing an aspect of the review process that is the most important when it comes to using reviews to defend titles and your students/patrons right to read them, which is how SLJ assigns grade levels to titles.
A question submitted by a librarian to SLJ addressed in the webinar is how does SLJ determine what is YA and what is middle grade or whether SLJ uses grade level determinations created by publishers. Presenter Keira Parrott describes determining grade level as “more of an art then a science” and that SLJ does not use a checklist or rubric to assign grade level recommendations to titles. The factors SLJ uses to determine grade level include age of the protagonists, the plot, and the complexity of the text in addition to content. Parrott also notes that they do not use the publishers recommended grade levels in their reviews, since those grade levels are assigned by marketing teams to sell the title to the widest audience possible. She then goes on to explain that when providing information about mature content in titles, there is a difference between sexual content and character’s idenities. The example she uses is that it may be worth mentioning that their are graphic depictions of sex in a title in a review so that collectors can make informed choices about what they’re buying and where it should go in their libraries, but if a character just happens to be LGBTQ that may or may not be relevance depending on the plot of the title. Another presenter Mahnaz Dar makes that point of the importance of being value neutral when mentioning mature content in reviews, stating that the goal is to inform readers about what takes place in the book and in what context not to tell them how to feel about it.
You can watch the full presentation below:
Tayla Cardillo is the Branch Librarian of the Oak Lawn Branch Library in Cranston, RI. Before her current position she was a YA librarian. She completed her MLIS at the University of Rhode Island and her B.A. in English at Rhode Island College. Tayla has known that she wanted to be a librarian since she was 17 years old. When not doing library wizardry, she enjoys playing tabletop games and cosplaying.