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Round 1, Match 7: Moonbird vs Seraphina
by Phillip Hoose
by Rachel Hartman
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
About Battle Commander
The Battle Commander is the nom de guerre for children’s literature enthusiasts Monica Edinger and Roxanne Hsu Feldman, fourth grade teacher and middle school librarian at the Dalton School in New York City and Jonathan Hunt, the County Schools Librarian at the San Diego County Office of Education. All three have served on the Newbery Committee as well as other book selection and award committees. They are also published authors of books, articles, and reviews in publications such as the New York Times, School Library Journal, and the Horn Book Magazine. You can find Monica at educating alice and on twitter as @medinger. Roxanne is at Fairrosa Cyber Library and on twitter as @fairrosa. Jonathan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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