So we’ve got the contenders and we’ve got the judges — all are incredibly awesome. The contender announcement will be in a few weeks and I just can’t wait!
For anyone who is new to this, let me explain. Starting in 2009, over at School Library Journal, we’ve been doing a tournament-style book game. We choose 16 fabulous books from the previous year, invite 16 wonderful writers to judge, and then watch it take off. Every year is new and different. Since we select the contenders before ALA’s Youth Media Awards announcement, we are always curious how many end up among our contenders. And then, if we do have them there, how do they fare? Newbery winners, when they are among them, tend to not do so well — often they are out in the first round. No matter how famous you might be. Say in 2009 when Judge Jon Scieszka picked Sid Fleischman’s The Trouble Begins at Eight over Neil Gaiman’s The Graveyard Book. (You can find that decision here.)
We have no criteria –the judges may and do come up with many different ways to come to a decision. Say Judge Lois Lowry who, handed the The Hunger Games and Octavian Nothing in 2009 wrote: “How, then, to choose? Maturely, I am basing my decision solely on petulance, vengeance, reverse nepotism, and payola.” (You can read her whole fabulous decision here — scroll down to find it.) Or check-out runner-up Octavian‘s creator M. T. Anderson’s smart judging of two Darwinian titles in 2010 here, memorably titled, ” DARWIN VS. TATE: MANO A MANO (with opposable thumbs.)”
Some judges do essays, some do other things. Say Judge Barry Lyga who began his 2010 Pen vs. Brush thus:
I drop two books on the table in the Turf Club. No big surprise. Bobby and I are always bringing things to read. We’re at the races four days a week, but we’re not degenerate gamblers. Sometimes an hour goes by before there’s something worth betting.
Sammy, another regular, picks the books up. Weighs them. The cover of Mal Peet’s Life: An Exploded Diagram features a lethal-looking rocket. On Allen’s Say’s Drawing from Memory, a dreamy boy in a blue sweater and blue socks appears to be flying.
“What’s the deal?” Sam asks.
“I have to decide between them,” I tell him. “It’s like a match race.”
We’ve been so fortunate with the writers who take on the judging roles. Some might surprise you. Say, Jeff Kinney who boldly decided between Schmidt and Selznick in 2012 and James Patterson who, in 2013 made a firm decision between Schlitz and Nelson. No Suzanne Collins or J. K. Rowling yet, but we can dream, can’t we?
Winners have been dystopias, graphic novels, fiction, nonfiction, and for many different ages. But it is really the journey, the excitement in seeing what the judges will decide and do that is what makes this so much fun. And, of course, it is a way to continue to appreciate books from the year before even as we become absorbed in those of the current year.
Every year is new and different. I urge you to check out the site, the previous battles, and get a sense of this incredibly wonderful thing I am so honored to be part of, SLJ’s Battle of the Kids’ Books.