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Round 1, Match 1: All the Truth That’s In Me vs The Animal Book
JUDGE – VAUNDA NELSON
|All The Truth That’s In Me
by Julie Berry
|The Animal Book
by Steve Jenkins
When I learned I had to choose between Steve Jenkins’ nonfiction The Animal Book and Julie Berry’s teen novel, All the Truth That’s In Me, I winced. It’s challenging enough to compare two strong pieces of fiction, but to pick a winner between these very different genres? How mean can you be, SLJ?
To my delight, as I sat down to consider these contenders, I found similarities I hadn’t expected.
Steve Jenkins says, “The story of life on earth is one of constant destruction, renewal and change.” So, too, in Julie Berry’s fictional world: lives and relationships are destroyed, rebuilt and changed forever. Both books are filled with mystery, romance, and survival—the drama of predator and prey.
Jenkins creates a richly textured compilation of animal lore vividly illustrated with his signature cut- and torn-paper collages, some borrowed from previous works, incorporated seamlessly into this new volume. His meticulous work awes me. Information and art meld stunningly as Jenkins shares hundreds of wonders of the natural world. This book is packed, but not so densely as to overwhelm young readers. It welcomes them with beetles that can run as fast as a man, spiders bigger than human hands, and sea sponges that live 2300 years. Although The Animal Book can be browsed, I read it from cover to cover, stopping numerous times to delve into the index, or to share some remarkable fact with my husband.
I noticed a couple of minor errors in the index and eyes chart, and Jenkins sometimes left me with questions unanswered, but these did not diminish my admiration or enjoyment of his notable achievement.
What immediately drew me into Berry’s fictional world was the internal monologue of Judith Finch. I love Berry’s use of short chapters, sometimes only a sentence or two, and admire her use of language — simple, lyrical, poetic, melancholic, full of longing — as Judith moves in and out of her past and her current grim life.
As I read All the Truth That’s In Me, I couldn’t escape echoes of Jenkins’ animal world. Judith’s role as outcast-with-no-voice becomes defensive coloration, a cloak of camouflage, protection from any expectation to tell what she knows (at least until she’s good and ready).
Survival is a key theme for Berry — literally and emotionally. People die, are threatened with violence, or shamed. Judith walks a fine line between hope and despair. She is physically maimed and regarded as easy prey by teacher Rupert Gillis. No romance there, but plenty when it comes to Lucas Whiting who is emotionally present in every scene. Judith and Lucas move through a kind of mating dance, trusting and distrusting, coming together, then moving apart, studying, evaluating each other and the environment in which they live.
Jenkins describes how crows join forces to repel hawks that threaten their babies, a cooperative technique called “mobbing.” Roswell villagers exhibit this nest-protecting behavior in their entrapment of Lucas and at the trial, not realizing the actual hawk, Abijah Pratt, is among them, “hiding in plain sight” (as Jenkins says), camouflaged as a parent mourning his murdered daughter.
Berry slowly and skillfully provides the pieces of the puzzle that ultimately lead to a satisfying end.
However, Goody Pruett seems a bit stereotypic as the all-knowing town gadfly, and I guessed fairly early on what Abijah Pratt was about. I also had a hard time accepting that Lucas might have believed (even for a moment) Rupert Gillis’ lies about Judith. Still, this is a lovely and powerful novel.
That said, I must give my vote to the book whose drama and intrigue keeps drawing me back: The Animal Book: A Collection of the Fastest, Fiercest, Toughest, Cleverest, Shyest — and Most Surprising — Animals on Earth.
— Vaunda Nelson
One for Team Nonfiction! The truth can truly be wondrous, and The Animal Book is the type of book that I would have loved when I was younger, filled which wonder at the natural world: it’s real! What’s better for a kid than that? (Yes, I did show it to my baby brother.) It’s these types of books that I’m rooting for this year, not the complicated, “grown-up” ones that might be confusing but the ones that are full of heart. If anything’s complicated, the truth is, and it’s scary, too, but All the Truth That’s In Me, for me, at least, was too complicated, and just didn’t quite work. Now, Rose Under Fire is a different story, but that’s up against A Thing About Luck…Let the battle begin!
– Kid Commentator RGN
THE WINNER OF ROUND 1 MATCH 1:
THE ANIMAL BOOK
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 email@example.com.
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