Monday, March 10, 2014

March Madness for Kids' Book Fans

The battle is on: the Battle of the Kids’ Books, that is. Today was the first official day of this year’s battle, which pits two hand-chosen children’s books – often of very different types – against each other in the literary equivalent of a bracket. Then a judge, always a well-known children’s author, must choose one book over the other, and give their reasons. 

Today, for example, author Vaunda Micheaux Nelson faced a choice between a non-fiction book, “The Animal Book” by Steve Jenkins and a teen novel by Julie Berry, “All The Truth That’s In Me.” It’s an oranges vs. apples choice – the books are just that different. But that’s exactly what makes the Battle of the Kids’ Books so fun. (And, no, I won’t tell you which one she chose; you need to read her wonderful essay. Something you do need to know is that Nelson’s book, “No Crystal Stair,” was the winner of the 2013 Battle of the Kids’ Books).

This is the sixth year of the Battle of the Kids’ Books, which is sponsored by School Library Journal and was the brainchild of Monica Edinger, a fourth grade teacher at The Dalton School in New York City, Roxanne Feldman, Dalton’s middle school librarian, and Jonathan Hunt, the county schools librarian at the San Diego County Office of Education. All three -- they're called Battle Commanders during March Madness -- have served on Newbery Medal committees and are supremely knowledgeable about kids’ books. All three also have great blogs. Edinger blogs at educating alice, Feldman’s blog is Fairrosa CyberLibrary, and Hunt teams with Oakland, California librarian Nina Lindsay on the Heavy Medal blog, which looks at Newbery Medal possibilities from October through January. Back when I was still working for Scripps Howard News Service, I wrote an article about how the Battle of the Kids’ Books came to be.

As always, the books listed in the brackets are some of the best books out there for kids, and you can’t go wrong with any of them. Then there are the judges, who are kids’ book authors themselves. It’s not surprising that their essays explaining why they are choosing one book over another are models of how to write an elegant, and persuasive, defense. The “Big Kahuna,” or final round, will be judged by Newbery Honor author (and “Babymouse” graphic novel series creator) Jennifer Holm. There’s also an “Undead” element to the contest, in which a book that was eliminated earlier is resurrected for the final round, to go head to head with the two finalist. And there's even a Peanut Gallery, where you can read a round-up of what people around the Internet are saying about the Battle of the Kids' Books. 

All in all, it’s a great way to get kids reading some wonderful books and have some fun while they do it. So, have some fun yourself with this literary brand of March Madness! (And for some extra entertainment, check out this video, which is two years old but gives an overview of the whole process with great humor). As for me, I’m spreading my bets on any one of a trio of books to win: “Flora & Ulysses,” the 2014 Newbery Medal winner, by Kate DiCamillo (pitted against “Far, Far Away” by Tom McNeal); “The Thing About Luck,” this year’s winner of the National Book Award for Young People’s Literature, by Newbery Medalist Cynthia Kadohata (pitted against "Rose Under Fire" by Elizabeth Wein); and “The Animal Book” by Steve Jenkins. Let the games begin!

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