I’ve been following SLJ’s Battle of the Books with great enthusiasm this year. I didn’t finish reading all of the books, but I did at least start all of them, and I have enjoyed picking winners for each Round and reading the judges’ decisions. Round 1 is finished, and Round 2 has begun. These would have been my picks for each of the battles in Round 1 (actual winner in Bold; my winner in Italics)
Match 1 – March 12 Bomb vs Wonder
Match 2 – March 13 Code Name Verity vs Titanic
Match 3 – March 14 Endangered vs Three Times Lucky
Match 4 – March 15 The Fault in Our Stars vs Temple Grandin
Match 5 – March 18 Jepp Who Defied the Stars vs Starry River of the Sky
Match 6 – March 19 Liar & Spy vs Splendors and Glooms
Match 7 – March 20 Moonbird vs Seraphina
Match 8 – March 21 No Crystal Stair vs The One and Only Ivan
So my choice matched the judge’s choice exactly 50% of the time. The only outcome that really surprised me, however, was the final match. Moonbird and Temple Grandin, in my opinion, are much stronger nonfiction contenders than No Crystal Stair.
The judges in general spend far too much time handwringing over the difficulty of choosing between two such wonderful/dissimilar books. Since that’s kind of the point of the whole competition, there’s really no reason to do more than perhaps note it in passing. I enjoyed judge Adam Gidwitz’s commentary on the match between Jepp and Starry River the most, though he does go on (and on and on–but in a delightful way). He engages productively with the question of how we determine which of two books is actually better and identifies categories to compare the two books. In the end, he makes exactly the decision I would make for exactly the same reasons. That’s always fun.
The decision that surprised me the most was Catherine Gilbert Murdock’s between No Crystal Stair and The One and Only Ivan. I think it’s perfectly reasonable in such a contest for the judgment to come down, in the end, to which book delighted the reader more. I did not find No Crystal Stair delightful, and I think I could find a lot of textual evidence to argue against Murdock’s claim that the voices in the story are “awed, angry, excited… each one engaging and believable.” I am not really a big fan of Ivan (sorry, Internet), and I agree with Murdock that it’s “a teensy bit precious.” But I still would have chosen Ivan because, for me, it was the more delightful read.
Now on to Round 2.