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.