Site updated 6/8/2013

You can follow your dream … but follow the dream of every child as much as you can …

Peter Sis, in his acceptance speech as the 2012 Hans Christian Andersen Illustrator Award Winner

Jay’s thoughts this month ...

Dangers of being a children’s book reviewer
The Latest

This display panel lists the most recent South African children’s books which have been reviewed. See the Reviews section (by year).  


ARABELLA, THE MOON AND THE MAGIC MONGONGO NUT by Hamilton Wende (Tafelberg 2013)
BEE MAGIC – written & illustrated by Claudette Barnes (Kids in Books 2012)  


ALL ABOUT SOUTH AFRICA (Struik Lifestyle 2013) CONNECTING TO NATURE  (ELRU “Maths and Science” series 2012)

Jay Heale is always delighted to receive email messages concerning children’s literature, especially about new books which have escaped him so far.

However, please note that Bookchat is not an agency: we do not publish children’s books and we do not place unpublished manuscripts with publishers. For that, authors should contact publishers directly.  

Email Jay here








The Dangers of being a Children’s Book Reviewer

You lose friends faster than you make them in this game. One author considered that my adverse review constituted a personal attack on his integrity and threatened me with legal action. I told him I was very happy to withdraw the review from Bookchat.

Half the problem is that authors will request “May I send you a copy for review?” and what they really mean is “Will you say nice things about my book?”

Way back in about 1989 when Bookchat was fairly young (and just into the days of being printed rather than duplicated), I gave a teenage novel a ‘bad’ review. No email in those days. Instead, I received a lengthy letter from the indignant author defending her book (obviously) and concluding “Why do you have to say such things? Isn’t there enough unhappiness in this world?”

I’m glad to say that this author and I managed, through correspondence, to see more eye-to-eye, and her next novel was vastly superior and I reviewed it most warmly and honestly.

What I learned from this was a basic rule: Never write a brief bad review. A brief good review is easily acceptable. If I have adverse comments, I must have space on the page to explain fully why and how. Far easier, in fact, to provide no review at all – or, if it’s essential, merely to state what the book is about so that readers know the book exists.

That word “readers” is always perplexing. For a time, Bookchat magazine had over 500 paid subscribers. When we reached the 100th issue, I think 800 copies were sent out (though quite a few complimentary). So how many people actually read the reviews, I have no idea! Now in 2013, I gather the website receives about 5,500 “visits” a month. That doesn’t sound too bad.

The “self-published” market is growing fast – as is ebook publishing. I don’t like to make up my mind on a book unless I have handled it personally, so I have decided: “Sorry. No ebooks. I don’t read books on a screen.” And I don’t want something arriving in my computer that takes five minutes to download!

The pleasure resides in finding huge enjoyment inside the pages of a children’s book and being able to share that in the wording of a review. Newspapers and magazines seldom consider children’s books important enough to deserve mention – though they will fill whole pages about the need for literacy. It is heartening to see the arrival of such websites as those of Nal’ibali and the Children’s Book Network and Fundza (among others) which do consider young books are important.

So I write reviews because I enjoy doing so, and if I am lucky I have enjoyed the book as well.

Which still doesn’t protect me from the well-meaning person who says: “I have written a little book …”

Jay Heale