Top Six Reasons Your Book is Not in the School Library…

Posted: August 11, 2010 in Uncategorized, Writing
Tags: , , , , , ,

As a school librarian, I can’t tell you how many times people offer used, new or self-published books for the school library. For one reason or another, nine times out of ten, they are not appropriate for our collection.

Want your book’s spine facing out on the library shelves? Then listen up…

1. Enough with the anthropomorphic animals, people!

So you wrote a charming picture book about a helpful squirrel or a shy frog. Good for you. I have 3, 276 of them already. Talking animals have been done to death. Unless you’re the next H.A. Rey or Kate DiCamillo, please consider a premise with more minty freshness. Kids are tired of these books and so am I.

Talking robots or mutant woodchucks?  Now you’re talking.

2. I will throw your book across the room if you mention the phrases “learns how to…” or “teaches a lesson…”

Seriously. One whiff of GRANDMA TAKES RAINBOW KITTY TO THE DENTIST and I’m out. Kids want to read about complex characters tackling conflicts in a vivid setting. They don’t want to be taught or lectured. They want to get lost in a story and draw their own conclusions. Leave the lessons in Sunday School, please.

Didactic books are so last century. Don’t go there.

3. Your writing style reveals you don’t have a clue about your audience.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve started reading a so called “children’s book” with the voice of a misty eyed eighty year old.

Gee whiz, Gramps.

If your dialogue, phrasing and plot conjure the words  “heartwarming, old fashioned fun” or “Dick and Jane antics,” you don’t know Jack about what kids are reading.

If your story would make a great hallmark movie, it’s probably not a home run for today’s market. Or my library.

4. Your writing style reveals you don’t have a clue about format or genre.

A 30,ooo word picture book? A twenty page mystery for sixth graders? Fritz the Friendly Frog, a chapter book for shy tweens?

No. No. And heck No! Maybe you chose the wrong format. Maybe your picture book is really a middle grade novel. Maybe your middle grade chapter book with an eight year old protagonist is really an early childhood picture book. Maybe your voice is not a good fit for your target audience.

Maybe no kid of any age would touch your book with a ten foot Nerf bat. Just sayin’.

5. I’ve read books written by second graders better than yours.

After reading your typo filled book with the dayglo, grainy stock photo cover, I suspect you barely have opposable thumbs.

I don’t just reject these dreadful books, I exorcise them from my library. Get thee behind me, Lulu!

6. Your books scares me. And not in a good way.

Your anime style romp with sword wielding, brimstone breathing, scripture quoting heroes in spandex? Tis’ the mark of the beast.

Your middle grade chapter book infused with colorful pejoratives and racist overtones? No thank you, you are not, in fact, this century’s Mark Twain. Kindly respect the restraining order.

Okay, before you spray the comments section with hate scented air freshener, just know I’m exaggerating. A little.


What turns you off a book? I’d love to know.

Hungry for more? Try these Indoor S’mores, the easy to make snack my library kids love.

  1. Virtual Sinner says:

    Hmm, I sense a vein of frustration.

    As a parent, I always found it hard to predict what my kids would like, and what they wouldn’t. To some extent, they picked up on whatever enthusiasm their mom or I brought to the reading. On the other hand, funny is funny, and scary is scary, or not. Keep away from not.

    My son was scared by one picture in a Berenstain Bears book. because Papa Bear’s face was only half in the picture. Who can predict that?

  2. jmartinlibrary says:

    Virtual sinner,

    Of course, I’m exaggerating. But…I see a lot of sub par books. And there are too many wonderful books out there to select less than stellar titles. As for scary books, it’s impossible to predict. That’s why we have a variety, so each child can find that just right fit.

    What is very scary for one child is funny for another.

  3. Kendra says:

    “Issue” books that are as subtle as the evening news drive me bananas. Really. Can we please have something more original than the world ending due to global warming? Yes, real issues exist. Sure, they are relevant in YA. But bring me there in a unique and heart-rending way…don’t bash me over the head with it.

  4. jmartinlibrary says:

    Kendra. A to the Men!

    Exactly. Thanks for elaborating a fine point.

  5. sarah louise says:

    Right now I have a book that a church friend gave me, that I would have rejected and my supervisor in fact did. Self-publishing is a double-edged sword!! I’m not looking forward to returning the book to the person who gave it to me…

    • jmartinlibrary says:

      Sarah Louise:

      I hear ya, sister. I usually (diplomatically) explain that we have a collection policy to adhere to. That usually does the trick.

  6. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Andy Woodworth and TK Richardson, Jenny Martin. Jenny Martin said: Inspired by a fab Writeoncon session on writers & libraries: 6 REASONS WHY YOUR BOOK ISN'T IN MY SCHOOL LIBRARY […]

  7. catwoods says:

    Awesome post. It’s nice to know from a different perspective why books work or don’t with today’s kids. It’s also enlightening to know that agents and editors AND librarians all want the same things (generally). Good writing, fresh stories and relevant topics.

    Not so hard…

    : )

  8. June says:

    My word! I didn’t know it was that bad in the literary/library wilderness. “Get thee behind me lulu?” Good grief. Sometimes this publishing thing is just scary.I thought you were going to mention something like too much profanity in YA or something along those lines. You have my deepest sympathy.

    • jmartinlibrary says:

      It’s not bad at all. It’s more like a garden than a wilderness. I’m only addressing the glut of less than wonderful books people sometimes want to donate, not the thousands of excellent reads we find to include.

      Thanks for stopping by.

  9. John says:

    Number 7 Bad Language

    Your librarian won’t allow books in the library that contain SH–, Damn, G.D. or F—

    Censorship based on her religious beliefs.

  10. jmartinlibrary says:


    I guess I see a different side. None of the librarians I know are book banners. In fact, the profession is famous for fighting book banners in the community.

    ALA is pretty clear on freedom to read and it’s position on library bill of rights.

    Librarians include lots of books w/ POVs outside of their personal beliefs, tastes, etc.

  11. This is by far my favorite post I’ve read today. Thanks!

  12. jmartinlibrary says:

    Elana: Aw, I’m glad you liked it. Kinda makes me feel all sunshine-y you stopped by. 😉

  13. Heck yes. As a former bookseller I have seen all of these. They make me want to cry. I also have heard “my husband is writing a historical novel about blah blah because there are no good books for teens and blah blah needs to be on the shelves.” PUNCHEDINTHEFACE.

    You rock for putting it out there, balls-to-the-wall.

    • Emily:

      I am soooo with you on the PUNCHEDINTHEFACE-NESS.

      People who complain about kid lit usually don’t know squat about the market or what’s on the shelves. Thanks for the extra insight from your own experiences!

      (And I checked out your site…you get extra points for the Foo Love) 🙂

  14. amkuska says:

    I like stories with morals to them. I just don’t like stories with morals that I know are there. I want the moral to be so subtle and pervasive that I put the book down thinking the moral I took away was really my idea, and not the authors.

    If I know the author is trying to sell something to me, I don’t want it. >_>

  15. jmartinlibrary says:

    Amkuska: Well said. I don’t want to be sold, I want to be enchanted.

  16. circulating says:

    exactly those kinds of books you described turned me, as a public librarian, off too… as well as the self-published authors who arrive unannounced with their book in hand expecting you to purchase it on the spot…


    after explaining to them the need to review a copy they quickly offer a slightly “special” price to make it easier for the librarian to do just that… LOL… and the bindings… do not get me started on the bindings… :/

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