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Battle of the Books

Round 3, Match 1: Keeper vs. The Cardturner

by Kathi Appelt
Atheneum/Simon & Schuster
The Cardturner
by Louis Sachar
Delacorte Books/Random House

Judged by
Grace Lin

When I was asked to be a Battle of the Books judge I hurriedly became acquainted with all the original titles, as I was unsure which two books I would be choosing from. To save time, I listened to many of them on audio book while I worked on illustrations or commuted. One of the first audio books I listened to was Keeper. I have to admit, the audio book did not enamor me and I stopped listening half way though. I thought Keeper would be at the bottom of my list.

However, Keeper turned out to be one of the two books for me to choose from and, valuing the opinions of the esteemed judges before me, I knew I had to give the book another chance. So, with physical book in hand, I began to read.

And what a difference! When I read the book, suddenly the magic became apparent. I loved the slow unveiling of each story, the way the back and forth narratives seemed to echo the motion of the ocean waves that rocked Keeper’s boat. I found the fantasy elements of Yemaya and Jacque der Mer enchanting and I could feel the heartbreak of each character. Even the animals—the dog BD and the crow Captain had fully-realized personalities.

The blurring of myth and reality was seamless and the writing was poetic, yet always accessible. But most of all, the theme of the story—that love of all kinds, even the untraditional, are worth keeping— and how it was conveyed was just beautiful.

Keeper is a book that needs you to be present to appreciate it. It’s not a story that can be half listened to or quickly skimmed, because then you miss the wonder. Appelt reveals the story like ocean waves lapping away bits of sand on a beach until a treasure is uncovered. And it’s the serene watching of the waves, not the sparkling pearl, that creates the book’s charm.

I also listened to The Cardturner before reading the physical book. This, I found quite enjoyable, especially as there is a hilarious foghorn noise in place of the whale image (which is in the physical book) to warn of a bridge information dump.

The Cardturner is a very, very enjoyable book. Strangely, I found myself liking the audio version just a tad more. Knowing nothing of bridge, I found it easier explained through the audio narrator than seeing the diagrams in the book. However, even while reading the physical book, I didn’t feel lost in any of the explanations and I still found myself caught up in the excitement of the game.

The characters were especially believable, I felt as if they were real people. I found myself getting disgusted with Alton’s parents (and wondering how Alton and Leslie could be so decent with such money-grubbing adults) and crying at Sophie’s words at Trapp’s funeral.

And I was surprised how well the story flowed. The plot kept changing –first it was ironic and humorous, then it was tragic, then supernatural and romantic. As an author, I would’ve been hesitant about the mix but in The Cardturner it all worked.

Reading The Cardturner felt complex and simple at the same time, probably just like a bridge game. To me, the closest analogy I could come up with was like watching a complicated dance routine. I could see all the steps, yet still appreciate the whole…and know that I probably should never attempt to do it myself (at least not in public). In short, I knew I was reading the work of a master author.

But which do I think is better? That is hard question to answer. To compare Keeper to The Cardturner is like comparing watching a magical snowfall outside your window to the pleasure of watching your favorite television show. One is soul-filling while the other satisfying. For me, I’ll go with the soul and I choose…


— Grace Lin

And the Winner of this match is…


I would have said Keeper easily had this round—until I read Laura’s decision on The Cardturner, and then I wasn’t so sure.  Grace, too, is very eloquent in laying out the strengths of both books, summarizing each in a perfect metaphor.  Keeper: “Appelt reveals the story like ocean waves lapping aways bits of sand on a beach until a treasure is revealed.  And it’s the serene watching of the waves, not the sparkling pearl that creates the book’s charm.”  Cardturner: “Like watching a complicated dance routine.  I could see all the steps, yet still appreciate the whole.”   I also enjoyed hearing her take on how the audiobook experience compared to reading the physical book. Keeper is the first book to advance to the final round.  I had hoped for A Conspiracy of Kings from this bracket (perhaps the Undead Poll winner?), but Keeper was my second pick.  Hurray!

— Commentator Jonathan Hunt

Roxanne Feldman About Roxanne Feldman

Roxanne Hsu Feldman is the Middle School (4th to 8th grade) Librarian at the Dalton School in New York City. She served on the 2002 and 2013 Newbery Committees. Roxanne was also a member of 2008-2009 Notable Books for Children, 2015 Best Fiction for Young Adults, and the 2017 Odyssey Award Committees. In 2016 Roxanne was one of the three judges for the Boston Globe-Horn Book Awards. You can reach her at at


  1. Thank you Grace Lin.

    It was hard to know which book to champion. I was feeling smug for liking THE CARDTURNER since Laura Schlitz’s write-up; I was torn over who should leave Alton or Keeper. In the end I felt the world would be a much more desolate place without KEEPER. Thanks to both you and Jonathan for putting a coherent justification for my choice.

    The tragedy now will be when Keeper faces my TRASH boys – and of course Eugenedies.

  2. I heart Keeper!

  3. Great write-up! It makes sense for me. I didn’t love Keeper (I haven’t read Cardturner so can’t comment there), and wondered what was wrong with me when everyone else loved it so; it’s kind of nice to see that it IS clearly me, because if “Keeper is a book that needs you to be present to appreciate it. It’s not a story that can be half listened to or quickly skimmed, because then you miss the wonder” –then that is exactly what my problem was! Do not give Keeper to busy parents of toddlers and expect them to love it the same way. AH well.

  4. I didn’t really love Keeper either. I didn’t like the fantasy elements of it (and I really like fantasy, normally). Of course, I haven’t read a single one of the books that Keeper has been up against, so I can’t really judge.

  5. Even though my pick lost on this round, I was ambivalent enough to still be happy for KEEPER. Grace explained both books well.

    But I still hope the Final Round will go to Eugenides! I just finished today rereading A CONSPIRACY OF KINGS on audiobook. When I listen, I read it more slowly and appreciate the brilliance all the more. (I listen while driving, so it gets more of my attention!) Though I brought the final CD into the house to listen while knitting, because I couldn’t stand to wait any longer. That book is just amazing. This third time through, I especially noticed Sophos’ growth, so believably shown.

  6. Crying. This was the matchup of my dreams and my nightmares. These have been my two favorite books from the beginning! Not only did I love them both, my students did too, so I know they are something special.

    For me, The Cardturner edges out Keeper but only slightly. So, while I’m happy that Keeper advances, because it’s an awesome book, I’m sad because I wish they could both win!

  7. YES! Goodbye you dreadful monster of a book that has destroyed my dear Countdown! Countdown has been avenged! I show no mercy to you, Cardturner, or pity as you have gotten what you have dished out! Hurrah!

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