Wednesday, April 15, 2009

SLJ BoB: Mark Twain Takes Down the Graveyard

If I had my list of predictions for SLJ's Battle of the Books, I may be saying right now, "yeah, I called it." Except I don't. So I will leave that type of post till later.

If there weren't any upsets, this wouldn't be any fun. The Trouble Begins at 8: A Life of Mark Twain in the Wild, Wild West takes down The Graveyard Book! Heck, the only award The Graveyard Book didn't win was "Most Likely to lose in the first round of SLJ's BoB." Yet here it is, losing, in one of the big upsets of this Battle.

Judge Jon Scieszka's decision veers briefly into what I consider dangerous territory when discussing a non-fiction book: discussing the things that can be found in any reference source or non-fiction book, rather than the literary merits of the book itself. But Scieszka then talks about this book, this author, this achievement, rather than cool things you can learn about Mark Twain.

Scieszka doesn't give an easy one-liner on what he used to judge this; but he points out that not every kid loves fantasy, inferring that when judging between two different books, you shouldn't consider the "popularity" of one genre over the other and you should remember those readers whose preferences are different.

Yet, there is a bigger question... Scieszka concludes that The Trouble Begins at 8 is "a thoughtful, funny, scholarly piece of writing", worthy of winning (and does indeed defeat Neil Gaiman, who I'm sure will get over the loss). If we use "scholarly" as part of a universal standard of judging, will non-fiction (or historical fiction) or other books that somehow have a "scholarly" component always trump other books? This interesting bias for non-fiction continues with Official Commentator Jonathan Hunt's glee at another non-fiction book making this first cut.

© Elizabeth Burns of A Chair, A Fireplace & A Tea Cozy


Anonymous said...


I'm not sure I understand your nonfiction bias comment. There's no way I would have picked THE TROUBLE BEGINS AT 8 over THE GRAVEYARD BOOK, but I do appreciate the discussion Jon's decision has caused. Rachel's decision was a hard one for me. I'm not sure which one I personally would have chosen, but I wouldn't have described my reaction as a gleeful one, but, well . . . okay.


Liz B said...

Part of what it fun here is seeing the personal bias of each judge -- and trying to guess not what we think of a book, but what that judge will think. The assortment of standards leads to interesting decisions & match ups. My own list of "who wins" is more about second guessing the judges than anything else.

I read your "team nonfiction conspiracy" comments on the posts (this one and others) as meaning you are championing nonfiction, in general.

Battle Commanders said...


Oh, okay. Yes I am championing nonfiction in general. I mean we included four nonfiction titles to begin with (although most of them are also doing double duty as juvenile books and/or underappreciated books, too). But then when Scieszka picked TROUBLE, I just ran with that theme.

It is interesting to see all the different multiple measures that authors are using to determine which book should advance. It is interesting to note that none of the authors have played the But-Kids-Won't-Read-This card yet.