The legitimacy of critique : or, who am I?

(This is today’s post – a long read touching on criticism, the internet, and also distant reading. There’s a bit of theory, but I hope it’s worth the effort. If you’d like to read other longer posts in this series, here’s the archive of long reads.)

I have a friend who’s researching narrative autobiography, and every now and then, when we’re out, it’s fun to talk about the great self-questioning nature of her research. Of course all postgraduate research is self-questioning and often far too much so. The question of one’s mental health during research is something I’ve covered elsewhere, but I want to talk here about the legitimacy of critique. Or, to be more specific, the legitimacy of critics.

I’m reaching the end point of my research and am working on making it a springboard into something else. This requires talking to a lot of people, and pitching a lot of ideas, but I’m doing it with the realisation that I am a new person now. Research – this period of frantic question, determined typing, and ferocious passion – has changed me. It’s made me more confident (more argumentative, as my family will point out) and it’s led me towards questioning everything in my sector of children’s literature. I am moving into better and greater things but I will do that reflexively. I don’t leave readers behind. You, and the people I work with, the people I share texts with, all of you will come with me for the ride because literacy – power – doesn’t work when it’s in the singular. This is a collective effort, a collective strength, and the ability to question – to realise – to challenge – and to understand – is vital.

This has never been a blog for me, and my children’s books, it’s a blog for us.

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The books I don’t review

Oh, that title makes me think of some sort of bookish elephant graveyard! Rest assured, that’s not my intention; this post is to talk about all the books I don’t review. I read a lot of books (a lot, seriously, it’s like my superpower) and I don’t even begin to review half of them. A handful, really, and I thought it would be interesting to share a few of the reasons why the ones that Don’t Get Reviewed, um, don’t get reviewed. I am a horrible reader. Consider these my confessions!

  • Really horrible front cover. I thought I could get past it. I couldn’t.
  • You know that habit of making the first letter fancy and a different font in a paragraph? Like This? That.
  • That thing where people don’t use speechmarks and instead use – or nothing. I can’t deal.
  • A stain on one page. A mysterious, please GOD, don’t make me talk about it any more stain.
  • Not being able to say much about it. “This book is good” doesn’t make a review.
  • Being able to say too much about it. “This book is everything that’s wrong with the world” makes the review too much.
  • Books represented by my agent or her agency. A conflict of interests and super weird for me to review them from a critical place.BUT. I will talk about them on Twitter because it is nice to talk about nice books.
  • Oh my god, I stopped one recently because it had horrible feeling pages. Forgive me!
  • Boring book. It took about 300 pages to get anywhere and by 301, I’d had enough. Other things to do, people to see.
  • It dealt with an important issue BUT didn’t deal with it in a way that felt I could use it and talk about it. A difficult one, but any inkling of doubt is something that I take very seriously. Gatekeeper, I know, and that’s something I’ll talk about at a later date.
  • It had an awful pun in.
  • I couldn’t add anything to the critical discourse around it.
  • Forced rhyme. The sort of rhyme that works with a very particular type of English and not, quite, with everything.
  • Bad binding. Forgive me!


Next time : a list of the reasons I do review a book. It is a lot less embarrassing 🙂



Standing on the Shoulders of Giants

I think about things, probably much more than I should, and sometimes the expressing of things is difficult. That’s life, I suppose, that tongue-knot that comes when you least expect it. But it’s how you deal with it, that’s what matters. It’s how you learn to speak, to write to express yourself even through all the boundaries you place in your way.

And that’s why I love blogging. I love the freedom of it, the way the space can be constructed as however you wish. I love the way that by engaging in it, you’re engaging in,  well, everything. You’re throwing out little hooks into society and every now and then you’re meeting somebody who just blows your mind. An anchor. Somebody to hitch your colours to, somebody who speaks about the things you believe . Somebody who says what you want to say, what you want to be said.

Books have done a lot for me. They’ve given me power and words for the darkest darknesses. In a way that’s why I write – I want to share that power with others. I want to pay it forward. I believe in the transformative power of literacy. I believe in books.

And I believe in people. One of the greatest joys of doing this blog has been finding my anchors. People such as Ali from Fantastic Reads, Zoe from Playing By The Book, Melanie from Library Mice and Anne-Marie from Child-Led Chaos. People such as Yvonne from Babbleabout, Megan and Claire from Women Write About Comics, Saranga from New Reader’s Start Here and Carmen Haselup. There’s  more, of course there’s more, but I’m moments from typing in all of the lyrics to ‘The Circle of Life’ so I’m going to stop it there.

The thing about this community (am I calling it a community? I think I am. That’s kind of splendid) is that there’s so much here.So much skill, knowledge and passion. So many genuinely fascinating people doing genuinely fascinating things, pushing, prodding and examining children’s literature be that examining the representations of female animal characters in children’s literature, running edible book festivals, reviewing forgotten classics and giving voice to the great unsung stories that deserve to be sung about that little bit louder.

And I think that’s a bit amazing and should be a little bit recognised. Hence this.