Interview: Marya Jansen-Gruber, Through the Looking Glass Children’s Book Review

Through the Looking Glass Children's Book Reviews logo

For some time I’ve wanted to help connect readers of Children’s Books and Reviews to some of the many other excellent websites focused on children’s book reviews.  With that intention, over the next little while I plan to interview some bloggers and online writers who focus their work on children’s book reviews.  I will then post the interviews in brief transcript form, with links to their excellent websites.  So, today I’m posting the first of these interviews.  Marya Jansen-Gruber (abreviated “MJG” below), editor of Through the Looking Glass Children’s Book Review, graciously agreed to be my first interviewee.  After reading the interview I encourage you to check out her website and her related blog (click here for Marya’s blog).

Q: How and when did you become interested in children’s books?

MJG: I was living in Washington DC in 1992 and I was walking home one evening when I saw this large stone lion statue on a bridge. I found myself wondering what could happen if it came to life. I began writing a story about the lion soon after. I have been involved in the world of children’s book in some way ever since.

Q: Can you tell me the story of when, why, and how you started your website?

MJG: In 1999 I went to an SCBWI [“Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators”] conference where I met someone who was looking for reviewers. For some months, I wrote reviews for several online outlets. After a time I became frustrated because I wasn’t always able to review the books I wanted to review; older titles, classic titles, books published by small publishing houses. So I started up my own children’s book reviews website.

Q: Tell me about the website.  For example, how do Through the Looking Glass Children’s Book Review and your blog work together?

MJG: The website offers books reviews, features, and spotlights. The blog offers reviews, interviews, bookish news, blog tours, and bookish musings. I often link my blog posts to the website as they compliment one another.

Q: What are your goals for the site?

MJG: To help people of all kinds find quality books for the children in their lives. I also really like to find ways for teachers to use books in their classrooms, which is why I created the Bookish Calendar. Finally I like to offer authors and small publishing houses the opportunity to get some publicity for their books.

Q: Who is your target audience?

MJG: Teachers, parents, homeschooling families, grandparents, authors, and publishing houses.

Q: How often do you post to your blog?

MJG: At least three times a week.

Q: What are three lessons you’ve learned about running a website like yours?

MJG: 1.  It is crazy to try to run a site that is 5,000 + pages long without a database

2.  Making the site user friendly and easy to navigate is a must.

3.  Think about your audience. How can your site be useful to them? What kinds of options/information might they need?

Q: In browsing your site, I noticed that you offer support services for budding children’s book authors.  Tell me more about that.

MJG: After reading and reviewing thousands of books, I found myself correcting flaws (in my head) in published books I was sent. I realized that I could do something useful with this, so I created another website and began offering evaluation services. I now edit and ghostwrite stories as well.

Q: What do you enjoy most about your work with children’s books?

MJG: Reading stories that really say something. I recently read a YA [“Young Adult”] novel that made me think about all kinds of things for days. As an editor, I learn a great deal about the craft of writing children’s books, and I find it very rewarding to help writers find their full potential.

Q: Is your work on children’s books your full-time occupation, or do you also do other work?

MJG: It is my full time work.

Q: Do you work alone on your site, or do you have others helping you?

MJG: After doing everything myself for many years, I finally came to the realization that I needed website help. I now have two wonderful people who help me with the programming and designing work. I take care of all the content on the site and on the blog.

Q: Why do you review children’s books and not adult books?

MJG: This is a very good question! I think it is because the first story I wrote was a children’s book. Also, I love the visual elements that you get in some children’s books. Some of the art I see is quite stunning.

Q: Do you have a favorite kind of children’s books?  If so, why is it your favorite?

MJG: This is a hard question. I love picture books because I enjoy seeing the relationship between words and pictures. When I do my own writing, I see the stories as pictures in my head. At the same time, I also love historical fiction titles for older readers. I have learned so much about people and the world because of books of this kind.

Q: What criteria do you use to evaluate children’s books?

MJG: I only review books that I like, and what I look for is a story that has something special to offer. In picture books, I like to see stories where the text and the art come together seamlessly. In fiction I look for stories that are different, and that have something to say. In nonfiction, I look for books that find a new and engaging way to impart the information they contain.

If you had to give one piece of advice to your readers, from your accumulated wisdom about children’s books, what would it be?

MJG: For people who are reading my reviews I would tell them to choose books that make them think, or laugh, or cry. Choose books that elicit a positive reaction of some kind.  For the people who are trying to write a children’s book, I would tell them to read, read, read. The best way to understand the craft of writing is to read the books (the good books!) that other people have written.

Thanks Marya!

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3 thoughts on “Interview: Marya Jansen-Gruber, Through the Looking Glass Children’s Book Review

  1. Hi Aaron,
    I am the author of four children’s fairy books that have received a combined total of 18 book awards. I would love to be interviewed on your blog. I hope you will take a peek at my website. I know my books will bring a smile!

    Good luck with your new blog.

    Bobbie Hinman

  2. Hi Bobbie,
    Thanks for your interest in my blog. I don’t generally post interviews that I do not solicit, so I am going to pass on your offer to be interviewed. However, your website looks good and the books look charming. All the best with those.

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