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Battle of the Books

Commentator Jonathan Hunt Considers this Year’s Contenders

The most interesting thing to me about this year’s crop of Battle of the Kids’ Books contenders is how there is virtually no overlap with ALA’s Youth Media Awards.  ONE CRAZY SUMMER is the most obvious exception: with a Newbery Honor and the Coretta Scott King Award, not to mention a National Book Award nomination and the Scott O’Dell Award, it’s the most decorated book of the year at this point (like CLAUDETTE COLVIN was last year).  Also, THE DREAMER did manage to pick up the Pura Belpre Award to go with its earlier Boston Globe-Horn Book Honor.  (A CONSPIRACY OF KINGS didn’t get any Youth Media love, but was, of course, the other Boston Globe-Honor Book Honor.)  And WILL GRAYSON, WILL GRAYSON was a Stonewall Honor book and Odyssey Honor audiobook.

The Newbery went to MOON OVER MANIFEST with honors to TURTLE IN PARADISE, HEART OF A SAMURAI, and DARK EMPEROR.  The National Book Award went to MOCKINGBIRD.  Our juvenile picks included COUNTDOWN, KEEPER, and A TALE DARK AND GRIMM.  And obviously, we all picked ONE CRAZY SUMMER.  FORGE is the odd man out.

The Printz went to SHIP BREAKER which was also a National Book Award finalist.  Our fantasy picks included A CONSPIRACY OF KINGS and THE RING OF SOLOMON (and I guess you can also lump KEEPER, TALE, and HEREVILLE into the genre at the juvenile end).  We had a hard time leaving so much great fantasy off the list, namely FINNIKIN OF THE ROCK, THE WHITE HORSE TRICK, MOCKINGJAY, MONSTERS OF MEN, and INCARCERON, but FEVER CRUMB, PATHFINDER, WHITE CAT, THE CURSE OF THE WENDIGO, THE RED PYRAMID, and BEHEMOTH also had very good reviews.  A great year for fantasy and science fiction!

The nonfiction, particularly the young adult nonfiction, was the other strength of this publishing year.  Neither the Newbery nor the Printz recognized nonfiction this year (boo! hiss!), the Sibert went young, and the YALSA Nonfiction Award went eclectic.  The latter committee did recognize THEY CALLED THEMSELVES THE KKK, but not THE GOOD, THE BAD, AND THE BARBIE, while SUGAR CHANGED THE WORLD was beyond their eligibility period.  To my mind, THE WAR TO END ALL WARS, BUILT TO LAST, and THE NOTORIOUS BENEDICT ARNOLD (which I read after we put the list together) are all good enough for our list.  While KAKAPO RESCUE didn’t impress me quite as much (for my money FROZEN SECRETS was the best science book I read last year), I do think it was the best Scientist in the Field book and it would have made the Undead Poll very interesting.  In retrospect, maybe we should have included more of these titles, even if Houghton Mifflin Harcourt did publish most of them.

But poetry fared even worse than nonfiction.  We had a single poetry title on the list last year (SWEETHEARTS OF RHYTHM), but nothing this year (boo! hiss!), despite DARK EMPEROR, UBIQUITOUS, MIRROR, MIRROR, WICKED GIRLS, and BORROWED NAMES.  We had one graphic novel last year (THE STORM IN THE BARN), but squeezed two onto this year’s list:  HEREVILLE and THE ODYSSEY.  We seriously considered YUMMY, while MEANWHILE and SMILE also drew strong reviews.

Last—and definitely least—the young adult fiction, which is to say that we felt this area was not quite as deep or quite as excellent (generally speaking) as it has been in years past.  Printz honors went to STOLEN, PLEASE IGNORE VERA DIETZ, REVOLVER, and NOTHING.  While LOCKDOWN and DARK WATER were finalists for the National Book Award.  Our young adult fiction choices included AS EASY AS FALLING OFF THE FACE OF THE EARTH, THE CARDTURNER, WILL GRAYSON, WILL GRAYSON, and TRASH.  BUTTERFLY, REVOLUTION, and THE THINGS A BROTHER KNOWS also got good reviews.

So . . . any questions or quibbles?  Tell us what we got right—and what we got wrong!

— Commentator Jonathan Hunt

Comments

  1. I think it’s a good list. Most of the books that I wasn’t crazy about, I know from Heavy Medal have strong support with others. I would have liked to see WHITE CAT on the list, especially since it’s the first in a series. Or maybe PLAIN KATE. But you did a nice job of giving us variety.

    I read HUNGER GAMES in the first place because of all the raves the judges gave it here at Battle of the Books — so it seems fair to leave out MOCKINGJAY. That series already got spotlighted.

    I just hope that this year all my favorites won’t lose on the first round! And last year I had a couple of favorites. This year, there’s no doubt in my mind which one I want to win. Go, CONSPIRACY OF KINGS!!!

  2. I like the variety on the list but would have been happy with all fantasy! I agree it was a great year for fantasy but just an ok year for young adult fiction. It’s weird not to see the Newbery though, since it’s been on the past two lists. It would be interesting to see how the authors’ felt it stood up to the rest of the pack.

  3. Nice write up Jonathan. Can’t wait to see the slate of judges!
    Have you guys given any thought to in the future reserving two “automatic qualifier” spots for the Newbery and Printz winners? If they end up being one of the top 14 titles you would simply move a title that just missed the initial list of 14 into this spot. I know that neither The Graveyard Book nor When You Reach Me made much progress in the previous battles but I do think the most distinguished contribution to children’s literature and the book that most exemplifies literary excellence for young adults deserve to be in the running. As it is, it’s kind of like the Big East or Big Ten champion not making the NCAA tournament.

  4. I think this list did a great job of including books that deserve more recognition than they received. I’m looking forward to the Battle!

  5. Jonathan Hunt says

    Yeah, not having the Newbery winner doesn’t sit well with me either, but then it kind of bothers me that we’ve *never* had the Printz Award winners either and the only last year, the National Book Award winner. We’ll have to revisit this idea before we pick books next year. One of the potential challenges is that SLJ needs the list in December to start recruiting our A-list judges.

  6. What did you think of The Bat Scientists? While also too young, I really appreciated its approach – both a look at the animal and its difficulties along with a look at the scientist — making it stand apart from all of the other Scientists in the Field.

  7. Battle Commander says

    Hmmm… Leaving places for certain award winners wouldn’t sit right with me at all. After all, why should we automatically include Newbery and Printz, but not Sibert, Orbis Pictus, or BG-HB to name a few other awards? For that matter, we did in fact know about the 2010 NBA winner before finalizing the list.

    The Monica Half of the Battle Commander

  8. Jonathan Hunt says

    Betsy, I liked THE BAT SCIENTISTS. Heck, I like all the Scientists in the Field books. But I didn’t like any of this year’s entries as much as I liked THE FROG SCIENTIST.

    Monica, I definitely think there is a slippery slope thing here with trying to include all awards, but the Newbery feels different to me. Still waiting to read MOON OVER MANIFEST so maybe I’ll be happy that we did not include it. We’ll see.

  9. I’m in total agreement with My Other Half (of the Battle Commander). SLJ’s Battle of the Kids’ Books highlights and celebrates the subjective nature of literary analysis and values the varied taste and focus of individual readers (and in this case, each judge). That is true even when you have a judging panel or a committee. To set aside spots for “default titles” as contenders is working against the foundation of what we believe strongly here at the BoB Arena.

  10. I disagree with leaving MOCKINGJAY off of the list. And PATHFINDER! I know it’s monstrous, but… it’s brilliant.

    Where, exactly is the “line” drawn between what is a “Kid’s Book” and what is not? Because I can think of a few really good books of 2010 that might fall on the opposite side of the line. (Such as LINGER and ANNA AND THE FRENCH KISS.)

    *sigh* Oh well, at least this gives me 15 news books to read.

    Oh, and FINNIKIN! I had totally forgotten about that, since I read it a year ago… that was really excellent too. (Though I think forgetting about it probably doesn’t help prove my point. :D)BEHEMOTH was reallyreally awesome as well.

    Though I didn’t think RED PYRAMID was that great plot- or character-wise, it certainly was chock-full of Egyptian mythology.

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