By Joshua Benton
Having trouble telling Isaac the Ice Cream Truck from Dear Dr. Sillybear? Can’t distinguish Minnie and Moo Go Dancing from You Forgot Your Skirt, Amelia Bloomer?
A newly unveiled Web site from the University of North Texas can make finding answers easier.
The site, www.school-library.org, catalogs thousands of reviews of recently released children’s books.
“It’s fun, and hopefully a service to parents and children,” said Dr. Barbara Stein, a professor in the School of Library and Information Sciences.
The site grew out of a graduate school class on children’s literature. One of the class requirements is that students review several new books. The site puts those reviews, edited by professors, into a searchable public database.
“Most of the students who are writing reviews are already practicing teachers who are already working in libraries, people who have been working with children for quite a number of years,” Dr. Stein said.
Each review includes information on what ages the book is aimed at, a description of the plot, the book’s price and a rating on a five-flower scale. Only books with at least a three-flower rating get posted. The site’s users are also allowed to leave comments.
According to the site, You Forgot Your Skirt, Amelia Bloomer and Isaac the Ice Cream Truck are worth recommending without reservation. Dear Dr. Sillybear, however, might have too much complex wordplay for its intended 5- to 7-year-old audience.
And the tale of cannibalism among cows that is at the center of Minnie and Moo Go Dancing might be too disturbing for kindergartners, the reviewer warns.
Reviewers are quick to point out any flaws they find. Cynthia Rylant’s Tulip Sees America, while given a generally positive review, is criticized for too many sentence fragments and “a seemingly unnecessary episode of taking off one’s clothes in the Nevada desert.”
And when a younger reader might need to be warned away from a book, the site says so. The review of Froggie Went A-Courting, by Marjorie Priceman, comes with this advisory: “One character is eaten by a cat and no one cares. She was the only animal who opposed the mixed marriage between Froggie and Miss Mouse, so getting eaten was her punishment. This might upset some younger children who don’t see the irony and the humor.”
Because it focuses only on books released in the last few years, the database isn’t complete. Even the most-popular children’s books in recent history, the Harry Potter series, are underrepresented; only the first of the four books is reviewed.
Children’s book publishers send UNT dozens of books monthly, many of which are reviewed on the site.
Dr. Stein said she plans numerous additions to the site, including a section aimed at parents looking for books on specific topics, such as the death of a family member.
“We’re always developing it,” she said, “always trying to make it better.”