It’s that time of year! School Library Journal’s Battle of the Books is starting up! (I keep hearing this rumbling that other tournaments happen in March, but I’ve never heard about anything so exciting.)
What is SLJ’s Battle of the Books? The stellar Battle Commanders and Commentator choose 16 of the best children’s books of the previous year and arrange them in tournament brackets. The judges are distinguished children’s and young adult authors. Their tales of their travails while judging are my favorite part of the battle (unlike Roger Sutton). The judges usually manage to make an entertaining and brilliant commentary, playing off themes or styles from the books they judged.
And until tomorrow, you can still vote in the Undead Poll for one book, if slighted by the judges, to come back from the dead for the Big Kahuna Round at the end.
But enough about the details! Let’s talk about the books!
This year, by the time the books were announced, I’d read 15 of the 16 books, a new record. (No, I take that back. I was halfway through Bomb.) I still haven’t read Endangered, but it’s next on my TBR pile, so I might (maybe?) finish it before its match on March 14.
What’s more, not only have I read 15 of the books, I’ve reviewed all 15. Now, I only review books I like, and in previous years, let’s just say that I did not review all of the Battle books. Okay, a few of the reviews are not glowing. But I still liked them enough to review them. What’s more, out of the fifteen I’ve read, nine made my 2012 Sonderbooks Stand-outs. Two of the remaining six (Bomb and Three Times Lucky) I didn’t read until 2013, but they are highly likely to be 2013 Sonderbooks Stand-outs. So it’s pretty clear I like their choices this year.
Here are the first round match-ups with my pick listed first:
Match One, judged by Kenneth Oppel:
Wonder vs Bomb
This one’s a toughie. Bomb is probably the more excellently crafted book. But, doggone it, hasn’t it gotten enough awards? The Sibert, the YALSA Excellence in Nonfiction, Newbery Honor, oh my! Shouldn’t Wonder at least win a round in Battle of the Books?
Mind you, whichever book wins Match One, I want to win the first round only, because look what’s in the second match:
Match Two, judged by Margarita Engle:
Code Name Verity vs. Titanic: Voices from the Disaster
Sorry, Titanic. I liked you enough to name you #3 Sonderbooks Stand-out in Children’s Nonfiction. But Code Name Verity was my favorite book read in 2012, and that hasn’t changed. Yes, this was also my pick in the Undead Poll, but I don’t really want it to win that way. I want every judge to acknowledge its brilliance. However, I realize not all judges are so perspicacious. We shall see how they do in acknowledging greatness.
Match Three, judged by Kathi Appelt
Three Times Lucky vs. Endangered
Yes, I realize this isn’t fair, since Endangered is the one book I haven’t read yet. But I have a soft spot for Three Times Lucky, and I find myself hoping I don’t like Endangered as much. (Though it would be fun to see Endangered go up against The One and Only Ivan in a later round. If only for the cartoon SLJ’s artist would draw.)
Match Four, judged by Deb Caletti
The Fault in Our Stars vs. Temple Grandin
Again, I’m sorry, Temple Grandin. It’s not that I don’t like nonfiction. But I did think The Fault in Our Stars was wonderful. And this is another case where I’d like to see a stellar book get a bit more recognition. I notice The Fault in Our Stars was #9 in Teen Fiction on my Sonderbooks Stand-outs, but Temple Grandin was #8 in Children’s Nonfiction. So I have to admit that #9 in Teen Fiction is higher in my affections than #8 in Children’s Nonfiction. So sue me.
Speaking of Stars:
Match Five, judged by Adam Gidwitz
Starry River of the Sky vs. Jepp, Who Defied the Stars
My affection for Starry River of the Sky is mingled with admiration for what a sweet person Grace Lin is, since I got to hear her speak at KidLitCon last year. But I also not only read Starry River of the Sky, I also listened to it, and that made me appreciate its structure and craft even more than the first reading. Jepp? Well, I did review it, and I only review books I like…. But I want Starry River of the Sky to come out of this match shining.
Match Six, judged by Franny Billingsley
Liar & Spy vs. Splendors & Glooms
I don’t think my ranking here will surprise anyone. Liar & Spy was a 2012 Sonderbooks Stand-out, but Splendors & Glooms was not. Now, Splendors & Glooms is much more similar to Franny Billingsley’s books, all atmospheric and creepy and magical, than Liar & Spy is. But my first year when I tried to predict Battle of the Books choices by thinking judges would pick books similar to their own, I got them all wrong. My current theory is that judges are quicker to see flaws in books like their own, or are perhaps extra admiring of someone who pulls off a book they could never write. So I hope Franny Billingsley will agree with me.
Match Seven, judged by Marie Lu
Seraphina vs Moonbird
Okay, I admit, this time it looks like I’m simply choosing fiction over nonfiction. Because Moonbird was a 2012 Sonderbooks Stand-out, but Seraphina wasn’t. And Moonbird was #9 in its category, and Seraphina was in a much tougher category, fantasy for teens. I’d always have a hard time rooting against a good fantasy novel for teens.
Match Eight, judged by Catherine Gilbert Murdock
The One and Only Ivan vs. No Crystal Stair
Sorry, but no contest here. Count me an Ivan fan. Again, my ranking in Sonderbooks Stand-outs is telling: The One and Only Ivan was #2 in Children’s Fiction, but No Crystal Stair, while reviewed, was not a Stand-out.
On reflection, I’m pretty lucky with the first round — few of my favorites are pitted against one another. But I’m setting up to be much more upset if any of my favorites lose!
Now, I’ll make new predictions for Round Two, but just a run-down on how it would go if I got to judge all the matches:
Code Name Verity would win every match in which it appears.
The Fault in Our Stars would win the second round before succumbing to Code Name Verity‘s brilliance. Though I must admit, I’d cheer for Mo if Three Times Lucky pulled off a win.
In the bottom half of the tournament, I’m almost counting on one of my favorites not advancing, so I won’t have to choose between Starry River of the Sky and Liar & Spy, though I’d probably go with Starry River of the Sky. But I would want Ivan to win all its matches until it faces Code Name Verity.
For the book coming back from the dead, I’m hoping it won’t be necessary for Code Name Verity to be resurrected, making it a match-up with Code Name Verity, The Fault in Our Stars, and The One and Only Ivan, with, you know it, Code Name Verity coming out on top. (It’s gotten enough Honor! Time to WIN!)
But believe me, I don’t expect the judges will see it my way. They never do!
How about you? What are your picks? (Links to blog posts are good, too!)