What's the idea behind goodtoread.org?
A parents' reference point for children's and young people's books, giving a brief description of each book, notes on its contents and quality, and other useful information such as its publisher, the period it's set in and the series it belongs to. All cross-linked so you can easily find related books for which there is an entry.
The books we choose to review (requests aside) fall broadly into two categories:
- Books which are popular -- whether or not they're worthwhile -- because they're part of a popular series, because they're being heavily marketed, because they're on school reading lists, because they tie in to a popular television or film series.
- Books which we consider worthwhile, whether or not they're popular according to the criteria above, or whether they're even in print -- since it's increasingly possible to obtain out-of-print books from on-line sources.
Why another site about children's books? One answer to this is easy: you can't have too much of a good thing. Why have more than one sweet shop on the High Street? They all sell much the same things at much the same price, but perhaps you find the people in this one easier, or the display in that one more appealing. There are many websites that give information about children's books, and there are many people with different tastes in websites.
On another level, this website offers a slightly different approach from the majority: it doesn't assume that a well-structured book with a good spread of vocabulary and a certain depth of subject matter is unquestionably a book any child should read. At goodtoread.org we believe that children and young people can benefit from some guidance as to their reading. This may mean recommending a book especially or discouraging a certain book or author on account of the poverty of style or unsuitability of the subject matter. Especially when a series is popular or often recommended, it might mean going over the subjects presented in the book with your child to make sure the youngster has benefitted from it and not been harmed.
Of course, if you believe that this is nonsense, that children should be allowed to read anything of a good literary quality, or indeed anything whatsoever, then we hope you will at least find this site useful as a cross-linked reference of books, authors, publishers, themes and dates. Ultimately any site should be a service to those who view it: if one person gains a wider awareness of what's contained in children's books from reading this site, it's been worth putting it up here.
Who we are: goodtoread.org is principally the brainchild of me, Tim Golden. I'm a computer programmer, involved in youth work with boys for some 20 years now in South and West London, and involved with reading for much longer than that. Where I have published a review from a trusted collaborator this is noted at the top of the review.
Who you are: our target audience is parents, teachers or other adults responsible in some way for young people. Of course anyone, including the youngsters who are the books' own target audience, might gain something from this site. But our starting point is that concerned parents with little time and less inclination to read the books available to their children would still like to know what those children are reading.
You can get in touch via the contact form.
What do you consider suitable / unsuitable?
Before giving the rationale for suitability, it's important to point out first why it even matters what's in a book for young people. It was pointed out to me once that when your child reads a book, someone else is speaking privately to him or to her. The book may be a lightweight fiction or a classic of literature, a comically reworked history book or a school text book about biology. In every case, some other person has written down their view of the world in the descriptive paragraphs of the book, or in the dialogue of the characters within the story. And your child is taking something from that worldview.
And this is, by and large, a great thing. This is one of the reasons we encourage young people to read books: to broaden the scope of their ideas; to see the world through other people's eyes; to experience situations and ways of putting things which they might otherwise miss.
But the mere fact that an alternative experience is being presented is not always without its drawbacks. A worldview whose philosophy is at odds with that of concerned parents is not one which the parents will want their children to be exposed to without their knowledge, least of all if this contrasting philosophy is subtly introduced as beneficial. A typical example is where some particular sentiments are placed on the lips of a noble and attractive character. The young reader - perhaps unconsciously - takes especial note of that character's ideals, assimilating them into his or her outlook on the world.
What worldview do you at goodtoread.org subscribe to?
We believe that each human being has an intrinsic dignity, and that certain things further that dignity, both from an individual and from a social perspective, while other things detract from it. It's a belief enshrined in the social and moral teaching of the Catholic Church, but it applies regardless to the whole of humanity in every age.
We believe in a respectful disagreement with books whose point of view is otherwise. This is not a question of hatred or censorship, but rather of a counterpoint or balance: authors write books which promote their views of the world; at goodtoread.org we write reviews.
So are you only interested in happy-ever-after stories?
Not at all. We're interested in stories which can be the vehicle for seeing younger and older people face up to situations and make coherent choices according to their lights. This doesn't mean it's all relative, but I'd rather see someone make a noble choice on the basis of what they sincerely believe -- even where I disagree with that belief -- than make a choice out of selfishness, bitterness, self-interest or other ignoble motives.
Of course there's nothing wrong with a happy-ever-after story sometimes!
Ultimately there are many more books that hours to spend in reviewing them. We're not going to go out of our way to review something we would consider unsuitable unless it's especially popular or someone has specifically requested information about it. We welcome suggestions for reviews via the contact form.
Do you give spoilers?
The normal thing when reviewing books is not to give away important plot elements. We expect that a reader on this site is probably a parent rather than the target audience of a book (and is therefore less bothered about learning in advance of specific plot points). However we try not to give things away needlessly. Obviously, though, to do our work we may have to reveal information to illustrate the elements you may be concerned about. Usually these will be lightly prefixed with a "Spoiler" tag.
Friday 1st January 2010