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Battle of the Books

Round 1 Match 3: The Frog Scientist vs The Last Olympian

The Frog Scientist
by Pamela S. Turner
Houghton Mifflin
The Last Olympian
by Rick Riordan

Judged by Candace Fleming

Here’s just about the only thing these two books have in common: both feature main characters that are good swimmers.

I read both titles while teaching writing at the American School in Singapore. One afternoon, not long after finishing The Frog Scientist, I took a walk in the jungle. Typically, I would have been on the lookout for those more attention-grabbing animals – long-tailed macaques or flying lemurs. But this time I crept along the jungle path with an eye (and an ear) for frogs. But after an hour’s hike, shuffling through leaf litter and looking between rocks with nary a frog sighting, I began to wonder. Could it be that habitat loss, global warming and disease had affected the amphibian population? Had the pesticide atrazine turned them into half male/half female frogs? After all, I had just learned that frog presence (or absence) is an indicator of environmental health. As my new hero, frog scientist Dr. Tyrone Hayes says, “Environmental health and human health are one and the same.” For the first time ever, I found myself worrying about the plight of the frog, and in turn, the earth and myself.

Pamela Turner did this for me. By skillfully weaving together science with an appealing true-life story of a devoted scientist, she connected me emotionally with… yes, frogs. And isn’t that the purpose of nonfiction? To expand a reader’s world, giving them new eyes and a new awareness of the world around them?

A few days later, I opened The Last Olympian at the swimming pool, and was instantly hooked. After all, who can resist a story that begins, “The end of the world started when a pegasus landed on the hood of my car?” Percy Jackson’s voice is wholly authentic, the voice of every kid – crackling with both wit and real emotion. And the story is a wild romp. One minute I was laughing, the next I was being whisked off on a dangerous mission with deadly consequences. So lost was I in the story that when I looked up from the pages an hour later, I was startled to find myself still surrounded by splashing children and sunscreen-slathered grownups. Where was I? It took me a moment to realize I was no longer bathing in the River Styx or vanquishing Roman zombies.

As a reader, I long to care about the characters, be they real-life or fictional. I long to go on an extraordinary journey, be it wading through a Wyoming pond beside a frog scientist, or racing to the top of the Empire State Building on the back of a hellhound. And in the process, I long to learn something. Both books satisfied these longings. Oh my, it was a hard choice.

Percy Jackson and the last Olympian vs. Tyrone Hayes and the last amphibian?

For sheer adventure, I choose Percy.

Candace Fleming

The Winner of Round 1 Match 3 is:

If we can bill CHARLES AND EMMA vs. CALPURNIA TATE as the Battle of the Darwin books, then THE FROG SCIENTIST vs. THE LAST OLYMPIAN is the Battle of the Pleasant Surprises . . . or Unpleasant Surprises (depending on your point of view).  THE FROG SCIENTIST stayed in the shadows of the more heralded members of Team Nonfiction, while THE LAST OLYMPIAN gave way to the breathless anticipation of CATCHING FIRE, but now each book gets its own share of the spotlight.  I worried how the fifth book in a series would hold up, whether the judges would even read THE LAST OLYMPIAN—and then to see it paired up with THE FROG SCIENTIST in what is the most insanely disparate match-up . . . well, I didn’t envy Candy.  I’d like to think this one could have gone either way, but Percy’s victory sets up another interesting showdown in the other second round bracket: the Battle of the Fantasy Books.  I sure hope Angela likes long fantasy books!

— Commentator Jonathan Hunt


  1. Yay fantasy. Though this does not make up for FIRE’s untimely demise.

  2. Boy, my predictions were abysmal. 0 for 3 so far. But I predicted THE FROG SCIENTIST mainly because I’d read it and not THE LAST OLYMPIAN. I’m glad Candace Fleming did speak up for both books. What a difficult choice!

    I also like it that she convinced me I should keep reading in the Percy Jackson series. I read the first one a long time ago, and always meant to read on, but since we own the books, they don’t have a due date, and that’s always my downfall when I have so many library books checked out.

    As for the showdown between fantasy books, I am hoping that three novellas (not so long) make it to the next round! But so far, I’m always wrong…

  3. I’m just glad I won’t have to choose between Tales of Outer Suburbia and When You Reach Me. Impossible!
    I’m about even in my predictions. I’m hoping for Lips Touch tomorrow. But The Lost Conspiracy is a powerhouse book as well.

  4. Percy stepped on the frog and killed it.

  5. Candace Fleming proves once again why she is the reigning maven of literature for kids. She can take the one bracket that I was most ambivalent about and cause enough interest to make me consider reading past the first 2 ½ Percy Jacksons. I found the frog book interesting but she made it fascinating.

  6. Yay! Finally the judges agree with me! I’m so glad TLO advances. Now, what do you mean about “long fantasy books”? Did you just let out a spoiler? Man, it better not be TLC…

  7. Jonathan Hunt says:

    While LIPS TOUCH is shorter than THE LOST CONSPIRACY and THE LAST OLYMPIAN, I still think it’s pretty long compared to the non-fantasy fiction. 🙂


  1. […] The Frog Scientist and The Last Olympian. I’m not sure I agree with her decision, but her post on why she made that decision was wonderful. You’ll have to follow the link to find out who progressed to the next bracket. […]

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