27 March 2010

Catching up with BoB

As I've already mentioned, vacation is well and truly over, and it's time to get down to business. Top of my agenda was catching up with School Library Journal's Battle of the Kids' Books, and this afternoon I devoted a chunk of time to the job. I had 8 first round and 2 second round matches to digest, and what fun reading it made! Handbags were at the ready as some favorites toppled early: fan favorite Marcello in the Real World, Newbery Winner When You Reach Me, and Claudette Colvin in a National Book Award rematch with Charles and Emma (my fave)--all gone. I'm so glad I didn't give in to March Madness and try to fill any brackets, because judging by the considerable amount of hand wringing in the comments following each round--no one's doing very well in terms of prediction. I've got nothing at stake and am free to be amazed and amused.

A couple of observations: I was surprised by the number of instances where a book was eliminated either because of an admitted bias on the part of the judges (Julius Lester doesn't like time-travel stories, so When You Reach Me was disadvantaged there,) or because of content (both Nancy Farmer and Helen Frost objected to mature themes finding their way into the hands of young readers.) I found such open criticism by authors of authors strange and unexpected. I guess I thought of authors as one big mutual appreciation society, but I guess they can be swayed by tastes and opinions as easily as....well....I can.

On the flip side, there were some absolutely eloquent, nearly scholarly analysis on the part of some judges. Both Gary Schmidt and M.T. Anderson delivered lengthy, constructive, and downright thrilling reviews which not only analyzed and compared their assigned books, but displayed admiration for the craft of their fellow writers and enthralled this humble(d) reader. I got the impression that it really pained Schmidt to choose one book over the other; his multiple use of the word "dang" made that perfectly clear! And while Anderson did not seem to suffer any qualms about his selection, it was not delivered until after the "loser" (seriously though, there are no losers here) was duly praised for all that was wonderful about it. Perhaps Anderson's thorough treatment of the books stems from having been on the other side of the battle last year, and so agonizingly close to victory. Or maybe it's just that he's so damn good, that he couldn't write a shopping list without making it sound entertaining, intelligent, and persuasive.

Okay, putting aside my superlatives and starry-eyed admiration for this competition, I am now caught up and in position to proceed with BoB through the final rounds. Bring it!


Deborah Heiligman said...

I'm not just saying this because he picked Charles and Emma, I swear (and thank you for the lovely comment), but I thought Anderson's critique was so brilliantly done and witty and wonderful. It awed me. The rest, as they say, would be gravy. They don't really say that, but...you know. I'm so impressed with him; I am now his biggest fan!

Kara Schaff Dean said...

I am an unashamed Anderson fan girl, as I have mentioned on this blog on more than one occasion. He had me at "Handel, Who Knew What He Liked".

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