Author and book review Managing Editor Irene Watson explains what's amiss the children's literature industry and how her new kids website bucks tradition with innovation.
(Austin, TX) The idea that kids are the best judges of what other kids want to read may not sound revolutionary, but in a world where children's books are written, published, reviewed and promoted by adults, it's actually a novel idea. An idea so simple, yet so profound, that it took a group of kids to make Irene Watson realize what the children's literature industry was missing.
Watson is the founder and managing editor of book review and author publicity service website ReaderViews.com. When the company began in late 2005, it offered children's book reviews written by adults. Then, one day, an author volunteered her manuscripts to be reviewed by a group of children. Seven kids were organized to review the book, and their feedback overwhelming voiced the novel as "stupid." This came as a bit of a surprise to Watson, because the book had already received wonderful reviews from dozens of independent reviewers--who were all adults.
"That's when I started thinking, 'There's something wrong with this picture,'" Watson said. The stark contrast between the rave reviews from the adults and the rotten reviews from the kids prompted Watson to seriously reconsider the children's book section of her book review website. After all, kids are the target audience for kid's books, not adults.
In the spring of 2007, Watson started a new website, ReaderViewsKids.com, with book reviews by kids, for kids. In order to create a reading group of volunteer reviewers, Watson polled numerous children and met with some in person. The kids reading group currently consists of twelve kids from across the United States one from Canada who range in age from 1 to 16 years old. Each of the reviewers is asked to give their open and honest opinion.
Watson's research and experience also indicates that kids are very interested in fantasy, science fiction and mystery novels, but have little attention for self-help books. One author sent in a review request for a book about handling bullies, and Watson had to beg one of the older reviewers to read it because none of her other volunteers were interested. Some self-help and historical fiction novels have been so unappealing to kids that even when offered compensation for the review, Watson was unable to entice anyone for the job.
Over the past year and half, Watson has come to the conclusion that what many authors and publishers think are good ideas for children's books, don't actually interest their target audience. Self-help books, "feel good books," and "pink" books have all flopped when presented to kid reviewers. Watson suggests that if one wants to write a best-selling children's book, a kid's input is not only helpful, but necessary.
"Write what kids want to read," Watson said. "But don't ask kids you know to read your manuscript; truth only comes from kids when they know they won't get into trouble for giving their honest opinion."
Why Feedback from Kids is Essential for a Successful Children’s Book By Meagan Thomsen