When we started Reading Matters in July, 2010, the staff did so with the intention of empowering parents and educators to make informed choices about books for young people. In that same spirit, we would now like to provide some tips about using this blog.

Perhaps the most important aspect of the blog is our evaluation system. Although every reviewer has a slightly different approach to grading books, here is a general guide to what the recommendation under the book title implies:

1. recommended: These books can teach children about history, culture, science, human nature, life in general, etc. Sentence structure and vocabulary are appropriate for the target audience, and characters are fairly well-developed and believable. Heroes follow a moral code or at least learn from mistakes and regret any evil done. Plots are interesting enough to keep an adult’s attention. Examples of books we have recommended are The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas  and Airman.

2. highly recommended: Like the recommended books, children can gain knowledge from these books, but they also make the reader think. They are extremely well-written, and their characters are well-developed, complex human beings, especially the protagonists. While the heroes and heroines are not perfect, they practice virtue, recognize their mistakes and try to overcome their human frailties. Plots are sufficiently intriguing that even an adult would find them entertaining. Classics such as The Chronicles of Narnia  certainly fall into this category. At the same time, so do many modern children’s books, like Nick of Time  or Where the Mountain Meets the Moon .

3. acceptable: These are books that are not exceptional, but have nothing offensive or problematic in them. They contain basic grammar and vocabulary and probably will not challenge their intended audience. Characters are stereotypical and not developed; plots are predictable. Books such as the Alex Rider Series  or The King’s Head  may not stand the test of time, but can provide some entertainment for reluctant readers.

4. recommended with reservations: Occasionally, we come across a book that is quite good, but has issues that some parents would find problematic or worth discussing with their child. We try to point these out in the reviews, as in the cases of mercy killing in Escape by Sea  and adultery in the Percy Jackson Series.

5. not recommended: These are books we believe are inappropriate for their intended audience, are offensive, or are simply not well written. We discuss in the reviews what we feel is problematic about the books. Maryana Garcia explains in her critique of the CHERUB books, “…the series progresses the characters deteriorate with drug use, sex, lesbianism and even infidelity becoming more common…” Likewise, Clare Cannon describes her objections to Pinkalicious, “She’s [the main character] spoilt, sneaky and rude…the parenting style…is more like a shouting match to see who will dominate…” When possible, we provide alternative titles.

For readers who do not have time to sift through all of our reviews, we have organized recommended reading by age group in the right column of this page. Links to titles according to genre are further down (though these books are not all recommended). If you have a favorite reviewer, click on his/her name at the top of any review to be linked to an author page. We appreciate feedback from our readers and encourage you to post comments after our reviews. You may also contact us via the about this blog link.

 

Jennifer Minicus

Jennifer Minicus lives in New Jersey with her husband and son. A former French, Latin and mathematics teacher, Jennifer currently enjoys the responsibilities of a "domestic engineer", particularly making...