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Battle of the Books

Round 1, Match 2: Thunder Boy Jr. vs When Green Becomes Tomatoes



by Sherman Alexis
illustrated by Yuyi Morales
Little, Brown
by Julie Fogliano
illustrated by Julie Morstad

It’s been ten days now. Ten days that the two titles have been battling each other in my head. The first time I placed the two books next to each other, I rushed to pick one over the other. It had a striking cover with the title in tactile raised capital letters. It had a bold image of a father and son against a thunderous sky. I knew of the author and illustrator, both talented award-winning creative minds. And a voice inside me said, be unbiased, give both titles equal chance.

I confess. I had read about both titles but not read them yet.

On the evening I got the books I sat by the fire with Thunder Boy Jr. on my lap. I flipped through the pages and noticed the rich wooden textures of backgrounds and shapes that Caldecott Honor winner Yuyi Morales had achieved. She had layered scans of old wood planks with translucent and sometimes neon bright colors. I noticed the scanned red brick texture that she had painted the characters skin with. I noticed the bold black thick outline defining the characters and word bubbles. Word bubbles. How clever to turn lines of the manuscript into spoken words by placing them inside the bubbles. As I read the story I remarked how National Book Award winner Sherman Alexie had brought to life a close-knit family in about 420 words. The story, told in the voice of of Thunder Boy Jr., made me feel for him. This little boy yearns to be himself as defined by having a name all his own. I chuckled at how Thunder Boy Jr. perceived his nickname, Little Thunder. I could imagine the peals of laughter this description would entice in many young kids. And as the flames flickered in front of me, the book’s end came beautiful and deeply satisfying. And an unwritten line popped up in my brain, thunder and lightening. Thunder and lightening were the words that surfaced right after Thunder Boy Junior’s new name was spelled out in big bold black capital letters. After reading the last masterful line of Sherman Alexie: “My dad and I will light up the sky,” I whispered again the unwritten line. This is a book that is as bold, bright and loud as the love and names of father and son.

So I picked up When Green Becomes Tomatoes with a little trepidation believing it could not possibly win. I immediately noticed similarities and differences with the previous title. Like Thunder Boy Jr. it is told in first person and the match between manuscript and art is just right. But major similarities stop there. Rather than being a story with a problem and a solution; this collection of poems takes the reader through the seasons starting and ending with spring. Each poem’s title is a date, as if written in the journal of a young girl who bears witness to the change of seasons through all her five senses. Take the entry of June 26,

you can taste the sunshine
and the buzzing
and the breeze
while eating berries of the bush
on berry hands
and berry knees

Trained as an artist, I tend to pick up visual details at a glance. The deliberate choice of printing all poems in lowercase and small font, allows for the elegance and daintiness of the words to surface gently. And surface gently they do. I found each poem like a morsel of a delicate dessert you never want to end. I savored the unexpected ways author Julie Fogliano strings words into beautiful sentences. In an entry that begs you to go out and bear witness to a gift of nature she says,

just like a tiny, blue hello
a crocus blooming
in the snow

Some entries disguise big thoughts behind the simplest of words as in an August 3 entry,

If you want to be sure
that you are nothing more than small
stand at the edge of the ocean
looking out

Illustrator Julie Morstad has created art that is as lyrical as the manuscript. Her detailed paintings tell a story of friendships, joy, expectation and wonder. The collection is bookended by the journal entry that marks the spring equinox. And Morstad painted the same exact girl in similar scenes except that the girl is wearing different color mittens, so the careful reader knows that a full year has passed.

There are so many poems that beg to be read over and over. There are poems to prompt a discussion about the gifts of nature, poems that enable critical thinking, and poems that give you pause. Many of the poems soothe your soul. They remind you that with every season nature offers wondrous moments. Moments to be had for each and everyone of us if only we stop to look, smell, taste, feel and listen.

And I listened. After many times of reading these poems both silently and aloud, the soft voices of the collection won my heart. I know that as a young mother I would have used this book over and over again to inspire my children to paint, write, and connect with nature. This is a book that has endless possibilities for an educator whether at home or in a school setting.

With soft, delicate and persistent punches When Green Becomes Tomatoes won the battle.

Lulu Delacre

when green becomes thunder
and the rain peeks over
at father and lightning, spinning
in wonder through fall
and spring, i’ll lie in the new
grass, read these books again
to my brother, only five.

when words become keepsakes
and children treasure poems,
when pictures, constructed so
carefully, dance the sky,
i thank these artists
for picture books that make
even the oldest of us fly.

Thank you to Ms. Delacre for her beautiful decision and the Battle Commanders for bringing picture books into the fray.

– Kid Commentator RGN

(Side note before I launch in: I will never cease to be impressed with your poetry, RGN.) With the addition of picture books this year (and the return of poetry), I’ve been forced to pay more attention to the artistry of books. Beyond front covers, many books are (obviously) centered around writing. I’ve been having some emotional moments with the books this year, and When Green Becomes Tomatoes contributed to them. There’s something about its simplicity that makes it endearing, and I am so grateful that Ms. Delacore chose it over Thunder Boy Jr. Even though Thunder is probably the one I’m going to read to the kids in my life (it’s funnier, and my sister loves it), the truly beautiful and delightful Tomatoes remains sophisticated and enjoyable for readers of all ages. I could go on and on about it (there were some really brilliant moments––I suggest April 27, July 28, August 3, September 10, and September 22 especially), but I think it’s enough to say that I smile every time I think of it.

– Kid Commentator NS

Battle Commander (gravatar)



  1. Lucia Dirrig says

    Great battle and I love both books, but Thunder Boy Jr. was the winner for me. Green was lovely and some of the verbal imagery, such as “each tweet poking a tiny hole through the edge of winter” was as delightful a phrase as I’ve ever read. On the other hand, the entry about sniffing the lilacs felt flat among the more inspired concepts. So Green was a little uneven for me while Thunder was a tour de force that built the journey from beginning to end.

  2. Kid Judge Kid Judge says

    My winner would be When Green Becomes Tomatoes because it is rich, beautiful, and tender. (Fantasy BoB Kid Judge Sofia O)

  3. I’m voting for When Green Becomes Tomatoes because it was about the seasons. I liked the way it had the exact dates and I liked looking for dates that are important to me. I was hoping to find my birthday, but I didn’t. My friend found her birthday and I was surprised there wasn’t one for Christmas.

    Leif (9)

  4. I’m happy about this decision. When Green Becomes Tomatoes worked its way into my heart. Thunder Boy Jr. I know is a good book, and I know lots of people love it, but didn’t really do it for me.

  5. Both books were overlooked this awards season (which is shocking and disappointing), but for me, Tomatoes, pound for pound, was the best book written last year. Great choice.

  6. WHEN GREEN BECOMES TOMATOES was one of my personal favorites from last year, so I’m very excited to see this move on! I especially appreciated seeing Delacre quote the August 3 entry about the ocean, my personal favorite from the book.

    While I enjoyed THUNDER BOY JR. and found it wonderfully unique, I didn’t quite see the brilliance that many others have spoken of.

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