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Getting tough?

A few weeks ago, I attended The Horn Book at Simmons where, in between the sessions and lectures, I was able listen in on the chatter about books. A few people talked about this blog where I heard that some thought we were too nice when talking about books.

For some reason, this comment has stayed with me. Of course, this is a new endeavor for us and I am sure we will learn as we go, but there is a reason why we might seem too nice. On the real committee, each member will suggest those books that she or he feels are deserving of a Caldecott medal. Though the suggestion might well mention a concern or two about the book, generally the suggestion is a positive review. As ALA Midwinter gets closer, each person will nominate seven books. In January, each member of the committee will get to add to the discussion by supporting or voicing concerns about any nominated book.

Feel free to play that role here. We’ve got some months ahead—and many books are just now becoming available—so we will have time to talk about more books. As you read these books, feel free to go back to that book’s post and make all the comments you wish to make.
Nice or not nice, we want to hear them all.

Robin Smith About Robin Smith

Robin Smith is a second-grade teacher at the Ensworth School in Nashville, Tennessee. She is a reviewer for Kirkus and The Horn Book Magazine and has served on multiple award committees.



  1. Anonymous says:

    This fear that critics will be “too nice” always sticks in my craw. I think it’s meant to put reviewers on the defensive–there’s a suggestion that being “too nice” is a form of cowardice, and I think it takes strength not to rise to that bait. After all, snarky reviews are much easier to write than appreciative ones, and snarkiness always appeals to the groundlings, who like their ration of blood.

    But–putting the needs of the groundlings aside–it is much more important to discover what is good than to trample on what is bad. There is no great work of art that can’t be criticized. There are always faults, lapses, exaggerations, contradictions. If perfection is to be found at all, it is found in miniature. A Faberge egg may be perfect; Michelangelo’s DAVID has huge hands and too-narrow hips; Wagner’s RING has long dull passages; GREAT EXPECTATIONS is riddled with coincidences.

    But these flawed masterpieces are glorious. And being able to see their glories is the important thing. To be always looking for flaws is to be peering through a magnifying glass. It’s reductive. Art–including the art of the picture book–is meant to be an enlargement of life. The best critic is not the princess who can’t sleep if there’s a pea under the four-and-twenty mattresses–the best critic is the one who is sensitive and hungry for what is GOOD.

  2. Barb Gogan says:

    The DAVID had hands and hips exactly the size Michelangelo intended them to be–the hands hold all the tension of the moment and the hips reflect his youth.
    For a better example, look at Caravaggio’s The Calling of St Matthew and take a look at the legs under the table. They don’t belong to any of the torsos above the table! There are numerous other examples from Caravaggio and he certainly did not do them on purpose; however, I don’t feel they take away from the immense power of his works.

  3. I might have been one of those people at the HB awards, but I didn’t mean to imply that being mean or nasty would be a good idea. Rather, this blog could provide an opportunity for in-depth discussion of some of the many excellent picture books published this year–the kind of discussion that a short review just can’t get at. Choices that the author has made, choices the artist has made, editorial input when possible, how art and text work together, and all the complicated and important decisions that go into making a great book.

  4. I don’t know that it’s a matter of being “too nice”, or just feeling not very passionate. I have been disappointed reading the posts here, as each book seems simply to be presented, rather than championed or carefully examined. Acknowledging a books flaws does not have to be mean, but is can be thought provoking and certainly conversation provoking; a careful examination of why it really works can be just as successful too.

    If we are looking to raise the level of our examination of books from a simple “is it good” to a “is it Caldecott worthy” then we have become more discerning and more critical. And if this blog is truly intended to engage a wider group of people in conversation, then a more thorough critique of each book is needed, even if through “playing the devil’s advocate” and envisioning what some one else’s critiques may be. If you look back through your post, the one with the most comments and back and forth discussion is when Roger posted a critical statement about Me…Jane. People responded with their own takes on why that particular photograph did or did not work for them. I would love to read more of that kind of discussions.

    Thank you for taking on this challenge. I am so excited to have a Caldecott focused blog. I had missed Bone Dog on my own, but thanks to your blog, now have a new favorite addition to my collection.

  5. Robin Smith Robin Smith says:

    Thanks so much. I really appreciate your comments, especially the “playing the devil’s advocate” part. When you sit on the committee, you play that role (in your head) when you form your case for any individual book.
    Again, thanks, Jill.

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