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A Chair, A Fireplace & a Tea Cozy
Inside A Chair, A Fireplace & a Tea Cozy

Big Kahuna

School Library Journal Battle of Books, Big Kahuna Round: Between Shades of Gray v Life: Un Exploded Diagram v Okay For Now. Judge : Jonathan Stroud

And it all comes down to these three books.

I’ll be honest; with Chime out of the running, I was all about “not Life.”

Stroud selected Okay for Now; and while Between Shades of Gray was one of my favorite books from last year, I see the strengths in Okay for Now and can cheer it’s win.

Also, it’s not Life.

Seriously, not one of the judges were bothered by the event at the end of the book and how it was used?

Oh, let’s forget spoilers.

Really? September 11 and the Twin Towers?

For those of you who want to see just how badly my guesses were: my original post with predictions.

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About Elizabeth Burns

Looking for a place to talk about young adult books? Pull up a chair, have a cup of tea, and let's chat. I am a New Jersey librarian. My opinions do not reflect those of my employer, SLJ, YALSA, or anyone else. On Twitter I'm @LizB; my email is lizzy.burns@gmail.com.

Comments

  1. Paige says:

    Oh well, you gotta try and guess the best you can, right?

    Also, I really didn’t like how 9/11 was used at the end of Life either. I DNF’d it but I read the ending and I was just upset. Ot seemed a bit insulting to all the people who died and sort of a cheap cop out, I guess.

  2. Angela Carstensen Liz B says:

    Paige, we both read LIFE the same way, then. Skipped to the end and wasn’t happy.

  3. Paige Y. says:

    I confess that I hadn’t really considered the end of Life and how it might affect people from the New York area. I know Peet was looking for an event that would compare to the Cuban Missile Crisis to end his novel, but I can see how a New Yorker would feel that he trivialized 9/11.

  4. Angela Carstensen Liz B says:

    Paige, for me, that is absolutely part of it.

  5. David B says:

    Given that it kept winning, all the judges who judged Life liked it (though was it just me, or was Stroud’s discussion of Life notably less enthusiastic than his discussion of Between Shades of Gray or Okay for Now?). But it seems that the judges in BoKB are really reluctant to voice any kind of strong criticism of the books they read. A few will gently raise some issues they had with them, though they’re always buried under enthusiastic praise. I would be shocked if I saw the kind of strong words you see over at The Morning News’s tournament, where judges will open their discussion with “I hated both of these books,” or admit to having to bribe themselves with chocolate just to finish one of them. So I wonder if a judge would even admit to having such a big problem with the book or the ending.

  6. Angela Carstensen Liz B says:

    David, didn’t that happen last year? Or the year before? A judge being eh about a book? I know I tend to like a lot of books — but there are still books I don’t like (Life) or books I see as flawed, etc. Interesting, tho, if there is a reluctance to say something negative.

  7. David B says:

    So I went digging through the archives. I had to go back to 2010, and Anita Silvey’s review of Sweethearts of Rhythm before I could find a genuinely negative review, one with a reviewer presenting their take as “this book was seriously flawed and I didn’t much like it” rather than “this is an excellent book with maybe a few flaws.” So they do happen, but they’re pretty rare.

  8. David B says:

    To follow up, I wonder if the lack of negative criticism in the BoKB speaks to the overall quality of the books chosen for the tournament, or to something about the evolving culture of the contest (or having authors as judges, rather than the diverse mix of judges in the Morning News tournament).

  9. Angela Carstensen Liz B says:

    David: moral of the story is don’t rely on memory, do the research. I think that this is still new — and perhaps that its primarily authors — may have something to do with more judges perhaps saying to themselves “what did this author try to do so let me write about how he/she suceeded” than “like/don’t like”

  10. David B says:

    In fact, to show just how wrong I was, there was a string of about three match-ups in the first round in 2010 where the judge really didn’t like one of the two books (Helen Frost on Lips Touch, arguably Nancy Farmer on Fire), and one in a later round (Walter Dean Myers on Tales from Outer Suburbia). In my defense, though, I think it’s still striking that we’ve gone two whole tournaments now without such a judgement, and 2009 didn’t really have any, either (though Tamora Pierce was pretty critical of The Underneath). (Again, compare it to The Morning News tournament, where even in the later rounds, a “they’re both so good it’s so hard to choose” judgement is very rare.) And even in 2010, being basically positive about both was the norm.

    For another piece of data, I just went through all the judgements this year- only four out of the fifteen had even the most mild of criticisms of either book and all were in the larger context of stating that both works were excellent.

    I just wonder why that is. Is it the nature of the book selections-the organizers choosing the agreed-upon bests from a fairly wide-ranging pool of books, so the tournament is just more likely to have a bunch of really good books in it? Something to do with the nature of the judges or an evolving culture of the tournament?

    I’m not saying that there’s anything better about having critical reviews or judges clearly not liking books; The Morning News contest has some really unfair dismissals of works. But I do think it’s not inaccurate to say that there’s a general pattern of positivity in the contest.

  11. Angela Carstensen Liz B says:

    David, I’m wondering if my memories of the first year are so strong that I assumed that the others were equally critical? This is all good food for thought and i’m glad I’m not the only one to semi obsess about this.

  12. Interesting observations. I would argue self-centeredly (being one half of that center:) that one reason indeed is that we choose “the agreed-upon bests from a fairly wide-ranging pool of books” giving a pretty high caliber selection for the judges from the getgo. And then I also would concur with that other reason — that, unlike the TOB, our judges are all children’s and YA authors themselves considering their peers’ work. In my own experience it is much easier to be highly critical when outside a community than when in the midst of it.

    While admittedly it wasn’t a goal when we first came up with the BoB, we do love those who write in a match’s comments that the judge has convinced them to read one or the other of the contenders whether they were a winner or loser. A great way to keep books on folks’ radar beyond their pub year.

    The Monica Half of the BoB’s Battle Commander

  13. Liz B says:

    Monica, isn’t half the fun all this book talk? I think you guys come up with a good mix of books, including ones that are both highly reviewed but not always universally loved. This year was Chime, and (for me!) Life.

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