I know, I know, I promised to post about School Library Journal’s Battle of the Books (which will henceforth be referred to by the bizarre acronym BoB). If you don’t know what this is, it’s March Madness for kid’s lit. Everyone seems to have some sort of bracket in March these days. I turned on the oldies station on the radio the other day and even they have some ridiculous bracket type competition where people call in and vote whether they like Michael Jackson or Paul McCartney better. That one seems more bizarre than most. But SLJ’s BoB bracket includes some great kid lit, including a lot of librarian favorites that were bypassed by the formal awards(Printz, Newbery, etc.). Matches are random and judged by a variety of distinguished kid lit authors. What’s not to love?
I just have one simple problem: I haven’t read all of the books. In fact, I’ve read only 9 out of the original 16. And of the next 8, I will have only read 4. It’s not for lack of trying! For instance, I have The Lost Conspiracy by Frances Hardinge in my bag right now (winner of Match 4). I just haven’t cracked the spine yet. (That’s because I’m dog/housesitting and one of the daughters has the entire Gossip Girl series. Which means I have to read one just to know what the writing is really like, since I’ve maligned the books for years without actually having read one. More on that in a day or two.) So what’s a girl to do? How am I to judge what the judges say if I haven’t even read the books?
Today’s match, The Storm in the Barn by Matt Phelan vs. Sweethearts of Rhythm. I read the second book, a collaboration between the poet Marilyn Nelson and the illustrator Jerry Pinkney. Nelson imagines, through poetry, what the instruments played by a real integrated, all-girl swing band during WWII would have to say, years after they have been given away or given up by these girls. Now, I won’t sit here and re-hash the comments made by Judge Anita Silvey, because she’s totally right! There is something truly confusing about the creative non-fiction Nelson and Pinkney have given us here. I do, however, really love Pinkney’s artwork because you can feel the rhythm of the music in it, coming right off the page. The cover (below) gives some idea, though it doesn’t include some of the more abstract elements found in the other illustrations:
I want poster-sized versions of the other art for my wall. But that doesn’t make it a great book. Then there’s my own trouble with Nelson’s poetry–I know, that’s not a popular opinion. There’s just something about her word choice that doesn’t ring true for me. Anyway, the point of all of this is to say that here, even though I haven’t read The Storm in the Barn (on my shelf!), I can agree with this decision. Of course, The Storm in the Barn could be flawed as well–I’ve just heard so many good things I can’t imagine having a major problem with the book as I did with it’s opponent. The problem arises when I love one book but haven’t read the other. I feel like, for the most part, if I haven’t read the books, I can’t really have anything to add. This attitude would be why I am going to drag myself through Gossip Girl, despite the fact that I have heard in detail about the books and their various flaws.
Fortunately, tomorrow’s match, Tales from Outer Suburbia vs. When You Reach Me, is a great match-up of books I’ve already read. I’m rooting for the latter! Check back with me tomorrow to see what I think about Judge Julius Lester’s decision. He and I have already had some interesting disagreements on this very blog.