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Battle of the Books

What BoB Means to Kate Coombs

Every January I wait for it, popcorn bowl and root beer in hand. No, not the Super Bowl. Not even the ALA Book Awards. (I wait for those with a library card in hand.) We’re talking SLJ’s Battle of the Kids’ Books! In 2010 I mourned the loss of The Frog Scientist even though I couldn’t help cheering for The Last Olympian. I gasped when Julius Lester chose dark horse Tales from Outer Suburbia over Newbery winner When You Reach Me. I admired Christopher Paul Curtis’s courage in leaving Season of Gifts behind–everyone knows you don’t mess with Richard Peck. Then we were down to the Big Kahuna round, with Frog Scientist resurrected (hooray!) and going up against heavy hitters The Lost Conspiracy and Marching for Freedom. What. Would. Katherine Paterson. Choose? Nonfiction kicked fiction’s behind as the award-winning Big Kahuna judge chose Marching for Freedom!

Then there were the 2011 match-ups: if anything, even more unlikely. Keeper vs.The Good, the Bad, and the Barbie? A Tale Dark and Grimm vs.They Called Themselves the KKK? And what about The Odyssey vs.One Crazy Summer? Of course, I’m STILL in mourning over the moment when Hereville: How Mirka Got Her Sword went down. Finally we got to the Undead Round, and Megan Whalen Turner’s loyal fans resurrected A Conspiracy of Kings. This time Richard Peck–having apparently recovered from the indignities of 2010–was our Big Kahuna judge, considering a rich triumvirate of Keeper, The Ring of Solomon, and A Conspiracy of Kings. Turns out Peck is a fan of marvelous genie humor cerca 950 B.C., and The Ring of Solomon took the prize.

You can learn more about children’s books
by reading [the judges’] responses than
by taking any half dozen children’s literature classes.

Now we’ve hit 2012, and I’ve yet to explain in elementary grade school essay style just why the Battle captures my heart, not to mention my mouse–though the examples above should give you a few hints. So. For those of you still feeling sad about your favorite books not getting ALA awards, these match-ups feel like a second chance. This year I’m rooting for under-awarded favorites Chime and The Cheshire Cheese Cat. The odd but somehow successful book pairings are another source of satisfaction, which leads us to the best reason of all to follow the Battle of the Kids’ Books: reading the brilliant, funny, and sometimes startling analyses produced by a panel of highly talented authors, the Judges. You can learn more about children’s books by reading their responses than by taking any half dozen children’s literature classes.

The list is up. The books are donning their armor–chain mail dust jackets, natch. In Round 1, Chime takes on The Cheshire Cheese Cat and Daughter of Smoke and Bone goes up against Newbery winner Dead End in Norvelt, while Amelia Lost gives that most excellent graphic novel, Anya’s Ghost, an elbow in the ribs and Heart and Soul questions the dignity of Inside Out and Back Again‘s paternal great-uncle. (Sorry, getting a little sidetracked by the presidential race.) Ahem. Put your popcorn in the microwave, folks. It’s time to do battle!

Kate Coombs’ latest books are a retelling of the Grimms’ tale, Hans My Hedgehog, illustrated by John Nickle and a collection of ocean poems, Water Sings Blue, illustrated by Meilo So. Kate blogs about children’s books at Book Aunt. She has a brother named Bob, but surely it’s a coincidence.


  1. Bravo Kate! Well said. (Except the part about the root beer… ewwwww)

  2. Can I just say you have me even MORE excited about the matches???? Well said!

  3. Love it, Kate! Can’t wait!

  4. Ooooh, this is very exciting! I’d better get caught up on reading all these books . . . so many books . . . so many awesome books . . .

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