The scoring approach at VM is similar to that used by teachers marking essays. The reviewers look for and score specific understandings and skills as expressed and demonstrated in each book.
You may think Scoring is too rigid?
The entire publishing industry and award granting organizations rely only on the general experience & philosophical views of whichever editor, reviewer, or review panel, they enlist. Even the most credentialed reviewer will have interests that influence his evaluations in a completely unstructured way. He or she will often have a particular interest in certain cultural issues, such as multiculturalism, racial diversity, feminism, environmentalism, terrorism, Third World poverty, commercialism, or anti-corporatism, & so on. A reviewer, harboring anger over the last three in the list, may laud an otherwise terrible book because it revolves around, say, the poverty of a Colombian family of coffee pickers. One need only see Customer Reviews on other sites, to see how dramatically inconsistent judgments can be. Finally, there are those interested in the profit to be had by appealing to the lowest common denominator, e.g. Walter the Farting Dog or Richard Was a Picker.
Can Scoring be Sensible?
The schematic below provides a (simplified) example of specific literary elements that VM considers. The approach, roughly speaking, depends on a three level hierarchy. The three abstract elements in the inner ‘ring’ are ‘put together’ by the author by way of his use of the more concrete elements shown in the two concentric rings that surround it. (Many possible cross links have been omitted deliberately.) Think of an aspect of interest and see how it fits in or follow the example below.
E.g., consider an outermost element: —look at the 1 o’clock position & note the sample path of red arrows from Conflict into Story. How the author develops a Story requires the protagonist be in some Conflict. How the Conflict plays out is a function of the consequences of the opposing ideas. The opposing ideas produce alternate possibilities that generate the Suspense. In a well crafted story, two or more conflicting ideas are resolved in the Climax. The events of the Plot progress to the Climax according to the logic of the author’s ideas. (Often an author distorts that logic, to ensure a pet idea shines, when perhaps it should not.) When the events come together well, we have a good Story! (There are also influences between the Ideas the author presumes are part of the Theme and the ideas the author presumes will drive the Plot to make the Story.)
The schematic shows how Story, Ideas & Craft are tied together to form a team (or Troika), with Ideas as the central guide. Each of the three is judged in a consistent manner, as to how it performs and contributes to the whole. VM assigns a numeric (sub)score to the middle-ring elements, based on how well or poorly the outer terms function towards the overall experience the book provides.
Although the highest possible score is one hundred points, scores are not percents*.
Literary elements are not of equal importance to your child, nor to you. An awesome Plot should not outweigh a Theme that makes theft appear acceptable, see Jack & the Beanstalk! Theme needs to be more heavily weighted, i.e. given more importance, than plot. Since your child grows with Ideas, VM sub-scores for elements dealing with Ideas account for nearly half the total score of a book.
(There are many books that have historic, cultural value or educational value and can be useful for a child to learn of the existence and nature of bad ideas. We try to point them out, often suggesting they be offered to an older age group than is usually suggested.)
Of course, the ValuedMinds scoring approach cannot wholly eliminate personal subjectivity, but it does constrain it. Its consistency is designed to not depend on only one reviewer. The scoring method structures a reviewer’s judgment so it can work across a wide range of fiction, and non-fiction. That said, any given score should perhaps be seen as being ±4, not as some absolute decree. Look at some books you already know, and ask if they deserve their scores relative to each other.
The forgoing all sounds very dry, but stories that teach with humor are often good for the ideas they show, and can score quite well. Consider Parts, by Tedd Arnold, with its score of 92.
What About Non-Fiction?
The evaluation of Non-Fiction, here re-named “Discovery“, requires a different scoring approach, e.g. possible points for plot vanish & points for theme diminish, whilst factual development and rational interpretation expands considerably.
Why Discovery? The term Non-fiction is perhaps the most widely occurring example of the error of defining by a negative, of defining something by what it is not. It is quite up-side-down for literature that is specifically about the real world to be vaguely defined as “not fiction”**. Just as one should judge a child by what he is, rather than what he is not, Discovery works should be judged by what they are, a way for the reader to Discover the World through another’s experiences and knowledge.
Time and Timelessness
You do not like to waste your time with useless reading, nor would your child if he had the knowledge to judge. If a book is worth keeping on your shelf, it scores 75/100 or better. Twenty years later, your child will still enjoy showing it to a friend, or just re-reading it & remembering what it showed, and the time spent with you, in a ‘real book’. Twenty years from now your child will remember reading as something that encouraged happy achievement rather than silly crudeness. Allowing leeway for scoring and for individual interest ValuedMinds sells books scoring over 65/100, but not less —your child’s mind deserves better.
* VM scoring is a Rank or Ordinal system, in the sense that X is more than Y, or a captain is higher than lieutenant. They do not allow one to say, “5 is two units greater than 3″, but do allow one to say, “5 is greater than 3″.
** Philosophers might recognize the influence of Plato’s metaphysics in this. By Plato, the reality of human experience was uncertain and dependent on his imaginary World of Essences. Thus fiction is understandable, but non-fiction? – who can be sure? ValuedMinds stands by Aristotle.