Do you follow the SLJ Battle of the Books? It's the kidliterati version of March Madness, pitting fiction against nonfiction, dystopic sci-fi against humor, graphic novels against verse. It's win or go home as a few elite judges (Lauren Myracle, Matt Phelan, Maggie Stiefvater, and Jonathan Stroud, among others! Wow!) debate the merits of 16 of the most highly-decorated and fulsomely-praised children's and young adult books of this year.
One of the things that I like most about the BoB brackets (besides the fact that you can call them BoB) is that the books are seeded in alphabetical order. This leads to some amusingly disjunct head-to-head beat-downs: the gritty Okay for Now versus the magic-tinged Wonderstruck, for example. It might also be the only place you'll see the sincere, informative Heart and Soul: The Story of America and African Americans go up against the heartfelt-but-in-a-very-different-way Inside Out and Back Again.
For the first time this year, I am in prime position to follow along, having read more nine and a half of the sixteen contenders. I discussed many of the books in this year's battle in my Newbery Preview post - but the Big N has historically not conferred any advantage during Battle of the Books, past Newbery winners having gone down in early rounds. Here's the list, and it's on Goodreads too.
Amelia Lost: The Life and Disappearance of Amelia Earhart - Haven't read it yet, but it's apparently the best treatment yet of this enduring mystery. If it means anything - and I rather think it does - Betsy Bird at Fuse #8 is a champion of this book.
Anya's Ghost - Just finished, and my goodness this is a nice piece of work. The drawing is assured and expressive, serving the story but not fading into the background at all; and the story is an up-to-date pageturner, half sarcastic high school story and half gothic. It's like - what was that TV show with Melissa Joan Hart as a kid witch? Like that, crossed with My So-Called Life.
Between Shades of Gray - Just your average gulag book! I love me some privation, so this one is next on my list.
Bootleg: Murder, Moonshine, and the Lawless Years of Prohibition - Loved this! I am a sucker for nonfiction, it's true, but I rank this right up there with Albert Marrin's Triangle book as one of the most engaging NF books for young people of the year. There's vice! Violence! Votes for women! And a truly cogent explanation of Prohibition's short- and long-term effects on our nation.
Plus the cover shows a couple guys pouring Pikesville Rye down a storm drain, and Pikesville Rye is our local rotgut. Very nice with a little dry vermouth and a piece of crystallized lemon peel.
The Cheshire Cheese Cat: A Dickens of a Tale - I just was not as charmed by this book as lots of other people were. I almost have to recuse myself from discussions about it, because I couldn't really see the There there, but it's not like I have any specific objections. So I had my kids write the Pink Me review. If I have to point a finger though, I will bet you this book will go far in the BoB.
Chime - Next NEXT on my list.
Dead End in Norvelt - Jack Gantos's funny semi-memoir is the book I correctly predicted would win the Newbery Award. It just seemed to be Jack's year, to me. Also, the Film Club I run at school is doing a 90-Second Newbery Film Festival entry based on this book, and the ten kids in my club are ADORING the book, with a surprising amount of competition among the boys about who gets to play Jack. Stay tuned.
Drawing From Memory - Allen Say's graphic memoir. I read this ages ago and I'll have to page through it again. I remember it was fascinating, but was later eclipsed in my mind by Ed Young's The House Baba Built: An Artist's Childhood in China.
The Grand Plan to Fix Everything - reading this right now. Loving the southern India tea town setting, but so far not finding the characters to be anything special.
Heart and Soul: The Story of America and African Americans - mentioned time and again on Pink Me, one of Kadir's very best, and that's saying something.
Inside Out and Back Again - for a verse novel, I was very impressed with this winner of the National Book Award.
Life: An Exploded Diagram - trying to get my hands on. If this contest were judged on cover alone, this one would get it, no reading necessary. Look at that. Nice.
A Monster Calls - read this, wasn't as impressed as a lot of people. I kept hearing Liam Neeson's voice as the monster and kept seeing Cousin Isobel from Downton Abbey as the granny, and... I don't know. It felt both over- and under-written, if that makes any sense. Overquiet BBC Suspense Movie is I guess not my favorite genre.
Okay for Now - Here's where Gary Schmidt gets it back. Arguably robbed of any Newbery love, this followup to The Wednesday Wars is fully as strong as everybody says (I finally read it all the way through), readable, and relatable.
Wonderstruck - Here's another one I just couldn't get it up for. The Invention of Hugo Cabret was quite the item. God knows I love a game-changer. But if Hugo Cabret had any weaknesses, it was a) beyond their deep nobility, the children were not very complicated characters and b) in the end, the book was about rescuing a seminal filmmaker from obscurity, which, I'm sorry, what?
I, like I think most people, didn't really notice this until I saw the movie, so compelling is the atmosphere and art of Selznick's work. (Plus I read that book out loud to my children while we were waiting for our minivan at the car dealership, so I might have been a little distracted.) However, Wonderstruck has these same weaknesses - uncomplex heroes, obscure plot - without the novelty. I would rather see Brian Selznick stick to his marvelous art, and let somebody else write the books.
Follow along with the Battle from March 13 through April 2. There will be surprises and funny comments and perhaps even rudeness! Yes! Is it any wonder this is one of my favorite events of the kidlit year?