Monday, April 5, 2010

The Fun of Being Occasionally Snide and Snarky

I review children's books, an average of five a month, for the online book review forum Children's Literature; I sometimes see my reviews for them on the Barnes & Noble website as well.

Here's what I like about reviewing:
1) having the box arrive in the mail and not knowing what it will contain
2) reading the books
3) writing the reviews
4) having the next box arrive in the mail

Here is what I don't like about reviewing:
1) the thought that I might say something critical about some author's book and then she might read it and be sad
2) the thought that I might say something critical about some author's book and then I might meet her at a conference someday - the horror!

But if I'm not willing ever to say anything critical about some author's book, I shouldn't be reviewing books in the first place. While I feel I owe a duty of some degree of kindness to my fellow authors, I also owe a duty to the readers of the review who are turning to my assessment of the book for guidance as to how to spend their time and money. So I try to balance kindness and honesty as best I can.

Every once in a while, though, it's fun to have a legitimate chance to be snide and snarky. So when I was recently asked to review Madonna's latest children's book in her English Roses series, I felt free to indulge myself. After all, I still haven't forgiven Madonna for saying that she turned to writing children's books because there was nothing good out there! So here is my review of her most recent attempt to remedy this deficiency:

Madonna is confident enough that she is a rock star of children’s literature that this eleventh installment in her English Roses series begins with multiple claims that the only readers who would need any background about this group of five English girls who are “fast friends” would be someone “recently released from an asylum for the criminally insane.” We also get at least three explanations that when the narrator makes reference to a “football,” this is “what you Yanks call a soccer ball.” In the story itself, Binah is the only one of the Roses who has no summer plans, so Grace invites Binah to come with her to Atlanta. Binah has her first plane ride ever (and throws up in the barf bag), spends time with Grace’s large family in the American South (depicted as African-American – well, colored brown - in the illustrations), is homesick for her father and for the other Roses until she is comforted and cheered by her host family, and then returns home again. There is an average of one exclamation mark per page: “She wished she’d paid closer attention during science class!” “She missed [her father] already!” “Clearly this loud and chaotic event [baseball] was a popular pastime in the U.S.!” Binah’s most common thought as she heads out on what is supposedly the biggest adventure of her life is: “Here goes nothing!” – which could serve as a neat summation of this bland and insipid tale. Oh, I mean, bland and insipid tale!

Ooh, that felt good!


  1. What fun that must have to write!

  2. Oh, Claudia, you are so full of snide and snarky fun! I love it!

  3. Naughty, so naughty. I am particularly interested in your review, because I found one of her "Roses" books when I was in the used bookstore of my local library. I might have selected it for my students if Madonna were someone with whom they are familiar. Celebrity, after all, will attract a student's attention. Maybe I would have spent 25 cents if it had been by Lady Gaga. (Madonna does not command the attention of today's elementary students.) I thought that I shouldn't be prejudiced against children's books written by celebrities; that I should give them a chance. But I have found them uniformly boring over the years. Considering Madonna's broad generalization about the state of children's publishing, she opened herself up to snark attacks.

  4. Well! Well, well, well! I wrote you the most wonderful comment and it disappeared into the blogosphere. Considering Madonna's broad generalization about the quality of children's publishing, it seems that she opened herself to some bloody good snark attacks.

  5. Oops! oops! You got both comments. I guess I am being a bit impatient with technology.