I remember being coerced into writing countless book reviews when I was in primary school; having to fill out the date, title, author, publisher, date published, a synopsis, my thoughts (and even worse, feelings) on the story, and some words I thought best described the book.
And I hated doing it (I loved reading, but hated the tedium of the book review. The reviews I wrote were pointless – they all ended up in a file which I’m pretty sure were filed under ‘bin’ when my teacher cleared out her classroom at the end of the year. So it’s a bit of a personal mission to overhaul book reviews, which are surely only useful if they are read (and read by someone who is looking for their next book to read).
I was inspired originally by the staff at my local Waterstones in Covent Garden, who a fair few years ago started writing a few words on a piece of card which they hooked over the cover of books they had read. They were responsible for more of my impulse buys during that period than anything else.
So, when I started teaching, I implemented short form reviews in the school library. The result? More book reviews than I had ever seen before (and all voluntarily written – I asked the librarian to hand them out when she was issuing books), a measurable impact on increased range of book choices by children across Key Stage 2. And the best thing? The children didn’t mind writing them, especially as they were being displayed in the library for all to see, the teachers got in on the act and started to review books they had read (and importantly, they weren’t a chore to write – they had a real purpose and a real audience).
Recently, I was visiting one of the secondary academy schools I’ve been working with and where I had suggested they try the same thing in their library and they had the same findings. It was wonderful to see the books festooned with these short reviews and the librarian reported the books which were reviewed became more popular after the review had been ‘published’ on the book jackets.
The most interesting finding though was from a review a member of staff had written about one book, absolutely slating it: “It was awful. The biggest amount of drivel I have ever polluted my eyes with. Don’t read this.” This book became, perhaps not unsurprisingly, one of the most borrowed in the library.