One of the exciting and rather nerve-racking things about publishing a new book is reading reviews. I wanted to thank all the people who took the time to read and review Can’t-Dance-Cameron in 2014 so I’ve decided to review the reviews in this blog.
Firstly, I should probably mention – Children’s books don’t traditionally get many published reviews. Adults seem to prefer to review adult books. But that doesn’t mean reviews don’t appear in other places. I’ve had reviews on Mum blogs, Dad blogs, Wildlife blogs, online magazines, on Kirkus Review (in New York) and on book sales sites like amazon.
So now to review the reviews. I’m not going to give them stars (anyone who’s taken the time to review Cameron gets five stars in my book already) but it did get me thinking. To review a review, I need to know…
What Makes a Good Review?
Looking at the reviews I’ve had, I’ve put together my top five things:
- It tells you enough about the story to make you want to read it but not too much (no spoilers).
- It gives specifics, why do you like or dislike something? What is it about a character that you enjoyed?
- It’s personal. We all review things through the filter of who we are and what makes us tick. What did you personally connect with with a book and why? Use language or examples that share a bit of you.
- It tells a story. I want a beginning, middle and end. I want the journey to stay exciting and I want to find out what happens next.
- It makes you smile. I guess that’s about connection again, something that makes you laugh or makes you think.
Review of the Reviews
Following the points above, I’ll try my best to review the reviews:
11th Sep, Read It Daddy
In this brilliant blog, I like to think of ‘Read It Daddy’ and his daughter Charlotte as imparting wisdom as picture book reviewing extraordinaires. Just their intro has everything listed above – it’s personal, specific, funny and it sums up the story:
Never call him a grouse! Charlotte mistook him for a pigeon. But he’s one of my favourite birds, he’s Cameron – the Scottish Capercaillie and as awesome as he is, there’s just one problem. Cameron can’t dance!
My favourite line, comes a little later on and it concerns the supporting role in the story, Hazel the red squirrel:
We like to think of Hazel imparting her words of wisdom like a female more-squirrelly Morgan Freeman :)
And I love how Read it Daddy has included video footage of actual dancing capercaillies in the wild at the end. Also a really nice touch is the ‘favourite bits’ comments. Again it’s specifics and showing the child and adult angle on the book.
Thank you Read It Daddy and Charlotte!
24th Sep, Dorkymum Blog
And now for a mum blog, again a wonderful blog. It includes Ruth’s (Dorkymum) gorgeous photographs and her honest reflections on life, parenthood and everything else.
The review is a well written story, it has a beginning, middle and end and it’s personal. Here’s how it begins:
There is nothing that DorkySon loves more than coming home from school to find a parcel waiting for him on the table, and especially so when it contains a new book.
This review is quoted on Amazon and in several other places so evidently my publishers loved it! This is the lines that I keep finding quoted:
Can’t Dance Cameron is a wonderful, gentle wee story about learning to believe in yourself, and discovering what you are good at.
Later she expertly sums up the story in one paragraph and also talks about the importance of connecting with her Scottish routes. Dorky Mum lives in Australia but she’s originally from Scotland.
I think my favourite line is this:
DorkySon thought this was a great book. it made him giggle, but it also made him think – I could almost hear the cogs whirring.
Just because the story behind the story is important to me, about children knowing they can do things even if they do them badly at first and people laugh at them. This is my story too – I’m slightly dyslexic and everyone used to laugh at my spelling, now thanks to others encouraging me – I’m a writer!
Hurrah for Dorkymum and Dorkyson!
16th Oct, Lothian Life Magazine
This review begins more like a news story to be in keeping with the publication. It introduces the Kelpies range of picture books first and then goes on to the latest book, Can’t-Dance-Cameron. That’s where the fun begins. Reviewer Suse takes the story a step beyond any other reviewer by questioning the need to dance. Yep, she really does it – she mentions the M-word:
Now as everyone from the Plaza ballroom in Glasgow to the forest floor in the Cairngorms knows, dancing is an important part of mating, so Cameron is in big trouble. But fortunately for him, he meets a sympathetic squirrel, Hazel, who offers to teach him to dance in exchange for help in finding her lost nuts.
The review continues in a witty style, an adult perspective on a children’s book – very different to the Dad and Mum blog reviews above but still brilliant and reflective of the writer, Suse Cone’s quirky personality.
4th Nov, Kirkus Reviews, New York (Also Magazine – Kirkus Reviews Issue Nov. 14th 2014)
This review came as a surprise to me, I was quite excited to discover Kirkus are based in the USA and they review LOADS of books.
I love the launguage in this review, it’s essentially a summary of the story but with almost poetic narrative:
Can Cameron kick up a capercaillie ceilidh—a shindig, that is, a hoedown, a bird hop—in the ancient evergreen woodlands under the Cairngorms, or is he a grouse with two left feet?
Hazel is described as giving zen guidance and I really enjoyed the description of the dance moves with a feathered Fred Astaire:
He can shimmy (see him shake off those pine needles); he can duck walk (see him limbo under that downed tree); he can kick like a Rockette (see him distract that bobcat by booting a pine cone). Now tie them together on the dance floor—he’s a feathered Fred Astaire.
And it’s interesting to see the location or ‘locale’ (as they put it) being described as ‘exotic, yet very real’. I suppose the cairngorms are exotic if you live in New York.
Thank you Kirkus!
5th November, Scottish Natural Heritage Blog (Scotland’s Nature)
I had an email from Scottish Natural Heritage asking if I was okay with them reviewing Can’t-Dance-Cameron in a post on their nature blog along with several other books – I WAS SO EXCITED!
The other books in the post are adult books, I mentioned at the start of this post that children’s books hardly ever get coverage alongside adult books so this was wonderful news. Plus the other books in the blog are totally amazing so I felt proud and privileged to be included alongside such greatness as ‘H is for Hawk‘ (which just won the Costa Book Prize) and ‘Otters: Return to the River‘ by Laurie Campbell and Anna Leven. I have that book, it’s beautiful!
I love the way this this post is written from a scientific point of view, it uses the word ‘lek’ (that’s the capercaillie dance) and talks about it the book being:
a great tale to get toddlers interested in nature.
My favourite part is the last line:
Lovingly illustrated this is a fine example of how children can be subtly charmed by the wonders of nature and that not all stories need to feature overseas exotica.
Although when I quoted the above on facebook, I had a few comments. It seems people were confusing exotica with a similar word. I’ll say no more but a thank you to Scottish Natural Heritage.
There are 12 reviews on amazon so far. I love these because they do all the things in my top five list above but in a much smaller word count. They include ages of the children who enjoy the book, how it’s read, why the parents enjoyed it and each person seems to have given the review a personal and often comedic slant. For example here’s a couple of quotes from Brian Wilkinson’s review:
Cameron’s untapped potential is released by his friend Hazel and from starting out as a two-left-footed wallflower he turns into the forest’s new Lord of the Dance….
I read this to my son at bedtime (It’s the ideal length for a bedtime story), and he wanted it read again first thing in the morning.
Both my six-year-old and my two-year-old love this book, and request it regularly at bedtime. A great story with lovely illustrations that passes the ‘repeated reading’ test with flying colours.
And Helen Ewan gets the prize for writing the most enthusiastic amazon review. It starts with:
Just read this AMAZING book! Wow. Wow. Wowzer!
You can read the rest of these lovely reviews and many more here.
There’s also a lovely but lonely five star review on goodreads (lonely in that it’s the only one – it’s not written by a lonely person – she sounds amazing) and the awesome ‘Hive‘ has no reviews. The hive is the cheapest place to buy Can’t-Dance-Cameron online just now and includes free delivery to your local independent bookstore who even get a percentage of the profits (did I mention I love the hive?).
So if you’ve been inspired by the reviews above, I’d love to read your review somewhere soon. But can I just say, if you hated Cameron – why not review another book that you loved instead?
With thanks to all the wonderful reviewers of Can’t-Dance-Cameron in 2014. And to Ben and Eva at Leith Library (featured in the photo at the top).