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ACL Ratings and Considerations
The list below includes important attributes for basic types of nonfiction and fiction. An outstanding book achieves all or most of these attributes. An unsatisfactory book fails to achieve all or most of these attributes and also includes general flaws or deficiencies that argue against its inclusion in a library collection: bias, artless inaccuracies, poor design, and lack of respect for the intended audience. A book receiving an additional rating is generally considered a “good” book, without major flaws; it is useful, accurate and appealing to young readers.
Outstanding: Successful history should make past eras come alive for the reader. Check the author’s accuracy and biases. Does the author attempt to present the “facts” from more than one point of view? Are bibliography, footnotes and index included? If not, should they be?
Additional: An acceptable book of history will present an accurate and unbiased account of a particular period in history and will include documentation of sources. Inclusion in a particular collection will be based on coverage of the topic, currency of the existing collection and patron interest.
Unsatisfactory: Unsatisfactory history might be biased, inaccurate in more than a couple of details, lacking in source notes, fictionalized, a mixture of facts and guesswork, or written in a way that will confuse or mislead the reader.
Outstanding: Biography for children is frequently not documented. For this reason, it is particularly important to check the author’s credentials. Does the author “know” the person and the field? Does the subject of the biography come through as a developed character? Have the incidents included been wisely chosen to provide an accurate portrayal of the world in which he/she lived? Is dialog based on imagination, or on diaries, letters, etc.? In either case, are source notes and other material included to support the text?
Additional: An acceptable but not outstanding biography will give an accurate account of a person’s life and role in their own time as well as their relevance to an understanding of today’s world. Other competent biographies of the person or stronger (more lively, readable, or textured) biographies already in the library collection may make the purchase of this title unnecessary, while high patron demand or gaps in subject coverage will argue for purchase.
Unsatisfactory: Biography in the unsatisfactory category might include fictionalized dialog from the author’s imagination. It might lack source notes, or fail to put the subject into context. A lack of balance or undue bias might lead to a poor presentation of the subject. Important events might be omitted, or minor ones magnified, to make the subject seem better or worse than he or she is.
Outstanding: Readability. Is the language and technical information appropriate to the audience? Accuracy. It is essential to compare books/authorities for authenticity of information Currency. In fields where knowledge is rapidly changing, will the book soon be obsolete? Illustrations. Are drawings and photographs sharp, clear and detailed? Do they include captions? Sources. Are source notes and other supporting materials included?
Additional: An acceptable but not outstanding book of science is clear and accurate with illustrations that explain and clarify the text. Purchase by a particular library is determined by the need for subject coverage and currency of similar titles already in the collection.
Unsatisfactory: The subject matter, the age of the intended audience, and the vocabulary might be mismatched. More than a couple of small flaws in accuracy will be evident. Illustrations might be unclear or unhelpful, information in the text might be obsolete, or documentation and source notes might be lacking. Guesswork might take the place of scientific rigor.
Outstanding: Is it an appealing story? (See fiction and picture book genres for specific criteria). How does the book compare with others of the same kind? Are the stories available in other collections? Is it a book for children or a book for folklorists? Does the style reflect an oral tradition or is this a literary treatment? As far as you can tell, do the stories and telling style truly represent the culture from which they come? Does the story convey a cultural authenticity or reflect a bias imposed from the outside? Are sources, cultural context, parallels, or other additional information provided?
Additional: Additional books of folklore are added to a library’s collection when additional coverage of that type of folklore or material from that particular culture is needed. While exceptional folklore achieves an outstanding rating by virtue of its notable presentation, inclusion of tales from an oral tradition that are particularly hard to find, or tales that are particularly vibrant examples of storytelling likely to be used in library programming, additional titles, may be added or not depending on the scope of the existing collection and patron demand.
Unsatisfactory: Lacks many or all of the following: Source notes or documentation of the story’s origin; respect for the culture from which the story is taken; a well-told story and, if applicable, well-done illustrations; a storytelling voice that will appeal to children.
Outstanding: Poetry should represent a new perspective with an economy of well chosen words. It must speak to the child, not at, or about him./her. Evaluate poetry on its uniqueness and its use of language. Look for a variety of meter, rhyme, scheme and type. With an anthology, check the availability of the selections elsewhere.
Additional: Books of poetry recommended for additional purchase use language and poetry conventions well in a way that will appeal to young readers. Inclusion in a particular collection depends on how well poetry on that particular topic, or for a particular age of reader, or type of use will enhance the current collection.
Unsatisfactory: Unsatisfactory poetry might have serious flaws in meter or rhyme, where such are intended. Ideas or word choice are clichéd. In the case of an anthology, individual poems might be good, but the poems might be easily available elsewhere, or the selection might reflect outdated standards.
Outstanding: Are the directions clear and complete? Do the instructions include safety precautions (knives, stoves, etc.) Do the projects encourage creativity or are they cut-and-dried recipes.
Additional: An acceptable how-to book conveys accurate and safe instructions, but its purchase for an existing collection is dependent on whether the collection already has sufficient current materials and/or patron demand for such a title.
Unsatisfactory: Directions might skip steps or be unclear. Lists of materials might be incomplete, or children might be encouraged to do tasks that are developmentally inappropriate or unsafe. Illustrations of the finished product might be missing or poor.
Outstanding: Sports should be compelling and exciting. Does the author create dramatic moments without resorting to clichés? Are statistics used judiciously without bombarding the reader? In how-to sports, is the intended audience able to attempt the skills described? In the illustrations, is there diversity of gender, race, and body type where appropriate?
Additional: An acceptable sports book includes accurate and current information on sports history, athletes, and/or playing techniques.
Unsatisfactory: The illustrations lack diversity of gender, race, and body type even when appropriate. The text is filled with clichés, mistakes, bias, or inappropriate for the intended audience. The text is uninteresting. In a how-to book, the steps are not clear. The readers are encouraged to try new skills that are unsafe.
Outstanding: An appealing story, told smoothly, with freshness and originality. Is the story absorbing, convincing, and carefully worked out to an honest conclusion? Are the characters credibly fleshed out? In the case of a sequel, is it able to stand alone or must one have read the previous title(s)?
Additional: An additional novel is readable, well-written and of interest to some young readers; its inclusion in a library’s collection may be limited by reader interest and the size of the collection as well as by patrons’ ease of access to larger collections and, in the case of series titles, to earlier titles in the series.
Unsatisfactory: Unsatisfactory fiction might also include some of the following: A lack of respect for the reader; outdated or problematic stereotypes; factual and grammatical errors; plagiarism; poor design that materially affects the books function; poorly written text.
Outstanding: In its best form a picture book is a union of text and illustrations. Illustrations should extend and interpret the story. Consider design, originality, artfulness and appeal. If wordless, the illustrations both create the world and convey a compelling story.
Additional: An acceptable picture book tells a appealing story in a way that resonates with younger readers, but may contain text or illustrations that are not equally strong, may feature a familiar storyline told better elsewhere or a topic of general but not overwhelming interest.
Unsatisfactory: Pictures and text might be mismatched in age appeal or quality. Lacks originality, has awkward or jarring page design, writing, text or illustrations. Some books in this category might otherwise be effective, but might include outdated cultural stereotypes and significant factual or grammatical errors.
Outstanding: In its best form a graphic novel is a union of text and artwork. Artwork and design function to extend, clarify and interpret the story. Consider design, originality, style and appeal. If wordless, the artwork both creates the world and conveys a compelling story.
Additional: An “additional” graphic novel displays a union of text and illustration, but inclusion in a particular collection may be limited by space constraints, general appeal and/ or demand for the format.
Unsatisfactory: Might be difficult to follow the action; panels aren’t clearly sequenced. Mismatch between text and art, or text and/or art are of low quality.