100 Scope Notes
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Enthusiasm at the Edges: Thinking Aloud About Book Reviews

A note on this post: I ain’t saying’ nothing new. But every now and then I think it’s worthwhile for me to put these things into words (and also, to trick myself into thinking I absorbed something from my college stats class) – if only for myself.

Enthusiasm 1

Like just about everything, book quality follows a bell curve.

Basically, there are a few books that are just the worst (“OOF!”), a few books that are tops (“YEAH!”), and a whole lot of books that fall somewhere in between. All books don’t fall into the same categories for everyone, of course. Each reader has their own bell curve of quality based on their taste.

The two extremes are what I like to call the “Zones of Enthusiasm”.

Enthusiasm 2

It’s interesting to talk about/review books that fall into these categories.

Interesting, but not always fun.

I’ve never really reviewed books I don’t care for here because:

A) While interesting to discuss why a book doesn’t work, it’s super time-consuming. A responsible reviewer can’t be flippant when bringing up a criticism (although I do often get a laugh at the expense of those who are flagrantly irresponsible).

B) It’s an act of bravery that I respect in others, but I don’t really enjoy much myself. Call me selfish, but agonizing over a review of a book I don’t care for isn’t my idea of fun.

This is why I thank professional review journals – they all give their straight opinion about books they find lacking. I know from experience, I’ve written plenty of professional reviews of books I didn’t care for in the pages of SLJ (a situation where you’re given a book that you are required to review).

And this leads to the last thing I’ve been thinking about.

I wonder if, because the Zones of Enthusiasm are so alluring, sometimes we try to push more books into them. We nudge books into the OOF! or YEAH! zone when really they don’t quite belong. While I actively fight against it, I’m sure I’ve fallen prey to this.

What do you think? Agree? Disagree? Have you been thinking about this stuff too? Just want to comment and say “Duh, Travis”? Let’s hear it.

About Travis Jonker

Travis Jonker is an elementary school librarian in Michigan. He writes reviews (and the occasional article or two) for School Library Journal and is a member of the 2014 Caldecott committee. You can email Travis at scopenotes@gmail.com, or follow him on Twitter: @100scopenotes.


  1. Can’t speak for others, but while I too far, far prefer to write 100% positive reviews, I do write some where I say what is good and then what is not. But even with the later, in most cases I give the bulk of the review to what works. On rare occasions when there is little to appreciate, when I sense a profound arrogance in not bothering to do basic work, laziness, carelessness, and the possibility of young readers being highly misinformed, I do focus on what doesn’t work. But that is rare. And even then, I try to place the negative within a broader context of other books that do the job well. An example would be my post featuring Rush Limbaugh’s Paul Revere book: https://medinger.wordpress.com/2014/05/17/in-the-classroom-rush-limbaughs-rush-revere-and-other-books-about-the-pilgrims/

  2. It is true that I almost always review books that are somewhere on the line from good to great on my blog. How could I look an author in the eye at ALA or BEA and say, “Yes, I’m that mean person who panned your beloved creation”? If I really hate a title, I just move on to the next one without reviewing. For selection at the library, though, I sometimes appreciate those blunt, negative professional reviews. Saves so much time! EatReadSleep.com