I wrote ‘Don’t Look in This Book’ following the success of my first, Christmas story, Santa’s Wish and on the request of several teachers and early years children (particularly boys) who I met on my 2017 Christmas schools tour. “Are you going to write a book for boys to get into?” the teachers said, “We don’t get many books that boys this [reception] age really engage with.”
So, I set out to write an unusual book for the ‘kid who hates books’ over the Christmas holidays: so I guess it should be no surprise then, that this book should be hated in turn by a more traditional expert, a well respected Librarian.
I am frustrated with myself in letting comments such as ‘distinctly underwhelming’ hit me so hard. It’s natural that such a disruptive book won’t be to everyone’s tastes; but no matter how much work you put into something you know that your customers like, it's tough knowing you’re regularly at the hands of more ‘traditional’ gatekeepers.
As an author it’s too easy to be subjective on your books and indeed on whether criticism is fair or not (obviously each book is like a baby to me, born unto the world) so I know I need to try my upmost to learn how to professionally respect alternative opinions; but in a world where some ‘influencers’ can embrace how great they look with yoghurt down their tops or how a Pot Noodle may just need to cut it for the kids’ dinner (and enjoy thousands upon thousands of followers and commercial relationships with major brands) it seems a little distorted. I’m honestly not dissing bloggers by the way, after it took me over four hours to film myself reading said book, I have a newfound respect for how much work it takes to create content people want to see!
This also isn’t a cry for compliments and ego-massaging. Despite the many anecdotal compliments I have had from children, parents and teachers, in true, frustrating human nature, it’s hard to shake off that one comment that feels personal and hurtful. Luckily the next book is a little more traditional in it’s approach and whilst it won’t be without its critics (what book is?) I promise to try and not be such a princess next time and try to take the rough with the smooth.
But what I do want to say is that this book, however ‘underwhelming’ has given many children the much-needed inspiration to read and more importantly write for pleasure for the first time.
In a system where the curriculum is strangling creativity in literacy I feel really strongly that maybe we need to shake things up a little to break the mould. I was thrilled when one teacher wrote to me saying “there was something to capture everybody's imagination and even some of our most reluctant writers couldn't stop talking about the stories there were going to write!”
So in the spirit of fairness, here are two very different reviews of ‘Don’t Look in This Book’ for you to consider:
“Could understand what he was trying to do but the there is little direction to the plot, the text rhymes but has no real rhythm and doesn’t read aloud well, the variety of illustrations is a sound idea but does nothing to pull the whole together… We felt the title was actually sound advice!”
“Sam’s book helped me understand how writing can be fun when you use your imagination. Sam is an amazing author and I can’t wait to hear another one of his stories.”
I hope those people reading this will buy the book and make your own mind up; but please, if you’re going to be negative, that's totally fine, but be gentle! 😊