After two consecutive years of blowouts, this year was much more competitive. That’s not to say OKAY FOR NOW didn’t jump out to a healthy lead and maintain it throughout, but that healthy lead was often a single digit number. CHIME and DAUGHTER OF SMOKE & BONE trailed early, then CHIME pulled away for a clear second place until an eleventh hour push by WONDERSTRUCK. Meanwhile, A MONSTER CALLS joined DAUGHTER OF SMOKE & BONE in that third tier. Undead winner OKAY FOR NOW will make lots of people happy and it should be a real threat to win the whole thing. It’s also the only viable juvenile option in the final round as both BETWEEN SHADES OF GRAY and LIFE: AN EXPLODED DIAGRAM are more YA.
— Commentator Jonathan Hunt
The two official Kid Commentators want to share with everyone what THEY
think should win this year’s top BoB Prize. Do you agree with their picks?
Okay For Now, Between Shades of Gray, and Life: An Exploded Diagram. Three fantastic novels have all conquered their competitors, survived in a rather brutal battle, and have made it to the final round of the 2012 Battle of the Kids’ Books. Which for any book, picture or prose, is the highest honor one could be awarded. These three books will fight in the ultimate brawl of the battle until one book alone departs from the battle victorious. This scrimmage goes by many names, but is officially called the Big Kahuna Round.
Two-time Newbery Honor winner Gary D. Schmidt crafts an incredibly creative and unique story about the perils of being a young boy moving to a new town with a temperamental and often drunk father. Schmidt creates Doug’s story with humor, sarcasm, and wit with a terrifically brilliant ending which allows the reader to choose Doug’s conclusion. Positively terrific.
Life: An Exploded Diagram is a historical fiction masterpiece that wins hearts over with its incredibly astute and clever characters as well as its fabulously informative history of the Cuban Missile Crisis (one of my favorite subjects.) Of course it does have its unnecessary moments where it drags on quite a bit, as all books tend to do at certain points (with the exception of Philip Pullman’s works.)
Between Shades of Gray, one of my personal favorites, tells the tragic and true story of a young Lithuanian girl living at the time of World War II. Ruta Sepetys tells in horrifying detail of the perils and obstacles Lina has to overcome, until she is free at last. This work of historical fiction is exceptional, and I would recommend it to all lovers of this genre of books.
This final match of the 2012 Battle of the Books has been incredibly difficult and troublesome to conjure up a conclusion for, especially because I am a lover of all books in the competition. It was a very close round, and although I am a big fan of Life and Okay for Now, I have to go with Between Shades of Gray, for its detailed, clear, and clever writing.
As a big fan of Jonathan Stroud, I am anxious to see which book he picks for the ultimate victor of this year’s Battle of the Kids’ Books.
— Kid Commentator GI
All of the books in the final three comment on life in a meaningful way somehow. Most books do. Some are just more obvious. Take Mal Peet’s LIFE: AN EXPLODED DIAGRAM. Just from the title, you can see that it will analyze life. The clever part is the relevance to the story itself: explosion. Throughout the book, you see that nukes will (or won’t) detonate and mines can erupt – it’s part of life. Peet asks: Why should one’s world have to fall apart? What happens when it does? He tells us: Life continues, and then the world explodes again.
Less apparent is BETWEEN SHADES OF GREY. Ruta Sepetys describes in brutal detail a horrible condition in life – that of the Lithuanian people, and in a more general sense, all oppressed people. Her book is an emotional plea for life to be good, for people to hope. The title conveys this: However dark the situation, there is still some “white.” It also might be a more general reference to the Lithuanian people stuck between all this war (Hitler, Stalin, etc.).
In OKAY FOR NOW, Gary Schmidt demonstrates one of the most important processes in life: maturation. In lyrical writing, Schmidt also shows life through Doug’s perspective. And at the end of the book, Doug is “okay for now.” What could be more like life than that? But I can’t just judge these books on their messages. What about their presentation – their writing and characters and all the other stuff that makes a book good?
BETWEEN SHADES OF GRAY is the most interesting case. Sepetys tells of the Lithuanians’ survival with no respite:
“Have you ever wondered what a human life is worth? That morning, my brother’s was worth a pocketwatch.”
“We were about to become cigarettes.”
Endlessly grueling and biting. Three hundred and thirty-eight pages of this stuff. If any books in this battle aren’t for kids (like many say of LIFE), BETWEEN SHADES OF GRAY is one of them. It should be sent to the Oval Office straight away, as well as to all the other world leaders.
And that’s also a compliment. It’s a really, really important book. Despite the harshness of the book, Lithuania’s story is extremely emotional and hopeful. The perserverance of the Lithuanian people (as expressed in Lina and her mother) to withstand whatever life throws at them is astounding. I felt for all of them with a full heart – as well as for Kretzky, the Soviet guard. So this story gives hope. It hurls you all these horrible descriptions, and at the end you have hope! Truly a work of art.
LIFE: AN EXPLODED DIAGRAM is not hopeful. It’s purely an analysis of life. And what a beautiful one it is!
The writing: “History is the heavy traffic that prevents us from crossing the road.” Deep, metaphoric, and stunning. More like this, with great detail using similes. It’s a joy to read.
The characters: George Mortimer: “Uppity posh foreign crumpet.” Ha! You can tell a lot from that. Peet implies that despite a negative portrayal of a character (ex. George Mortimer), it’s just part of life. Note the humor.
The setting: “Washing blew on the line: tea towels, Ruth’s yellowish vests, her mother’s bloomers ballooned by the wind, their elasticated leg holes pouting.” Detailed, with exquisite metaphors. The plot is near-perfect, a series of “explosions” in Clem and Frankie’s life. The background is definitely very interesting, as is the history. It’s helped, of course, by Peet’s witty, brilliant writing, and an excellent sense of humor. In the whole book, and especially in the ending, Mal Peet paints life as it is; mistakes are repeated, and war will always happen. Inside the book, though, is a subtle plea: Why must humans continue this?
This has already been talked about before, but LIFE: AN EXPLODED DIAGRAM is really a YA book. With Clem, you see a typical teenager. When we get to Frankie and Clem’s romance, the YA-ness of the book increases. Despite this, from most other perspectives, Mal Peet’s book is also adult. But don’t teens love quality in a book, and adultness? Add it all up, and LIFE: AN EXPLODED DIAGRAM is a really powerful and spectacular commentary on life.
And what of OKAY FOR NOW? It’s not really hopeful or sad. All you know is that at the end, things are “okay for now.” Anyways, Doug’s story is an almost perfect rendition of growing up.
The writing: “Joe Pepitone once gave me his baseball cap.” Like that’s the biggest thing in the world. Schmidt expertly captures the eighth grade mind through first person narration, and Doug’s view on the world is pretty funny. Mixed in with a bunch of metaphors for Doug’s state-of-being, such as Arctic Terns, the writing is the best it could possibly be for such a story.
The characters: Doug’s father: “My father’s hands are quick. That’s the kind of guy he is.” Once again, with Doug’s snappy narration and POV.
The setting: “Here are the stats for stupid Marysville:” Doug’s thoughts abound everywhere in this book. Witty. Doug’s life twists and turns as he adjusts to Marysville, and whenever it does, I sympathize with him. It’s exactly like a middle-schooler’s life. To all the kids out there, Schmidt says that everything’s going to be okay. Brilliant!
So here we have three great books. Despite its importance, I think BETWEEN SHADES OF GRAY is too horrifying a work of art. OKAY FOR NOW was terrific. For me, though, LIFE: AN EXPLODED DIAGRAM wins the prize (such superb writing!).
— Kid Commentator RGN