Place your bets. Sixteen of 2013’s best books for young people are being paired off to engage in a series of one-on-one contests, March-Madness-style. This online elimination competition will pit the year’s most acclaimed titles for children and young adults against one another in matches to be decided by some of the biggest authors working in the field. Now in its sixth year, School Library Journal’s Battle of the Kids’ Books—BOB for short—brings together kid-lit fans from classrooms, libraries, and publishing houses across the country to debate each book’s literary merits, design, and overall appeal.
The panel of judges will decide the contenders’ fates in a winner-take-all tournament. The authors read two books, and after close analysis, determine which title advances to the next round. It’s no easy task. These judges must assess a range of works: nonfiction and fiction, children’s and teen novels, historical fiction and contemporary titles, sometimes having to decide a “winner” among books of different genres. Past judges have included three national ambassadors for young people’s literature: Jon Scieszka, Katherine Paterson, and Walter Dean Myers; Newbery Award-winners Lois Lowry and Laura Amy Schlitz; and New York Times bestsellers James Patterson and Marie Lu.
This year’s battle officially launches Monday, March 11, 2014, with the 16 contenders having been revealed on January 15 on the BOB blog. The identities of the judges will be unveiled starting on Wednesday, February 5, along with a downloadable PDF of the brackets to keep track of which favorite meets its doom or rises to the top. On Wednesday, April 2, the grand prize winner will be announced.
Fans can take part in the action by voting in the virtual BOB Undead Poll, in which they have the opportunity to bring back eliminated darlings. It opens February 26 and closes Sunday, March 9, the day before the first match. If a book is defeated early, it has a chance to rise from the ashes in the last round. The “Big Kahuna,” the last judge, will choose the grand prize winner from among the Undead Poll champion and the last two books left standing.
BOB is the brainchild of Monica Edinger and Roxanne Feldman, educators at the Dalton School in New York City, and Jonathan Hunt, the county schools librarian at the San Diego County Office of Education. Inspired by The Morning News’s Tournament of Books, SLJ’s BOB launched in 2009 as a fun and engaging way to celebrate children’s books. The BOB team chooses among titles for middle and high school readers to determine the BOB contenders and corresponding brackets. Then, the competitors are assigned a judge by SLJ editors.
Ramping up the fun are whimsical illustrations created by SLJ’s director of art and production, Mark Tuchman, that subtly play on each title’s plotline.
And the best part of BOB? The way students, bloggers, and kid-lit aficionados get involved from the sidelines. The “Peanut Gallery,” a weekly blog post, features comments and social-media messages from kids, librarians, and other fans. Last year, in rural Pollok, Texas, 423 high school students closely watched and predicted each round’s winners under the direction of Donna Steel Cook, district library director and high school teacher-librarian at Pollok’s Central High School, as part of a program to support reading. Even publishing professionals join in the daily debates about each battle outcome. At Penguin Young Readers, a trophy of goodies awaited the staffer who correctly guessed the most accurate outcomes in 2013’s BOB. In a tradition that began five years ago, 20 of the publisher’s staffers pooled together bags of candy to help fuel the in-house competition.
The 2013 Big Kahuna, Frank Cottrell Boyce, had to decide among three acclaimed titles: John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars (Dutton), Elizabeth Wein’s Code Name Verity (Hyperion/Disney), and Vaunda Micheaux Nelson’s No Crystal Stair (Lerner, all 2012), with Nelson’s biographical documentary novel about Lewis Michaux taking the crown. This year’s finalists include National Book Award-winner Cynthia Kadohata’s The Thing About Luck (Simon & Schuster), Boston Globe-Horn Book Award-winner Rainbow Rowell’s Eleanor & Park (St. Martin’s), and Flora & Ulysses (Candlewick, all 2013) by the newly appointed national ambassador of children’s literature, Kate DiCamillo. From this esteemed group of candidates, which book will grace the winner’s circle? Stay tuned.