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Battle of the Books

Round 1, Match 8: No Crystal Stair vs The One and Only Ivan

1 8 Crystal Ivan Round 1, Match 8: No Crystal Stair vs The One and Only Ivan
No Crystal Stair by Vaunda Nelson Carolrhoda Books/Lerner The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate HarperCollins

Judged by Catherine Gilbert Murdock

 


judgephoto Round 1, Match 8: No Crystal Stair vs The One and Only Ivan

What does a self-educated radical bookseller have to do with a depressed 35-year-old strip-mall gorilla? More than it would appear. Both suffer violent childhoods and initially muddle through adulthood. Both grow to identify the oppression around them and decide to challenge it. Both rely on words, and the power of words, to seek justice. Both ultimately make a huge impact. And both No Crystal Stair and The One and Only Ivan, while fiction, are based on real-life tales of perseverance and victory.

No Crystal Stair: A Documentary Novel of the Life and Work of Lewis Michaux, Harlem Bookseller is written by Vaunda Micheaux Nelson, the great-niece of Lewis Michaux. Lewis Michaux’s story requires this “documentary novel” format rather than a typical non-fiction biography, as so much of his life was fabricated, mysterious, or now unknown — beginning with the date of his birth (sometime between 1884 and 1895) and his name (William Lonnell or Lewis H.; some family members use the name Micheaux, with an e). As a child, he was publicly lashed for stealing a sack of peanuts, and as a young man spent time on a chain gang for theft. At some point in the 1930s, he decided to open a bookstore in Harlem because “the so-called Negro needs to hear and learn from the voices of black men and women.” By the 1960s, his bookstore held hundreds of thousands of volumes, and served as a rallying point for the Civil Rights movement, particularly Malcolm X, who spent much time there.

Nelson tells this story from a dozen different points of view: Lewis, his parents and siblings (including his disapproving older brother, a preacher who rubbed shoulders with presidents), fictitious reporters, real-life acquaintances, and Lewis’s actual FBI files. She weaves in historic photographs, book covers — even death certificates. Some of the entries are only a few lines; none more than two pages. The voices come across as awed, angry, excited . . . each one engaging and believable. Nelson’s narrative traces the arc of twentieth-century African-American history, from the brutality of the Jim Crow South through the rise of Civil Rights, the assassinations of Malcolm X and Martin Luther King, Jr., and the destruction wrought by urban redevelopment in the 1970s. No Crystal Stair is a compelling, thought-provoking read.

Captured as an infant, Ivan the gorilla spent twenty-seven years in a miserable circus-themed mall until public outcry released him to the Atlanta Zoo, where he lives today. The One and Only Ivan follows this true story, though Katherine Applegate adds a kindly old elephant, a “homeless by choice” mutt, and a baby elephant named Ruby whom Ivan vows to protect. Before he can help Ruby, however, Ivan must come to grips with the brutal truth about his past, for it is this truth that holds the key to Ruby’s rescue — truth plus the finger paints provided by the custodian’s ten-year-old daughter. And while Ivan cannot read, he understands humans — or, as he call us, “slimy chimps” — extremely well, and he figures out how to assemble those mysterious symbols known as letters into something that might save Ruby, and himself too.

Like No Crystal Stair, the entries in The One and Only Ivan are brief and engaging. Ivan tells his story in the present tense, keeping the reader engrossed in his drama and evolving self-awareness. The One and Only Ivan is often quite sad — I wept several times — but Ivan himself rarely lingers in self-pity, and he ultimately finds more happiness (va-va-voom, if ya know what I’m saying) than he had ever dreamed of in his plainspoken gorilla dreams. No Crystal Stair chronicles how one man believed literacy would elevate American blacks; The One and Only Ivan describes how literacy helps elephants, dogs, gorillas, macaws, and all the other animals trapped at the Exit 8 Big Top Mall and Video Arcade.

No Crystal Stair shares the flaw of many biographies in that the author makes her subject too important. Nelson’s Lewis Michaux occupies the center of a universe populated by celebrities who befriend him and ordinary folk, real and fictitious, who praise him. Yet I suspect Lewis Michaux fostered far more controversy than is reported here — controversy that would provide a powerful window into American thinking over the last century. The One and Only Ivan, although a sweet and heartbreaking story, at the same time is just a teensy bit precious (I say this having read Ivan before Crystal Stair). I found myself more thinking “but gorillas can’t write!” Well, yes, of course; anthropomorphism is an eternal staple of children’s literature. Young readers will delight in Ivan’s triumph. I, however, delighted more in the triumph of a self-made grocer’s son who spread the joy of books to hundreds of thousands of disadvantaged souls. The One and Only Ivan is dear, but my Battle of the Books vote goes to No Crystal Stair.

– Catherine Gilbert Murdock

And the Winner of this match is…… NO CRYSTAL STAIR


commentator7 78x85 Round 1, Match 8: No Crystal Stair vs The One and Only Ivan

I knew it!  I knew it!  The Newbery curse strikes again!  For newbies, let me bring you up to speed: The Newbery Medal winner has never made it out of the first round of BOB.  These were two of my favorite books of the year, and I would have been pleased to see either one advance.  To Catherine’s list of similarities, I would add that both books are written in very discrete bits of text—something more than a poem, but less than a chapter, maybe a vignette.  Both books also appealed to me equally on an intellectual level and on an emotional one.  As much as I like THE ONE AND ONLY IVAN, I probably would have also picked NO CRYSTAL STAIR to advance—and I would reluctantly pick it to beat SERAPHINA in the next round, but we’ll have to wait and see what happens.

– Commentator Jonathan Hunt

KidCommentatorSml Round 1, Match 8: No Crystal Stair vs The One and Only Ivan

Unlike Ms. Murdock, I wouldn’t call Ivan’s story precious. I can see where it’s coming from – the idea of Ivan, a gorilla, as a happy hero –  but the book as a whole is not so happy, though hopeful. Rather, I think it is another one of those “magical” books. There is a muddled feeling throughout the book, where, true, Ivan’s happiness and optimism is the predominant feeling, yet mixed with a sort of wistful loss, or the other way around. In order to achieve this quality, Applegate writes in a poetic form, lending The One and Only Ivan a sense of lyricism and complexity. The universality of the story and its animal protagonists will excite younger readers, while the evocative words will enthrall any who appreciate literature. Added to this already excellent start is the intricate relationship between humans and animals. Like in Endangered, Moonbird, Temple Grandin, and even Seraphina, this wonderful book makes us think about what it means to live on this world.

(And that’s a growing theme in literature, as with climate change, an increase in natural awareness, and ever-growing technology, writers face the metamorphosis of the world by looking at animals and Earth.)

No Crystal Stair, on the other hand, addresses a human struggle. It shows how Lewis Michaux overcame prejudice. It does this all with an excellent grounding in history and humanity, showing Michaux’s story from different perspectives. The voices are unique and believable; the tale is extraordinary. And while I can see how Michaux’s importance may be exaggerated, Micheaux Nelson also emphasizes the causes which drove him in his actions: literacy, freedom, racism. All this combined makes a simply fascinating read.

But I’d give the win to Ivan – its Newbery is well deserved.

– Kid Commentator RGN

Comments

  1. Sam Bloom says:

    Yes! Team Michaux (Micheaux?) advances! Now to face off against Seraphina – which do I choose?! I don’t envy Paul Griffin.

  2. Benji says:

    Not how I wanted to start my Thursday. :( Can’t say I didn’t see it coming, though. Both books were excellent and Ivan does have that whole Newbery curse thing going….

  3. Wendy says:

    What a clear, well-written, direct judgment. Roger’s going to love that.

    I have been puzzled by all responses to IVAN along the lines of “but gorillas can’t write”–not in reference to the billboard plot-point, but to its being first-person in the first place. Do these readers always think of first-person books in this way? That the narrator is sitting down to write the story? I never do unless it’s specified in the text, and then generally find it pretty unrealistic–too much detail, too much dialogue. This objection to Ivan I don’t understand.

  4. Paige Y. says:

    NO!!!!! There is always one battle that breaks my heart ans this one is it. I know that No Crystal Stair is a fine book but I just couldn’t bring myself to like it. The sections by the different characters were just so brief that I never felt like I got to know them. Ivan, on the other hand, I loved. It makes me so sad to see it go.

  5. Εliana K. says:

    HA! haHA!!!!! After predicting 2 matches incorrectly, I got this one!!!!!!!!!!!!! I am thrilled!!!!!!! It seems that there is an inequality here that was mentioned by Jonathan Hunt earlier:
    YA Fiction > Nonfiction > Middle Grade Fiction. I love nonfiction, so this is unfortunate.

  6. Brandy says:

    I enjoyed both of these books for all the reasons already mentioned. I would have chosen Ivan, but I really like No Crystal Stair too. I just don’t like how MG books (fiction or non-fiction) are faring in the Battle so far overall. This makes me sad.

  7. Alissa B says:

    NOOOOOOOOOOO!

  8. Battle Commander Battle Commander says:

    Now that all 8 matches have concluded, I wonder… if you (any of our readers) were a SuperJudge and can pick the books that you deem worthy of moving on (without having to predict the actual judges’ temperaments and potential preferences,) what might have been your choices? Please post. I (Roxanne) will run a tally and create a pie-chart (or bar graph) to see if any pattern emerges.

    You don’t need to post about all 16 books — only on the pairs that you have read both books.

  9. Eric says:

    deem worthy picks

    Match 1: Bomb
    Match 2: Code Name Verity
    Match 3: Three Times Lucky
    Match 4: (sorry couldn’t bring myself to read anther John Green fantasy posing as realistic fiction book)
    Match 5: Tried to read Jepp back in December but didn’t make it very far
    Match 6: Liar & Spy
    Match 7: gave up on Seraphina very quickly
    Match 8: No Crystal Stair

    Such a bummer that the real finals are happening in this upcoming round. Kind of like how the SEC conference championship is the real national title game in college football.
    Does Judge Donna Jo Napoli realize that she is tasks with deciding between the hands down two best books in the field (and of the year)?

  10. Battle Commander Battle Commander says:

    Thanks, Eric. Your picks are logged. I have created a lovely spreadsheet … so, folks, comment away!

  11. Alyson Whatcott says:

    I have been following this blog since the beginning and this is the first time that I have predicted this well in the ffirst round. I agreed with all of the choices, except Three Times Lucky. That is one of the few books in this contest that I read more than once, and it was even better on the second read. That is the only book I would have picked differently than the judges. I definitely think this next round is going to be much harder, however. Two books I wouldn’t have minded moving past the first round were Temple Grandin and Moonbird. I think Moonbird is the best written NF of the year, and I found Temple Grandin fascinating. I didn’t anything about her before reading that book. As stated above, Bomb and Code Name Verity is going to be tough!

  12. Sondy says:

    Darn that Newbery curse! I find this is the match I am most unhappy with the judge’s decision. I haven’t gotten them all right, but this one there was the biggest discrepancy in my feelings about the two. I liked IVAN much more than NO CRYSTAL STAIR.

    I had read fifteen of the books before my predictions, and now have read the sixteenth. Here were my choices:
    Match 1: Wonder
    Match 2: Code Name Verity
    Match 3: Three Times Lucky (Hadn’t read Endangered yet, though.)
    Match 4: The Fault in Our Stars
    Match 5: Starry River of the Sky
    Match 6: Liar & Spy
    Match 7: Seraphina
    Match 8: The One and Only Ivan

  13. Sondy says:

    And now that I’ve read Endangered, though I’m picking it over Fault in Our Stars, with my thing for 3 Times Lucky, and wishing middle grade fiction would do better, I think still put me down for 3 Times Lucky.

  14. Sondy says:

    Props to Catherine Gilbert Murdock for not describing the loser first! I was feeling all smug, thinking Ivan had won…

  15. Kelly I-E says:

    Match 1: Bomb
    Match 2: Code Name Verity
    Match 3: Three TImes Lucky
    Match 4: The Fault in our Stars
    Match 5: Starry River of the Sky
    Match 6: Liar and Spy
    Match 7: Seraphina
    Match 8: The One and Only Ivan

  16. Benji says:

    Pick one: Bomb
    Pick two: Code Name Verity
    Pick Three: (Didn’t read Endangered)
    Pick Four: The Fault in Our Stars
    Pick 5: Starry River of the SKy
    Pick 6: Splendors and Glooms
    Pick 7: Seraphina
    Pick 8: The One and Only Ivan

  17. Danielle says:

    Match 1: Bomb
    Match 2: Code Name Verity
    Match 3: Endangered
    Match 4: The Fault in Our Stars
    Match 5: I would have been perfectly happy either way….
    Match 6: Liar & Spy
    Match 7: Seraphina
    Match 8: The One and Only Ivan

  18. Kalen says:

    Darn, I had every first round pick right up to today! I knew I should have gone with the Newbery curse, but I just never got into No Crystal Stair. I think my own “worthy” picks would be the same as the winners, with the exception of picking The One and Only Ivan for round 8. I struggle with The Fault in Our Stars, as I thought it was only average to good, but despite personally liking the Temple Grandin book better, I really don’t know if I can say it’s “worthier” of moving forward.

  19. Battle Commander Battle Commander says:

    Danielle, you must make a decision. Please. Thanks. :)

  20. Battle Commander Battle Commander says:

    Danielle — flip a coin:) (The Monica -half of the Battle Commander)

  21. Sam Bloom says:

    1. Bomb
    2. Code Name Verity (100 pp. into this one, and while I liked Titanic, I can tell I’m really going to love this)
    3. Endangered
    4. Temple Grandin
    5. Starry River
    6. Liar & Spy
    7. Seraphina (just barely! Hardest choice of the 1st round)
    8. No Crystal Stair

  22. Brandy says:

    1. Bomb
    2. Code Name Verity
    3. Endangered (This was my hardest one to choose in.)
    4. The Fault in Our Stars
    5. Jepp Who Defied the Stars
    6. Liar & Spy
    7. Seraphina
    8. The One and Only Ivan

    I know. I know. I’m one who complained about the lack of MG titles moving on and yet my picks are mostly YA. Sigh. As I said in my reaction post on the blog today, I’m a conflicted children’s book lover.

  23. Wendy says:

    1. Bomb
    2. Code Name Verity (this is one of the “wasted on round one” pairings!)
    3. Three Times Lucky
    4. Didn’t read TFIOS, didn’t really like Temple Grandin
    5. Starry River, but wasn’t THAT excited about either of these
    6. Liar & Spy (another “wasted” pairing!…)
    7. Didn’t read Seraphina, wasn’t enthusiastic about Moonbird
    8. The third “wasted” pairing. I cannot choose. But I will go with Ivan solely on an “appeal to children” level.

  24. Claire says:

    These were really hard decisions. I loved so many of the non-fiction books on the list, but it seems kind of unfair to pair them with fiction books that are much easier to get sucked into…Oh well. If I have to choose:

    1. Bomb
    2. Code Name Verity
    3. Three Times Lucky (one of the hardest choices)
    4. Temple Grandin (also a very hard choice)
    5. Jepp, who defied the stars
    6. Liar and Spy
    7. Seraphina
    8. One and Only Ivan

  25. Michelle says:

    1. Bomb
    2. Code Name Verity
    3. Three Times Lucky
    4. Temple Grandin
    5. Starry River of the Sky
    6. Liar & Spy
    7. Seraphina
    8. No Crystal Stair

  26. Carol E says:

    I picked
    1. Bomb
    2. Code Name Verity
    3. Endangered
    4. Temple Grandin
    5. Starry River of the Sky
    6. Splendors and Glooms
    7. Seraphina
    8. No Crystal Stair

    I am having a very good first round! Only missed one.

  27. Lisa says:

    I would have to pick:

    Wonder
    Code Name Verity
    Three Times Lucky
    The Fault in Our Stars
    Starry River
    Splendors and Glooms
    Moonbird
    Ivan

    (Am I the first to pick Moonbird over Seraphina??)

  28. Jen says:

    Yes, it is one thing to choose based on what we think the judges will choose, and another to choose the one we actually like more. So, if I were a BoB judge, yubby dibby dibby dibby dibby dibby dibby dum!

    1. Bomb
    2. Code Name Verity
    3. Three Times Lucky
    4. Temple Grandin
    5. Starry River of the Sky
    6. that’s a tough one….it truly depends on the day….today, I’ll go with Liar and Spy.
    7. MOONBIRD!!!! (Am I the only one that preferred this to Seraphina?)
    8. One and Only Ivan

    Have fun with your tally!

  29. Jen says:

    Oh, hullo, Lisa! Guess not. We Moonbirders got to stick together.

  30. Paige Y. says:

    If I were a judge, I’d choose
    1. Bomb (although I did love Wonder)
    2. Code Name Verity
    3. Three Times Lucky
    4. The Fault in Our Stars
    5. Starry River of the Sky
    6. Liar & Spy
    7. Seraphina
    8. The One and Only Ivan

  31. Joan says:

    I was really rooting for Ivan. It has been a long time since I fell so much in love with a Newbery as I did Ivan. Darn that curse!!!

  32. Shelley says:

    Match 1 – Bomb
    Match 2 – Code Name Verity
    Match 4 – The Fault in Our Stars
    Match 5 – Starry River of the Sky
    Match 6 – Liar & Spy
    Match 8 – No Crystal Stair

  33. Bomb
    Code Name Verity
    Endangered
    Fault in Our Stars
    Jepp
    Splendors
    Seraphina
    No Crystal Stair

    Though on my blog I put One and Only Ivan, my heart loved No Crystal Stair more!

  34. Meredith says:

    I actually read all the books this year, so I feel very qualified to judge. Not that being unqualified has ever stopped me.

    1. Bomb
    2. Code Name Verity
    3. Three Times Lucky (although I also loved Endangered and am perfectly happy with it moving on)
    4. Temple Grandin (DO NOT LIKE The Fault in Our Stars. Really routing for Endangered to destroy it next round).
    5. Starry River of the Sky
    6. Splendors and Glooms
    7. Moonbird (This is my hardest match. I loved Seraphina, because it’s awesome, and it’s my favorite type of book to read. Moonbird is not my type of book, but I loved it soooo much. It surprised me with it’s greatness. I expected to love Seraphina, but Moonbird snuck up on me.)
    8. The One and Only Ivan (although I didn’t really love either of these books, so I don’t care that much.)

  35. Cheryllynn says:

    1. Wonder
    2. Code Name Verity
    3. (didn’t get Endangered)
    4. Temple Grandin
    5. Starry River of the Sky
    6. Splendors and Glooms
    7. Seraphina
    8. One and Only Ivan

  36. Steffaney Smith says:

    Oh, no, down goes Ivan. I notice with the audience picking battle winners that a lot more of the fiction goes forward…which is how I would choose, too. Haven’t read enough of the nonfiction to even wager a guess. But I so look forward to Donna Napoli’s battle! Any hints about “the dead” yet??

  37. Cecilia says:

    Mine were:

    1. Bomb
    2. Code Name Verity
    3. Endangered
    4. Temple Grandin
    5. Starry River
    6. Splendors and Glooms
    7. Seraphina
    8. Ivan

  38. TeenReader says:

    “The voices come across as awed, angry, excited . . . each one engaging and believable.” I disagree, which was my main problem with No Crystal Stair. I could never connect with it like I could with Ivan.

  39. TeenReader says:

    1. Bomb
    2. Code Name Verity
    3. Endangered (DNF either, but Endangered is the best of what I read.)
    4. Temple Grandin
    5. Starry River of the Sky (Couldn’t force myself to finish Jepp)
    6. Liar and Spy (I’m surprised at myself, but I love this the more I think about it. The dots! THE DOTS!!)
    7. Seraphina
    8. The One and Only Ivan

  40. DaNae says:

    First a bit of a rant:

    When will the ability to write for our youngest readers in a clear, genuine, yet complex manner be respected? Do you think what E.B. did with Charlotte’s Web was commonplace? Not only did Applegate write a book that could be understood and invest very young readers she managed to write with enough complexity to engage older readers as well. This is so rare that when it happens NPR should cover it. I hate when words like cute, and precious and sweet mask true genius.

    If it is not too late, Roxanne:
    !1 – BOMB
    2 – CODE NAME VERITY
    3 – THREE TIMES LUCKY
    4 – THE FAULT IN OUR STARS
    5 – STARRY RIVER
    6 – SPLENDORS AND GLOOMS
    7 – SERAPHINA
    8 – THE ONE AND ONLY IVAN

  41. Battle Commander Battle Commander says:

    I (Roxanne) just saw this comment from DaNae… and I am not sure that it is so rare that books for younger children are not complex. Or that Ivan is necessarily so rare. I think that the critics/analysts do not always know how to look at the literary skills that writers for younger audiences must employ and the thoughts that must go into crafting such books. Just because the sentence structure or vocabulary are simpler/less complicated on the pages does not mean that it’s EASY to write. I often think that writers for older audiences can be much freer because they don’t have to consider the comprehension abilities for younger readers. But, alas, this is not always being examined carefully or appreciated highly.

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