Photograph by Bob Capazzo
Tweens and teens in search of page turners to add to their summer reading lists would be wise to check out the picks of a group of young book critics based at the Perrot Memorial Library.
Publishers’ representatives have been known to visit the Perrot just to hear what two critics’ groups, one for middle-schoolers (YCC) and another for fourth- and fifth- graders (Y2C2), have to say about new imprints. “I love being around people who love books, but I think one of the most interesting things about being involved is that publishers want to hear what we say about books,” says Y2C2 member Maggie Petz, an eleven-year-old who is heading to Eastern this fall. “It’s a good way for them to know what kids actually like.”
Critics like Maggie are keeping up a tradition that began in the ’80s under the leadership of Kate McClelland and her successor Kathy Krasniewicz, Perrot librarians who were tragically killed by a drunk driver in Colorado in 2009 after attending an American Library Association conference.
“What they created is not so much a book discussion group as it is a book opinion group,” explains Kathy Jarombek, Perrot’s head of youth services, who honors the librarians’ legacy with the help of dedicated volunteers. “These kids are testing books for other kids.”
For committed young readers, there’s a literary cachet to being one of the approximately sixty students chosen through a competitive application process to meet every other week for book talks led by Kathy and volunteers Mary Jane Wynne and Jennifer Lau. The critics take turns reading new books and rate them on a system of zero to four stars, sharing their reviews at meetings.
“What we find is that the kids who end up doing this usually don’t come because their mom thinks it’s a good idea,” notes Kathy. “They just genuinely love good books.” Longtime critics Charlie Decker and Sarah McDonnell (both bound for Greenwich High this fall) say it’s not unusual to read two or three novels a week. “It’s a great vocabulary builder,” says Sarah, “and it exposes you to ideas, places and experiences you might not have otherwise.”
The kids take their rating seriously and meetings are often punctuated with good-natured sparring over the pros and cons of novels. What stirs hot debate? Just about anything ending with a cliff-hanger, something the young critics seem to love or hate.
“It can be frustrating,” says Sarah. “But it also means there will probably be a sequel.” Recommendations are available at Perrot and on its website. Currently, there’s a wait list for 2017-2018 groups.
YCC and Y2C2 reviewed more than fifty new books during the past year. Here are a few favorites.
FOR MIDDLE SCHOOL READERS
The Girl Who Drank the Moon by Kelly Barnhill
A girl unlocks the magic hidden deep within her in this epic fantasy that the YCC readers called “amazing.”
The Reader by Traci Chee
Sarah McDonnell loved this engrossing novel about a girl trying to solve her father’s murder in a society where there is no reading and writing.
FOR THE OLDER ELEMENTARY SCHOOL SET
Framed! A T.O.A.S.T. Mystery by James Ponti
Two middle school students help the FBI solve a case involving an international crime syndicate. The Young Critics declared it “un-put-downable.”
The Harlem Charade by Natasha Tarpley
Maggie Petz recommends this mystery novel set in the ’60s Harlem for its interesting characters and “the fact you never know what’s going to happen.”