Follow This Blog: RSS feed
Battle of the Books

Winner of the 2012 Undead Poll and Kid Commentator Picks!

The Undead: Okay for Now

After two consecutive years of blowouts, this year was much more competitive. That’s not to say OKAY FOR NOW didn’t jump out to a healthy lead and maintain it throughout, but that healthy lead was often a single digit number.  CHIME and DAUGHTER OF SMOKE & BONE trailed early, then CHIME pulled away for a clear second place until an eleventh hour push by WONDERSTRUCK.  Meanwhile, A MONSTER CALLS joined DAUGHTER OF SMOKE & BONE in that third tier. Undead winner OKAY FOR NOW will make lots of people happy and it should be a real threat to win the whole thing.  It’s also the only viable juvenile option in the final round as both BETWEEN SHADES OF GRAY and LIFE: AN EXPLODED DIAGRAM are more YA.

— Commentator Jonathan Hunt


The two official Kid Commentators want to share with everyone what THEY
think should win this year’s top BoB Prize. Do you agree with their picks?


Okay For Now, Between Shades of Gray, and Life: An Exploded Diagram. Three fantastic novels have all conquered their competitors, survived in a rather brutal battle, and have made it to the final round of the 2012 Battle of the Kids’ Books. Which for any book, picture or prose, is the highest honor one could be awarded. These three books will fight in the ultimate brawl of the battle until one book alone departs from the battle victorious. This scrimmage goes by many names, but is officially called the Big Kahuna Round.

Two-time Newbery Honor winner Gary D. Schmidt crafts an incredibly creative and unique story about the perils of being a young boy moving to a new town with a temperamental and often drunk father. Schmidt creates Doug’s story with humor, sarcasm, and wit with a terrifically brilliant ending which allows the reader to choose Doug’s conclusion. Positively terrific.

Life: An Exploded Diagram is a historical fiction masterpiece that wins hearts over with its incredibly astute and clever characters as well as its fabulously informative history of the Cuban Missile Crisis (one of my favorite subjects.) Of course it does have its unnecessary moments where it drags on quite a bit, as all books tend to do at certain points (with the exception of Philip Pullman’s works.)

Between Shades of Gray, one of my personal favorites, tells the tragic and true story of a young Lithuanian girl living at the time of World War II. Ruta Sepetys tells in horrifying detail of the perils and obstacles Lina has to overcome, until she is free at last. This work of historical fiction is exceptional, and I would recommend it to all lovers of this genre of books.

This final match of the 2012 Battle of the Books has been incredibly difficult and troublesome to conjure up a conclusion for, especially because I am a lover of all books in the competition. It was a very close round, and although I am a big fan of Life and Okay for Now, I have to go with Between Shades of Gray, for its detailed, clear, and clever writing.

As a big fan of Jonathan Stroud, I am anxious to see which book he picks for the ultimate victor of this year’s Battle of the Kids’ Books.

— Kid Commentator GI

All of the books in the final three comment on life in a meaningful way somehow. Most books do. Some are just more obvious. Take Mal Peet’s LIFE: AN EXPLODED DIAGRAM. Just from the title, you can see that it will analyze life. The clever part is the relevance to the story itself: explosion. Throughout the book, you see that nukes will (or won’t) detonate and mines can erupt – it’s part of life. Peet asks: Why should one’s world have to fall apart? What happens when it does? He tells us: Life continues, and then the world explodes again.

Less apparent is BETWEEN SHADES OF GREY. Ruta Sepetys describes in brutal detail a horrible condition in life – that of the Lithuanian people, and in a more general sense, all oppressed people. Her book is an emotional plea for life to be good, for people to hope. The title conveys this: However dark the situation, there is still some “white.” It also might be a more general reference to the Lithuanian people stuck between all this war (Hitler, Stalin, etc.).

In OKAY FOR NOW, Gary Schmidt demonstrates one of the most important processes in life: maturation. In lyrical writing, Schmidt also shows life through Doug’s perspective. And at the end of the book, Doug is “okay for now.” What could be more like life than that? But I can’t just judge these books on their messages. What about their presentation – their writing and characters and all the other stuff that makes a book good?

BETWEEN SHADES OF GRAY is the most interesting case. Sepetys tells of the Lithuanians’ survival with no respite:

“Have you ever wondered what a human life is worth? That morning, my brother’s was worth a pocketwatch.”
“We were about to become cigarettes.”

Endlessly grueling and biting. Three hundred and thirty-eight pages of this stuff. If any books in this battle aren’t for kids (like many say of LIFE), BETWEEN SHADES OF GRAY is one of them. It should be sent to the Oval Office straight away, as well as to all the other world leaders.

And that’s also a compliment. It’s a really, really important book. Despite the harshness of the book, Lithuania’s story is extremely emotional and hopeful. The perserverance of the Lithuanian people (as expressed in Lina and her mother) to withstand whatever life throws at them is astounding. I felt for all of them with a full heart – as well as for Kretzky, the Soviet guard. So this story gives hope. It hurls you all these horrible descriptions, and at the end you have hope! Truly a work of art.

LIFE: AN EXPLODED DIAGRAM is not hopeful. It’s purely an analysis of life. And what a beautiful one it is!

The writing: “History is the heavy traffic that prevents us from crossing the road.” Deep, metaphoric, and stunning. More like this, with great detail using similes. It’s a joy to read.

The characters: George Mortimer: “Uppity posh foreign crumpet.” Ha! You can tell a lot from that. Peet implies that despite a negative portrayal of a character (ex. George Mortimer), it’s just part of life. Note the humor.

The setting: “Washing blew on the line: tea towels, Ruth’s yellowish vests, her mother’s bloomers ballooned by the wind, their elasticated leg holes pouting.” Detailed, with exquisite metaphors. The plot is near-perfect, a series of “explosions” in Clem and Frankie’s life. The background is definitely very interesting, as is the history. It’s helped, of course, by Peet’s witty, brilliant writing, and an excellent sense of humor. In the whole book, and especially in the ending, Mal Peet paints life as it is; mistakes are repeated, and war will always happen. Inside the book, though, is a subtle plea: Why must humans continue this?

This has already been talked about before, but LIFE: AN EXPLODED DIAGRAM is really a YA book. With Clem, you see a typical teenager. When we get to Frankie and Clem’s romance, the YA-ness of the book increases. Despite this, from most other perspectives, Mal Peet’s book is also adult. But don’t teens love quality in a book, and adultness? Add it all up, and LIFE: AN EXPLODED DIAGRAM is a really powerful and spectacular commentary on life.

And what of OKAY FOR NOW? It’s not really hopeful or sad. All you know is that at the end, things are “okay for now.” Anyways, Doug’s story is an almost perfect rendition of growing up.

The writing: “Joe Pepitone once gave me his baseball cap.” Like that’s the biggest thing in the world. Schmidt expertly captures the eighth grade mind through first person narration, and Doug’s view on the world is pretty funny. Mixed in with a bunch of metaphors for Doug’s state-of-being, such as Arctic Terns, the writing is the best it could possibly be for such a story.

The characters: Doug’s father: “My father’s hands are quick. That’s the kind of guy he is.” Once again, with Doug’s snappy narration and POV.

The setting: “Here are the stats for stupid Marysville:” Doug’s thoughts abound everywhere in this book. Witty. Doug’s life twists and turns as he adjusts to Marysville, and whenever it does, I sympathize with him. It’s exactly like a middle-schooler’s life. To all the kids out there, Schmidt says that everything’s going to be okay. Brilliant!

So here we have three great books. Despite its importance, I think BETWEEN SHADES OF GRAY is too horrifying a work of art. OKAY FOR NOW was terrific. For me, though, LIFE: AN EXPLODED DIAGRAM wins the prize (such superb writing!).

— Kid Commentator RGN


  1. I’m pretty happy that Okay for Now won, even though I voted for A Monster Calls. I hope that Okay for Now would win the Battle.

  2. I am happy. While I want Doug to win it all, I’d be content with the other two books too. It looks as though DaNae’s occupation worked!

    On a more serious note, I’m glad there is some variety in the final round. While all three books are historical fiction, they have much different tones and audiences. Personally, it’s Doug’s voice that resonates with me, but I also loved Lina. The writing in Life simply blew me away. I’m looking forward to Stroud’s analysis on Monday.

  3. Jennifer H says

    No Chime, but I suppose that’s okay because it did have a good run in the BOB. and if it couldn’t be undead, I’m very happy Okay for Now was. I really enjoyed that book and now have two books I can stand behind in the final round. Yay! And, like so many others here, I’m happy to see Doug get recognition that has been lacking this season.

  4. I’m happy for Okay for Now… though I have really no idea who will come out on top, Like Jonathan, I think it has a good chance of winning it all, though both the others seem to be blowing the judges away. It’ll be interesting to see what Monday brings.

  5. I was rooting for Dead End in Norvelt, it has everything humor, history, family conflict, and obituaries. I found a lot of similarities with OK which I also liked a lot, I especially liked that Schmidt used art for transformative power. Art which is being dropped from curriculums because only math and reading are “important”. Now I’m rooting for Life, maybe because I’m in the middle of reading it. I read in small bits, breakfast, lunch, breaks. I find that I put it down and go back to work and I feel like that world is lingering with me, like I might come out with a “blimey” in conversation.

  6. Steffaney Smith says

    Newbery, Printz, and other awards, take note: It has been stated that the BOB is the most prestigious prize! As a librarian, I will concur that the author/judge comments have created some of the best book reviews for the list of contenders. The Battle has definitely affected my book collection development and my own reading list for summer! I will defer a prediction, but have a feeling J.S. will lean towards the best writing in his opinion (and not the readability for youth, which is always at the top of my list — I am tired of having “best books” sit on the library book shelf…even after booktalking them). All 3 are worthy winners and I am committed to getting them into kids’ hands, one way or another! Thanks for making my March so enjoyable!

  7. Sara Ralph says

    WTG kid commentators! Each presents an superb analysis of the three books. Like GI, my money is on Between Shades of Gray, although Doug holds a special place in my heart. I can tell you one thing tor sure, I haven’t ever been so excited to get to Monday.

  8. Terrific news to start the weekend! And now two more days to believe that Doug can take it all and finally get the recognition he deserves!

  9. Oh my poor beloved Monster which I thought should win it all.

    Which means, even if the ending didn’t really work for me, I’m on Team L’chaim, to Life!

  10. I think this is exactly what would have happened if the Newbery had an Undead poll–which isn’t a bad idea. But speaking of MONSTER–didn’t it just get shortlisted for the Greenaway and the Carnegie? I wonder how often that happens.

  11. Go, Zombie, Go!

    I stand by my earlier opinion. I want Okay for Now to win it all!

  12. I am expecting Great Things from Bartim– Jonathan!

  13. Genevieve says

    WOO HOO!! Three cheers for Undead Doug! Rooting for you to win it all, my friend.

  14. YAY!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Go Doug GO!!!!!!!! Go Audobon GO!!!!!! GO JANE EYRE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!1

  15. I believe in Okay For Now! I believe. I believe.

  16. Whew! My work is done!

    Wishing you the best Mr. Bartimaeus.

    Okay, now I get to hit the showers.

  17. What an amazing job by both kid commentators. Stroud has his work cut out for him if he hopes to top those two posts!

  18. I want to congratulate the kid commentators RGN and GI. You’ve done a fabulous job and I have enjoyed reading your thoughts and insights. Bravo. Thank you for all your hard work. Thanks to the organizers for inviting them to participate. They’ve added a wonderful dimension to the contest.

    Since “A Monster Calls” did not make it into the final round, I’m cheering Doug on in this contest and as any comedy knows it’s tough going up against the dramas. No one takes the comic seriously. They don’t appreciate how hard it is to be funny, much less to appear effortlessly funny.

    To quote the wonderful Elizabeth Bird (of Fuse #8) “It’s such a relief sometimes to read a great writer for kids. Not a merely good writer, but a great writer. . . You haven’t gotten even two pages into the story of this book before Doug tells you about his brother hitting him. He writes that he, “Pummeled me in places where the bruises wouldn’t show. A strategy that my . . . is none of your business.” Beautiful. Right there we know that not only is our narrator telling us his story, but he’s also hiding secrets along the way.”

    In two pages you learn more about Doug and the other characters than you ever learn about the characters in “Life: An Exploded Diagram” in over 400 pages. They remain one dimensional characters, not persons, wrapped in a shell of pretty words. An empty husk of words. There is no life. Like Brandy, I just wanted to escape from them. Jump out of their car, not ride around with them. I only finished “Life” to see what my beloved “A Monster Calls” was up against.

    To me a great book has (1) beautiful writing that services the story, recedes in the background and doesn’t call attention to itself to the detriment of the story; and (2) a great story. “Okay for Now” has both. “Life” is just so lifeless, an empty shell of pretty words surrounding the dry husks of its characters. I haven’t read “Between Shades of Grey” yet, so I can’t judge it. It’s moved way up in my TBR stack based on all I’ve read about it here. Even though I haven’t read it, I’ll vote for it to win over “Life”.

  19. Sam Bloom says

    Eliza, I couldn’t disagree with you more. I think Life’s characters are beautifully drawn and fully fleshed out. I personally cared about Clem and Frankie infinitely more than I cared about Doug Swieteck. I think Schmidt is to be applauded for the job he does making Doug’s voice memorable, but he goes over the top way too much for my tastes… not just the overcrowded plot, but also the way he overuses certain elements (rhetorical questions, anyone?) These things took me out of the story way too many times, whereas with Life I was thoroughly sucked in from the beginning.

    I’m with you on Monster Calls, though… lovely book by an excellent writer. I’m in the middle of the Chaos Walking series right now and it is just fabulous. Sorry, did I just talk about something not having to do with BoB? =)

  20. Sam, This reminds of my experience shoe shopping yesterday. This woman was telling her friend how hideous a pair of sandals were, which were the exact same pair I was waiting to try on. It completely cracked me up. Just goes to show you that there is something for everyone out there and not everyone will agree on what is great. It made my day and I walked out of the store with a big smile – and a great pair of new sandals!

    At least we can meet for coffee (and common ground) to discuss the wonderfulness of Patrick Ness. Just don’t bring one of the Chaos Walking books with you to read while waiting unless you’re comfortable crying in a cafe. But if you do ’cause you can’t wait to find out what happens next, I’ll understand and discreetly hand you an extra large handkerchief to mop up your tears.

Speak Your Mind