Battle of the Books Is About to Begin!

It’s that time of year! School Library Journal is hosting the second annual Battle of the Kids’ Books!

Here’s how it works. The moderators have chosen sixteen highly acclaimed children’s books published in 2009. They match them up in tournament-style brackets (in alphabetical order). At each “match,” a distinguished children’s author will judge between the two books.

Last year, I followed this, but hadn’t read many of the books. It was the Battle of the Kids’ Books that got me to finally read The Hunger Games. But enjoying the Battle of the Books got me interested in other School Library Journal blogs, so I followed the Heavy Medal blog, a Mock Newbery blog, and have read a good proportion of these top 2009 titles.

I’ll list the first round and give my favorites. Here’s where I’d like comments. Which books would you choose in these match-ups?

Oh, I forgot a fun twist they’re adding to this year’s tournament: The Undead Poll. Before the battle begins, they are taking a poll of your favorite contender. In the final round, the book with the most votes that has been previously knocked out of the running will be brought back from the dead. So the final round, judged by our new Ambassador for Children’s Literature, Katharine Paterson, will be between three books instead of just two. The vote closes on Sunday, March 14, so choose your favorite and vote now!

Okay, here are the first round matches, with my own comments:

Match One:
Charles and Emma, by Deborah Heiligman
Claudette Colvin: Twice Toward Justice, by Philip Hoose
Judge: Jim Murphy, a distinguished author of nonfiction

This one, I am neutral about the winner. I have read Claudette Colvin and not Charles and Emma, but I did check out Charles and Emma and look it over, but simply didn’t get around to reading it. I liked the look of it, though — biography told as the story of a relationship. As for Claudette Colvin, you can read my review of that book, and it ended up, like many of these on my 2010 Sonderbooks Stand-outs. I will be interested to see which book Jim Murphy chooses. For the sake of making a prediction, I’ll guess Claudette Colvin.

Match Two:
The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate, by Jacqueline Kelly
Fire, by Kristin Cashore
Judge: Nancy Farmer

There’s no question in my mind which book I want to win this round. I read about half of Calpurnia Tate before I got tired of it and decided to read some of the other books clamoring for my attention. There are those who adore that book, but it’s not really my style. On the other hand, I was crazy about Fire, and named it my Teen Fantasy #2 on the 2010 Sonderbooks Stand-outs, which actually puts it higher in my favor than the #1 pick in most other categories.

Since Nancy Farmer writes fantasy, I’m hoping she will also favor Fire. But just in case she or a future judge doesn’t, that book was my pick for the Undead Poll, my favorite of all the contenders.

Match Three:
The Frog Scientist, by Pamela S. Turner
The Last Olympian, by Rick Riordan
Judge: Candace Fleming

This one’s a tough call, because the books are so different. I just tonight read and reviewed The Frog Scientist, because I’d had it sitting in my house ready to read for some time. The Battle of the Books motivated me to finally do it! I haven’t read The Last Olympian, but I read and enjoyed the first Percy Jackson book, so I think I have the idea.

The Frog Scientist is nicely presented nonfiction, with beautiful photographs and clear explanations of the science involved. The Last Olympian is wildly popular fiction. If I were judging between The Frog Scientist and the first Percy Jackson book, The Lightning Thief, I would probably pick The Frog Scientist, though that might be because it’s fresh in my mind. The Frog Scientist is an outstanding example of what it’s trying to do — present information. The Lightning Thief, while very good, didn’t stand out in my mind among other fantasy fiction titles.

But who knows what Candace Fleming will pick? For my prediction, I’m going to say The Frog Scientist, swayed by the fact that Candace Fleming writes excellent nonfiction herself, and this is similar with excellent accompanying photographs and excellent details.

Match Four:
Lips Touch: Three Times, by Laini Taylor
The Lost Conspiracy, by Frances Hardinge
Judge: Helen Frost

I’ve read both of these two, and though both were good, I definitely liked Lips Touch much better, so I’m rooting for it in this round.

Match Five (Second Half of the Brackets):
Marcelo in the Real World, by Francisco X. Storck
Marching for Freedom, by Elizabeth Partridge
Judge: Gary Schmidt

It’s probably not fair for me to have an opinion on this one, since I haven’t read Marching for Freedom (though I did look through it), but I loved Marcelo too much to want any book to beat it — except for Fire in the very final round! And even then, I won’t feel too bad if it is Marcelo that beats Fire.

Have I mentioned that half the fun of the Battle of the Books is hearing what the judges have to say about the contenders? Gary Schmidt has written the wonderful Lizzie Bright and the Buckminster Boy and The Wednesday Wars, and I’m very interested in what he has to say about Marcelo in the Real World.

Match Six:
Peace, Locomotion, by Jacqueline Woodson
A Season of Gifts, by Richard Peck
Judge: Cynthia Kadohata

I haven’t read either of these books, though I have heard about them. I have read some other Jacqueline Woodson books and enjoyed them, so I’m going to go with a prediction of Peace, Locomotion, winning this round.

Match Seven:
The Storm in the Barn, by Matt Phelan
Sweethearts of Rhythm, by Marilyn Nelson
Judge: Anita Silvey

I’m afraid this is another case where I liked The Storm in the Barn too much to want a book I haven’t read to beat it. The Storm in the Barn presents history, but with a touch of fantasy and a lot of emotion — all in graphic novel format. No matter how good nonfiction Sweethearts of Rhythm may be, Storm in the Barn will be hard to beat.

Match Eight:
Tales from Outer Suburbia, by Shaun Tan
When You Reach Me, by Rebecca Stead
Judge: Julius Lester

This one’s a tough choice. I’ve read both books and thought both were outstanding. Both deserve to go to the final round, and both have a bit of the bizarre in the plot. In the end, though, I would have to pick When You Reach Me, because it did win my heart more than Tales from Outer Suburbia, which definitely won my mind.

The commentary from the judge on this match will be extremely interesting. I’ll go ahead and predict that Julius Lester will pick When You Reach Me, but I may not be as surprised as some if he picks Tales from Outer Suburbia instead.

So — there you have it! On March 15, the Battle of the Kids’ Books will begin. Now I’d like to hear from you. Which of these books is your favorite? (Hurry and vote for it in the Undead Poll before the 14th!)

Do you disagree with me on some of these match-ups? Have you read some of the books I haven’t read and have more insight? Have I slighted one of your favorites?

If you haven’t read any or many (like me last year), I can assure you you’ll add some books to your to-be-read list if you follow the battle.

Let me know what you think! And enjoy the arena seats!

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