First Thursday Book Review Guidelines

First Thursday Book Review Guidelines

Oregon Coast Youth Book Preview Center

Welcome to First Thursdays, a book discussion group for people who want to evaluate books for young readers from birth to age 18. By sharing information and opinions about the books, participants will learn about choosing and using books with this age group. A bonus is that the book reviewer may keep the books once they have been reviewed.

Members of this group will select books from the preview center, housed in the Boone Media Center at Newport High School either at the regularly scheduled meeting times or between 8 am and 4 pm on days when the school is open.

After reading the books, reviewers will write brief descriptions and comments on the selected books, share the reviews with people at the meetings, and will give a brief commentary (not just a plot summary) on the books. An important part of the review is verdict, the reviewer’s opinion about the book, pro or con, backed up by the reasons behind that opinion.  The reviewer’s job is to evaluate and recommend.

Reviews begin with the citation in the following format:

Author’s or editor’s name. Book title. Illustrator (if given). Publisher, copyright year. $price. ISBN. Number of pages. Index, glossary, etc., if any. Ages of book’s audience. Popularity/Quality ratings (see next page for more information.)


Helfer, Ralph. The world’s greatest lion. Illustrated by Ted Lewin. Philomel Books, 2012. $17.99 ISBN 9780399254178 Unpaged. Ages 4-7. P7Q8.

A review gives a value judgment about the book instead of merely summarizing it. Following is some information that might be included. What the book is about can be incorporated into this information.  At the end of the review, please explicitly include your evaluation of the book–the verdict–in a one- or two-sentence section labeled “Verdict”. The verdict is neither the moral of the story, nor a restatement of the plot.


Verdict: I really liked/hated/snoozed through/loved the story/plot/characters/historical detail the author/illustrator/ghostwriter brought to the table. I can see this book being used for individual reading/classroom discussion/book club/kindling/propping up wobbly tables and recommend/do not recommend it for kindergarten/elementary/middle school/high school/public/academic/no libraries.  [example added September 19, 2016.]

Book reviews may be based on information such as this:

• Impression of the book based on the cover, book size, general feel.

• Format appeal: print size, white space, illustrations (types), paper/binding; layout.

• Language: accessibility, quality, creative style.

• Use of book/audience: age group, use in classes, type of library.

• Point of view: who tells the story or provides the perspective of informational books.

• Comparison of book to others in the same genre, with the same subject, or by the same author. (Check the book or book jacket for information about author’s other works.)

• Does the book work—is it a success?

• Fiction: where and when the story takes place; believability of this setting; characters’ ethnic backgrounds; believability, consistency, complexity, and development of the characters.

• Informational books: accuracy; timeliness; effectiveness of presentation; organization; diversity of people in illustrations; scope; objective/subjective treatment; references; supportive material (index, glossary, bibliography, resource lists, etc.).

• Poetry: types, tone of language (expressive, musical, playful, etc.); use of precise words; rhythm with compatibility of sound and subject.

Reviews are usually from four to ten sentences and include specific information and reasons supporting opinions. Reasons for liking or disliking the book on the basis of its popularity and quality will be useful for other people considering these books. If a book is wildly popular but has extremely poor quality, then it should be given a low priority in purchase and use. On the other hand, if a book is of the highest literary quality but no reader under the age of 18 will touch it, the money spent on it will have been wasted.

Reviewers will assign Popularity and Quality (PQ) ratings of 1 to 10 for each book with “1” being the lowest rating. The following tables give descriptions for both popularity and quality. For example, books in such series as Sweet Valley High were extremely popular but formulaic and of low literary quality. This might have been expressed as P9/Q3.  Please include these ratings at the end of the citation.

Rating Popularity
1 No young reader will touch this
2 Maybe 1 or 2 readers?
3 Perhaps for curriculum
4 For readers who will read anything in the genre
5 Middle of the road
6 Some interest building
7 Several young readers
8 Getting popular
9 Lots of kids will be interested
10 Lines at midnight to buy this!
Rating Quality
1 The book should probably be burned
2 Some slight value, but not worth buying
3 Errors of fact and poor writing
4 Below average
5 Worth keeping but average
6 Problems but slightly above average
7 A decent book but with flaws in execution (plot, characters, world building, etc.)
8 Very good–consider for purchase
9 Excellent, but not perfect
10 Could not be improved upon

Reviewers should be aware that highly popular books will rarely hit the top numbers in quality. For example, the Harry Potter books, which fit the characteristic under P10 may be given only Q7 or Q8 for flaws in the writing. If reviewers give books both high PQ (or low PQ), they should ask themselves if the ratings are similar because of the reviewers’ attitudes toward the book. It is tempting to give books a high quality rating because of the joy of reading it or a low quality because it was difficult.

Some adults believe that any reading is good for young people. But, reading skill involves more than simply decoding words: developing this skill requires books that are well-crafted and challenging to the readers. The ability to read a wide variety of written materials depends on increasing communicative and literary skills. Thus both a discussion of literary quality and the consideration of the likely popularity of a book are vital in its evaluation.

Not all readers enjoy genres such as science fiction or historical novels. When assigning popularity ratings for genre titles, consider the degree of appeal of the work to the audience likely to read it. These types of novels should be evaluated based on the same standards as other types of novels. Readers who do not enjoy reading genre titles may not be familiar with the range of works published in that genre. If your first reaction is, “I don’t read science fiction and I hated this book,” then it will be difficult to write a balanced review of the work. If this is the case, then please return the book to the preview center so that another reviewer can more fairly review it.

“All taste is relative,” is a statement occasionally heard in book review groups. Individual taste allows people to buy books for personal use. However, when books are purchased using public funds, the consideration of taste should be more universal. Reviewers provide a great service by discussing the quality and popularity of books, allowing limited budgets to be spent on acquiring the best books for the audiences.

In general, unless a book is so egregiously bad that it would be a disservice to the library community not to do so, try to avoid writing negative reviews. If the occasion does warrant a negative review, be sure to provide specific examples of errors and problems to support your opinion.

Strategies for a successful critical commentary:

  1. You should attempt to re-express your target’s position so clearly, vividly, and fairly that your target says, “Thanks, I wish I’d thought of putting it that way.
  2. You should list any points of agreement (especially if they are not matters of general or widespread agreement).
  3. You should mention anything you have learned from your target.
  4. Only then are you permitted to say so much as a word of rebuttal or criticism.

from Intuition Pumps and Other Tools for Thinking, by Daniel Dennett (b. March 28, 1942)

*cited in “Happy Birthday, Daniel Dennett: The Celebrated Philosopher on How to Criticize with Kindness and the Four Steps to Arguing Intelligently” by Maria Popova, viewed March 28, 2014,


“Books are good because they comment on experience with profundity and intelligence, and occasionally with genius; and these qualities lead us to some glimpse of the truth about human experience.”

(Fred Inglis, An Essential Discipline)


from Literary Hub interview with Heller McAlpin, book reviewer:

BM: What is the greatest misconception about book critics and criticism?

HMA: In this age of ubiquitous Likes, many people find it hard to believe that book criticism isn’t about likes and dislikes reducible to thumbs up or thumbs down. Ideally, book criticism is about figuring out what the writer was trying to do (often in relation to their own or others’ earlier work), assessing how successful the book is at pulling off that vision, and conveying to the reader what sort of experience they might expect reading this book: entertainment, inspiration, fascination, exasperation, terror, enlightenment, empathy, boredom, wisdom – to name some salient possibilities—or, best of all, an expansion of their understanding of the human condition.

BM: How has book criticism changed in the age of social media? 

HMA: Everyone’s got an opinion, but that doesn’t mean that everyone’s a critic. Much of what is posted on social media is more about self-expression and gut reactions than thoughtful analysis. That said, if a cascade of passionate, articulate Goodreads raves helps readers find their next book, I’m all for it.


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