Help! I need some advice from those of you who are children’s book review experts. I sat down this morning to review two books about ants. After reading them, I was disturbed by the number of factual errors and I felt like I couldn’t give either a positive review.
Some of the errors are big, glaring ones. For example, one book defined honeydew as the feces of aphids, and then in the glossary defined feces as the solid waste of animals. If you have ever had aphids on your plants, you know that honeydew is a sticky liquid. The sentence reads “Honeydew is the feces of aphids and some caterpillars and is a much-prized feast for several species of ants.” Knowing a bit about this, the liquid “honeydew” from caterpillars is actually a glandular secretion, not a form of excrement at all.
A number of the errors are smaller. For example, the other book says there are about 8,000 species of ants, whereas the website that keeps track of actual species names now has well over 12,000 listed.
Those are just two examples. Frankly, all these errors turned me off, but I am hesitant to write negative reviews. I know how much time and effort goes into writing a book. On the other hand, these errors are perpetuated as others read these books as references, and take them at face value. I once read a reviewer that suggested the reader not buy a book because it contained a few misplaced commas! What do you do when you come across something like this? Do you ever write negative reviews based on the number of errors you found in a book?
While I’m at it, some of the Cybils judges have been discussing what constitutes a nonfiction work these days. What do you do with a book like the Magic School Bus series, which mixes fiction to create a story, with great information? It’s a hard question to answer, but I wanted to take the question even further.
I don’t have any problem with books that mix fact and fiction when the fiction is clear. We all know that buses don’t really fly. But what about an author who uses creative nonfiction techniques in a book that “feels” like straight nonfiction? Let me give you an example. I was reading a book that was a compilation of biographies of several famous individuals. One was a figure I know a lot about from my own research. In the chapter about that figure the author took two unrelated events and combined them into an event that never actually happened, using creative nonfiction techniques.
Frankly, I was distressed. The event as she described it suggested that the figure had a different personality/temperament than shown in the two separate events that actually occurred. Knowing what I did about that chapter made me doubt the information in all the chapters. What do you think of all this? Does it bother you when nonfiction authors make things up? Do you think it would help if authors revealed their use of creative nonfiction at the outset? Should nonfiction books stick to just the facts? What do you do when the facts are debatable?
I would really love to hear what you think.