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Elizabeth Hawksley on reviewing children’s historical novels

February 2, 2010

I review children’s books for the Historical Novel Society. Their quarterly review magazine reviews most historical novels published in the previous quarter. So who reads it? Members include not only fans of the historical novel, but also literary agents, librarians and school-teachers, together with many historical novelists, including children’s authors Theresa Tomlinson and Ann Turnbull.

So, what am I looking for? The same as any other reviewer: a strong plot, believable characters that children can identify with and a cracking pace. Added to this, the historical setting must be credible – no 21st century characters masquerading in fancy dress, for example. Too much description is out. Children nowadays want to get on with the story; they want something exciting to be at stake and they don’t want the author to pull his or her punches.

I also use a number of young cousins, ranging from six to sixteen-years-old, who review as well and I thoroughly enjoy reading their fresh takes on the books. If they don’t like a book, they will say so – with reasons – and they are more than capable of saying what could be improved.  

As a novelist myself, I have learnt a lot from my young reviewers about what they enjoy in a book. And that is the point, isn’t it? After all, we at buzzaboutbooks are aiming to write books which children want to read.

One Comment leave one →
  1. Lorna Hoey permalink
    February 2, 2010 8:38 pm

    I couldn’t agree with you more about ’21st century characters masquerading in fancy dress’. When a mistake is made it jumps out a mile.

    Last week, during an episode of ‘Lark Rise To Candleford’ on BBC1 ( it is, I assume, set in the early 1800s) a character announced ‘I’ll be right back!’ Surely it should have been something like: ‘I’ll be back directly!’

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