The Big Kahuna Approaches!

The Third Round of School Library Journal’s Battle of the Books finished up today. At last! A round where I picked everything the same as the judges did! (Only two matches might have had something to do with it.)

My hopes for the Big Kahuna Round? The same as they’ve always been: For Code Name Verity to come back from the dead and win it all.

If the Undead Poll winner is not Code Name Verity? Honestly, there’s not very many of the books I prefer over The Fault in Our Stars. Earlier in the battle, I had it edged out by Endangered, but I’m not sure I feel the same way a week later and after more judge’s opinions. If a middle grade novel I loved — namely, The One and Only Ivan or Three Times Lucky were to be in the Big Kahuna Round, I admit I’d be happy to have them pull an upset, in the name of middle grade fiction.

Bottom line, if Code Name Verity is not in the Big Kahuna Round, I could be sort of consoled by a victory for The Fault in Our Stars.

But, come on, that can’t happen!

If we can’t have Julie back from the dead, let’s at the very least have Code Name Verity back from the dead.

And on to Victory!

SLJ’s Battle of the Books and Abysmal Round Two

Okay, can I just say that School Library Journal’s Battle of the Books Round Two Judges made BAD decisions? Or is that too — horrors — judgmental?!

I’m finding the Battle is less fun when I’ve read all the books — at least when the judges don’t pick my favorites! When I hadn’t read the books, the judge’s descriptions piqued my curiosity and got me excited about reading those books. This time, they just make me think maybe I have bizarre taste.

Though at least they agonize so their opinions aren’t decisively bad!

So I’m still pouting about Code Name Verity going down. I still very much hope it will be the Undead Poll winner.

Which means I want The Fault in Our Stars to defeat Bomb. But honestly, I would have been rooting for The Fault in Our Stars anyway.

Did anyone else notice that one of the judges made the *same* usage mistake that appeared twice in Bomb‘s pages? They used “principle” when they meant to say “principal.” The Principal Flaw this year is the “Principle” Flaw! The principle is this: When you want to say it’s the main thing, you use “principal.” When you’re talking about a rule, a truth, you use “principle.”

Yes, call me a grammar snob. But my principle is that words in print are the principal way kids learn correct grammar and usage. If publishing professionals get it wrong, how can we expect kids to get it right?

There. Can you tell I’m grumpy about this round of the battle?

For the second half of the third round, it will be Splendors and Glooms vs. No Crystal Stair, almost my least favorite books in the whole battle. (My least favorite was Jepp, Who Defied the Stars, but these were next.) So that makes it hard to pick, and that makes me not too invested in the match. But rather than flip a coin, I will decide that No Crystal Stair has less flaws than Splendors and Glooms, so I will root for No Crystal Stair. The “Documentary Novel” approach was innovative, and she pulled it off.

I found it interesting that both these books had significant sections told from the perspective of adults. That would be a flaw against any other book in the battle. But since they both did it, they cancel each other out, as far as that goes. The principal factor in my decision was the unsatisfying ending of Splendors and Glooms weighed against the way No Crystal Stair upheld the principle that reading is empowering.

Clearly, it’s getting late and I should go to bed….

SLJsBoB: Getting Ready for Round Two!

The first round of School Library Journal’s Battle of the Books has finished up. I predicted exactly half of the matches correctly in both the first half and the second half.

However, up to Match 6, even though I only predicted half of the matches correctly, the one I did predict correctly was the one I’d picked to move on in Round Two, so at first it didn’t look like my picks in Round Two would change.

But a couple things have happened to change that.

First, I finished reading Endangered. Even though it plays havoc with your emotions as much as The Fault in Our Stars, it feels less manipulative as it does that. Not that I thought The Fault in Our Stars manipulated my emotions. But Endangered even less so, even though it’s every bit as weighty a book. Does that make sense?

I still want Code Name Verity to win the top bracket. But I’m reversing my pick for Endangered vs. The Fault in Our Stars. Now that I’ve read Endangered, I want it to win.

Admittedly, I still think The Fault in Our Stars or Code Name Verity, whichever one is knocked out, will win the Undead Poll. So I expect to see both of those in the Big Kahuna Round anyway. If they both get knocked out? I shudder to even think of that possibility!

But the second problem to my Second Round picks is that I hoped The One and Only Ivan would win the entire bottom bracket. This is clearly no longer going to happen.

I did, however, hope that one of Starry River of the Sky or Liar & Spy would get knocked out, despite my predictions, so I wouldn’t have to choose between the two. Well, I’m a little sorry my wish was granted.

But it does make my decision easier. No dithering here! It turns out that in every Round Two Match, there is one book I predicted correctly, and one book I didn’t. Except for Endangered (see above), I always want the book I predicted correctly in the Round One to win Round Two.

That means I want Starry River of the Sky to beat Splendors and Glooms. No question about it.

And Seraphina over No Crystal Stair. Easy-peasy choice, despite whatever judge Paul Griffin may say about it.

Round Three? If it goes as I wish, the top half is still all about Code Name Verity. In the bottom half? Well, can I cop out and say whichever of the Round Two matches I get right?

But if by some amazing miracle I guess both right, Starry River of the Sky vs. Seraphina? Well, I think Starry River is the more expertly crafted book, so I’ll go with it. But that’s one where I wouldn’t be as sad, because I did love Seraphina.

If I get the Second Round Bottom Half both wrong, I’d choose Splendors and Glooms over No Crystal Stair.

And I still want Code Name Verity to win it all!

Battle of the Books First Week Report

The first week of School Library Journal’s Battle of the Books has finished up, and the first half of the first round matches. I predicted these matches. How’d I do?

My success rate is only 50%. However, I am not discouraged! Because the two books I want to win the second round were the two I got right. So my hopes for the second round still stand.

What’s more, I only this week got started reading Endangered, the one book in the battle I hadn’t yet read. So I’m kind of glad it’s still around, and think I can safely say I’ll be finished before it competes again.

Once again this year, I made a display with little book covers, and I’m moving the book covers in the brackets based on who wins. (Sorry, it’s at the library. I should have taken a picture!) Losers go to the bottom, until one comes back from the dead. Today I wore my SLJ BoB t-shirt from 2010, when they gave t-shirts to anyone who blogged about the Battle.

I’ve enjoyed the judges so far. I forgive them for using The Format (see the first commenter at a Read Roger post), because they’ve had good things to say in the body of the decision.

Personally, I don’t fault the judges for praising both books in each match. They’re excellent books, okay? I appreciate that they took some time; they pointed out things about the books I hadn’t necessarily noticed. If you haven’t read the books, you’re going to find many reasons for doing so. If you have read them, you get to see them through another author’s eyes.

I do hope someone will mix it up a little and not talk about the losing book first, though.

I’m probably happiest with Margarita Engle, simply because she praised my favorite book, Code Name Verity, and quoted beautiful lines and reminded me of why I love it so much.

Speaking of judging books, (clever transition there?) today I saw that it’s really official: My name is on the ballot for next year’s Newbery Committee! Squee!

Now, mind you, there are 16 names on the ballot for only 8 positions. And voting opens next week and continues for more than a month, so I’m going to be tense about it for quite awhile. Sometime soon, I will make a post about why voting for me is a good idea and why I am a great choice for the job. For now, I’ll just beg: Any ALSC members out there, make my dream come true! Vote for me! Vote for me!

SLJ BoB is Here!

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!)

Go, Zombie, Go!

Well, today the last of my three favorite books in School Library Journal’s Battle of the Kids’ Books was knocked out.

To review, those three favorites, probably in this order, were: Okay for Now, Daughter of Smoke and Bone, and Chime. Though I’m plenty fickle, because in her brilliant analysis, E. Lockhart got me completely behind her choice of Chime over Daughter.

Now, in a side note, didn’t I tell you that authors tend to pick the book least like the one they’d write themselves? So, once I thought about it, I wasn’t really surprised Maggie Stiefvater didn’t move Chime along. And let’s just say that I loved her book, The Scorpio Races, more than either Chime or Daughter of Smoke and Bone. But that’s the way these things go. The fun is not in having my own choices vindicated (They usually aren’t.); the fun is in reading brilliant authors talking about reading brilliant books.

Now, I said last week that I was pretty sure I would choose any book in the first half over any book in the second half.

But now that I know the books that have won, I actually think I would pick Drawing from Memory over Between Shades of Gray. DfM is growing on me as I read the judges’ comments, and it really is a brilliant book. And, let’s face it, Between Shades of Gray is much more depressing.

What’s that you say? Drawing from Memory is up against Life: An Exploded Diagram tomorrow and may not even make it to the Final Round? I am not even going to consider that possibility! It would be too wrong.

But all this is a moot point, and here’s why: I want the Zombie to win!

You see, every year since the second, the fun thing about SLJ’s BoB is that they hold an Undead Poll before the Battle begins. Fans vote for their favorite book to come back from the dead and compete in the final round, if it got knocked out sooner. This year, I voted for Okay for Now, but I would be very happy if any one of my top three favorites was the winner. I think my chances of one of these three being the winner are very good. — They were all three popular books.

And this is cool because now they don’t have to compete against each other, so I can wholeheartedly root for the Zombie to win.

Go, Zombie, Go!

Battle of the Kids’ Books, Week Two

School Library Journal’s Battle of the Kids’ Books has completed it’s first week, and I guessed EVERY match correctly! Go me!

Maybe it’s helping that this year, for the first time, I’ve read ALL the contenders. Mind you, I only finished them this week, but I did finish every book before its match. And tonight, I posted a review of a book in Monday’s match, The Grand Plan to Fix Everything.

So it’s time to post my picks for the rest of the first round. I have no more excuses.

But right away, Monday’s match, Drawing from Memory vs. The Grand Plan to Fix Everything, is a super tough match to decide.

Before I read Grand Plan, I was sure Drawing from Memory would win. It’s a unique book, not quite a graphic memoir, not quite a picture book, and a true story as well. It doesn’t fit well with Newbery or Caldecott criteria, but it’s definitely a distinguished book.

Grand Plan has the disadvantage of being in Present Tense, which I hate, but the book itself completely won me over. And I find myself thinking we need a few light-hearted books in this Battle. Things are a bit dreary so far. On top of that, Barbara O’Connor’s books are much more like Grand Plan than Drawing from Memory, and I know from painful experience that judges often don’t pick the book most like their own. But it’s really hard for me not to tap her as choosing The Grand Plan to Fix Everything. It seems almost like a book she would have written.

But on reflection, for excellence in art and story, for NOT being in present tense, and for being least like a book the judge would write herself, I’m going to pick Drawing from Memory. But I won’t be sad if I’m wrong — it would be nice to have a light-hearted book left in the second round.

I’m afraid the other Round One matches were pretty easy for me. Let’s just say I didn’t like Life: An Exploded Diagram or Inside Out and Back Again enough to review them. Okay, let’s say a little more. Life felt like a literary book for adults, not a book for teens, since a lot of the book is from an adult’s perspective. If I had picked it up expecting a literary book for adults, I probably would have enjoyed it more, though it still wouldn’t have been a favorite. With Inside Out and Back Again, it was up against my not being terribly fond of prose poems. Besides that, it reminded me of K. A. Applegate’s Home of the Brave, which aroused a lot more sympathy in me, for some reason.

That makes my pick for Match Six, Heart and Soul, and my pick for Match Seven, A Monster Calls.

Match Eight, Okay for Now vs. Wonderstruck, was more difficult. I did think Wonderstruck was brilliant, and I wish it weren’t up against that book I championed all year long, Okay for Now. So despite Wonderstruck‘s excellence, for Match Eight, I have to go with my favorite middle grade book in this competition (How’s that for couching my words?), Okay for Now.

I’ve written reviews for Heart and Soul, A Monster Calls, and Wonderstruck, and will try to post them all before their matches. Meanwhile, may the odds be ever in your favor!

Battle of the Kids’ Books, Week One

Today I stayed home from work with a headache, but on the plus side, the one thing I was able to do was read, and I finished two contenders from School Library Journal’s Battle of the Kids’ Books, Between Shades of Gray, by Ruta Sepetys, and The Grand Plan to Fix Everything, by Uma Krishnaswami. That leaves me with only one book left of the sixteen contestants. It’s probably the shortest, Inside Out and Back Again, so I hope to finish it tonight or tomorrow.

Since Inside Out and Back Again doesn’t compete until next week, I thought I’d post my picks for the first week.

The first match happened today. My pick, Amelia Lost, was the winner. Judge Matt Phelan gave a brilliant analysis of both books.

Getting them finished in the nick of time, tonight I posted reviews of both of tomorrow’s contenders: Between Shades of Gray, by Ruta Sepetys, and Bootleg, by Karen Blumenthal.

You can see from my reviews that I thought both books were brilliant. But for my pick to win, I have to go with Between Shades of Gray for the way it made me continually forget that I was reading fiction, not fact.

The remaining matches this week involve two of my favorites for the entire tournament, so these ones I care a lot more about:

For The Cheshire Cheese Cat vs. Chime, I definitely want Chime to win.

For Daughter of Smoke and Bone vs. Dead End in Norvelt, despite the brilliance of Newbery-winning Dead End in Norvelt, my heart is solidly with Daughter of Smoke and Bone.

But, again, half the fun is reading the judges’ analysis and opinions. Who will win this year? Stay tuned!

Battle of the Kids’ Books is Coming!

My post is up on School Library Journal’s Battle of the Kids’ Books (SLJsBoB) website!

In that post, I told my reasons for loving SLJsBoB and how much fun it is to participate through reading the books and commenting.

Here, I will point out that you still have time to read the books before the competition begins on March 13th! Don’t delay! It’s lots of fun! Here are the Brackets with the books that will be competing.

Now, I hadn’t seen the Brackets before I wrote the post that’s up today. So now I will point out that Amelia Lost, Chime, Daughter of Smoke and Bone, Drawing from Memory, and Okay for Now are all 2011 Sonderbooks Stand-outs.

Interesting! I only now noticed that all of these Sonderbooks Stand-outs are in different first-round pairings from each other. So I don’t need to tell you which book I will root for in those pairings. I’m going to go with my Stand-out every time.

Now, I only have four more books to read before the Battle starts. Most of them I will try to review before March 13th. Based on what I’ve read now, my picks for the remaining pairings will be:

Match Two: Between Shades of Gray vs Bootleg. I haven’t read Between Shades of Gray yet, and Bootleg was very good, so I’ll pick Bootleg with the caveat that this pick may very well change after I read the other book. I think that judge Gayle Forman’s books are more similar to Between Shades of Gray, but I have found that often judges pick the book least like the ones they write. (With lots of exceptions, though.)

Match Six: Heart and Soul vs Inside Out and Back Again. Again, I haven’t read Inside Out and Back Again, and Heart and Soul is amazing. So I’ll go with Heart and Soul unless Inside Out and Back Again blows me away, which it may.

Match Seven: Life: An Exploded Diagram vs A Monster Calls
This one there’s no question in my mind: I’m rooting for A Monster Calls. I’ve read both, and while Life: An Exploded Diagram was good, A Monster Calls was dazzling. Also, Life felt much more like an adult book to me. I think if I’d chosen to read it as a piece of adult literary fiction, I would have known what to expect and enjoyed it a lot more. My main reasons for not naming A Monster Calls a Sonderbooks Stand-out were personal. I read it when having mysterious health problems, and it’s about a mother dying. But the book is outstanding!

So, those are the only matches that don’t have a Sonderbooks Stand-out competing, and I’ll go with my Stand-out for all the others.

Meanwhile, you can already take part by participating in the Undead Poll. In this, you vote for your favorite title and, if it has been knocked out earlier in the competition, it will come back from the dead in the final round.

I decided to vote for Okay for Now, because I was sad it didn’t get any Newbery recognition. I’ve also found that a lot of people, like me, love it, but also a lot of people really don’t like it. So, in case it gets knocked out by a judge who falls into that second camp, I want it to have another chance.

Thinking about it later, I kind of wish I’d voted for Daughter of Smoke and Bone. Because two of my favorites, Daughter of Smoke and Bone and Chime are in the same half, one of them is definitely not going to make the Final Round. So I should have voted for the one that I like a tiny bit better than the other, to give it another chance. Oh well! Here’s hoping it makes it to the Final Round despite me! And I won’t mind if it’s Chime either, though my ideal final round would be Daughter of Smoke and Bone, Chime, and Okay for Now. But the only way that will happen is if one of those first two wins the Undead Poll. So get out there and vote!

PS: HOW much fun is it to have an SLJsBoB icon?!!! Monica and Roxanne told me I could post it on my site.