Round 1, Match 5

And so we enter week two of the Battle: Hokey Pokey v March Book One, Judge Tom Angleberger

My prediction: “Didn’t read either one, I picked March Book One.”

I won’t leave you wondering: I didn’t pick the right one. The right one is apparently “Peter Pan times Pilgrim’s Progress times the Teletubbies.” Which leaves me saying “wha?” and “I think I need to read that book.

BoB2014 MG R1 M5 Round 1, Match 5: Hokey Pokey vs March, Book One

What I like best about this decision?

How much I laughed. And not from being shocked so laughing — as I did with Match 6, more on that later — but just because Angleberger is funny.

Angleberger’s official reason for selecting March Book One is that it ended more as a Volume One, as incomplete, without enough of a resolution or conclusion, while Hokey Pokey was a standalone.

I’m not saying this wasn’t part of the reason; but as I read the decision, I came to an additional conclusion.

Much as Angleberger clearly admired March Book One; he flat out enjoyed Hokey Pokey. And so he picked that.

Alas, that doesn’t do good things for my brackets. And I don’t enjoy that.


Round 1, Match 4

On to match 4: Far Far Away v Flora & Ulysses, Judge Sarah Mylinowski.

My prediction: “Once again, I go with the book I read:Far Far Away.”

And I’m back in the game, baby!

BoB2014 MG R1 M4 Round 1, Match 4: Far Far Away vs Flora and Ulysses

So, yes, Mlynowski is now my new favorite. (You may notice that I am rather free with my “favorites”.)

Is she my favorite because she picked my pick?


She’s my favorite because of this: “At times the book felt like the adaptation of a Wes Anderson movie, which, for most writers I know, would be the greatest of compliments. But I’ve always found Anderson’s heightened artificiality distracting—all that precocity and quirk throw me out of the story. In Flora & Ulysses, quirk is omnipresent. . . .  I feel the same way about quirk as I do about salt: A little goes a long way. And this book is an ocean.

Keep in mind, I heard this as if Lou “I hate spunk” Grant was saying it. Which makes it more special.

So, Mlynowski — too much quirk, eh?

Forget Battle of the Books! It’s the Battle of the Quirk!

This review is honest, and true, and gets at what is personal to Mlynowski as a reading experience but uses examples to also make it universal. We can judge the quirk ourselves.

I may just like typing quirk.

So I’m 3 for 4. What will tomorrow bring?

Round 1, Match 3

And now, it’s time to look at the third match of the present round: Doll Bones v Eleanor & Park, Judge Lauren Oliver.

My prediction was: “Doll Bones, because. I also think Eleanor & Park will be the “oh, I cannot believe it lost so early” book.”

And — I was wrong.

BoB2014 MG R1 M3 Round 1, Match 3: Doll Bones vs Eleanor and Park

But first, let’s look a bit at what happened before I was wrong.

When the judges are announced, and the books they’ll be judging are shared, I confess —

I don’t do my homework.

I’m sure some of you do. You consider not just the types of books they write, so assume something about what they’ll like, but you may also consider shared publishers, agents, editors; you may look at who follows who on Twitter; who comments on Facebook pages.

So, it was with surprise that I saw Oliver’s connection to one of these books: she reviewed Doll Bones for The New York Times!

Would that have really helped me, though, in guessing? Because it’s just one of the two books. And, probably, it wouldn’t have changed my pick.

Still, this adds to the fun. That there are no attempts at the judges being isolated from the books, with no connection.

At this point, I’m not overly worried about getting this one wrong, because even though I had Doll Bones advance to Round 2 I didn’t have it move on towards Round 3, so my picks may not end up too wrong. Am I being too optimistic?



Round 1, Match 2

Drum roll for the second match of this round: Boxers & Saints v A Corner of White, Judge Yuyi Morales

My prediction: “Having read Boxer & Saints, that’s what I picked.”

And guess what: ONCE AGAIN I WAS RIGHT.

BoB2014 MG R1 M2 Round 1, Match 2: Boxers and Saints vs A Corner of White

Let me say one thing.

OK, it’ll probably be more than one thing. You know me.

One thing I love about SLJ’s Battle of the Books is that it’s opinion. It’s personal.

It’s not dry.

So when I began reading Morales’s opinion all I could think was, “this is like a GoodReads review.”

What I mean by that: there are, of course, all types of reviews and review styles on GoodReads. One thing I’ve noticed is that often, the reviews are deeply personal, and honest, and blunt. The level of reader response is such that I sometimes think that I find out more about the reader than the book.

And that’s what I thought as I read this decision: Morales unapologetically looks at and considers those factors important to her. Her own personal likes and dislikes out of what she wants in a reading experience.

She starts with the cover. THE COVER. Sputtering, one could think, but the author has no control over the cover?

To which I say — so what? There is no rule that says, hey, you can only consider the text of the book!

The rule is what matters to the judge.

And then, and then, and THEN the name thing: “but for people like me, narratives in English filled with names, many characters’ names, with first and last names, sometimes described first by the official name and then by how they are called (“His name was Giacomo Cagnetti, but he went by Jack… (she) was Annabel Pettifields (but she went by Belle)),” will almost surely call for extra measures, such as note taking, or second and even third readings, in order to avoid getting completely confused.

Man, did that piss me off. Most importantly, for the personal — it bugs me when I get that look / reaction that, wait, your name is ELIZABETH? I thought it was Liz. Or when I’m told that my business cards should be “Liz.” Because, you know, it’s confusing to people.

No. My name is Elizabeth. I can show you the birth certificate. Liz is a shortening of that name, not that uncommon. No more uncommon than, say, using Belle for Annabel. Seriously, you could not show me a less confusing example of nicknames for names.

Secondly, because, wait — note taking and multiple readings are “extra” measures? That’s like my standard operating procedure! I have about a decade of reading journals, with lists of names, sketched family trees, timelines, page numbers — and I did this before I started reading journals, just on scraps of paper that I didn’t save. And a second reading? I love when a book has me go back and do that, for a deeper understanding or to see more things or to have a better reading of a book.

See what I did there?

That’s just me being as subjective and personal as Morales, but in a different direction, and we are, of course, both right.

I love this decision because it’s an insight into how someone else reads a book. And because it makes clear what should be obvious:

This is personal. It’s one person’s choice.

You like what you like; you don’t like what you don’t like.

And that is why this Battle is fun.

And fingers crossed some other judges deliver equally entertaining decisions.


Round 1, Match 1

And thus it begins: All the Truth That’s in Me v The Animal Book, Judge Vaunda Nelson

My prediction: “Having not read either one, I randomly picked The Animal Book.”

Was I right? YES.

BoB2014 MG R1 M1 Round 1, Match 1: All the Truth Thats In Me vs The Animal Book

My observations:

Nelson says, “I found similarities I hadn’t expected.” Nelson then went on to compare the two books based on those similarities, and ended up picking The Animal Book.

Nelson’s method — comparing two books that appear to have nothing in common — got me thinking about such comparisons based on what is similar, rather than on what is different. The looking for things that are the same, so that a judgment can be made.

Why do we do this? Why not say two things are wildly different, yet a decision can still be made?

And in looking for similarities, is an artificial narrative created just because we believe it’s easier to do apples to apples than apples to pineapples? Do we look for things that really aren’t there, to make sense of the world?

Do we see connection to control the chaos?

Enough deep thoughts.

I also liked that Nelson pointed out flaws with each books. None of this “oh, two perfect things.” No; realistically, as it always is, two things created by humans, so flawed.


Battle of the Books 2014 – Predictions

And now, my predictions for the Battle of the Books! So, let’s take a look at books, judges, and the rounds.

The thing about making predictions is it’s both about the books and the judges. I haven’t read all the books, true, but I’m not going to let that stop me. You can read about the judges at the SLJ BoB website.

Before I do, some quick dates:

The “undead poll,” where you can vote on a book to return to the final round even if it’s voted out, starts February 26 and ends March 9.

Round 1 is March 10 to 20.

Round 2 is March 21 to 26.

Round 3 is March 28 and 31.

The “return from the grave” books is announced April 1 (no fooling!)

Round 4, the final round, is April 2.

Over at the SLJ BoB, they’re taking predictions and doing a mock SLJ BoB, so click over and vote.

And now, my predictions!

Round 1

All the Truth That’s in Me v The Animal Book, Judge Vaunda Nelson. Having not read either one, I randomly picked The Animal Book.

Boxers & Saints v A Corner of White, Judge Yuyi Morales. Having read Boxer & Saints, that’s what I picked.

Doll Bones v Eleanor & Park, Judge Lauren Oliver. I read both of these! Doll Bones, because. I also think Eleanor & Park will be the “oh, I cannot believe it lost so early” book.

Far Far Away v Flora & Ulysses, Judge Sarah Mylinowski. Once again, I go with the book I read: Far Far Away.

Hokey Pokey v March Book One, Judge Tom Angleberger. Didn’t read either one, I picked March Book One.

Midwinterblood v P.S. Be Eleven, Judge Mac Barnett. While I read and love Midwinterblood, I think it isn’t for everyone. Plus, I realized I kept on picking based on what I’d read, so this time, I went with what I haven’t read — P.S. Be Eleven.

Rose Under Fire v The Thing About Luck, Judge Malinda Lo. Rose Under Fire because Lo writes young adult books.

True Blue Scouts of Sugar Man Swamp v What the Heart Knows, Judge Sheila Turnage. Having read True Blue, that’s my pick.

The tricky thing from here on out is that it’s all based on my predictions, so I can be really really right …. or horribly, embarrassingly wrong.

Round 2

The Animal Book v Boxers & Saints, Judge Tonya Bolden. I’m going with “pick something I read,” so Boxers & Saints.

Doll Bones v Far Far Away, Judge Rae Carson. I’ve read both; but this time, I’m going to lean towards Far Far Away.

March Book One v P.S. Be Eleven, Judge Joseph Bruchac. Having not read either one, I’ll go with P.S. Be Eleven.

Rose Under Fire v True Blue Scouts of Sugar Man Swamp, Judge Katherine Marsh. Another choice between two books I read; and so I’m picking Rose.

Round 3

Boxers & Saints v Far Far Away, Judge Patrick Ness. I’m putting my money on Far Far Away.

P.S. Be Eleven v Rose Under Fire, Judge Robin LaFevers. I think Rose Under Fire will take this one.

Return from grave guess: Eleanor & Park. See! See what I did? I didn’t pick this earlier in part because I’m convinced it’ll be the book that returns.

Round 4

Far Far Away v Rose Under Fire v (return from grave) Eleanor & Park, Judge Jennifer Holm. And what will win here? I think Eleanor & Park.

What do you think?


Battle of the Books 2014

It’s that time of year again!

Time for School Library Journal’s Battle of the Books!

I’m a big fan of the Battle of the Books, because, well, it’s fun.

A quick explanation for those new to SLJ BoB: Sixteen books are selected. Judges from the children’s/young adult publishing world are given two books to read. They select a winner; those winners advance to a new judge; and so on, until there is one winner. Past brackets and judges and results are at the SLJ BoB website.

The rounds — and decisions — start March 10. More on that in a later post!

What do you think of the list? What would you have liked to see here? What were you surprised about?

The 2014 contenders:


THE ANIMAL BOOK by Steve Jenkins

BOXERS AND SAINTS by Gene Yang. From my review: “Why Boxers and Saints? Why not just interweave these as two stories? Why not make it one volume? To make this part of one story — telling a few pages of Bao, a few pages of Vibiana — would, I think, minimize the importance of both. Bao deserves his own book; so, too, does Vibiana; and this way, they both have it. Truth to tell, I think Vibiana’s story would not be as strong if it were interspersed with Bao’s. It turns out, it’s not just Bao’s and Vibiana’s characters that meet: other people show up in both books, and offer different perspectives about what is or isn’t happening. But isn’t that history? Things that change depend upon perspective? One person’s hero is another’s murderer? What Yang accomplishes here, what is so terrific, is he manages to have the reader by sympathetic to both Bao’s and Vibiana’s beliefs. Yes, Bao — and other Chinese — are subject to humiliations and abuse because of the foreigners, and because of Christian missionaries. Yet switch to the missionaries and to the Chinese Christians and we see people asked, simply, to decide between life and faith.

A CORNER OF WHITE by Jaclyn Moriarty

DOLL BONES by Holly Black. From my review: “A story about growing up and, maybe, growing apart, and the intense, physical sense of loss that brings. . . .  Growing up –  what Doll Bones is really about is growing up and growing apart. I adored the game the three played, and I got so mad at Zach’s father for trying to stop his son from playing, and at the same time, I read about the game and the play-acting and knew that what Poppy is fighting is true, no matter what: that they are outgrowing the game. That some of them may be outgrowing it faster than others. That children grow and change and it happens. The ghost that will haunt Zach and Poppy and Alice will not be the ghost of a long dead child, but rather the ghost of their childhood and their games, even if some things (friendships, creativity) will survive. It is also the games, and all they learned pretending, that makes them able to go on a real adventure, and that, also, is growing up, taking the skills practiced in games and doing it for real.

ELEANOR AND PARK by Rainbow Rowell. From my review: “A wonderful, enchanting story of two sixteen-year-olds falling in love.  When Eleanor and Park’s hands touch for the first time — when they realize that what they feel is reciprocated — as they try to work out their feelings for each other against a harsh background — oh, all the highs and lows and first love.

FAR FAR AWAY by Tom McNeal. From my review: “To begin with, the ghost is Jacob Grimm, of the Brothers Grimm. It is Jacob telling this story: “What follows is the strange and fateful tale of a boy, a girl, and a ghost. The boy possessed uncommon qualities, the girl was winsome and daring, and the ancient ghost . . . well, let it only be said that his intentions were good.” Because it is Jacob, and because it is a tale told after, the tone and style are distinct, original, and infuses the whole tale. In some ways, I was reminded of Bartimaeus, except the ghost Jacob is constantly concerned with the well-being of Jeremy; but, like Bartimaeus, Jacob has a bit of an ego about it. He is, after all, Jacob Grimm.

FLORA & ULYSSES by Kate DiCamillo

HOKEY POKEY by Jerry Spinelli

MARCH BOOK ONE by John Lewis, Andrew Aydin, and Nate Powell

MIDWINTERBLOOD by Marcus Sedgwick. From my review: “Always, there is an Eric and a Merle; a hare and a loss; and the island of Blessed. These are the constants. What changes in the seven stories of Midwinterblood is the time, starting in the future, 2073, and going back in time again and again until the seventh story set in a time so far past it has no date. What changes are who, exactly, Eric and Merle are; and how they connect or don’t. On what is lost. And always there is the hare. What is happening? What is going on Blessed?

P.S. BE ELEVEN by Rita Williams-Garcia

ROSE UNDER FIRE by Elizabeth Wein. From my review: “Rose Under Fire is primarily told by Rose herself. First, in some journal entries from the summer of 1944. Then, there is a handful of correspondence from others that show that Rose is missing, presumed dead. Next, entries beginning in April 1945, with Rose in Paris, having escaped Ravensbruck. The jacket copy tells that Rose is sent to Ravensbruck – no spoiler there – and Rose Under Fire shows how Rose ended up in the concentration camp, what happened to her there, how she survived — and what she does to put her life together after. Rose is eighteen, young, and prisoned in a place where she doesn’t even really know the language. . . . Probably, the last important thing to know about Rose and how she survives: she’s lucky. Rose is lucky, because she makes friends and connections that will help her survive.  . . . There is also harshness and cruelty, blood and death, mud and hunger, fear and desperation. For Rose and the others there are two types of survival: physical survival and mental survival. What does it mean, to be in a place like Ravensbruck? What does it mean, to survive Ravensbruck? To live, after?”

THE THING ABOUT LUCK by Cynthia Kadohata. From my review: “What a perfect middle grade book. Summer, 12, is a sympathetic heroine. When she got annoyed and frustrated with her younger brother and grandparents, I was right there with her. When she was embarrassing herself in front of her crush, I blushed for her. When she figured out a way to help her family, I cheered. I also love how wonderfully balanced The Thing About Luck is, perfectly balanced as mirror and window. Summer is such a typical twelve year old, that readers will be able to identify with her. What may not be so typical? Her old-fashioned grandparents. Her grandmother, who hides her feelings with a brusque exterior. Her younger brother, whose anger issues shape how the family interacts with him. Her parents leaving for so long. And, of course, working the harvest. With the assistance of Julia Kuo’s illustrations, the whole process of “harvesting” a farm is explained. This is not an easy or simple job. It takes work and coordination. Anyone reading this book is going to look at their loaf of bread differently. And they may also think, “yes, I could run that combine…” because, just like Laura Ingalls Wilder, Kadohata shares tons of details and explanations of why and how a harvest works.”

TRUE BLUE SCOUTS OF SUGAR MAN SWAMP by Kathi Appelt. From my review: “What really won me over was the plotting. While the main stories are those of Bingo, J’miah, and Chap, the other characters and their stories are also fully fleshed out. And — eventually — all those various threads come together in one momentous event. When I went back to the start and began rereading, I was delighted to see how some of that was foreshadowed. This is a book I would love to mark up with highlighters and sticky notes, to be able to get a firmer understanding of the genius behind it. It was delightful to see how an event in Bingo’s story overlapped with Chap’s. One example, without being spoilery: as a young man, Audie spent a lot of time in the swamp. He loved the wildlife, taking photos and drawing pictures. He was especially intrigued by the maybe-extinct ivory bill woodpecker. Due to a very bad storm, Audie’s car was lost within the swamp, along with his photos.Guess what is the home of Bingo and J’miah? If you guessed the car, you’d be right.”



SLJ BoB: The Winner

And now, the final match.

There can be only one.

BigKahuna round The Big Kahuna Match: Between The Fault in Our Stars, No Crystal Stair, and Code Name VerityThe contenders: The Fault in Our Stars vs No Crystal Stair vs Code Name Verity, Judged by Frank Cottrell Boyce.

My prediction had been: The Fault in our Stars v. The One and Only Ivan v. the Undead Winner (my prediction, Code Name Verity), Judge Frank Cottrell Boyce. Prediction: Code Name Verity.” Hey! I had two of the three, and my guess for winner is one of the two I had.

Which one was it? What did Boyce decide?

Well, in the “all about me” camp, Boyce did not pick Code Name Verity.

He did not pick the other title I’d selected to get this far, The Fault In Our Stars.

Yes, that leaves — No Crystal Stair, the book that I did not guess even making it this far; and the book I haven’t read.

I guess I know what will be on the top of the pile when I get home from vacation!

Congratulations to all involved in the SLJ Battle of the Kids’ Books. Once again, I had a lot of fun, so thank you!

But it would have been a bigger THANK YOU had Verity won.