On Finding Good Books

Is This What It’s Like?

bookshelfYou want your child to enjoy reading and you only want books that are genuinely good, and that he will *also* like. Because the real gems are buried among too many duds, you wish you could spend the time to get a better idea of a book before you buy it.

At book stores you look at cover descriptions, read a few lines and scan the illustrations, hoping to get a feel for the stories. On Internet sites it’s the same thing but harder. Some offer reviews, but only the good points are mentioned —to help the book sell. On other sites *anyone* can write a review, so there is no consistency. You waste time reading reviews that conflict with each other, have some unclear bias or tell you nothing significant. Always, there are too many books, and not enough information.

So you settle for a well known title or a knock-off from a TV show your child likes. Perhaps you choose one you remember you once enjoyed. But do you really know if your childhood appreciation was wise, or suits your child (consider our Jack and The Beanstalk review)?

VM offers consistency through definite standards and a systematic reviewing process that enables a reliable rating system. Our reviews then tell you about the main ideas in the book, and those that most explain its score.

How VM Scores Books

troikaTo be fair to the whole book, we consider its overall combination of Story, Ideas and Craft —a Literary Troika, named after the legendary Russian three-horse team. The reasoning for the Literary Troika is provided in VM‘s Literary Elements.

Each book is scored as a teacher might grade an essay: a numerical judgment is credited towards each aspect required for the assignment. In VM’s view, a book is scored for how it shows children good ideas through entertaining action. VM‘s Scoring Schematic displays the main aspects that contribute to the overall score. For Discovery works (non-Fiction) the scoring procedure is modified to emphasize Content rather than Story.

VM Review Statements

VM provides up to three statements about each book, when possible and warranted. All three are available on a book’s display page; the first two only appear on Search Result pages.

Plot-Theme Statement – the one essential action of the plot that establishes the theme. If a plot or theme is absent we attempt an approximation. For Discovery books this will be a Subject-Theme Statement.

Brief Review – provides brief explanation for the books score.

Long Review – addresses the major successes, or failures of works scoring above 65/100 or works that are well known perhaps because of the author’s other successes.

VM Plot Spoilers

Reviewers of adult works carefully avoid plot spoilers. As parents, VM‘s reviewers see the purchase of a children’s book as an investment for their child. The reviewers understand that you need to know what the book offers before you pay for it. For this reason, VM will use plot spoilers if it is necessary to reveal the nature of the book!

Scoring Issues

You may think a book has been misjudged, when compared to another of the same type. If the difference is small (<10 points on our ordinal scale) they may not be that different. If you are uncomfortable over a larger difference, compare the book in question with other books that have the score you expected it to get. You may find your first reaction was to a particular good or bad feature. VM reviewers have to consider that feature along with the other literary elements —further explained at VM‘s Literary Elements. They also may note things in the book that are incompatible with our principal purpose —see ”Reading and the Growing Mind“. Also, in our concern for how a story influences a child’s thinking we also consider the following (issue):

  • Is there a positive overall theme the child will explicitly see or implicitly sense is important?
  • Do its facts involve the child by showing him their consequences to his life? (relevance)
  • Is the book a good example of how ideas should develop and flow? (rationality)
  • Does it lead to a new understanding the child can judge for himself? (intellectual growth)
  • Are there contradictions to the theme (a contrivance or misplaced fantasy element)?
  • Does it distinguish, in context, between the real and the unreal? (honesty)
  • Does it substitute pictures and info-bits (factoids) for logic? (pragmatic & unprincipled)
  • Does the author misconstrue fact and logic to convince his readers? (casuistry)
  • Does it show the reader or just tell him what to think? (instructive vs. didactic)
  • Is the book preachy or activist?
  • Does it directly or indirectly promote sensible personal action?
  • Will it further his interest in books and reading?

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