November 17, 2017

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A Fight to the End Paper: SLJ’s Battle of the Kids’ Books 2015

slj1502-bobILLO_COLOR_WEBWhile for some March calls to mind college basketball, at School Library Journal, March heralds in the start of our Battle of the Kids’ Books (aka BOB). Celebrating its seventh birthday, the virtual elimination contest annually matches up the best books for young readers of the previous year in one-on-one competitions. Styled after The Morning News’s Tournament of Books, the competition is judged by well-known children’s and young adult authors, who make their decisions based on literary merit, kid appeal, and overall design.

The battle begins Monday, March 9, 2015, with the 16 contenders having been revealed on January 14 on the BOB blog.

The identities of the judges will be unveiled starting on February 4, along with a downloadable PDF of the brackets to keep track of favorites’ fates.

On Tuesday, March 31,
the final champion will be announced.

One author from among the impressive roster of judges will decide each round in this winner-take-all tournament. Each judge will read two books, and after close analysis, select which work moves on to the next round. They must deliberate among all kinds of titles: nonfiction and fiction, children’s and teen novels, historical fiction and contemporary books, sometimes having to decide the champion across genres and formats—no easy feat. Past judges have included three National Ambassadors for Young People’s Literature: Jon Scieszka, Katherine Paterson, and Walter Dean Myers; Printz Award-winner John Green; and New York Times best-selling author Jennifer Holm.

Fans can take part in the action by voting in the virtual BOB Undead Poll, in which they have the opportunity to bring back titles that have been eliminated. If a book is defeated early, it has a chance to be revived by votes and then compete in the last round. The poll opens on Wednesday, February 25 and closes Sunday, March 8, the day before the first bout. The final judge will decide the grand prize winner from among the last two books left standing and the winner of the Zombie Round.

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. The first BOB tournament launched in 2009 as a fun and engaging way to celebrate children’s books. The BOB team (or Battle Commander) chooses among titles for middle and high school readers to determine each year’s contenders and corresponding brackets. Then, the competitors are assigned a judge by the SLJ editors.

BOB wouldn’t be complete without the whimsical and detailed illustrations created by SLJ’s director of art and production, Mark Tuchman, which subtly play on each title’s story line.

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. If you’re looking for tips on how to celebrate your own BOB, check out how some librarians have organized similar events in their own schools. Last year at Patrick F. Taylor Sci & Tech Academy in Avondale, LA, Elizabeth Kahn, a library media specialist, introduced her freshmen book club, “Bookmarked,” to the event, and they hit the ground running. The students read all of the titles and defended their choices’ literary merits, mock debate-style. And while their decisions didn’t always match the author judges’, the teens passionately stood by their assessments. The second round of matches took place online, where kids were able to vote on their favorites based on the profiles created for each book by their classmates.

The 2014 final round judge, Holm, had to decide among three acclaimed titles: Gene Leun Yang’s Boxers & Saints (First Second), Rainbow Rowell’s Eleanor & Park (St. Martin’s), and Rita Williams-Garcia’s P.S. Be Eleven (HarperCollins, all 2013), with Yang’s two-volume graphic novel about the Boxer Rebellion taking the crown. This year’s contenders include National Book Award-winner Jacqueline Woodson’s Brown Girl Dreaming (Penguin), This One Summer (First Second) by cousins Mariko and Jillian Tamaki, and Gregory Maguire’s Egg and Spoon (Candlewick, all 2014).

Primed for battle, these mighty pens are ready for a (literary) fight. May the best book win!

This article was published in School Library Journal's February 2015 issue. Subscribe today and save up to 35% off the regular subscription rate.

Shelley Diaz About Shelley Diaz

Shelley M. Diaz (sdiaz@mediasourceinc.com) is School Library Journal's Reviews Team Manager and SLJTeen newsletter editor. She has her MLIS in Public Librarianship with a Certificate in Children’s & YA Services from Queens College, and can be found on Twitter @sdiaz101.

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