Review Copies

When I started this blog, it was just me and a stack of books I loved, happily typing away. It was nice, of course, if anyone read my reviews and thought, “That sounds like a book for me!” But I bought every book myself, without any expectation of anyone giving me free books! For crying out loud– free books??? Now, some lovely people do that, so I thought I should put this up here both as a guide to readers for the sake of transparency, and to book-makers-who-want-reviews as a clear statement up front.

So: This page is to be a guide to authors/illustrators and publishers about my stance on review copies. It also explains to readers where my books come from and how it has an effect on my reviews (tl;dr: it doesn’t change my reviews one bit).

Background: My rules for reviewing have always been the same, and I stand by every review. I do not review a book I don’t love. It’s not as fun to create a space of analysis rather than enthusiasm, honestly, and while there’s enormous value in critical analysis– I’m trained as an academic, I’ve done that for years, so I really do know that– I keep this as a space for joy and pleasure. I like to think people come here thinking, “What can I read to help me smile or grow or think?” and walk away with a list in hand. So, what I’m saying is that I’m incredibly picky! It might be a silly book or a serious book– but I write about a very, very small number of the books I read. Too small. I wish I had time for more!

For Readers: I will always note when a book comes to me as a free review copy. That said, as you’ll find if you read on, nine times out of ten the review copy comes to me by way of a publisher saying, “OK, tell me what you like then!” So I do the choosing, and then narrow down– just as I would in a book shop. In fact, the result is that this encourages me to step out of my comfort zone a little, or you get a review pre-publication. In short: better for you! More variety, more chance to stretch myself, but I’m still picky as all get out.

For Publishers: I’ve had a few publishers contact me, which is wonderful (I do love publishers– they work so hard on getting these books out– and I’m writing this during covid, at which point, good Lord, I bow to you all!), and to them I say the same thing you’re getting over and over on this page: a review copy does not guarantee a review. I’m just very picky, and also busy. Remarkably, some of you wonderful folks still offer to send me books! Here’s the deal about that: I’m super picky, and I prefer to be offered to choose my books, but review copies get considered first when I’m thinking about what to review. So, why do I pick and choose? Why not say to send what you like? This allows me to stretch! I may very well have pre-ordered a book by a favourite author, or be planning to. I don’t want you to waste a review copy if I’m already getting it– unless you think a pre-publication review would be nice, in which case, please do. But I really love to be challenged. Give me the chance at something a step out of my usual zone? Great! That would be a great review for you and a lovely chance for me to stretch my mind a bit. Long story short: I love to get review copies from publishers, love to choose or discuss them, and, further, since I feel an obligation to you, review copies automatically go to the top of my mental list when I think ahead to what I plan to review. If you wish to contact me, please email: deborah.furchtgott@gmail.com.

For Authors: While I really, really do love to hear from you and I appreciate you so very much— because of that, I do encourage you to put me in touch with your agent or publicist regarding reviews, just because I don’t want you or me to feel bad if I don’t write a review. Long version: I’ve had lovely authors write to my over the years offering review copies and I always caution them that while I’m very happy to get books, it’s not a guarantee of a review– partly because I may not love the book (see above re: very, very picky), but also because it’s only me here and I don’t like to write a review thoughtlessly. So if a review doesn’t go up, it may just be that I was busy or simply couldn’t think of something interesting to say beyond, “Nice book!” and that’s not what I do here. And I always feel bad if an author sends a book directly and I don’t wish to or don’t manage to get a review up: every author works hard on their book and it’s their baby! If I don’t review, I cringe a little– folks: I promise I appreciate your immense effort! It’s just I’m only one person. If you wish to contact me, please email: deborah.furchtgott@gmail.com.

ALA Youth Media Awards and more!

It’s been a while since I’ve been properly immersed in the book world, sadly! Still, the ALA Youth Media Awards are always fun, and it seemed a nice time to sit with a sleepy baby (the Spriggan is a little over two months old now, and very good at talking over Caldecott-worthy picture books) and watch the awards. I wanted to see, properly– what had happened last year? Was it really only one year?

This year’s awards were bittersweet: sweet because there are so many lovely books of all kinds, but bitter because I missed so many. I’ve never been able to keep up fully with the intense joys of an industry churning out so much valuable literature, but during a pandemic, with doors shut everywhere, it just wasn’t possible. (I owe incredible thanks to my local shop, as ever, for keeping me and my whole community here as in the loop as possible.) It’s always fun to get guessing about the Caldecott, in particular. Flipping through a stack of gorgeous picture books is just the best kind of joy under any circumstances; doing so while thinking “is it Caldecott-worthy, though–what is the role of the illustrator in this book?” That’s a whole other level of fun, especially while doing so with a keen Changeling with opinions of her own.

She voted for The Bear and the Moon, by the way, though she agreed with my musings that The Blue House was a worthy choice. My husband mentioned I Am Every Good Thing.

This year, I was way off! There was precisely ZERO overlap between my thoughts and the Caldecott committee, and that means you get an extra list to browse! I encourage you to take a look at the YMA list, which includes many books I loved, and many which completely passed me by due to the aforementioned dumpster fire of the pandemic. Here are all the winners of this year’s awards. I encourage you to read it through and look to your local book shop to pick up anything that strikes your fancy– these are very fine books.

As for my Caldecott-worthy picks? Well, not all are eligible according to their rules, but I’m not so restrictive as they are, so here’s my list of books with absolutely extraordinary illustrations which deserve a careful read Links below lead to the Children’s Book Shop in Brookline, where I found all of these, but maybe you have a great shop of your own!

In the Half Room by Carson Ellis

All Because You Matter by Tami Charles and Bryan Collier

The House by the Lake by Thomas Harding and Britta Teckentrup

I Talk Like a River by Jordan Scott and Sydney Smith

If You Come to Earth by Sophie Blackall

Finding Fran├žois by Gus Gordon

I Am Every Good Thing by Derrick Barnes and Gordon C. James

The Bear and the Moon by Matthew Burgess and Catia Chien

I’m hoping that the Spriggan continues to allow me half-hours for writing these days! I do have plans… and books…

Langston Hughes: 1926, 2016, and Today.

November 2016 I reviewed Langston Hughes and Bryan Collier’s I, Too, Am America on the blog. I was sad, afraid, and angry.

Yesterday and today, I’ve been FURIOUS, sad, and a bit afraid– mostly for the future, really.

Langston Hughes first published that poem in 1926. There’s a recording of him reading it in 1955. (Listen here.) And now we’re asking, again: What is America? Who is America? Who speaks for us? Who represents us?

Good questions to ask, yes, but. But. Some of the loudest answers we’re getting are representative of the worst elements among us. Langston Hughes told us in 1926: I am America, as are you: We are all America. Yesterday, the insurgents in DC said: We, are, you’re not. We don’t care what you say. Mind your place, don’t be uppity, and don’t speak to your betters.

And the world asked: What is happening to democracy in America?

I was ashamed. I hope you are, too. But don’t say: “this isn’t who we are.” Because, sadly, it really is, and we have to own it, and we have to change that.

I Am America. So are you. Let’s make America better. If you want to get Langston Hughes’s heartrending poem with Bryan Collier’s heartmending illustrations, try it here, from my local book shop: I, Too, Am America