The Young Reviewers Program

The young reviewers program was begun because the members of the committee understood that, despite our collective years of experience working with children, as adults, our responses to certain children’s books might be different from those of the intended audience. When we want to know whether or not a child would like a particular book, or understand it, or if the age of the reader that we have identified is on target, we consult the source.

Our cadre of young reviewers range in age from three-years-old to 18. While several live in New York City or its suburbs, several of them live in Alaska, in Minnesota, in Maine, and many places in between.  The program is coordinated by committee members Todd Jackson, Alex Grannis, and Nan Shipley.

When a young reviewer is sent a book, he or she is also sent a brief questionnaire. The youngest “readers” are, naturally, assisted by a parent, whose own input is useful as well. Older readers generally fill out the Young Reviewer's Form (PDF) themselves, sometimes in great detail.

Some books, especially those being considered for an award, are sent to more than one young reviewer for feedback. For award books, excerpts from responses are shared with the attendees at our annual award ceremony.

2013 Reviews by Young Reviewers

The Pets You Get!
by Thomas Taylor, illustrated by Adrian Reynolds
(Andersen Press/Lerner, $16.95) 978-1-4677-1143-2
A bear? A dragon? A younger sibling comes to understand the allure of a guinea pig as a pet. Simple, vibrant illustrations bring the imaginings to life. (4-9)
    A young reviewer says: This book is special and different because a boy helps his sister find the right pet. He thinks his sister’s guinea pig is too boring. I like this book because the boy tries to help his sister find a new pet. I did not like that his sister still wanted the guinea pig.
—Anthony, age 6 (East Hampton, NY)

Part-Time Princess 
by Deborah Underwood, illustrated by Cambria Evans
(Disney-Hyperion Books, $16.99) 978-1-4231-2485-6
With nighttime adventures as a firefighter and dragon-befriending princess, a little girl redefines this royal role. The mixed-media pictures tell the rich story too. (5-9)
    A young reviewer says: I think it is special that she gets to be a princess at night. I really like when she goes to the ball. The pictures are really good. You could dream about them and actually imagine them happening. —Greer, age 6 (Longmont, CO)

The Tell-Tale Start: The Misadventures of Edgar and Allan Poe – Book One 
by Gordon McAlpine, illustrated by Sam Zuppardi
(Viking/Penguin, $15.99) 978-0-670-78491-2
Identical twins Edgar and Allan seem to think with one mind. A criminal professor attempts to capture them, leading to dangerous events and mysterious messages. Black-and-white illustrations. (8-11)
    A young reviewer says: I wanted to keep on reading. I liked how it was a mystery. I think the author wrote the book to show that just because you do something bad, you can be good at something else. I can’t wait for the next book in the series to come out.
—Reese, age 9 (Longmont, CO)

Lulu and the Dog from the Sea
by Hilary McKay, illustrated by Priscilla Lamont
(Albert Whitman, $13.99) 978-0-8075-4820-2
Lulu’s family and her cousin, Mellie, vacation at the beach where a mysterious dog of the sea saves the day. Pen and ink illustrations. (6-9)
    A young reviewer says: I thought the book had a very good plot. I liked Lulu’s personality. She is very funny. The same as me! It was a feel-good book. It did not really have a message but I liked it anyway. —Elena, age 8 (Fairfield, CT) 

Light in the Darkness: A Story about How Slaves Learned in Secret
by Lesa Cline-Ransome, illustrated by James Ransome
(Jump at the Sun/Disney-Hyperion, $16.99) 978-1-4231-3495-4
Despite the possibility of a whipping if they are discovered, Rosa and her mother travel to the hole in the ground where Morris teaches them their letters. Subdued watercolor paintings. (8-11)
    A young reviewer says: This book makes you both happy and sad. Your emotions go back and forth which makes you love the whole book. The sad part is that there were slaves in the United States and they had such hard lives. The Declaration of Independence had already been written and these people were not free. Not even free enough to learn to read. The happy part is that they DO get to read! I like how the artwork is all through the text. The pictures really do give you the sense of the darkness when they are in the pit school. —Dante, age 9 (Amagansett, NY) 

Hero on a Bicycle 
by Shirley Hughes
(Candlewick, $15.99) 978-0-7636-6037-6
In Florence, Italy, in 1944, thirteen-year-old Paolo, his mother, and his sister struggle to survive and bravely aid Partisans amid war. (12-16)
    A young reviewer says: This book was special because it took place in Italy during the German occupation in WW II. I liked the changes and unexpected turns of events.
—Jack, age 13 (East Hampton, NY) 

Strands of Bronze and Gold: The Bluebeard Fairy Tale Retold
by Jane Nickerson
(Knopf/Random House, $16.99) 978-0-307-97598-0
After the death of her father in 1855, seventeen-year-old Sophia is invited to live with her godfather at his gothic mansion in Mississippi. (14-17)
    A young reviewer says: In this book I most enjoyed the way that the author mixed fantasy with historical aspects so that the story seemed more real, therefore creating an eery mood. For much of the book it was easy to imagine the plot actually happening for the plot is less fantastical than other fairy tales. Because of this, the final climax becomes even more dramatic and exciting.

    I also enjoyed the attention to detail. M. Bernard is very rich, and the author uses lovely language to describe this wealth and Sophie’s reaction to this as someone who grew up with a plainer lifestyle.

    I have not read the fairy tale Bluebeard which this book is based on, so I cannot compare it to that in terms of accuracy. In my opinion—having only read this—the book did a good job of portraying the characters, setting and plot. 
—Julia, age 13 (Highland Park, NJ)

The Twelve-Fingered Boy
by John Hornor Jacobs
(Carolrhoda/Lerner, $17.95) 978-0-7613-9007-7
When fifteen-year-old Shreve and thirteen-year-old Jack become cellmates, they discover mind-altering talents, friendship, and a new world view. (14-17)
    A young reviewer says: I think the reason that this book is so special is because it is both normal and abnormal. It is an epic adventure which conveys a message. The message is the abnormal part. Instead of being about love it is more about the idea that we are content with being and having normal lives. Shreve at the beginning likes his life and then adventure comes and makes him a different person. I like that kind of weird moral that is more about what we don’t want. I disliked the ending though. It felt too much like the author hit a wall and couldn’t find any other way to end his book other than the way he did and that makes the ending feel forced and artificial.  —Adam, age 13 (Highland Park, NJ)

Fox Forever
by Mary E. Pearson
(Henry Holt BFYR/Macmillan, $17.99) 978-0-8050-9434-3
In a dystopian future, bioengineered Locke has been saved by the resistance. Now he’s on a perilous mission to help them. Will he succeed? (12-15)
    A young reviewer says: The final installment of the Jenna Fox series, Fox Forever, is a classic science fiction story. Set in 24th-century Boston, the novel details Locke Jenkins’s efforts to discover the location of a captured rebellion leader. The plot, setting and characters combine perfectly to create a thrilling sense of nervousness and excitement. The captivating plot includes just the right number of mystery, emotional and nail-biting action scenes. Also, the numerous plot twists ensure that the reader cannot presume or predict anything. The setting is beautifully painted. Pearson describes the futuristic buildings and technologies in such clear and logical detail that each scene is easily imagined, but she does not overburden the story with so many descriptions that the reader’s imagination is unnecessary.

    Fox Forever’s only flaw is its somewhat staid prose. Most sentences are very simple. However, this is a minor distraction, as the book is extremely interesting and exciting. Although I have not read the first novels in the series, I loved Fox Forever. It can be read as a stand-alone novel or as the last book in a trilogy. —Foster, age 14 (Anchorage, AK)

Odette’s Secrets
by Maryann Macdonald
(Bloomsbury, $16.99) 978-1-59990-750-5
To be safe from the Nazis, Odette, a young secular Jewish girl living in Paris, learns to keep all kinds of secrets. (9-12)
    A young reviewer says: Even though the story was fiction, the story seemed so real. The book came alive when I read it. The main character showed so much emotion throughout the book. This book showed that people can be full of hatred, while others are kind. It also showed cruelty towards Jews. However, Odette and her mom were strong and determined to find safety.
—Priscilla, age 15 (The Springs, NY)