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Battle of the Books

Big Kahuna Round

The Lost Conspiracy
by Frances Hardinge
The Frog Scientist
by Pamela S. Turner
Houghton Mifflin
Marching for Freedom
by Elizabeth Partridge

Judged by Katherine Paterson

If you have been following the Battle, you know what a pickle I found myself in. As I told one of the Battle Commanders when I learned the titles of the three finalists, “This is not a choice between apples and oranges, it’s a choice between apples, orangutans, and orchids.” The good news is I was given three fine and worthy books. The bad news is that I had to eliminate two of them.

I read The Lost Conspiracy first. It was by far the fattest and would take the longest to read, and besides, it was fiction, and I love fiction. Even though I usually prefer realism to fantasy, I was fully taken in by the strange island world of Gullstruck that Frances Hardinge created and the twists and turns of plot that left me gasping for breath.  Hardly any character, with the exception of little Hathin, was what he or she seemed to be initially. I’ve gotten pretty good over the years guessing what was going to happen in a book, but I couldn’t guess this time, which is why I initially thought, nothing can beat this.

And then I read, the Undead winner, Pamela Turner’s, The Frog Scientist. I was enchanted. Here is a non-fiction book for younger readers that teaches the methods of scientific research with such clarity and in such an engaging, human way that anyone from a curious five year old to an elderly grandparent would not only learn a lot but would delight in doing so. It is also a tremendous lesson in ecology, showing the interconnectedness of all things on earth. The photographs and charts and design of the book are so engaging that they made even a judge racing to get through the required reading go back and savor them in detail. Turner’s choice of the central figure in the book—the real Frog Scientist—is wonderful. Dr. Tyrone Hayes is a man any child would long to go adventuring with. The photographs by Andy Comins show this scientist’s diligence and great sense of humor as he works with his own children and the young college age assistants  who are a dedicated part of the project. I was full of admiration for the sheer honesty of the book. In order, for example, to find out why frogs are dying, more frogs must die and be dissected and studied. Despite the death of frogs, I can’t wait to get this book into the hands of my frog loving grandchildren. It was easy for me to see why it roused anyone concerned about our future on this planet to want this book to come back from the dead. It is also a dramatic reason why wonderful informational books are vital to our children’s education. I haven’t seen any research material on the internet that could  compete or inspire like The Frog Scientist.

The last book I read was Elizabeth Partridge’s Marching for Freedom. When the books began to arrive and I saw it was one of the entrants, I hoped in a perverse sort of way that this would not be one of the books left for me to choose from. So—full disclosure time: not only is Elizabeth Partridge the only one of the three authors I know and call a friend, but my husband marched with African Americans in Greensboro, Alabama in July of 1965. All the marchers were arrested, loaded onto school busses, and taken to Selma because it had the larger jail. My problem therefore was: Could I be objective? Or, on the contrary, trying so hard not to let personal feelings creep in, would l be totally unfair?  Either extreme was possible, but, in the end, it was the book itself that won me over. The wonderful thing that Partridge did for me was to tell the story in a way I’d never heard it before—through the eyes and voices of the young. Even though Partridge is an elegant writer, she never lets herself get in the way of the story she has chosen to tell. She stands aside and lets her young protagonists shine, showing their naked fear in the face of unspeakable brutality, as well as their joy and pride in being part of the great overcoming event that was the march from Selma to Montgomery in the almost forgotten spring of 1965. There are a number of pictures of these young people in the powerful collection of photographs in the book. Indeed, Marching for Freedom is a perfect match of word and picture, telling of events that that those of us who are old enough to remember that spring thought we knew about, but we’d never heard told in just this way before. I knew there were children tear-gassed and beaten and attacked by dogs on Bloody Sunday, but I didn’t know their names, I hadn’t before heard their voices. And now I have. So, this, then is my choice. I truly enjoyed The Lost Conspiracy, and The Frog Scientist made me an eager and delighted student, but Marching for Freedom stirred my soul in a way few books have. So, I have chosen it to win the Battle.

Katherine Paterson

Well, here we all are assembled in Katherine’s wonderfully expansive topiary garden among the meticulously sculpted greenery of Jess, Leslie, Gilly, and Jacob (!!!), waiting on her decision as if she were the oracle at Delphi—and what a terrific decision it was.  Personally, I thought that she would go with THE LOST CONSPIRACY.  It will face off against MARCHING FOR FREEDOM again in a couple of weeks at the Los Angeles Times Book Prizes.  And, of course, all three books could figure into the mix at the Boston Globe-Horn Book Awards announced in early summer, and THE LOST CONSPIRACY could also still find itself on the Carnegie Medal shortlist (where in a Battle of the Behemoths it could face off with the likes of NATION and THE GRAVEYARD BOOK).  THE FROG SCIENTIST is a huge surprise as the Undead Poll winner, but I hope its selection spurred people to take a closer look at one of the less heralded candidates in the field.  And, finally, what can we say about MARCHING FOR FREEDOM that has not already been said?  It should have been a Newbery book.  Too bad Gary and Chris and Walter and Katherine weren’t on the committee last year!

— Commentator Jonathan Hunt



published by Viking Children’s Books
Penguin Young Readers


  1. It’s a great decision, Katherine!
    I totally agree with you, Jonathan. I, too thought that Katherine would go with The Lost Conspiracy, but I’m happy because MARCHING FOR FREEDOM should have been a Newbery book.

  2. Thank you, Katherine. How difficult we made it for you. How beautifully you have expressed what went into your decision. And thanks to your husband for marching for freedom in 1965.

    Although I know Christina Rossetti was a stretch, I think it’s fair to assume at least some of the authors and their editors have been listening in on all this–feel free to step in and take a bow or come into the conversation. Thank you all for your books.

    And huge thanks to Monica, Roxanne, Jonathan, Rick Margolis (ever-present behind the scenes) and others who have made all this so interesting.

  3. Wow! This was a tough battle. I enjoyed every day of it and can’t wait till next year. I’ve read and re-read so many wonderful books, I have even more to offer students as well as teachers! Thank you to all the wonderful authors who gave their time and considerable talents to this venture. I really don’t want this to end, even my prediction skills tanked! Thank you, Mr. Hunt; first for the wonderful Heavy Medal blog and now this. I can think of no better way to have spent the last few weeks! Now off to blog about this and cry in my coffee…

  4. Thanks for a most excellent battle!

  5. Besides the insights shared by some intriguing thinkers, mostly what this contest has given me is a list of books I really want to read, starting with this one. Thanks to all of you!

  6. pdavislibrarian says

    I agree with all said so far. Thanks to everyone involved.

  7. What a wonderful battle! I’m sorry it’s done. But Katherine Paterson did a superb job summing up, and was a wonderful choice for the final arbiter.

    I was especially glad she waxed so eloquent about The Frog Scientist. That is a superb book. I’m still happy with the winner — but I’m glad FROG got some recognition.

    And, funny thing — even though I was wrong in 7 out of 8 predictions for the first round, after the first round finished, I predicted every match exactly right! Perhaps since my personal favorites were out of the running, it was easier to be more objective.

  8. I’m delighted THE FROG SCIENTIST rose from the dead on behalf of all those kids (current and former) who chew through the Dewey Decimal 500s like leaf-cutter ants. That said, I’m extremely pleased to see the “Battle of the Books” title go to MARCHING FOR FREEDOM. This is one terrific book. Congrats to Elizabeth, fellow member of Team Nonfiction!

  9. I’m so sad…. because it’s over.

  10. Wow! It’s been a great time. Marching for Freedom is a great book although I was hoping to see The Lost Conspiracy take the big prize. Katherine offered such a thoughtful summary of the books. I can’t wait to revisit them. And, I can’t wait for next year!

  11. JoannJonas says

    Hurray!!! Marching for Freedom wins the battle…and deservedly so. A special and unique book, that somehow was left unrecognized at the ALA awards, now is where it belongs–at the top. Thanks to all the judges for their thoughtful comments and difficult decisions. Hurray…Marching for Freedom!!!

  12. Thanks to Her Ladyship, Mrs. Paterson, for such a discriptive write-up backing her choice. It is hard to dispute the virtues of such a powerful book.

    Pamela Turner, I loved your comment about the 500 section of the Dewey Decmial System. I hope I will soon see more munchable offerings from you for my own little leaf-cutters.

    Now I’m off to find Hathin to see if I can be of any assistance to her. You never know when another genecide will need squashing.

  13. Wow. I have been following this and I have to say, this must have been a hard decision. Though I have to admit, I personally was surprised that “The Last Olympian” and “When You Reach Me” were not even in the finals. Though I have too agree. “Marching for Freedom” deserved the award. Congratulations Elizabeth Partridge! You won an amazing honor!

    – Fourth Grade Student in half of the Battle Commander’s class

  14. The Frog Scientist was the Cybils NF MG/YA winner – we recognized its awesomeness months ago!

  15. Katherine,

    Thank you for making a tough call with such elegance!

  16. What a great write-up! Even if I disagree with Judge Paterson’s choice, the reasons are all very valid.

    *sigh* I’m so sad it was over so quickly!

  17. Thank you all for the great work you did this year. The wonderful thing about this is the thoughtful perspective each judge brings and then hearing how different authors view the same books with different matchups. The journey brings to light so many great books that I might have passed on. I’m reading both Marching for Freedom, I hate to admit that I skimmed it the first time and looked at the great photos, and Lost Conspiracy. I’ve got the Frog Scientist on my earth day display. Still sad about Fire though. But that’s the way it goes. Any early predictions for the 2011 contenders?

    My T shirt arrived today yea!! Thank you.

  18. Thank you, kind friends. It was a great battle, and I was only sorry any of those beloved books had to lose. Take that back. There can’t be any losers when books are discussed with such intelligence and compassion. I loved reading the comments by the other judges. I learned so much and thanks for all the comments that made this a terrific battle.

  19. I’m stepping from behind the curtain/veil to say a hearty and very very loud “THANK YOU” to all of you who followed the Battle, commented, read and re-read the books! As Katherine stated: there is no loser in this contest. Each and every one of the titles is unique and outstanding. Let’s celebrate them all and let’s anticipate a great 2010 of children’s books and another amazing Battle in 2011!

  20. What a great ending to a fantastic battle! Thankfully, this battle ended in a happier fashion than last night’s more publicized March Madness finale. Thanks, everyone, for expanding my to-read list!

  21. I want to thank everyone who said such lovely things about CHARLES AND EMMA. It was such an honor to have my book in the Battle, and for it to go as far as it did was a real thrill. Jim Murphy is a hero of mine, and I read his decision with my heart pounding in my chest. I loved the critiquing, all of it, and I will be forever grateful to Tobin Anderson for that “come hither” line. My husband and I laughed about it for days. A heartfelt thanks to Jonathan Hunt for his moderating and for saying something like “near perfect” book. Congratulations to all of the authors–what a ride, right?And to my friend Betsy Partridge: I am so very glad MARCHING was recognized in this way. You and the book deserve it. See all my fellow finalists in LA!

  22. Deborah Heiligman — TEAM CHARMA!!!!!

  23. I’m still learning from you, as I’m trying to reach my goals. I definitely enjoy reading all that is written on your website.Keep the information coming. I loved it!


  1. […] it’s very moving.  Perhaps my favorite review can be found here, on Emily Reads. In the SLJ BoB commentary, Katherine Paterson said it “stirred her soul.”  I’ll admit she’s probably […]

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