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Meet Jen J of the Spreadsheets

Those of you who’ve followed us for a while may anticipate, as I do, commenter Jen J piping in to point us to her spreadsheet where she tracks starred reviews and best books.   Many of us watch this data in some form or another…Jonathan has always been good at summarizing starred reviews in posts.  But many of us may have itched to actually sit down and track it all, and then thought “Ugh! Too much!”  Luckily, we now live in a world where if one person thinks “Ooh!” instead of “Ugh!” we can all benefit.  Meet Jen J.

“Two things that have been true for me even when I was a child: I’ve been a collector (My Little Ponies, bookmarks, all sorts of things really) who loves to check things off of lists. I’ve also loved reading for as long as I can remember–my mother says I taught myself before kindergarten. Literary awards, therefore, are like catnip to me – things to collect and then read and then check off from a list! 

“I was one of the lucky ones that got a job right before I graduated with my MLIS; I started at the Algonquin Area Public Library in Algonquin, IL (a northwest suburb of Chicago) as a Youth Services Librarian in April 2008. Sometime in the next year or so I started looking for blogs to follow that focused on Children’s Literature and the library world. I started with Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast and eventually made my way to SLJs Blogs. I started following Heavy Medal in the Fall of 2009 and have been an avid reader of the blog ever since!

“The first spreadsheet I put together was actually my Award Winners spreadsheet ( in the fall of 2010. I got tired of looking up all the different awards and checking a bunch of different lists and decided I wanted all the information in a single location. Then I came up with the idea of highlighting which things I had read and which I hadn’t and boom – instant spreadsheet addiction.

“At the end of 2010, I came up with the idea to do a Best Books display in our library based on all the best of lists in the six journals our department followed – SLJ, Booklist, Horn Book, the Bulletin, PW, and Kirkus. The easiest way to make a printable list seemed to me, in the throes of my new spreadsheet addiction, obvious! I’ve made a Best Books spreadsheet and display every year since. Here’s the link to this year’s which is still a work in progress since Bulletin list is still to come: 

“Just as I was getting into tracking the stats and numbers of how these things worked, I started having questions about how starred reviews vs. best book lists vs. awards recognition affected each other (inspired by posts on Heavy Medal in particular). I was using Elizabeth Bluemle’s Shelf Talker blog over at PW to look at starred reviews, when in the fall of 2010, the star posts just stopped appearing! Keeping track of the stars is a huge task, so I wasn’t surprised by the decision to take a break, but I missed the information dearly. So I decided to start tracking the starred reviews myself starting with the 2011 publishing year. Plus this way the data was easily sortable and searchable and all sort of good things! Since then I’ve just kept adding to that spreadsheet which can be found here:

“I love to play with numbers and data and such and have had such fun with that since I’ve started collecting all this information (Did I mention I was a Math Team nerd in high school?). My dream would be to someday do a giant research project with the years of starred review and best book list data from each of these journals and then look at the award winners, particularly the Caldecott, Newbery and Printz. I’m not sure there’s much of a market for that kind of analysis, but it would be a joy to research and try to make some conclusions – if there are any to be found! Maybe I’ll be able to talk some program into that being my PhD dissertation someday…….but for now I’m enjoying the challenges in my new position (as of August) as the Young Adult Librarian, still at the Algonquin Area Public Library. Working with teens is a whole new kettle of fish for me, but one that I’ve jumped into with both feet! And I’ll leave you all on that disturbing image…..”

Well Jen,  I’d posit there’s a PhD dissertation in there for sure.  This relationship (or the question of its existence) between reviews, best of lists, and awards is one that I think most children’s lit enthusiasts mull over, and has certainly cropped up over the years at the “old school” online children’s lit nerd community, the child_lit listserv.

Thank you for sharing the data…and that disturbing image.  Lemon juice works well for the odor.  Good luck.

Jennifer Jazwinski a the Young Adult Librarian at the Algonquin Area Public Library, and you can compare books with her at Goodreads.



Nina Lindsay About Nina Lindsay

Nina Lindsay is the Children's Services Coordinator at the Oakland Public Library, CA. She chaired the 2008 Newbery Committee, and served on the 2004 and 1998 committees. You can reach her at


  1. Becky Wilson says:

    Dear Jen,
    Thank you, thank you, thank you for all the work you do on these spreadsheets, and also for making it public. As a fifth grade Language Arts/Social Studies teacher, I want to know what critics are saying are the best new books so I can read the ones that are appropriate for my kids and talk them up. I have been using your starred list for the past year and just book marked your best of list. You don’t know how much time access to your files saves me!

  2. I wanted to thank you too! I like checking your spreadsheet links to try to stay on top of new books getting starred reviews, which is very helpful for my job as a library assistant in the children’s area of a public library.

  3. Jen, you are my kind of person! A children’s book lover and math nerd and spreadsheet enthusiast? Yes Yes Yes! (I got a master’s in Math 20 years before my MLIS.)

    In fact, since you sound like so much of a kindred spirit, I made the link to my website for this comment go to my posts on mathematical knitting. Enjoy!

    I have made a grand spreadsheet of Award Winners, but when I read the book, I delete it, so they aren’t useful to anyone else. You are much more helpful to others. :)

  4. I tracked the BEST Of the year lists for a few years, but now it’s great to know I don’t have to. You’ve done it for us. thank you!

    I hope that you do that dissertation someday. I’ve tried to draw some conclusions after all is said an done and have not been able to spot any that make sense from year to year.

  5. Thanks to everybody for your kind words! I’m so glad that other people are able to use these. I needed to do some work cleaning up my old ones which are mostly raw data without some of the math I’ve done the last couple of years, but here are the links to my previous year’s Best Books spreadsheets as well:

    Best Books 2012:
    Best Books 2011:
    Best Books 2010:

    I hope everyone had really excellent holidays and that 2014 is a fabulous year with lots of great books to read!

  6. Well met, Jen!

    I started tabulating Best Books lists in 2006, with the joint goals of doing a collection-development double-check and studying how well (or not) the Best Books selections predicted the January award winners. Never thought of making them public anywhere, though.

  7. Jen, thank you! This is incredibly helpful.

  8. Jocelyn Levin says:

    You are awesome. Thank you so so much for all this hard work and for keeping it updated!!

    Lots of Love from a Michigan Public Librarian!


  1. […] only does this angelic soul, librarian Jennifer Jazwinski of the Algonquin Area Public Library, create the kind of spreadsheet I used to track starred […]

  2. […] reviews for youth literature every year, an endeavor that took countless hours. Now the amazing librarian Jennifer Jazwinski keeps a spreadsheet of starred reviews each year, and it’s an invaluable resource. But how […]

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