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Battle of the Books

Round 1, Match 7: Moonbird vs Seraphina

by Phillip Hoose
by Rachel Hartman
Random House

Judged by
Marie Lu



So. Seraphina vs. Moonbird.

I have to admit, I first approached this particular matchup scratching my head. Where to even begin? At first glance, there’s not much similarity at all between these two distinctive books: Seraphina is phenomenal YA fiction, while Moonbird is phenomenal nonfiction. Seraphina is about dragons learning to survive in a fantasy world ruled by humans who fear them, while Moonbird is an account of one tiny shorebird’s remarkable life while his species slowly sinks into extinction. Seraphina relies solely on black and white text to tell its story, while Moonbird dazzles with both words and breathtaking images.

Seraphina is about discrimination and acceptance. Moonbird is about resilience and survival.

Upon closer inspection, however, I actually found quite a bit of similarity between the two. After all, birds are real dragons, aren’t they? So let’s start, and let’s do this list-style:

– Style. Got styo? These two sure as hell do. The first glaring difference between Seraphina and Moonbird, of course, is that the former is fiction (and we’re talking fantasy fiction, the most fictional of fiction), and the latter is nonfiction. Yet, Seraphina contains such beautifully detailed worldbuilding that one feels almost transported to a real place, a real world with canals and bridges and bell towers, churches and choirs and dragons. Similarly, Moonbird‘s journey about little B95 is written with such lyrical narrative that the nonfiction nevertheless feels “fictional”, with plot, conflict, and arc. Moonbird‘s photos add to this, its sweeping images detailing the various stops that the rufa red knot birds make on a miraculous annual flight from the bottom of the world to the top.

– Character. Seraphina is a hybrid dragon-human girl of remarkable wit and survival skills. She knows how to adapt in a world that does not take kindly to her type. Moonbird, or B95, is a similarly plucky protagonist, and we root for him to complete his hazardous flight as we learn about the precarious position his species must face. Now, Seraphina might be a half-dragon girl and B95 might be a tiny rufa red knot bird, but in their arcs of surviving and thriving, they are one and the same.

– Theme. Earlier, I said that Seraphina is about discrimination and acceptance, while Moonbird is about resilience and survival. However, Moonbird can also be about discrimination and acceptance: the lone miracle that is Moonbird, a hardy, 4-ounce shorebird that has flown in its lifetime a distance equivalent to that between the Earth and the Moon. The EARTH and the MOON. Yet we overlook the miracle of the rufa red knot bird species. Our failure to understand the way our human activity has affected their migratory route has resulted in a drastic decline of the species. In order to save these birds, we have to learn about them, understand them, and empathize with their plight.

On the other hand, Seraphina is also about resilience and survival. Seraphina, a half-dragon, half-human girl, lives in a Renaissance-like fantasy world where dragons are shunned and feared by humans due to simple, yet seemingly irreconciliable, differences. To find her way in this hostile world, and to figure out how to live with her dangerous secret gift of music, she must be resilient and she must be a survivor.

In the end, though, there must be a winner! What to do? I savored Moonbird‘s story and ached for the plight of his fellow knots–this nonfic has a certain beauty to it that reminds me of Watership Down, one of my favorite books of all time. I can’t recommend it enough for readers of all ages.

But Seraphina. Oh, Seraphina. My heart is soft for this high fantasy of lyrical, musical proportions that soars with strong female characters and a wonderful overall cast. In the end, the tale of Seraphina’s journey won me over the most. Thus, I must give this round to Seraphina.


— Marie Lu


And the Winner of this match is……

TITANIC loses to CODE NAME VERITY; TEMPLE GRANDIN loses to THE FAULT IN OUR STARS; MOONBIRD loses to SERAPHINA.  Does anyone notice a pattern here?  It’s been a great year for nonfiction—can we say it enough?—but when that nonfiction has gone up against YA fiction it has repeatedly lost.  The lone win for Team Nonfiction—BOMB vs. WONDER—came against middle grade fiction.  Does the sophistication of the YA fiction make most of the nonfiction seem virtually middle grade in comparison?   Regardless, I’m really impressed with how Marie found similarities in such disparate books.  We had lots of high fantasy titles to choose from this year, and we thought SERAPHINA would best represent the genre in BOB, and we are not disappointed.  But speaking of middle grade vs. young adult, look what’s on the horizon: NO CRYSTAL STAIR vs. THE ONE AND ONLY IVAN.


— Commentator Jonathan Hunt

I absolutely adored Moonbird. It brilliantly plays with big issues in the most cute and touching way, while being excellently written. It flows; it’s concise; it’s cheerful. At the end is Hoose’s clearly passioned plea for help in saving the rufa. So I left that book parting with a certain sense of awe at the natural world, one which, I think, is very hard to convey, and even more so in a non-fiction book. (I have to give the beautiful pictures some credit for that, too.)

Seraphina gives us a magical world. The book contains all one could want in a fantasy: some intrigue, complex characters, action. But most brilliant is the world-building. There is a real medieval image, an acute sense of the danger in that world, and a very real conflict between dragons and humans that extends to Seraphina’s mind herself, expressed through the stunning images of her “garden.” That “garden” alone is very interesting and nearly as cute as Moonbird.

Then there’s the ending. It’s not that I don’t like the plot decisions, but rather the few paragraphs or pages before the close of the book, and the tone that comes from those words – a little too sentimental.

Though this doesn’t seriously impact my liking for Seraphina, I’d have to choose Moonbird!


— Kid Commentator RGN


  1. I picked Seraphina to win this round so I’m happy with the outcome but I also thought Moonbird was a a remarkable book. I’ve found it helpful this year to go back to Heavy Metal and reread the analyses of the different books. As I recall, there was some discussion in Moonbird discussion that the structure was problematic (finding out the primary cause of the extinction issue so early in the book). As for Seraphina, I really liked it and am looking forward to the next book in the series. I don’t read high fantasy often and when I do, I’m extremely picky about. I thought the world-building in Seraphina was particularly strong (perhaps the greatest strength of the book) and while I wasn’t wild about the romance (it was way to obvious that it was going to happen) it did have a couple of surprises in the plot and that pleased me.

  2. There have been shockingly few surprises so far this year. Has me a bit concerned for tomorrow’s battle. I really want to see Ivan overcome the Newbery curse.

  3. This was really hard for me. Looking back on my reading choices throughout my entire life, it’s obvious that I would like Seraphina. If I found out that Rachel Hartman had been stalking me and then wrote a book just because I would love it, I wouldn’t be surprised. Seraphina is my type of book.

    Moonbird surprised me. I don’t read this sort of book. I don’t enjoy this sort of book. But I loved Moonbird. Of all the excellent nonfiction I read for this Battle, Moonbird was my favorite. I really wanted it to go all the way. Sigh.

  4. So my saying that authors tend to choose books least like their own is shot all to pieces this year.

    I did pick Seraphina to win this round, but I would have been happy for Moonbird. I liked her analysis, point by point, rather than all about the loser, then all about the winner. I would have made my choice the same way — Moonbird is wonderful, and a book I will recommend. But the fictional world finds a place closer to my heart.

  5. Now that I’ve had my cup of coffee this morning (and am no longer rushing in order to get to work on time), I see all the errors in my first post. Please forgive me — I’m really not that ignorant.

  6. RGN, I wish you had had the final judgement here! Oh well. Moonbird was magical but not enough to win. Hopefully magical enough to escape extinction which is much more important.

  7. Battle Commander Battle Commander says

    Fans of Kid Commentator RGN, be sure to check out his bio (and that of our other forthcoming and returning Kid Commentator GI) here:

  8. I agree with RGN. I thought Moonbird was the most amazing book. I read it to my Dad as he lay dying and he was actually interested. Seraphina – well, it’s a page turner, for sure. And I want to read the sequel NOW! But it was fantasy! As much as I love fantasy, a well-written, well-documented piece of non-fiction that tells a story more amazing than half-dragons is far more rare.

  9. What a match-up! And what a difficult decision! However, I would have to agree with our illustrious judge here. As enjoyable as Moonbird is, I’d have to choose Seraphina. Hands down! Never have I been so absorbed by a fantasy story since Alison Croggon’s “The Naming.” I only hope that Seraphina doesn’t get pit against One And Only Ivan. If that happens, I’d have to call a draw.

  10. Sam Bloom says

    Rough choice here, but I think I would have picked the half-dragon, too. The bottom quarter of the bracket is stacked this year!

  11. Serephina was one of the books I needed to read when the list was announced. I broached it with reluctance. I find high fantasy challenging to my dyslexic brain, all those weird combinations of letters in the made up nouns. Midway through I was hooked by Seraphina’s amazing voice fighting through the intriguing world Hartman created.


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