Wednesday, March 23, 2011

SLJ's Battle of the Kids' Books Contest Leader Board and (partial) Round Two Preview

So eight matches completed and lots of surprises. Compared to last year’s, the judges’ decisions tended to match the majority of contestants’ guesses more often this year. Here's a look at the point totals for all the contestants. Remember first round matches were worth one point each. Round 2 matches are worth two points, so it's still anyone's game.

Leader Board

1. Paige Y. - 7

2. grrlpup - 6

2. desirous of everything - 6

2. delzey - 6

2. The Brain Lair - 6

6. jpetroroy - 5

6. Nancy W - 5

6. Hannah - 5

6. Alys - 5

6. nico - 5

6. Amanda - 5

6. AL - 5

6. Cecilia - 5

6. Mr. H - 5

6. Ceane Willis - 5

6. bsx - 5

6. LibraryLady - 5

6. Bigfoot - 5

19. goddessothestax - 4

19. mmmarci - 4

19. steven - 4

19. rewrite - 4

19. Villis - 4

19. R___ G____ - 4

19. c18gi - 4

19. maggie - 4

19. Mark Flowers - 4

19. katz library - 4

19. Sam Bloom - 4

19. Erin B - 4

19. Chris - 4

19. Rachel - 4

33. Erin FB - 3

33. alybee - 3

33. DaNae Leu - 3

33. Julia - 3

33. rgn - 3

33. Sondy - 3

33. Becky White - 3

33. Jen B. - 3

33. Doret - 3

42. Travis "Scope Notes" Jonker -2

42. eml59b - 2

42. Kevin D - 2

42. AmyC - 2

46. maryclareog - 1

46. CharsWeb - 1

As you can see Paige is currently in the lead with 7 points. Her one miss was One Crazy Summer, a mistake she and 44 others made when choosing the most decorated book of 2010 over The Odyssey.

The distribution of points looks to be fairly “bell curvy” which is nice. With round increasing in value each round everyone still has a chance. (Last year’s eventual champion only had 4 points after round one so hang in there.

Round Two Preview (part 1)

Match 1 Laura Amy Schlitz judging The Cardturner vs. Countdown

Tomorrow morning marks the beginning of round two with Judge Laura Amy Schlitz deciding between The Cardturner and Countdown. I love both of these books and would be happy to see either move on to the semifinal round. Fifteen contestants thought Countdown would move on from this round and eleven predicted it would be The Cardturner which would prove triumphant. I can't wait to see what goes into Schlitz's decision tomorrow. Will the documentary qualities of Countdown hinder or help its chances? What about Sachar's fantastical resolution to The Cardturner? Will his fellow Newbery Medal recipient find it off putting or enchanting? Does Judge Schlitz play bridge? Is there a secret Newbery Medal winners' club with its own handshake and secret rites which might oblige Schilitz to go with The Cardturner?

Match 2 Naomi Shihab Nye judging The Good, the Bad, and the Barbie vs. Keeper

I am not familiar with Judge Nye's work (please recommend a good starting point!) but according to goodreads, she is both a novelist and a poet. If one was trying to predict the winner of this matchup based on expectations and similarities to the judges own work one would undoubtedly presume that Judge Nye will side with the lyrical prose offered by Applet in Keeper. Twenty-one of the bracket challenge participants thought so as well as they advanced Keeper in their brackets. Five others, however, thought that Nye might go with team nonfiction and pick Stone's The Good, the Bad, and the Barbie. Stranger things have happened. Since Barbie won its last matchup I've been thinking more about the book. Does anyone else have a problem with Stone's use of the accounts quoted and summarized in the book which were apparently emailed to her by the subjects themselves? How acceptable/widespread is this practice when researching contemporary phenomenon? From the descriptions of the subjects provided by Stone, it seemed to me that most subjects were from very similar social situations and/or lines of work. I'm not surprised that a lot of librarians responded to Stone's call for submissions but does this type of open call really reach all the possible social strata which may have been affected by Barbie in one way or another? The other obvious problem with this type of research is how trustworthy the information Stone received this way might be. I am very intersested to hear if anyone else had issues with this while reading Barbie.

I will try to preview the final to matches on round two this weekend. Expect another leader board update at the completion of round two.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

School Library Journal's Battle of the Kids' Books Round One Preview (part 2)

We are 4 matches into this year’s Battle of the Kids’ Books and the excitement and upsets are already in full swing.

So far we’ve seen The Cardturner, Countdown, The Good, the Bad, and the Barbie and Keeper advance into the second round. Below I’ll preview the remaining four more matches in round 1 as well as add some thoughts on the results.

Match 5 Karen Hesse judging The Odyssey vs. One Crazy Summer

Karen Hesse must decide between a book practically every award committee honored in someway and a stunningly beautiful retelling of one of the world’s “the greatest stories.” Good luck Ms. Hesse.

Of the 47 contest participants 96% guessed that Hesse would follow the lead of the National Book Award Committee, the Scott O’Dell Committee, the Coretta Scott King Committee and the Newbery Committee by recognizing One Crazy Summer’s brilliance. I can’t help but wonder if Hesse will throw a wrench into almost everyone’s bracket like when Julius Lester chose against When You Reach Me last year or when Jon Scieszka eliminated The Graveyard Book in the first Battle of the Kids’ Books. With this in mind I would not be surprised to see Hesse go with the underdog selection.

A whopping 29 bracket challengers picked One Crazy Summer to win it’s first three matches and advance to the final match, five more think it will return from the dead and 18 believe the book has what it takes to win the whole contest. Judge Hesse can ruin a bunch of brackets tomorrow morning. She can at the same time make one Gareth Hinds very very happy. So there’s that.

Match 2 Adam Rex judging Sugar Changed the World vs. The Ring of Solomon

Adam Rex is one funny guy. What ever his decision I’m counting on it being delivered in a hilarious manner.

Could these books be any more different? Forget comparing apples and oranges. This one is like comparing artichokes and wildebeests. I’m at a total loss to see how Rex can make his decision. Personally, I was fasinated by what I learned reading Sugar Changed the World but the writing itself did not leave me feeling awestruck in the way I want great nonfiction to hit me (at least not in the way my favorite nonfiction titles We Are the Ship, American Plague, or Story of Mankind impressed me). As for Jonathan Stoud’s Ring of Solomon, I must admit that I haven’t finished it yet. I only just got it from a local library last week and it isn’t what I would call a ‘quick read’ I’ve been forcing myself to read a few chapters every night but so far the story has not become the page turner I want my fantasy fiction to be. Maybe if I was previously familiar with Bartimaeus I would be more interested but so far it’s a meh.

Rex might instantly have sided with the often humorous djinni in which case it might very well advance. The participants in the bracket challenge favored The Ring of Solomon 30 to 17 so I’m guessing Rex picks Sugar Changed the World no sense betting against contrarian judges yet.

Match 3 R.L. Stine judging A Tale Dark and Grimm vs. They Called Themselves the K.K.K.

First off, RL STINE!!!!!!!!! How cool is that! I was in fifth grade when the Goosebumps books swept across the nation and I vividly remember reading them all day long while my fifth grade teachers rattled on about whatever they were attempting to teach. A couple classmates and I would actually have contests where we would all start the same Goosebumps book right as the morning announcements ended and race to see who could finish it first (and not get caught not listening or doing whatever mindless work our teacher expected us to be doing). After lunch we would do it again with another Goosebumps title. We must have read the entire set in the span of a month. [At my most rebellious I was reading in school. Kind of sad actually.]

Anyway back to matchup. Stine gets to judge between to frightening books. One frightening in a humorous way not too unlike Stine’s own sense of humor and one a nonfiction tale that will likely give more real nightmares than all of Stine’s books put together.

For me, A Tale Dark and Grimm started off great and soon got a little hokey. The whole battle with the dragon didn't work for me. It all seemed silly compared to what had come before. To be honest I would have liked it a lot more if it was two or three chapters shorter. They Called Themselves the K.K.K. on the other hand could have been much longer. I was both frightened and fascinated by the information presented and wished it had kept going.

This is the match up that jumped out at me when the judges were revealed and for some reason I felt very strongly that Stine would go with team nonfiction. The fact that two-thirds of the bracketers went with A Tale Dark and Grimm only further cements my hunch that team nonfiction will actually get a win that I can support. (cue Jonathan Hunt's shock.)

Match 4 Mitali Perkins judging Trash vs. Will Grayson, Will Grayson

This match was the closest decision from the bracket challenge participants. Twenty-four people picked Will Grayson, Will Grayson and twenty-three chose Trash. Right away I'll say that Trash is one of my favorite books in this years competition and WG,WG is without a doubt my least favorite. I don't read to much YA because most teenage characters, like most teenagers I'd guess, annoy me to no end. They are usually written to be so self centered, so prone to stupidity, and so prone to romance that I just want to throw the books across the room and pick up a nice middle grade fiction book where the characters problems are external and don't have to involve their "feelings". I find that the YA fiction that I do enjoy feature teens in extraordinary circumstances or involve really smart teens. For example, my favorite recent YA include: Looking for Alaska (wicked smart teens), The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau Banks (wicked smart teens), Octavian Nothing I & II (wicked smart teen in an extraordinary circumstance), Bruiser (extraordinary circumstance), and Skelling (extraordinary circumstance). Reading slice of life tales about ordinary kids (and especially upper class privileged kids) makes me want to vomit.

So while I typically enjoy John Green, WG,WG was for me an excruciatingly painful read. I wanted to quit after chapter two and kept wanting to quit more and more each and every chapter going forward. Trash on the other hand was really freaking awesome. I read the whole thing in one or two sittings and thought it was put together brilliantly. I just wish it were up against Ship Breaker instead of WG,WG.

I'm going to guess that Judge Perkins will go with Will Grayson, Will Grayson because why upset two peers (one with an incredibly loyal online following and the other an important editor) when you can upset one peer instead.

Here's an update on how the contestants are fairing after four matches.

2 participants are a perfect four for four so far.
2 participants are a 0 for four.
16 people got three correct.
20 people got half correct.
7 people are hanging in there with one correct guess.

A full leader board will be posted after the completion of all round one matches.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

School Library Journal's Battle of the Kids' Books Round One Preview (part 1)

A few weeks ago School Library Journal's third annual Battle of the Books kicked off with the announcement of the match ups and judges. Since then 47 people have submitted brackets to the contest I announced in a previous post. Tonight I will show what the participants are thinking for the first 4 matches of round one. As well as make some predictions of my own.

Match 1 Francisco X. Stork judging As Easy as Falling Off the Face of the Earth vs. The Cardturner

Judge Stork has a tough decision ahead of him when deciding between two male centric young adult novels by Newbery winning authors. Since Stork writes male centric young adult novels he should have some great insights.

Of the 47 contest participants 26 bet that Stork would pick The Cardturner. If last year taught me anything it’s that the most of contestants’ guesses are usually wrong. The majority of contestants agreed with the judges decision only one time in the 15 decisions made by judges in the contest (when they overwhelmingly agreed with first round judge Anita Silvey’s decision to advance The Storm in the Barn over Sweethearts of Rhythm).

Will this contrarian trend continue or will Judge Stork go with the author of one of the most popular Newbery winning titles of all time over the author of one of the least popular Newbery winners? (For the record I really, really like Criss Cross and never understood its reception)

Match 2 Dana Reinhardt judging A Conspiracy of Kings vs. Countdown

Two titles that got a lot of Newbery buzz before coming up empty at ALA this winter. Will one of them make a run in the Battle of the Books and get the recognition some feel they were robbed of?

I am not familiar with any of Judge Dana Reinhardt’s so I would attempt to make any sense of her decision process. I just hope somewhere in her decision she mentions A Conspiracy of King’s lack of map. Turner address the issue a while back in a Q&A with Horn Book (or maybe SLJ) but I’m always looking for someone else to back me up on this particular topic.

In another close race he bracket contestants favored Countdown slightly more than A Conspiracy of Kings but 53% to 47% seems like a toss up to me. These are two books I really enjoyed but if I had to pick a favorite I would go make the homer pick and go with fellow Atlantan Deborah Wiles’ Countdown.

Match 3 Barry Lyga judging The Dreamer vs. The Good, the Bad, and the Barbie

I just finished The Good, the Bad and the Barbie this morning. I was happy to see that Stone didn’t inject her “to be ground axe” here like I felt she did in last year’s Almost Astronauts that said, I am probably no where close to the target audience for this one. The only thing that made me smile was the short reference to Todd Haynes’ Superstar: The Karen Carpenter Story a short film I’ve seen a few dozen times including once in a pristine 16mm print with Haynes in attendance. Probably the funniest anorexia stories ever made and my favorite film of the eighties.

The Dreamer on the other had is a magical experience that I can’t wait to experience again. I’m not familiar with Lyga’s work but I have to assume he’s going to go with Ryan’s prose over Stone’s research.

The contest participants picked The Dreamer 27 times and 20 participants went with Barbie so I wouldn’t be too surprised if Lyga continues last year’s trend and picks Stone’s Barbie.

Match 4 Susan Patron judging Hereville: How Mirka Got Her Sword vs. Keeper

Judge Patron (whose upcoming Lucky for Good the finally to her “Hard Pan trilogy” is fantastic by the way) has the task of picking between two very different titles telling not so different stories. On one hand you have Appelt’s Keeper a middle grade fiction title featuring a girl trying to find her place within her family and community. On the other a visually stunning graphic novel about a girl trying to find her place within her family and community.

I enjoyed Hereville until the end when I realized the best part of Mirka’s story is yet to come. Finding a sword is all well and good but I want to see her use it. If Deutsch makes a sequel I’ll be first in line. For me though Hereville felt like only half the story. Keeper on the other hand tells a complete story and Appelt tells it with her trademark lyrical prose. While this one isn't as good as The Underneath it’s still pretty amazing.

Contest participants picked Keeper more than twice as often as Hereville, so I fully expect Patron to choose Hereville: How Mirka Got Her Sword.

So that's the top half of the bracket. I hope to get to the preview of the bottom half of the bracket by Thursday night, hopefully I will finish my last unread title, The Ring of Solomon, by then. Now off to fill in my NCAA brackets. Go 'Cuse!!!!

Friday, March 11, 2011

Last day to enter the BoB Bracket Contest

Today is the final day to make your Battle of the Kids' Books predictions. Round 1 matches start this coming Monday so I need all contest entries by the end of today Friday March 11. To enter the contest simply fill out this google form:

Rules other explanations can be found here:

So far almost 50 brackets have been submitted. If you haven't made your predictions yet be sure to do it today before it's too late.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

School Library Journal's Battle of the Kids' Books 2011 Bracket Challenge

(you can find the link to the bracket contest is at the end of this post)

This is the third year School Library Journal has run a Battle of the Kids' Books. Back in 2009 final round judge Lois Lowery chose The Hunger Games over M.T. Anderson's The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing, Traitor to the Nation, Vol. II The Kingdom on the Waves. Last year final round judge Katherine Paterson choose Elizabeth Partridge's Marching to Freedom over Frances Hardinge's The Lost Conspiracy and Pamela S. Turner's The Frog Scientist. What will 2011 bring? Well today the judges for this year's contest were finally announced (titles were announced back in January) so we can start making some guesses (intelligent or otherwise).

Like last year I am running a bracket contest similar to the NCAA basketball bracket you fill out during March Madness. The rules are simple. Each contestant picks the winner of each round and receives points for correct guesses. First round matches are worth 1 point each, second round matches are worth 2 points each, third round matches are worth 4 points, and correctly guessing the winner earns you 8 points. You can also earn 5 points by guessing which book will return from the dead via the undead poll (which is open now and closes March 6). A perfect bracket can earn a total of 37 points.

Last year's Battle of the Books proved to be incredibly unpredictable as none of the 52 participants correctly predicted the winning book. Our eventual winner did however manage to earn 16 points.

Since the Battle of the Kids' Books matches will not begin until March 14, there is still plenty of time to get a hold of and read the books you haven't read. The bracket challenge will open today with the publication of this post and end on March 11 in order to give me time to check through each participant's bracket for errors and contact any participants if they need to make changes.

Bracket Challenge entry is free and there is no prize other than prideg. (unless of course someone out there wants to sponsor a prize in which case please email me!)

To enter simply fill out the googleform via the link below. You will be asked to enter your email address so that in the event of an error in your bracket (for example selecting a winner in a latter round match which you've already eliminated) I can contact you and get your true choice.

Unfortunately I am not nearly computer savvy enough to make the form resemble the actual bracket so I recommend printing the pdf from the official SLJ Battle of the Kids' Books website, filling it out, and then answering the form questions with your printed out bracket in hand.

At the end of each round of matches I will tally up the points and post the top scores. I will also post some round by round match up analysis and summary as once the battle begins so check back often.

To enter the contest click on the link below and answer each question. Please feel free to share the link with anyone who may also be interested in participating.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

2010 Cybils Awards Winners

This year I had the honor to be one of the second round judges in the Easy Readers/Early Chapter Books category for the Cybils. Not only did we get to read and discuss some amazing books, but because our category is really two-in-one, we got to pick two winners!

Easy Readers

I cannot tell you how thrilled I am that Mo Willems' We Are in a Book is bringing home the Cybil this year to go along with the truck load of awards it has already received. This book is my students hands down favorite book in the classroom and mine too. Mo Willems posted the following image of Piggie and Gerald celebrating their Cybil win on his blog.

Gerald's reaction is pretty much the same one I had when we came to our final decision.

(Looking for more Elephant and Piggie greatness? I Broke My Trunk was released just a few weeks ago and once again Mo has not disappointed. Run, don't walk to your local independent bookstore and pick up a copy.)

Early Chapter Books

I am equally happy to see Jacqueline Jules's Zapato Power: Freddie Ramos Takes Off win the award for early chapter books. It's a truly fantastic book that I've been pushing onto my colleagues and peers for months and everyone of them has come back to thank me. Anyone who works with first or second grade students needs to pick up a copy of this one and start putting it into the hands of your young readers. I promise you they will love it!

(the third Zapato Power book is due out March 1 of this year you should probably call your bookstore and order it)

The rest of the fantastic winners:

Fiction Picture Books: David Ezra Stein's Interrupting Chicken
I read this one to my class and after it one it Caldecott Honor and they really enjoyed it. Since then I've noticed a few less interrupting chickens during read alouds.

Graphic Novels: Meanwhile by Jason Shiga
I picked this one up last spring when it was released and loved the concept but I just don't have the patience to make very much progress through the insanely complex (in a good way) story. Maybe it's because I like vanilla so much more than chocolate.

Middle Grade Fiction: The Strange Case of Origami Yoda by Tom Angleberger
I was ecstatic to see this one get the win. Certainly the kids' pick for best middle grade fiction of the year. Its a fantastic book for reluctant readers and rabid readers alike. I for one can't wait to the upcoming sequel.

Poetry: Mirror Mirror by Marilyn Singer
Like Shiga's Meanwhile one has to admire the shear originality and brilliant execution to pull off such a unique work. Creating a whole new type of poetry cannot have been easy.

Nonfiction Picture Books: The Extraordinary Life of Mark Twain (Accorind to Susy) by Barbara Kerley
If I was blogging three years ago Kerley's 2007 middle grade novel Greetings From Planet Earth
would have been my top pick for most over looked novel of the year. I'm still waiting to get this picture book from my local library but I am eager to read it.

Check out the Cybils website for a the complete list of winners including the young adult winners that I haven't read yet.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

5 Notably Overlooked Books from 2010

One month into 2011 and my thoughts are already on this year's batch of excellent books. Major awards have been awarded, the Battle of the Kids' Books roster has been announced and we're just a few days away from the announcement of the CYBILS winners.

I'd like to take a moment to look back at some of my favorite 2010 titles I thought deserved mounds of praises but seemed to be overlooked in year end lists and by award committees.

Bruiser by Neal Shusterman

This was by far the best young adult novel I read this year. I enjoyed Shusterman's The Schwa was Here but this titles absolutely floored me. I thought Shusterman did an absolutely fantastic job juggling the multiple narrators. The characters and their motives all seemed so realistic that the fantastical elements that come out and shock you about 25% of the way through the novel hit that much harder. I'm not one for too much narrative summary in a review or recommendation and for this title I'll simply say that you're in for quite a big shock and it's not one that is likely to go away after finishing the book.

Can I Play Too? (An Elephant and Piggie Book) by Mo Willems

2010 was a huge year for Mr. Willems. Both City Dog, Country Frog (with illustrations from Jon Multh) and We Are In a Book! are destined to become classics. The later earned a Geisel Honor and the former was robbed of both the Caldecott and Newbery. Willems also completed his "Knuffle Bunny Trilogy" with Knuffle Bunny Free. With all the justifiable praise heaped on these three titles it seems like Can I Play Too? managed to fall through the cracks. I am not going to claim that this installment of the incredible Elephant and Piggie series is stronger than We Are In a Book! but I do think it might be the second or third best of the E&P books, which is saying quite a lot.
In this installment a small green snake hopes to join Gerald and Piggie as they play catch.
Unfortunately, the snake (like most snakes) lack the appendages essential to the game. After a ton of bonks on the head and a blizzard of falling balls, Gerald and Piggie figure out a delightful way of getting the snake into the game.
When I saw this title last summer I thought Willems had topped himself once and once again locked up the Geisel. Little did I know he would surpass this jewel of a book just a few months later. Nevertheless you don't want to miss this fantastic addition to the best early reader series since Frog and Toad. (Also next week sees the release of the next installment in the series: I Broke My Trunk )

13 Words by Lemony Snicket with illustrations by Maira Kalman

I have a confession to make. I'm not a fan of Snicket's Unfortunate Events series. I read The Bad Beginning recently and just could not work up the enthusiasm to read the next 12 books. It's not that I thought the book was bad, it just wasn't my cup of tea. I do, however, enjoy Snicket's The Composer is Dead and share it with my second graders every year.
Last week I received a review copy of 13 Words in the mail and gave it a quick read. I found myself laughing out loud. The next day I read it to my class and they too were in hysterics (even the boys, not sure that's scientifically possible so let's just say the boys were laughing a lot too). I love the concept of lampooning the idea that vocabulary learning can be done consciously. My students are almost all English language learners and are constantly encountering new words. During the their first two years of school they were most likely presented with words and corresponding pictures in a systematic/artificial manner and told to understand and remember the words. While this type of explicit instruction does not take place in my classroom my students are familiar enough with the method to take particular joy in the examples Snicket provides here. The biggest laugh of the book occurred on the eleventh word: baby. Kalman's wonderful painting of the infantile haberdashery owner sent my students over the edge.

Agent Q, or The Smell of Danger! by MT Anderson
The Ghostwriter Secret by Mac Barnett

Agent Q, or The Smell of Danger! is the fourth installment of the Pals in Peril (nee Thrilling Tales) series by MT Anderson. The Ghostwriter Secret is the second book in Mac Barnett's Brixton Brothers series. I've lumped these two titles together because they appeal to a similar type of funny bone which I happen to possess and clearly award committee members do not.
There was a three year gap between the Anderson's Case of the Linoleum Lederhosen (the second adventure of Jasper, Kate and Lily) and 2009's Jasper Dash and the Flame Pits of Delaware so I was surprised to see the fourth installment appear on the shelf so quickly. Agent Q might be the weakest of the four novels but that does not make any less brilliant. Anderson continues his story immediately following the events in Jasper Dash and the Flame Pits of Delaware and the reader gets the privilege of spending another novel in the strangest state in the union. (Note: between reading Jasper Dash and Agent Q I had the chance to spend a night in Delaware. I was extremely disappointed, not a single catapult or dinosaur was spotted.)
As we've come to expect with this series, Angent Q is pure adventure. We get great chase sequences, absurd villains, convoluted plotting and footnotes from the best footnote writer in the business. What's not to love?

The Ghostwriter Secret benefits greatly from being a the second in the series. Without having to spend too much time setting up the characters' back stories, action gets underway quickly and does not let up. The plot is full of enough u turns and double backs to keep you guessing the whole way. One of the things I like best about the Brixton Brothers series is the realness of the violence. There is a real sense of danger to Steve and his friend Dana's situations. Knowing that Barnett is willing to seriously hurt, kill or maim Steve or Dana sets this series apart from the cartoon violence of most middle grade adventure titles. Just check out the bullets on the cover just missing the kids! I'm not sure who the audience for this book is since so many of the jokes seem to be aimed at adult readers, but I'm not complaining.

Well those are some of my favorite but overlooked books from 2010. What are some of yours?