How I became a professional book reviewer

Can I really call myself a professional book reviewer? Is that stretching the truth? I’ve wondered that quite frequently over the past few months – since starting in October, actually.

I’ve got this Book Club series, where I share insights gathered from whatever texts I’ve been reading because I think that others might find them interesting. That’s been a mixed bag of productivity hacks, such as those learned from the seminal Atomic Habits, all the way to teaching tidbits that I read about in the likes of Making Every History Lesson Count.

I wouldn’t count any of that as ‘professional’ book reviewing. What I would consider to be ‘professional’ book reviewing is the work that I’ve done with the UKLA this year. Here’s a breakdown of what that entails, how to get involved, and when you’ll get to hear about what I’ve been reading.

What is the UKLA?

The UKLA, or the United Kingdom Literacy Association, is a UK-based charity that’s been around since 1963. Their aim is to improve literacy through research, and they also host the UKLA Book Awards. This is judged exclusively by teachers, and involves firstly choosing a book-type – such as young reads, older reads or non-fiction, and then reading a mountain of pages.

Teachers are in focus groups for this task, where we pick a collection of books to read at a time, discuss and record our thoughts. As a result, the whole task feels a lot more manageable, as you’re only focusing on five books at a time – rather than more than twenty, which can be overwhelming.

The How and Why of professional book reviewing

The How is simple: teachers in the West Midlands were sent emails just shy of a year ago, reaching out, asking if they wanted to get involved. We’re big readers at my school, so a group of us got in on the action. As soon as the current academic year began, books started to arrive in dribs and drabs.

It was all very exciting. I’d be turning up to work wondering, ‘What’s going to be in my pigeon hole today?’

The Why is a little different. I’ve got two reasons for wanting to judge books professionally like this. The first is for a career reason: I think that if we model good behaviour – i.e., reading books – then we can more easily encourage students to copy us. It’s also useful to know what students are reading, as you can use that as a jumping-off point to build rapport with them, or act helpfully whenever you’re in the library and can hear a student wanting recommendations.

Ultimately, though? Ultimately I wanted to take on this challenge because I, quite simply, do not read enough. Last year, I managed just over 25 books, which was a huge leap for me, but I’ve challenged myself with getting through 30 novels this year. Having a deadline of regular discussion meetings throughout the year has really helped to kickstart this goal.

Now, is reading an inherently good thing? That’s a debate for another time, but I enjoy it, which is really what matters the most. Doing more of what you enjoy should always be at the centre of your decisions.

Lastly, I really, really love YA fiction, which is why I’ll be judging books from the 11-14 category this year.

When will you hear more?!

Not for a while, I’m afraid! I don’t want to compromise my judgements over the twenty-plus texts that I’ve been digesting, which means keeping quiet for now. The final round of judging takes place at the end of March, and the winner won’t be revealed until sometime in June, which is when I’ll start pumping out my thoughts on each novel.

If you want to stay up to date on what I am reading, though, you can find my GoodReads account linked here. Notice that all of my recent reads are rated 5 stars: that’s for good reason – no hints until the winner has been announced!

What does the long list look like?

Here’s a full list of the texts that I am/have been reading, in no particular order:

No Country written by Joe Brady, illustrated by Patrice Aggs (David Fickling Books)

The Short Knife written by Elen Caldecott (Andersen Press)

We Were Wolves written and illustrated by Jason Cockcroft (Andersen Press)

The Girl Who Became a Tree written by Jospeh Coehlo illustrated by Kate Millner (Otter-Barry Books)

Cardboard Cowboys written by Brian Conaghan (Bloomsbury)

The Rules written by Tracey Darnton (Little Tiger)

Boy, Everywhere written by A.M Dassu (Old Barn Books)

Everyone Dies Famous in a Small Town written by Bonnie Sue Hitchcock, (Faber)

When the World Was Ours written by Liz Kessler (Simon & Schuster)

The Wolf Road written by Richard Lambert (Everything With Words)

The Supreme Lie written by Geraldine McCaughrean (Usborne)

I Am the Minotaur written by Anthony McGowan (OUP)

The Swallow’s Flight written by Hilary McKay (Macmillan)

The Silent Stars Go By written by Sally Nicholls (Andersen Press)

After the War: from Auschwitz to Ambleside written by Tom Palmer (Barrington Stoke)

The Great Godden written by Meg Rosoff (Bloomsbury)

The Acrobats of Agra written by Robin Scott- Elliot (Everything With Words)

Tsunami Girl written by Julian Sedgwick, illustrated by Chie Kutsuwada,(Guppy Books)

The Outlaws Scarlett and Browne written by Jonathan Stroud (Walker Books)

Cane Warriors written by Alex Wheatle (Andersen Press)

Talking to Alaska written by Anna Woltz, translated by Laura Watkinson (Rock the Boat)

Punching The Air written by Ibi Zoboi and Yusef Salaam (HarperCollins)

Are you going to read any of the books on the long list? Following the links on any of them and buying through my link might give me a small kickback (so thanks in advance!).


While you’re here, you might also like…

– 5 months on with the Galaxy Watch

– The truth behind being a Form Tutor

– Feedback in the classroom

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