Category Archives: Battle of the (Kids’) Books

The Judges Are Coming!

To launch this year’s Battle of the Kids’s Books SLJ did a smashing article in which four of our distinguished judges were revealed.  Starting today we will be celebrating each of our judges with individual posts. The first four will be of those already announced, but then we will go with those who were not. So if you want to know ALL of this year’s judges keep a close eye over the next few weeks over at the BoB site!

As for what they will be judging — we will be announcing that closer to the time of the actual Battle.


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SLJ’s Battle of the Kids’ Books 2012

And so it begins — the contenders for this year’s Battle of the Kids’ Books have been revealed! If you aren’t familiar with this contest (which yours truly, I’m happy to admit, initiated four years ago), do check it out.


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Andy Mulligan’s Ribblestrop

I am a big fan of Andy Mulligan’s Trashpublished last year in the United States to very positive reviews. (It also made it through two rounds in last year’s SLJ’s Battle of the Kids’ Books; those elegantly penned decisions are here and  here.)  And now, having just read them, I’m here to report that Mulligan’s other two books, Ribblestrop and Return to Ribblestrop, are just as good (although as of this writing, they have not been published in the US and I don’t know of any plans to do so).  While I had the books on hand for a while it was the latter’s winning the Guardian children’s book prize that spurred me on to read it and then to go on to read the first one. Completely out of order and not recommended as such, but I admit that I quite enjoyed going backwards in learning about the characters and their circumstances.

The two books are part of a projected trilogy set in a most unconventional school, Ribblestrop. And so, yes, this is absolutely a school story and moreso a boarding school story.  There is a school song, uniforms, and so on.  But it is, in every way, a completely unconventional school and school story — there are lovely adults around who care about the students and do help in the end, but are also occasionally cluess. There are also hideous adults around who are out for absolutely no good as far as the children go.  These are serious badies, villains, meanies with no complicating factors to gain sympathy — they are completely and utterly bad, terrifyingly so at points.  More importantly, there are the students who can be considered in two parts.   First of all there is a motley group that includes Millie, a very angry thirteen-year-old and the only girl at the school; Sanchez, the son of a Columbian mobster; Sam, a sweet and vulnerable new boy; Ruskin (and, in the second book, his brother Olie) with his poor vision and smarts; and a few more. The second cohort are the orphans, a group from India, street children it seems (and somewhat related for me to the boys of Trash) who all seem to be incredibly capable at all sorts of things, not a weak one in the bunch.  Mulligan, a veteran international school teacher, on his website, writes of the orphans:

They are from India, with bits of Nepal thrown in. Like Millie, they are fusions of the various children I have met – especially the children I taught in northern India, with a work ethic so intense it was scary. And manners that used to shame my own.

Both books have intense plots; in both the children are put in tremendous peril. There are violent moments, very violent ones where children get seriously hurt.  While the good adults around them (the headmaster and a couple of their teachers) help, it is always the children in the end who save each other, working as a team to do so.  I’m not great at doing plot summaries by and large and with these two books the plots are complex and so I recommend going elsewhere for more specifics (and here to read an excerpt from the second book).

The books also have moments of absolute wonder and delight.  I don’t want to give too much away, but there are some wonderous places around and under the Ribblestrop estate, there is a ghost, there are glorious learning experiences, dramatic football games, remarkable acts of building and creation, wild animals, and delightful meals. Not to mention that they are funny in the best understated sort of way.

The first thing Sam noticed as he pushed open the laboratory door was a large pair of hairy knees sticking out from under a bench. He noticed them because in his exhausted state he tripped over them and, as he was carrying a box full of test tubes, the result was noisy.  (pg 117, Ribblestrop)

To my mind, the best description of the books is this one from Mulligan when accepting the Guardian prize:

“I never expected the Guardian to award such a stonker of a prize to a book that is dangerous, violent, irreverent, politically incorrect, joyously sentimental, anti-adult, pro-child and sometimes bizarre – but I’m very glad they have.

Me too.


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SLJ’s Battle of the Kids’ Books’ Finale

This year’s Battle of the Kids’ Books has been amazing. I’m totally biased, of course, but I truly feel that each judge has written a remarkable decision essay.  For that is what they really are — thoughtful and carefully written articles, each on two books.  Some of the judges ended up going for books that you might expect of them (due to their own writing) while others did not. And each of the fourteen who judged the rounds leading up to this Monday’s Big Kahuna finale (judged by Richard Peck) came up with unique ways of deciding their matches. Here are tastes of each that I hope intrigue you enough to go (if you haven’t already) and read their decisions in total:

  • Francisco X. Stork decided to abandoned “fun” as a criteria and went for the match winner’s “elegant, readable, complexity.”
  • Dana Reinhardt decided that “there is just as much drama and adventure in a girl riding a rope swing over a pit of gravel despite her paralyzing fear because she wants to impress the brown eyed boy she loves, as there is in a newly minted king orchestrating the defeat of ten thousand….”
  • Barry Lyga split himself in two and wrote his decision as a One Act Play.
  • The match winner’s “lasting resonance of its narrative power” was what decided Susan Patron.
  • Dubious about the graphic novel format Karen Hesse was “… forced to retract my misgivings.”
  • Adam Rex called it on a footnote.
  • R.L. Stine was direct and blunt in his decision.
  • After contemplating character, setting, language, and plot Mitali Perkins made her decision on theme.
  • Shakespearean comedy made the difference for Laura Amy Schlitz who wrote in her decision that “Comedy is a celebration of human resilience.”
  • Naomi Shihab was won over by how a contender’s “… muscular and forward-moving, the lavish hum of place, waves, longing, wrap around a reader with hypnotic transporting power.”
  • An all-nighter factored into Patricia Reilly Giff’s choice as did finding the winning contender’s creator’s “… imagination dazzling.”
  • Pete Hauptman channeled his childhood self in his decision.
  • “One is soul-filling while the other satisfying. For me, I’ll go with the soul and I choose…” wrote Grace Lin.
  • Karen Cushman was gobsmacked!

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SLJ’s Battle of the Kids’ Books

The battle is nigh.

On Monday, March 13th, sixteen acclaimed 2010 books for young readers will go head to head in School Library Journal‘s third annual Battle of the Kids’ Books. Inspired by The Morning News Tournament of Books these literary contenders are paired off bracket-style and judged by a distinguished group of writers.  R. L. Stine, Richard Peck, Karen Hesse, and Laura Amy Schlitz are just some of the remarkable decision-makers in this year’s exciting event. Every weekday over the next few weeks you can read their smart and thoughtful match decisions.

While seeing which book a particular judge decides to advance is understandably exciting, it is what they have to say about the two they are considering and how they say it that is most enthralling.  Understanding the serious play that is involved, each one is considerate and clever and it is their elegantly penned decisions that are the heart and soul of the Battle.

This year’s contenders are:

Sugar Changed the World by Marc Aronson and Marina Budhos
Keeper by Kathi Appelt
They Called Themselves the K.K.K. by Susan Campbell Bartoletti
Hereville: How Mirka Got Her Sword by Barry Deutsch
A Tale Dark and Grimm by Adam Gidwitz
Will Grayson, Will Grayson by John Green and David Levithan
The Odyssey by Gareth Hinds
Trash by Andy Mulligan
As Easy as Falling Off the Face of the Earth by Lynne Rae Perkins
The Dreamer by Pam Munoz Ryan
The Cardturner by Louis Sachar
The Good, the Bad, and the Barbie by Tanya Lee Stone
The Ring of Solomon by Jonathan Stroud
A Conspiracy of Kings by Megan Whalen Turner
Countdown by Deborah Wiles
One Crazy Summer by Rita Williams-Garcia

One of the creators of the event, here’s what I had to say in a recent press release:

Each year I’m completely energized by the Battle of the Kids’ Books. The judges always outdo themselves in smart, witty, and insightful decisions getting me to look at each contender in new ways. It is just fun to work together to keep the Battle of the Kids’ Books entertaining, stimulating, and most of all—fun.

Sponsored by HarperCollins Children’s Books and Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, this year’s Battle of the Kids’ Book is shaping up to be the best one yet.

Also at the Huffington Post


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Battling Books, Why?

Recently, an individual I admire mentioned SLJ’s Battle of the Kids’ Books with distaste. Why, this person wondered, does everything have to be a competition? As someone who doesn’t follow sports of any kind, hates spelling bees and similar sorts of school activities, and doesn’t watch the Oscars or American Idol, I find it an excellent question. And so why despite my dislike of competition did I come up with this event?

I was inspired by The Tournament of Books which features adult literary fiction and offers a live rooster to the winner because of something to do with David Sedaris’s brother. In last year’s ToB contender announcement the organizers wrote:

But note that the arbitrary nature of this contest does not make it more random than other book awards. For all their diligence and secrecy, book awards rely on the particular tastes of a very few individuals combined with the art of compromise. Not only can book awards not tell you what the best book of the year is, frequently the winner of a book award is not anyone’s actual favorite, but rather not anyone’s least favorite.

What the Rooster stands for is not definitiveness, but transparency. Transparency and fun.

And fun is what I’ve found it to be. Over the years I’d loved their smart discussion about the books, often ended up reading some of their contenders because of it, and thought it would be wonderful to do something similar with children’s books. Roxanne Feldman and Jonathan Hunt thought so too as did SLJ (who came up with the name, I’d probably have gone with something less, er, warlike) and so we were off.

It is, to my mind a game, a way to consider last year’s books, and to consider literature in a wide variety of ways. I see it as a competition only in the way that Shark vs Train is a competition. In other words, the tournament concept gives us a structure that allows us to have fun, be silly and lighthearted; it is a way to consider intellectually and intelligently a handful of the many wonderful books that came out the year before. (For an excellent take on last year’s ToB that I feel captures what the BoB is about as well, check out this column by Laura Miller.) The judges have been absolutely incredible and I can’t thank them enough for their smart write-ups.  We also have a terrific bunch of loyal followers who comment, blog, read, and otherwise have a great time along with us.

This past week Jonathan asked them:

… what is the primary value of Battle of the Kids’ Books for you? Is it purely entertainment? Is it instructive? Is it motivational for children and teenagers? Or strictly for an adult audience?

The responses have been heartening and for those of you who wonder about the idea, I suggest checking them out.  And join in if you disagree. We can take it. After all, we completely understand that what we like about the BoB may not be everyone’s cuppa tea.

ETA Please check out Roxanne’s thoughtful and detail response to this.


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So Who Will be Judging the Battle of the Kids’ Books?

The contenders for this year’s Battle of the Kids’ Books have been announced, debate on the lack of overlap with this year’s ALA awards is underway, and many are wondering — who will be judging?  While those distinguished persons won’t be revealed for a few more weeks yet, we’ve given you a few hints and have a little contest going. Who will get closest to the actual list?

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SLJ’s Battle of the Kids Books 2011 Contenders

These were just announced on twitter today and will be presented more formally on the official BoB blog very soon. But since we know there are avid BoB followers who want time to get and read the books, we decided to do a stealth/soft announcement just for you.  And now that they’ve all been announced, here they are again in a nice easy-to-read list.

  2. THE CARDTURNER by Louis Sachar
  3. A CONSPIRACY OF KINGS by Megan Whalen Turner
  4. COUNTDOWN by Deborah Wiles
  5. THE DREAMER by Pam Munoz Ryan
  6. THE GOOD, THE BAD, AND THE BARBIE by Tanya Lee Stone
  8. KEEPER by Kathi Appelt
  9. THE ODYSSEY by Gareth Hinds
  10. ONE CRAZY SUMMER by Rita Williams-Garcia
  11. THE RING OF SOLOMON by Jonathan Stroud
  12. SUGAR CHANGED THE WORLD by Marc Aronson and Marina Budhos
  13. A TALE DARK AND GRIMM by Adam Gidwitz
  14. THEY CALLED THEMSELVES THE K.K.K. by Susan Campbell Bartoletti
  15. TRASH by Andy Mulligan
  16. WILL GRAYSON, WILL GRAYSON by John Green and David Levithan



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SLJs Battle of the Kids’ Books Stealth Announcement…

of the 2011 Contenders. Follow @SLJsBoB to get the first word on these!

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SLJ’s Battle of the Kids Books 2011

With yesterday’s announcements it is easy to think that we are now done with 2010 books and on to those of 2011.  But not so fast.  This year’s Battle of the Kids Books (more commonly known as the BoB) is revving up! The contenders were finalized in December, the judges are all in place, a new blog in the works, and an official announcement is forthcoming any day now. Just as there were surprises galore at yesterday’s Youth Media Awards press conference, count on a few when the BoB’s 2011 list of contenders is unveiled.  While waiting (and it won’t be long now, I promise!) do check out last year’s blog for more on how it all works.  For example, from the BoB FAQ, here’s how we come up with the list:

Each year Monica, Roxanne, and Jonathan start emailing each other in the fall with numerous versions of the list of contenders.  The first year, even before we made up our long list, we spent a lot of time considering criteria.  For example, how would a picture book fare against a YA novel?  Recognizing that there had to be some form of unity among the books on the roster we decided that the “fairest” thing was to select titles for a similar audience (middle grade, middle school, and high school readers). Once that was settled we spent many weeks working on a very long list that was winnowed down to the final 16 contenders in early December.

As to which titles finally are included each year – we won’t bore you with the details of the dozens of emails and negotiations between the three of us.  Suffice it to say that we look both objectively and subjectively, considering fan favorites, awards, stars, and our own critical views, keeping in mind that no matter which two books are paired together no single title can be an obvious winner.

Of course, as is inevitable when such a list is made, blood is shed; each of the three of us has had to leave behind favorites on this particular battlefield, but we always end up pleased with the range and diversity of the final list.


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