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Big Kahuna Round
|The Lost Conspiracy
by Frances Hardinge
|The Frog Scientist
by Pamela S. Turner
|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.
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
WINNER OF THE 2010 SLJ’S
BATTLE OF THE KIDS’ BOOKS:
MARCHING FOR FREEDOM
by ELIZABETH PARTRIDGE
published by Viking Children’s Books
Penguin Young Readers
Filed under: 2010, Big Kahuna
About Battle Commander
The Battle Commander is the nom de guerre for children’s literature enthusiasts Monica Edinger and Roxanne Hsu Feldman, fourth grade teacher and middle school librarian at the Dalton School in New York City and Jonathan Hunt, the County Schools Librarian at the San Diego County Office of Education. All three have served on the Newbery Committee as well as other book selection and award committees. They are also published authors of books, articles, and reviews in publications such as the New York Times, School Library Journal, and the Horn Book Magazine. You can find Monica at educating alice and on twitter as @medinger. Roxanne is at Fairrosa Cyber Library and on twitter as @fairrosa. Jonathan can be reached at email@example.com.
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