While crowd favorite Rainbow Rowell’s Eleanor & Park (St. Martin’s Griffin) swept the Undead Poll, it was Gene Luen Yang’s innovative graphic novel Boxers & Saints (First Second) on Chinese history that survived to be the winner of SLJ‘s 2014 Battle of the Kids’ Books.
The three-week elimination contest officially began March 11, pitting some of 2013’s best children’s and young adult titles against one another in March Madness–type matches decided upon acclaimed and popular authors writing for young audiences. Before the first round, kid lit fans had the opportunity to vote for their favorite title in an Undead Poll. Eleanor & Park was revealed as the winner of the poll on March 31, garnering a hefty 25.5 percent of the final vote. Coming in second was Elizabeth Wein’s Rose Under Fire (Hyperion), with Holly Black’s Doll Bones (S. & S.) rounding out at third.
After besting Jaclyn Moriarty’s A Corner of White (Scholastic) in Round 1, Steve Jenkins’s The Animal Book (Houghton Harcourt) in Round 2, and Tom McNeal’s Far Far Away (Knopf) in Round 3, the historical fiction title competed against YA novel Eleanor & Park and Rita Williams-Garcia’s middle-grade book P.S. Be Eleven (S. & S.). All three books had several similarities—including being set in the past and having a cast of diverse characters—enough so that Jenni Holm, who was tasked as the “Big Kahuna,” or final judge, described them as siblings in a very talented family. The Newbery Honor–winning author, also known for her popular graphic novel series, “Babymouse” (Random), said in her decision, “Right now, I’m feeling a little bit like a mom with a bunch of talented kids who are all asking me who I love the most.”
In her defense of the winning book, Holm added:
The totality of the experience left me thinking for days after I finished reading. It sent me madly googling “Boxer Rebellion” to learn more. And isn’t that the true test of a book? Boxers & Saints is something that will be looked back on years from now with people saying, “How did this ever get made?” Because I am still asking myself the same thing. It is a once-in-a-lifetime sort of project. A Sistine Chapel of comics and story and historical fiction. It is what we should all aspire to create. You know, like Neil Gaiman says: “Make good art.” My friends: This is great art.
In response to his book’s victory, Yang shared with SLJ, “It is an absolute honor to be recognized by School Library Journal and my fellow writers! 2013 was filled with so many wonderful books for children and young adults, I was thrilled just to be included in the Battle of the Books.”
Educator Kelly Metzger shared her reaction to the Boxers & Saints win and Holm’s deliberation on the SLJ Battle of the Kids’ Books blog:
Fans can still comment on the results of each round over at our Battle of the Kid’s Books blog, download the illustrated brackets from the contest, and download the high-resolution versions (suitable for printing and display) of the original artwork, created by SLJ art director Mark Tuchman. For more ideas on how to set up a Mock-BoB, take a look at these tips curated by the SLJ staff.