Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Battle of the Books leader board and preview of Matches 3 & 4

Monday morning Judge Jim Murphy's choice of Charles and Emma over Claudette Colvin kicked off the 2010 Battle of the Books. That choice was followed this morning by Nancy Farmer's decision to advance The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate past Fire in match number two.

Before I get into my thoughts on matches three and four, lets look at how the participants in Battle of the Books Bracket contest have faired after two matches.

Fifty 52 people submitted their choices for the contest. Of those fifty two, 19 correctly guessed Jim Murphy's pick. So in the first match the judge's decision reflected the minority opinion. In match two there were a slightly better 23 correct guesses, again the judge went with the minority opinion. After tallying the points (remember you get 1 point for correct guesses in the first round, 2 in the second, 4 in the third, etc) ten contestants share the lead with 2 points (i.e. they managed to correctly pick both titles). Without further ado here are the names/aliases of the ten current leaders:
  • Sam
  • Genevieve
  • AmyC
  • batgirl2004
  • Sandy D.
  • LaughingAlegra
  • grrlpup
  • akalkowski
  • hmlibrarian
  • maggie
There are 22 additional contestants with a single correct guess (1 point) and 20 contestants with zero correct guesses.

While it didn't sound like it was a close call for Nancy Farmer, match two featured the closest voting by the contestants in the bracket challenge. Matches three and four, with identical vote splits, were the next closest. The Frog Scientist was picked to move on by 30 contestants while 22 favored Last Olympian. Lips Touch was favored by 30 contestant while 22 chose The Lost Conspiracy. This half of the bracket actually contained the four closest match ups as the contestants seemed to agree much more in the bottom four matches.

So far the battle judges have not agreed with the bracket contestants will tomorrow's match continue the trend?

Match 3 - Candace Fleming judging The Frog Scientist vs. The Last Olympian

This match features an hugely popular fantasy series and an award winning informational text. On the face of things you would guess conclusion of the Percy Jackson's series might run away with the match, but judge Candace Fleming a supremely talented nonfiction writer might will surely give sufficient time and energy to appreciating the subtle genius of The Frog Scientist.
Fleming's Lincolns biography won a few matches last year against formidable opponents and I am guessing she'll lean towards team nonfiction with her pick.

I really enjoyed reading the first couple Percy Jackson books but as the series progressed they seemed more and more derivative. I loved that my proficiency at the mythology categories in Jeopardy! had all of a sudden become much easier, but is tricking middle school students into wanting to learn more about mythology enough to warrant the first book the 21st spot in fuse#8's top 100 children's novels poll?

For me the final Percy Jackson book is the weakest of the series. I felt like Riordan had set up so many plot lines in books 1-4 and book 5 served mostly as an exercise in satisfying all of those plots and loose ends. The plotting became so functional there was almost no room for the character's to breath. Everything in The Last Olympian so obvious and overdue, it stopped being interesting. When a page turner doesn't compel you to turn the page, what exactly is it?

In my opinion The Frog Scientist is the best nonfiction title of the year. I have never been so excited reading a science book as I was reading Pamela Turner's story of a scientist and his experiments into the mysterious disappearance of frog populations. I loved how the book places proper focus on the experimental design and how real laboratory research works. After reading The Frog Scientist I immediately started telling my middle school science teacher friends that this is a must own title for their classrooms. Whether they teach biology or not, the emphasis on the scientific method makes this a universally useful text for science teachers who want to show their students how science really works. I found the book to be nearly flawless. The only issue I have was the hideously ugly capital 'e's in the books type face. Not only were they ugly, they were distracting! Every time a sentence started with an E, I was pulled out off the text. Why choose a distracting font? That said, the book's only flaw is a single letter in it's typeface and I'm sure Judge Fleming will see past this small design error and see The Frog Scientist as the winner it is.

I only hope she didn't spend too much time weighing her decision, I'm still hoping she's putting some of her time into another Muncha! Muncha! Muncha! sequel. Seriously these are great books, my students LOVE them and G. Brian Karas needs another platform to earn that long deserved Caldecott Medal.

In case your wondering of the 10 contestants batting 100%, five choose The Frog Scientist and five choose The Last Olympian. It should also be pointed out that no contestants had either the Frog Scientist or The Last Olympian as the eventual champion, though three think The Last Olympian will be the zombie book (well if the same kids who voted in fuse#8's poll found the link to the BoB undead poll that might actually happen).

Match 4 - Helen Frost judging Lips Touch v. The Lost Conspiracy

Poet extrodinaire Helen Frost's matchup pits the second best book of 2009 against the ugliest cover since the mass market paperback of The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle. Why Scopesnotes hasn't featured Lips Touch in his an Unfortunate Covers feature is beyond me. Sometimes people say that "if you don't have anything nice to say don't say anything at all," well I've never subscribed to that truism, I say if you don't point out flaws they are doomed to be repeated.

I have read 15 of the contending titles but I haven't read Lips Touch nor do I plan to, so I cannot comment on the text itself. I did skim through it in December while I waited for the incredible staff at the worlds greatest independent children's bookstore to do my holiday gift wrapping for me. I almost got through a page but was not compelled to go any further. Since I have nothing to say about the contents of Lips Touch you can go to the read some lavish praise being given to this title, which certainly does have its share of fans (the majority of the contestants in the contest actually) you can read Jonathan Hunt's praise for the book on the Heavy Medal Blog.

The Lost Conspiracy on the other hand I could write about all day long. With its immaculate world creation, impeccable plotting, inspiring prose and incomparable characters, Frances Hardinge's novel shocked me page after page. I picked up a copy of The Lost Conspiracy with some trepidation as I usually don't go for super long fantasy novels, but Fuse#8's review was so enthusiastic I wiled myself to start it. Ten pages in I knew there was no way I was going to stop reading for anything other than food, sleep, and work (thank goodness for SSR - 20 minutes a day were I get paid for pleasure reading!).

Now I know there are lots of page turners that we cannot put down and that isn't always a feature of a book that marks it for particular distinction (Hunger Games, Potter, the first couple Percy Jackson titles, etc) Roger Sutton wrote about this sometime last year but I don't have the energy to find the link. I think The Lost Conspiracy is more than a gripping yarn, more than an exciting adventure with compelling character. The Lost Conspiracy has all the markings of a classic. I love that its a self contained story; 676 pages but self contained none the less.

I really hope that Judge Frost makes the right decision here nothing would make me happier than seeing The Lost Conspiracy and When You Reach Me face off in the finals. Since none of Frost's books have ever disappointed me I don't expect her decision to do so either!

Surprisingly the contestants at the top of the leader board also split evenly on match 4. Interestingly enough 4 of the 5 leaders who choose The Last Olympian also choose The Lost Conspiracy, while 4 of the 5 who chose The Frog Scientist also choose Lips Touch.

Five people think Lips Touch will emerge as the champion and four believe Judge Paterson will crown The Lost Conspiracy the winner. Lips Touch has two who believe it might be the zombie while The Lost Conspiracy has 4.

Well that's all for tonight. Check back after the completion of the next two matches for an updated leader board as well as some comments on matches five and six. (Can you guess which of these had the most lopsided split?)

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