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.

2014 Reviews by Young Reviewers

When an Alien Meets a Swamp Monster
written and illustrated by Cornelius Van Wright
(Nancy Paulsen Books/Penguin, $16.99) 978-0-399-25623-3
Friendship trumps differences. Dramatic watercolors. (6-8)  

A young reviewer says: I like this book because it is funny. What I did not like was that the swamp monster ran away. I think he was scared but he could talk to the boy-alien. The illustrations are wonderful.
– Anthony, age 7 (East Hampton, NY)

The Miniature World of Marvin & James (The Masterpiece Adventures series)
by Elise Broach, illustrated by Kelly Murphy
(Christy Ottaviano Books/Henry Holt BFYR/Macmillan, $15.99) 978-0-8050-9190-8
Marvin, the beetle, is worried when his boy, James, goes away on vacation.  A scary adventure soon cures him of his boredom. Pen-and-ink illustrations. (7-9)  

A young reviewer says: What I liked most was when Marvin the beetle was playing in the pencil shavings. When the man put the pencil in the machine, they had to eat the pencil and Marvin's cousin made a really funny face.  The beetle was talented in art and made a beautiful picture of the beach.
– Greer, age 8 (Longmont, CO)

Miss Emily
by Burleigh Mutén, illustrated by Matt Phelan
(Candlewick Press, $15.99) 978-0-7636-5734-5
When the circus comes to Amherst, four children share an adventure with Emily Dickinson. Free verse illustrated with black and white drawings. (9-12)  

A young reviewer says: I liked the ending where the kids make a circus for Miss Emily and then she swings on the rope. I like how Miss Emily is fearless. The illustrations were really cool. They went well with the story.
– Elena, age 9 (Fairfield, CT)

Mountain Dog
by Margarita Engle, illustrated by Olga & Aleksey Ivanov
(Henry Holt BFYR/Macmillan, $16.99) '13 978-0-8050-9516-6
Tony finds a new home with his great-uncle, a forest ranger, who teaches him about search-and-rescue dogs. Pen and ink drawings add interest to the narrative verse (9-11)  

A young reviewer says: I liked how the backstory is just as important throughout the book. It is about how his mother is in jail, and how he comes to live with his uncle. I also liked the way you learn from the dog’s point of view and wish those chapters were longer. I liked that Tony got to participate in rescues. I think smart readers will appreciate this book. It gives you a lot to think about.
– Dante, age 10 (Amagansett, NY)

Under the Egg
by Laura Marx Fitzgerald
(Dial BFYR/Penguin, $16.99) 978-0-8037-4001-3
Just before he dies, her grandfather tells Theo, 13, that he has left her a treasure. Could he really mean a stolen work of art? (9-12)  

A young reviewer says: I liked how it was about World War II but had a modern story also. It pointed out that not all of New York City is giant skyscrapers. It was a good mystery. I also loved how Bodhi interacted with baby hippos. It was a great book! It would be nice if they added a glossary at the end of the book with all of the different artists that they mentioned.
– Reese, age 10 (Longmont, CO)

*The True Adventures of Nicolo Zen
by Nicholas Christopher
(Alfred A. Knopf/Random House, $17.99) 978-0-375-86738-5
Nicolo Zen, sole family survivor of a malaria epidemic in eighteenth century Venice, must rely on his talent with an enchanted clarinet to make his way in the world. (12-16)  

A young reviewer says: The author's descriptions about the characters were fantastic. He used so much detail and everything was so clear. It is the kind of book where you pick it up, read the first page, and you can't stop reading it. The reason why this book touched me was that although he didn't have any parents or family, he knew how to handle his problems. It was truly an amazing book and I recommend it.
– Lucina, age 11  (Brooklyn, NY)

The 14 Fibs of Gregory K.
by Greg Pincus
(Arthur A. Levine/Scholastic, $17.99) '13 978-0-439-91299-0
Eleven-year-old Gregory writes poems and stories, but his family loves math. Now his father wants him to enter the citywide math contest. Can they reconcile their differences? (9-12) 

A young reviewer says: This is a realistic fiction book about a boy named Gregory who lives in a family that stresses math and is very enthusiastic about it, but he likes to write poetry. His best friend is going to authors’ camp but Gregory can't go unless he gets a B+ in math. Right now he is failing math, so during a meeting with his parents he decided to join City Math, a math competition highly regarded by his family. His teacher also asks him to write about math to raise his grade. In the end, he is able to go to authors’ camp and his parents grow to appreciate his poetry. I liked Gregory as a character because he persevered, but I did not like Gregory making lying look okay because he did lie multiple times.
– Niko, age 11 (Wainscott, NY)

Moon at Nine
by Deborah Ellis
(Pajama Press, $19.95) 978-1-927485-57-6
Tehran teenage girls, Farrin and Sadina, become best friends, then fall in love.  If they are caught disaster will surely follow.   

A young reviewer says: The love story that is the plot of the book is similar to other ones, except that the two people are both teenage girls. I think this is a beautiful story, and even better because it is true. I really enjoyed the bit of Iranian history that accompanies this story. I feel like I learned quite a bit about Iran and that I could sympathize with almost all the people involved in the conflict. While the romance was believable, Sadira and Farrin tended to be very mature in situations where it seemed implausible. However, I do not think that this detracted from the story at all.
– Julia, age 14 (Highland Park, NJ)

*How I Discovered Poetry
by Marilyn Nelson
(Dial BFYR/Penguin, $17.99) 978-0-8037-3304-6
In a series of 50 sonnets the author recalls the events in her 1950s childhood that led her to discover her love for poetry. Sketches and family photographs. (12-17)  

A young reviewer says: I think that any book that is exclusively poetry is interesting because it provides a different format of working which is quicker to read over, but allows for more time to process and think. I think Marilyn Nelson’s book surpasses even that. Her book is her memoir and explains so much. It tells the tale of how she moves from place to place. It gives young readers an insight into what life 60 years ago may have been like.  However, it also brings forth the issue of racism. I find the story-telling poems very effective and powerful.
– Adam, age 14 (Highland Park NJ)                                                                                     

The Real Boy
by Anne Ursu
(Walden Pond Press/HarperCollins, $16.99) '13 978-0-06-201507-5
Eleven-year-old Oscar, an orphan, struggles to understand and express himself while working as an apothecary’s assistant in a town experiencing strange illnesses. (11–14)  

A young reviewer says: This book is special because it is realistic fiction but is based on magic. I liked the fact that the author kept sucking me in so I read it (had to) in one sitting. I also liked the contrast between the pretty city of Asteri and the prospect of the plague hovering in the background, threatening to take over.
– Jack, age 14 (East Hampton, NY)

Nil
by Lynne Matson
(Henry Holt BFYR/Macmillan, $17.99) 978-0-8050-9771-9
Teenagers deposited on an unfamiliar “fantasy island” struggle to establish a community and ultimately to return to their own world. (12-15)                                                                                                           

A young reviewer says: I could not put the book down because there was so much action and suspense. It kept me on the edge of my seat. It is different because it borders between fantasy and realistic fiction. The author keeps you guessing which you are in. Seemingly impossible things occur and miracles do occur, especially when your heart desires it.
– Jack, age 14 (East Hampton, NY)

Silver
by Chris Wooding
(Scholastic Press, $17.99) 978-0-545-60392-8
Mortingham Boarding Academy is difficult enough for Paul and his classmates, but when strange, aggressive silver creatures begin to take over, survival becomes the final exam. (12-16)  

A young reviewer says: Silver is creepy, and the creepiness starts right away. The rapid action continues throughout the novel, creating intense feelings of excitement and anxiety. The descriptive imagery enhances these feelings. The story is surprisingly realistic because of wooding’s development of the five main characters and because of the believable ways in which they deal with the Infected invasion. Thus, Silver approaches a familiar topic in a novel and effective way.
– Foster, age 15 (Anchorage AK)

*Far Far Away
by Tom McNeal
(Alfred A. Knopf/Random House, $17.99) '13 978-0-375-84972-5
Jacob Grimm is stuck in purgatory and believes that if he helps Jeremy Johnson Johnson, he will pass to the other side. (13-16)  

A young reviewer says: This book is as magical as one of the Grimm brothers’ fairy tales. It is narrated from the perspective of Jacob Grimm, a ghost trapped in “Zwischenraum”, a state between life and the afterlife. McNeal seamlessly blends romance and horror and touches themes including the psychological torture of imprisonment and the importance of friendship, love, moving on, and not being greedy. Far Far Away is a superb blend of the fantasy, coming-of-age, romance and horror genres. The plot is excellent, the characters are relatable, and the writing style is straightforward and evocative.
– Foster, age 15 (Anchorage AK)