An Objective Standard for Books?

by Daniel Johnston on March 25, 2015 · 0 comments

Overflowing-BookcasesDo books have an objective standard, or are they purely subjective, the only judgment of them up to the reader to decide?

Let’s remind ourselves exactly what we mean by objective vs. subjective. If books have an objective standard, then that means they are intrinsically good or bad, regardless of what anyone says about them. By a specific measure, we can say this book is not good for such and such reason, and we can also say this book is good for such and such a reason.

If books have a purely subjective standard, then there is no real judgment for books at all. People may like them or not, and they may give reasons to back it up, but there is no way that we can actually say a book is good or not, other than our own opinion.

There has to be some standard for books, because there have to be reasons why a person likes or doesn’t like a book. In that case the standards would be very subjective, but standards would undoubtedly exist.

The standards also have to be different for different audiences and different goals, of course. The standard for a realistic middle grade fiction book is going to be very different from an adult women’s romance, and what would be a good book for one of the genres would be a complete disaster for the others.

Given that there clearly are such standards, it is both a difference in philosophy with regard to exactly what they are as well as personal preferences that will determine whether a person likes a book. A difference in standards is a large part of the reason why serious readers will disagree about the merits of a book. A mathematical text may not be something I would ever read, but I would never say it is not good for a different audience just because of my preference. On the other hand, I will say that a book is not sound based on whether or not it meets my standards.

Everyone has somewhat different standards for books, and if you’ve been a reader of this website you’ve probably been able to tell some of mine. I believe middle grade books should be written for fun, period. I believe that middle grade authors don’t need to try to teach lessons, because every book has to have a lesson by definition, and that lesson should be funness. I believe the whole crux of middle grade books is kids actually doing something; not just responding or reacting, but accomplishing something on their own, and something worthwhile.

I actually made a whole forty minute video a few months back about what I think makes good writing. You can watch it if you want, it’s got plenty of great tips for people writing for kids.

Do you agree with me that there is an objective standard for books, specifically tailored to the genre and audience, and that personal preferences are added on top of that? What are your standards for middle grade fiction? Let me know in the comments below.


Post image for Diary of a 6th Grade Ninja Book 1 by Marcus Emerson Review

The concept of Diary of a 6th Grade Ninja by Marcus Emerson is great-a secret ninja clan living right in the midst of an erstwhile normal seeming school. A secret ninja club like this is just the kind of thing that gets me super excited. Unfortunately, there are a number of missteps in the book that preclude a recommendation here.


The main character, Chase, is going to a new school, and being the normal kid that he is, is a little nervous about it. That’s why he’s excited to see that run into his cousin, Zoe, at the school. She helps show him around and get him acquainted with everything.

When they are walking on the gym track on the first day of school, they see a weird set of eyes peering out of them from the forest. They are scared and run off, but when they tell Brayden, a kid with a little out of the ordinary persuasions, about it, he suggests that they might be a group of ninjas he has heard rumors about.

Only one way to find out, right? Brayden sticks his hand into the forest, and is pulled in and captured. To Chase and Zoe’s great shock, there actually is a large ninja gang, made up of kids. They release Brayden on the condition that they don’t speak about it to anyone.

It isn’t long before the two get an invitation to become ninjas themselves. Chase is interested; after all, who wouldn’t want to become a ninja? Zoe joins because she views it as a way of helping out her cousin. Brayden warns them that the ninjas are the bad guys, and it isn’t long before they see what he’s talking about.

To become initiated into the group, the leader, a seemingly quiet kid named Wyatt, insists that they steal the purse of one of Zoe’s friends. They go along with it, and Zoe creates a diversion to help Chase snatch the purse.

Afterward, Zoe is having second thoughts about what has happened, and leaves the group despite threats that the ninjas will not allow her to disrespect them. Chase stays on, going against his cousin.

Chase starts turning against the idea of his membership, especially after $3,000 is reported missing from the school. But all his concerns evaporate when presented with a ninja suit. He gladly dons it, and immediately afterwards is instructed to plant Zoe’s backpack in the front office; with the $3,000 in it.

Chase is definitely not about to do that. He enlists the help of Brayden, but it looks bad because he already has the backpack on him. Wyatt and his team show up at the scene, and Chase hurls the backpack at him, spilling the money all across the floor. Wyatt beats up Chase, but it isn’t long before he admits to the crime and is kicked out of the ninjas. Chase is installed as the new ninja.


The premise of this book is awesome, so it’s sad that there are a number of things wrong with the way it shows itself in this book.

First of all, the whole reason the secret ninja club thing is exciting is if it’s a force for good. Or at least ambiguous. Or maybe two different ninja clans, one being more good and one being more bad. Either way, having the only alternative to a stupid ninja club that simply steals stuff be to go to the principal is really not inspiring. I’m hoping that in future books, which have already come out, the club will do awesome things with Chase at the helm, but that definitely wasn’t the case with this one.

The fight scene of the book also makes very little sense. It portrays Chase as having a victory over Wyatt by allowing himself to get beaten up, which to me is extremely stupid. If someone is fighting you, you’ve got to defend yourself. It shows Wyatt getting furious when Chase won’t fight back, which can be true in the sense that it is possible to let another person abuse you so much in a way that you ultimately defeat them by letting their conscience overwhelm them. But most serious bullies, on seeing a defenseless victim who is not going to fight back, will simply go in for the kill. In some cases of mild attacks, simply not letting it get to you means that people will lose interest, but has you on the floor and is wailing on you, it is long past that point. In fact, fighting back aggressively against them may either make them stop, or not pick a fight with you again. Either way, just letting yourself get beat up is not something I would recommend, but the bigger problem in the naive way the author describes this as totally defusing the situation, which is unlikely.

Another thing that makes no sense is that Zoe’s friend just forgives her for stealing her purse and doesn’t even care. Part of the reason according to the book is that there isn’t much of anything valuable in the purse. Nevertheless, if a “friend” steals from me they’re not my friend anymore. Period.

The constant desire of Zoe for her cousin to fit in is also very strange in the way that it’s overemphasized. The fact is that there is no black and white about this, and it’s really not anything too difficult or that should give kids that much undue attention. Sure, a nice cousin will maybe introduce you to some people and stuff, but making friends should be a natural thing, not something to agonize over. I went to several different schools and never worried about this, because I knew I would be alright and it’s just something that happens. Zoe stealing from her friend because of this motivation really doesn’t make sense. The book would’ve been better if Zoe wasn’t thinking like this and it wasn’t such a big plot point throughout the book.

Diary of a 6th Grade Ninja ended by telling us that Chase will be the new leader of the ninjas and may lead them against a “pirate invasion”, which I’m excited to read about. I loved the part of the book where Wyatt attempts to frame Zoe by handing Chase the backpack, putting him in an impossible spot where some intense action is happening. This series has a lot of good potential, and they were some good plusses about this book, even if I can’t recommend it on the whole. I’ll be reading the future books with the hope that some of these problems have been eliminated and that they are truly fun and awesome books to read.

Note: It’s also very noticeable that these books are released solely as ebooks through the Kindle store. Kids ebooks are not typically thought to be a huge market, but these books have enjoyed great success. It’s something for all middle grade writers to take note of, and I’ll be interested to learn more about how Emerson and his co-authors made these books such successes.


The Readers and Writers Paradise Podcast Episode 11

February 28, 2015

Hi everyone, thanks so much for your support of Kid Writers Magazine Edition #2! It’s great to see the magazine getting into the hands of readers. Today I’m releasing another episode of the podcast, which is something I know I haven’t done in awhile. My plan is to come out with a lot more in the future, […]

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Kid Writers Magazine Edition #2 Is Out!

February 16, 2015
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Hi everyone! Thanks for you all being great and helping me through with the launch of Kid Writers Magazine, the only writing magazine in the world managed by kids, for kids. As you may know, it’s a place where kids can learn about writing and get published. I’m proud to announce that the second edition of […]

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Blue Birds by Caroline Starr Rose Review

January 14, 2015
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Blue Birds is the second book by Caroline Starr Rose, and I was fortunate enough to have been given a copy of the ARC. Caroline is also the author of May B., a good book that I especially liked for its allusion to “the place where the earth meets the sky.” Both are historical fiction novels, with […]

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ARCs for My New Book!

December 27, 2014

Hi everyone, thanks for helping support me with my project, Kid Writers Magazine! I’ve been working on something else that’s also going to be awesome; my first book! Of course I’ve been writing books for a long time, but this is the first time I’m actually going to publish one. It’s called The Club Calamity: Calvin’s Crazy […]

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My Awesome New Project You Can’t Miss! – Kid Writers Magazine

December 4, 2014

Hi everyone! Wonder why this blog has been kind of quiet lately? It’s because I’ve been devoting all my time to something amazing, something far beyond anything I’ve ever done before. It’s taken three months and hundreds of hours of work, and I’m proud to tell you today about the launch of Kid Writers Magazine! […]

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Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck Review

March 29, 2015

John Steinbeck wrote many classic novels, and Of Mice and Men is widely considered to be among his best. The story of two country workers takes readers into another world and explores some powerful themes. I definitely recommend this book, but the fact that it’s rather short doesn’t mean that young people should read it, as […]

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A Long Walk to Water by Linda Sue Park Review

March 19, 2015
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Having recently interviewed Linda Sue Park for the latest edition of Kid Writers Magazine, I was excited to read her bestselling book A Long Walk to Water. The book details the story of a boy named Salva who leaves Sudan during a war and eventually finds his way to Kenya and the United States. Salva lives […]

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Anne of Green Gables Review

March 16, 2015
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Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery is a childhood classic that kids (especially girls) have been voraciously digesting since its release in 1908. But is it still relevant to today’s children? For those of you who don’t know, Anne of Green Gables is a book about a girl named Anne who is adopted by Matthew […]

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The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame Review

March 2, 2015
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When a children’s book was praised by none other than sitting US President Theodore Roosevelt, that tells you two things: 1. The book is old. 2. The book is good enough for a President to spend his time reading it, so its got a good chance of being pretty good. The Wind in the Willows […]

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Double Identity by Margaret Peterson Haddix Review

February 26, 2015
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Double Identity is a science fiction book written by Margaret Peterson Haddix that has the twists and turns typical in a Haddix story. The book has some good things and some bad things, but is anything is for sure it’s that you’re not going to get bored reading anything by this author. Summary The book […]

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Masterminds Book 1 by Gordon Korman Review

February 24, 2015
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I’ve been super excited for the release of Gordon Korman’s new book Masterminds. Actually, it’s the first book in a trilogy, and it’s one of Korman’s action series. Like almost everything he writes, it’s very well done and captures the reader all the way through. Summary The book starts innocuously enough in Serenity, a very small […]

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Seeing by Joseph Falank Review

February 19, 2015
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Seeing by Joseph Falank is a novel about a kid named Jake who has a couple different tragedies happen to him. The book navigates us through it with Jake as he battles with it himself. I heard of the book on strong recommendations and so I reached out to the publisher, Winter Goose Publishing, for a […]

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