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Battle of the Books

Round 2, Match 1: The Animal Book vs Boxers and Saints


The Animal Book
by Steve Jenkins
Houghton Mifflin
Boxers & Saints
by Gene Luen Yang

Ah . . . the joys of reading!—especially when the reading includes Gene Luen Yang’s Boxers & Saints and Steven Jenkins’s The Animal World: A Collection of the Fastest, Fiercest, Toughest, Cleverest, Shyest—and Most Surprising—Animals on Earth.
The Animal Book brought to mind a cherished childhood book: Reptiles and Amphibians, a small paperback I vowed to keep forever, but which slipped away from me somewhere along the way. The Animal Book is a thousand—maybe a million—times more engrossing and covers a far more territory than my lost little paperback.  With an overflow of captivating illustrations and a head-spinning number of facts, Jenkins takes us on a journey into an amazing world of creeping, crawling, walking, racing, flying, swimming, diving, sounding creatures, schooling us on how they live and move and have their being—senses to defenses.

The assassin bug, the blind shrimp, the cheetah, cicada, the Etruscan shrew, the howler monkey, the kangaroo rat, the praying mantis and the vampire bat are just a few of the 300-plus members of the animal kingdom we encounter in this handsome book. That encounter is even closer when you come to a life-sized illustrations. How awesome (and humbling) it was to put my hand beside that of a grown gorilla.

Sometimes it is a fact that astonishes, a fact such as an adult mayfly’s time on earth: thirty minutes to a few days. That’s the sort of thing that makes you stop and think about how you spend your time on earth, how you so often take time for granted.

Most thought-provoking and enthralling, too, is Gene Luen Yang’s Boxers & Saints, historical fiction served up in two linked graphic novels.

As a child, I had nothing like Boxers & Saints. Until now I knew very little about Yang’s subject: the late 19th-century uprising in China against foreigners and Chinese Christians, known as the Boxer Rebellion.

With razor-sharp wit and wisdom, Yang gives us history fast-paced and real in the stories of Little Bao and Four-Girl, two young people for whom life has been no crystal stair who find themselves on opposite sides of the conflict and adhering to contending faiths.

Yang pulls no punches. With vivid, wrenching scenes of warfare and massacre Yang makes readers face up to how savage we human beings can be. At the same, Yang calls us to compassion. He had me pondering what wondrous, heavenly things we could achieve if all oppressions, all prejudices, all greed, all lust for conquest ceased.

What’s more, Yang thinks enough of young intellects to not hold back on the fact that historical events don’t come in neat, tidy packages, that almost always history is a mess of events springing from the actions of not pure evil and pure good people, but flawed, often mixed-up people: people caught up in a whirlwind who behave nobly and/or ignobly as a consequence of their fortunes/misfortunes, the guides they have been given, and the choices put before them.

I found myself with an unenviable choice when SLJ asked me to choose between the works of two fine artist-writers: Gene Luen Yang’s Boxers & Saints and Steven Jenkins’s The Animal World, two works that are necessary, two works that will stay with me for years, two works I am sure to revisit.

Which will I revisit first?

Boxers & Saints.

— Tonya Bolden

Prior to reading the graphic novel phenomenon, Boxers and Saints, I had already idiotically judged the book by its cover. And its cover was quite obviously that of a graphic novel, a genre that I have never particularly favored. I had always precociously thought of them as incredibly easy, depth lacking comic books that I didn’t have the time to read. Well boy, did Gene Luen Yang prove me wrong. Filled to the brim with both emotional and historical depth, Boxers and Saints completely turned me into a graphic novel junkie, even going as far as purchasing Luen Yang’s latest novel, The Shadow Hero, on my Kindle (which I loved.) The Animal Book, however, completely captivated my imagination from the very second I laid eyes on it. It heavily reminded me of a Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? for older animal enthusiasts. Therefore the nostalgia was extremely prevalent. But I must admit that I am now extremely biased towards this book in the worst possible way, seeing as it killed my own personal prediction of All The Truth That’s In Me taking the entire competition by storm. However, in this particularly difficult and interesting match, I must side with Ms. Bolden, and give this one to Boxers and Saints. Because it truly did change the way that I will read graphic novels forever.

– Kid Commentator GI

Boxers & Saints is some powerful stuff. It sure does revisit history in an astonishing and brutal way, rivaling Rose Under Fire, and it’s easily one of the most inventive and ambitious books in this competition. It could go far, even when it might be up against everyone else’s favorite love story – Eleanor and Park (yes, I don’t love it) – or everyone’s favorite fantasy book, Far, Far Away. And that’s not to discredit The Animal Book. Ms. Bolden was reminded of “a cherished childhood book,” and it’s a truly wonderful feat. Because, even as books like Hokey Pokey may be somewhat controversial (and still in the mix), good books do lose battles. There are surprises, some good, some bad. I mean, how many people thought Rose Under Fire (another favorite) would lose (with good reasons, I think) to The Thing About Luck?

– Kid Commentator RGN




  1. I think this was a good decision. While I really enjoyed The Animal Book, Boxers and Saints is truly special, and for the reasons that Ms. Bolden expressed. It will be interesting to see how it fares in the next round.

  2. yes!! I’m so happy for boxers. My favorite graphic novel by far– props to GI for the great comment about “Brown Bear Brown Bear” !! Totally see it.

  3. Not super invested in this match, since I still haven’t read The Animal Book (the library has had it on order for months, but it just won’t come in!). But the way the judge describes it makes it sound really cool. So hopefully I will get to read it someday.


  1. […] A Corner of White (Scholastic) in Round 1, Steve Jenkins’s The Animal Book (Houghton Harcourt) in Round 2, and Tom McNeal’s Far Far Away (Knopf) in Round 3, the historical fiction title competed against […]

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