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Among The Stars: Our Starred Review Spreadsheet

Raise your hand if you remember Jen J's Starred Reviews Spreadsheet?

I can almost hear the wistful sighs of those who used that resource regularly. Perhaps you consulted it as a collection development tool. Or maybe you just sorted and perused each column as a way of keeping up with books that were getting a lot of critical acclaim that year. I loved that spreadsheet so much that it held a coveted position in my Google Chrome Bookmarks Bar for years! But then, as so many good things do, it came to an end. Jen J hung up her spreadsheet curating hat, and the once active webpage went dormant.

Honestly. I don't blame Jen one bit l for calling it quits. While, on the surface, recording the starred reviews awarded to books published for young people each month may not seem like *that* big of a deal, I am here to report that it is indeed a big deal. In fact, it's a humungous deal. A frustrating, time consuming and, often, super rewarding, big deal.


And I would know, because last year, in an attempt to fill the void left by the original starred review spreadsheet, Donalyn Miller and I embarked on a journey to create our own. And what a journey it has been! Here are some things I've learned as a result of this project.

  • First, a lot of people don't read directions. Y'all. Stop sending us share requests for this spreadsheet! While you're welcome to make a copy of your own, we do not grant others editing rights to our work. (Did that sound snarky? Well... that's only become it kinda was. 😉)

  • While (approx) a zillion books earn a star each year, only a handful end up with four or more of these distinctions. For example, at the time of this writing, we've recorded nearly 1,000 entries on the spreadsheet. However, only 13 titles have received 4 or more stars. Wondering which titles have earned the most stars so far this year?? More on that in a bit!

  • This project will never be up to date! Never! Not only are reviews issued several times per month, but I spend almost as much time fixing data entry errors as I do entering data! We do our best to be accurate, but as the reviews pile up, it's easy to make mistakes.

  • It's important to put trade reviews into perspective. Thousands of books are published each year. Only a percentage of those are reviewed by one of the Big Six trade journals and an even smaller percentage of those receive a star. Plus, a starred review is only one of many, many ways books are honored. And, arguably, those that receive the stars of our hearts (or the hearts of the young people we serve) are far more important.

  • Still... this work has proven to be very meaningful for me. In addition to making me aware of books I might never have heard of otherwise, it's also helped me recognize publishing trends more broadly. I feel better able to speak about children's literature, with another layer of authority, as a result of this work. It's a lot, but I'm super grateful for it.


As of this writing, only two books have received a starred review from all six of the trade journals we curate. They are: The Enigma Girls: How Ten Teenagers Broke Ciphers, Kept Secrets, and Helped Win World War II by Candace Fleming and Lunar New Year Love Story by Gene Luen Yang and LeUyen Pham. This is a perfect example of how this spreadsheet has broadened my reading horizons! While I read (and loved!) Lunar New Year Love Story as an arc, I probably would not have picked up The Enigma Girls, simply because nonfiction isn't typically my jam. But when a book starts earning multiple stars, I take note and bump it to the top of my TBR pile.

It's also gratifying to see books I legitimately love resonate with reviewers, too. For example, I'm delighted to see The Last Stand by Jarrett and Jerome Pumphrey near the top of our spreadsheet, while also being frustrated that other books of my heart haven't (yet) earned all the stars possible... but I digress.


All of that said, one of the reasons we started this work was to provide a resource for educators who are required to collect positive reviews of books before purchasing them. While we find this type of micromanagement of people with the skills and training to select the perfect books for the kids they serve ridiculous, we also hope our work will help make those hoops a bit easier to jump through.

So... I hope you find our spreadsheet useful. When viewing/using the spreadsheet, you should be able to sort each column to help you get the most out of the data. And, of course, you are more than welcome to make your own copy (so that you can delete or add columns as you see fit). Just don't send us a share request, y'all. Seriously. 😘


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