NO CRYSTAL STAIR
VAUNDA MICHEAUX NELSON
published by CarolRhoda Books/ Lerner
SEE YOU NEXT YEAR!
December 9, 2013
The world's largest reviewer of books, multimedia, and technology for children and teens
Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein Hyperion/Disney The Fault in Our Stars by John Green Dutton/Penguin No Crystal Stair by Vaunda Micheaux Nelson Carolrhoda Books/Lerner Judged by Frank Cottrell Boyce
I agreed to be the Big Kahuna because I believe in saying yes to any invitation that doesn’t involve crime, betrayal or heights. I thought it would be good to be forced to read books I wouldn’t normally read. I completely forgot – as I worked my way through the entire list – that it would involve me JUDGING one of those books. My children could have told you that when it comes to judgement I don’t have any. Or mine is wired up differently from everyone else’s. You can guarantee that if I think a book or film is the worst thing ever, history will reveal that it to be s a timeless classic. If I love something to distraction, you will shortly find it in the remaindered section. I hope this fact is of some comfort to the losers here today and to the winner, all I can say is, I love you – which is probably not a good thing.
G K Chesteron said of St. Francis “his life was a riot of rash promises which somehow turned out alright.” Here’s hoping that my rash promise to judge this competition turns out alright.
Other Big Kahunas have complained that it’s near impossible to judge between finalists because they’re so diverse it’s “like judging between apples and whipped …
We are particularly excited to hear about those who have or are considering using the Battle with students. Say Texas librarian Donna Steel Cook who gets her whole high school involved. Read more in “Texas High School Celebrates Battle of the Books“.
“March Madness” has taken on a secondary meaning in rural Pollok, TX, where 423 high school students have been closely watching, rooting for, and predicting the winners of a unique elimination contest this month—not basketball, but books. Under the direction of Donna Steel Cook,district library director and high school teacher-librarian, Pollok’s Central High School has incorporated School Library Journal ‘s fifth annual Battle of the Kids’ Books (BOB) into an engaging program to support reading.
And Librarian’s Quest who considered that:
As the weeks have passed so too has the School Library Journal’s Battle of the Kids’ Books. Even though the end is getting closer it still might be fun to do this with students after it’s over to see how they vote as opposed to the judges’ decisions. School Library Journal has provided a page of downloadable graphics to use in designing your own brackets. Each match appears as a PDF file.
If there are others out there, please let us know!
As to other things, please don’t miss our Battle Pinterest board filled with lots of cool stuff.
There’s Liz B on Bomb v Code Name Verity, Endangered v Stars, Sky v Glooms, Seraphina v Star, Round 3, Match 1, …
Our money was on THE FAULT IN OUR STARS and WONDER as the winners of the Undead Poll, and those books fared quite well, coming in second and third respectively. SERAPHINA came in fourth, THE ONE AND ONLY IVAN fifth, and BOMB sixth.
What came in first? Well, it’s a book that captured 27% of the vote, and held a commanding lead from start to finish. It is such a great book that, for the first time, I think the Undead Poll winner might win the whole thing. Could it be SPLENDORS AND GLOOMS? LIAR & SPY? MOONBIRD? STARRY RIVER OF THE SKY? Nah, it’s …
Congratulations, Code Name Verity! See you on Monday, April 1st!
No Crystal Stair by Vaunda Nelson Carolrhoda Books/Lerner Splendors and Glooms by Laura Amy Schlitz Candlewick Judged by James Patterson
It seems criminal to have to pick between SPLENDORS AND GLOOMS and NO CRYSTAL STAIR, to lead kids away from either of these tremendous stories.
SLJ, what gives?
SPLENDORS AND GLOOMS is one of the year’s best. It’s on the bestseller lists, won a Newbery honor, and is certainly worthy of all the attention — kids are loving the mystery story of two young puppeteers willing their new friend out of a curse. I loved it, too.
It’s peppered with twists and turns. Author Laura Amy Schlitz says she’s paying homage to Dickens, and she’s done him justice—I jumped from cliffhanger to cliffhanger, and was genuinely afraid for these poor kids. And I can’t decide who I’d run faster from, OLIVER TWIST’S lurking Fagin or SPLENDORS’ drunken Grisini.
There’s years of rich research packed into the story here. I can see classrooms reading this book and talking about the poverty of Victorian London, the history of entertainment, the thrills of steampunk…
Suffice to say, SPLENDORS AND GLOOMS is a pageturner to be reckoned with for years to come.
But NO CRYSTAL STAIR hit a vulnerable spot for me, and what I think should be a vulnerable spot for everybody: it proves that books, and people like the librarians and booksellers who surround others in books, can change lives, strengthen neighborhoods, even …
Bomb by Steve Sheinkin Roaring Brook/Macmillan The Fault in Our Stars by John Green Dutton/Penguin Judged by Lynne Rae Perkins
I would secretly like to be Barbara Tuchman. That is, to be historically knowledgeable, to have an encyclopedic yet Big Picture understanding of history, or some slices of it. Even just one slice. I want to know and understand stuff. I like knowing stuff.
But (how do I say this without embarrassing myself?) as interested as I feel myself to be, there comes a time in many nonfiction books when I begin to feel overwhelmed by minutiae, a time when I lose track of who is who. Followed shortly by a time when I fall asleep.
When I received word that one of my books would be Steve Sheinkin’s Bomb: the Race to Build — and Steal — the World’s Most Dangerous Weapon, my heart dipped a little. Would I be able to get through it? The book jacket was a mottled tan and had a picture of an airplane on it. A part of me that I’m not proud of said, “Boy Book.”
I decided I would read Bomb first and save the second book, The Fault in Our Stars by John Green, as a reward.
My husband was going to be out of the house all Saturday running a pond hockey tournament at the ice rink down the street. I set myself up in the living room with a pot of …
No Crystal Stair by Vaunda Nelson Carolrhoda Books/Lerner Seraphina by Rachel Hartman Random House Judged by Paul Griffin
The absolute last guy you want to be a judge is somebody who takes an hour to figure out which pair of pants he should wear for the day, especially when that guy owns two pairs of pants. I begged, I pleaded not to be made to do this, but Scottie Bowditch, who is the Director of School and Library Marketing at Penguin, and who is also very lovely, said, “Please?” then “Please!” then, “You’re doing it.” I, being an idiot guy, always do whatever lovely women tell me to do, just ask anybody at Penguin, which is pretty much all women and all lovely, and so here I am. Also, Rick Margolis is one of the nicest people on the planet, and if he asks you to be a judge, you do it. And just so you know, just in case you have to be a BotKB judge in the future: The stress involved in being part of this thing exceeded my already considerable trepidations.
We all know that the amount of betting that goes on for Battle of the Kids’ Books is insane to the point it’s vital to the infrastructure of the nation’s gaming industry. What I didn’t know was that the stakes would get to where I would be begged—nay, bullied—for inside information. I was offered things. Things like candy. Yes, half the take …
Starry River of the Sky by Grace Lin Little, Brown Splendors and Glooms by Laura Amy Schlitz Candlewick Judged by Thanhha Lai
I usually have no problem sitting in judgment. Years ago I zapped the writer’s guilt of finishing every novel because someone had bled to write it. Now I give the first 50 pages my absolute attention. If not enthralled, I advance to the art of flipping.
Still, my quick fingers proved useless while reading Starry River of the Sky and Splendors and Glooms. I read every page, felt every dramatic pulse and closed the novels with Rendi and Madame Chang, Lizzie Rose and Parsefall embedded into the crevices of my mind.
Starry River drops readers into ancient China, yet its timeless theme of finding one’s self by returning to one’s roots will be understood by any video-game junkie living in, let’s say, Dallas. This junkie will be introduced to a world where people make lanterns from fireflies and linger at the dinner table to hear stories—for entertainment.
Splendors and Glooms drops readers into 1860 London, where the details of rich lives and poor lives so infused the narrative that buttered toast and strawberry jam enter the nostrils as surely as the sour stiffness of one’s only dress. Readers then step into the enchanting horror of icy Strachan’s Ghyll, where a puppet, a witch, two kids and a villain come together for a good vs. evil battle that rivals any video game. In this …
Endangered by Elliot Schrefer Scholastic The Fault in Our Stars by John Green Dutton/Penguin Judged by Martine Leavitt
I opened Endangered by Eliot Schrefer, took one look at the photo of the baby bonobo, and significantly increased in understanding for the mother of the Ikea monkey. I thought, “Gimme that baby! I wannit!”
So hello good book design: I was hooked before page one.
Set in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Endangered is about a girl, Sophie, who rescues an infant bonobo, Otto, and brings him home to the sanctuary her Congolese mother has instituted for the rehabilitation of bonobos who have been abducted from the wild by bushmeat traders. The reader falls in love with Otto just as Sophie does, and from then on the stakes are high. Sophie goes to great lengths, at the risk of her own safety and life, to keep Otto safe, and the reader sticks with her to the very end to ensure that the little guy makes it.
You like adventure stories? Animal stories? War/dystopian stories? This book has it all. Sophie survives in the sanctuary with the bonobos for several weeks until she is no longer safe there. She begins a journey through the Congo to find her mother at the site where the bonobos are released into the wild. There are a lot of guns in the book. There are lots of bugs in this book. Deliciously horrible. You are never allowed to stop worrying about Otto. You are never …
First of all, just to note that we are thrilled to see how many followers are working to read as many contenders as possible and often posting reviews of them. What is especially gratifying is to see the surprise some express about how much they enjoyed a contender they would not have read otherwise.
Now back to this week’s links and such. As always, please let us know of anything we missed in the comments and we will add them in here.
The Provo Library Children’s Book Review is creating completely AWESOME displays. Here are a couple of them.
Leila at bookshelves of doom thinks that:
More entertaining than SLJ’s Battle of the Kids’ Books… …is Roger Sutton in the Peanut Gallery.
Speaking of which, Judge of Judges Sutton on Gidwitz v. Billingsley begins:
Let us first note that both Adam Gidwitz (Jepp, Who Defied the Stars v. Starry River of the Sky) and Franny Billingsley (Liar & Spyv. Splendors and Glooms) break the mold by discussing their winning books first.
Check-out what he thinks about Murdoch v. Lu and who won his First Round.
Lisa at Read for Keeps noted that:
…but there’s also a serious trend of water playing a huge role in the plot. The Titanic sinking, the drowning inSplendors and Glooms, the Resistance canoeing down a river in CNV, the river in Three Times Lucky, the Moonbirdcoastlines…I could go on. Am I missing something? Are books usually so water-heavy, or is there something special about this year’s lot?
Miss Tiff …
Bomb by Steve Sheinkin Roaring Brook/Macmillan Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein Hyperion/Disney Judged by Donna Jo Napoli
Both CODE NAME VERITY and BOMB are set during WWII. The first is historical fiction, the second is creative nonfiction. Both the setting and the genres are dear to me. Both books were meticulously researched, and both books held me spellbound to the end.
CODE NAME VERITY is told in the first person present tense. An unnamed woman is a prisoner-of-f. She is a spy for the UK (not British, but Scottish – a point she insists on), who landed in a small town in Nazi-occupied France, and got caught almost immediately upon arrival because she looked the wrong way when she was crossing the street. She is writing an account of everything that happened leading up to her being caught, from the very beginning of her involvement in the war effort. When she finishes that account, she is quite sure the Nazis will no longer have any use for her, which means she will be killed. In the pages she scrawls, she describes at length how Maddie, a British girl, came to learn to fly an airplane and wound up joining the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force (WAAF) as a radio operator. Events conspired to place Maddie in the chair at the airstrip when a damaged plane called in, “Mayday, Mayday…” It was a young German pilot who was so lost, he thought he was landing …
No Crystal Stair by Vaunda Nelson Carolrhoda Books/Lerner The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate HarperCollins Judged by Catherine Gilbert Murdock
What does a self-educated radical bookseller have to do with a depressed 35-year-old strip-mall gorilla? More than it would appear. Both suffer violent childhoods and initially muddle through adulthood. Both grow to identify the oppression around them and decide to challenge it. Both rely on words, and the power of words, to seek justice. Both ultimately make a huge impact. And both No Crystal Stair and The One and Only Ivan, while fiction, are based on real-life tales of perseverance and victory.
No Crystal Stair: A Documentary Novel of the Life and Work of Lewis Michaux, Harlem Bookseller is written by Vaunda Micheaux Nelson, the great-niece of Lewis Michaux. Lewis Michaux’s story requires this “documentary novel” format rather than a typical non-fiction biography, as so much of his life was fabricated, mysterious, or now unknown — beginning with the date of his birth (sometime between 1884 and 1895) and his name (William Lonnell or Lewis H.; some family members use the name Micheaux, with an e). As a child, he was publicly lashed for stealing a sack of peanuts, and as a young man spent time on a chain gang for theft. At some point in the 1930s, he decided to open a bookstore in Harlem because “the so-called Negro needs to hear and learn from the voices of black men and women.” By …
Moonbird by Phillip Hoose FSG/Macmillan Seraphina by Rachel Hartman Random House Judged by Marie Lu
So. Seraphina vs. Moonbird.
I have to admit, I first approached this particular matchup scratching my head. Where to even begin? At first glance, there’s not much similarity at all between these two distinctive books: Seraphina is phenomenal YA fiction, while Moonbird is phenomenal nonfiction. Seraphina is about dragons learning to survive in a fantasy world ruled by humans who fear them, while Moonbird is an account of one tiny shorebird’s remarkable life while his species slowly sinks into extinction. Seraphina relies solely on black and white text to tell its story, while Moonbird dazzles with both words and breathtaking images.
Seraphina is about discrimination and acceptance. Moonbird is about resilience and survival.
Upon closer inspection, however, I actually found quite a bit of similarity between the two. After all, birds are real dragons, aren’t they? So let’s start, and let’s do this list-style:
- Style. Got styo? These two sure as hell do. The first glaring difference between Seraphina and Moonbird, of course, is that the former is fiction (and we’re talking fantasy fiction, the most fictional of fiction), and the latter is nonfiction. Yet, Seraphina contains such beautifully detailed worldbuilding that one feels almost transported to a real place, a real world with canals and bridges and bell towers, churches and choirs and dragons. Similarly, Moonbird‘s journey about little B95 is written with such lyrical narrative that the …
Liar & Spy by Rebecca Stead Wendy Lamb/Random House Splendors and Glooms by Laura Amy Schlitz Candlewick Judged by Franny Billingsley
Shall I Compare Thee
They want me to compare you, the two of you. But I don’t want to. I’d rather compare you to a summer’s day, or to my Mistress’s eyes, or to anything but to each other. How can I choose between you when I love you both, when you are each so different? One of you temperate, the other anything but. One of you shaking with rough winds, the other blooming with the darling buds of May.
But perhaps this is the wrong question. Perhaps I need instead to ask, How do I love thee?
How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.
Let’s start with you, Splendors and Glooms.
You are the kind of book I adored as a kid and still do. You are The Wolves of Willoughby Chase; you are David Copperfield. You are gothic. Your words are like sugarplums, rich and sweet and a little spicy. Your words describe orphaned children and fiendish adults. They describe chilblains and secrets and locked towers. They describe Dickensian mud and Dickensian characters. It’s hard to out-Heep Uriah Heep, but your villainous Grisini, master of the greasy compliment, stacks up wonderfully well. Your words describe a magical world; they leave sugarplum visions dancing in my head. An opal that consigns its owner to a fiery death. A fire opal in a filigree …
Jepp, Who Defied the Stars by Katherine Marsh Hyperion Starry River of the Sky by Grace Lin Little, Brown Judged by Adam Gidwitz
I have a problem.
No, it’s not that I can’t choose between Jepp, Who Defied the Stars and Starry River of the Sky. I have a bigger problem than that.
I am supposed to choose which of these two books is better. But I have no idea what “better” means.
I’m not crying wolf here. I’m not just trying to be provocative.
“Better” is a word that can mean just about anything. Does Jepp taste better than Starry River? (No. They taste equally disgusting.) Does Starry River serve as a projectile better? (Yes. It’s nearly square dimensions make it perfect for launching at spouses who interrupt you while you’re trying to figure out what the word “better” means.)
Okay—I’m not trying to be obtuse. I know that saying something is a “better book” does not, usually, mean it’s better for launching across a room.
Nor does it mean that it weighs more, or costs less, or has a smaller carbon footprint.
I wish it did, though. You see, you can measure weight, and price, and carbon footprints. We can all stand around a scale and agree that The Oxford English Dictionary weighs more than Curious George. The reason we can do this is because we have an agreed definition of what “weighs more” means.
Just before the Battle began, a few more BoB Followers gave us their predictions.
Jen at Read for Keeps offered hers complete with a charming sketch:
Armed with my mug o’ tea (naught but the finest Alishan high mountain tea leaves, of course), I attempt to divine the course of the 2013 SLJ Battle of the Kids’ Books. Behold my bracket:
Lisa also at Read for Keeps also chimed in:
School Library Journal’s BoB is one of my favorite events of the year. The mad scramble to read all 16 contenders, the howls of misery and delight (remember last year when a certain book lost via a coin toss?), and, of course, a spectacular opportunity to demonstrate my lack of divination powers.
The Brain Lair considered:
But, today starts my favorite Battle, the one School Library Journal (SLJ) puts on each year! The 16-book list is handed out after the ALA Youth Media Awards. Starting mid- to late March, an author will judge two books and decide which moves to the second round. This goes on each weekday until we get to the Big Kahuna. The book Kahuna judges the final two books plus a book that rises from the dead! Each year, SLJ adds a new twist to the contest. This year – students writing as books! Check out Day 1, Day 2, Day 3, and Day 4. Such a great idea! I must figure out a way to incorporate it!
Sondy did her predictions too:
It’s that …
Temple Grandin by Sy Montgomery Houghton Mifflin The Fault in Our Stars by John Green Dutton/Penguin Judged by Deb Caletti
I had a moment of panic after hearing which books I’d be judging. While I wasn’t familiar with the first book, Temple Grandin: How the Girl Who Loved Cows Embraced Autism and Changed the World, by Sy Montgomery, you’d have to have been orbiting space for the last year not to know about the second, The Fault in Our Stars, by John Green. Maybe you’ve heard of him? On a little thing called YouTube? Or, The New York Times bestseller list? Wait. What about CARNEGIE HALL? His fifty gajillion fans even go by their own cult-following nickname: Nerdfighters. Laurie Halse Anderson called Mr. Green, “A holy man.” I may have forgotten to mention all of those shiny medals that grace his covers.
Now, don’t hit me with your book lights, but I have never read John Green. The idea of reading him now with the intent to judge made me honestly nervous. Who was I to do such a thing? As well, Nerdfighters are, let’s just say, an ardent group. And what about the underdog, Temple Grandin? I love an underdog! Still, this would be like the fight between… Well, I was going to give a sports metaphor, but I know nothing about sports.
The point is this: one more accolade for The Fault in Our Stars by John Green would be akin to giving …
Endangered by Elliot Schrefer Scholastic Three Times Lucky by Sheila Turnage Dial/Penguin Judged by Kathi Appelt
Set these two books side by side, and with the exception of their trim sizes, it would be difficult to find anything about them that is similar. But once I sat back and let the full impact of both stories settle in, I realized that they had more in common than one might imagine. For one, they both feature orphans.
One is the story of an orphaned girl, raised on the bayou by a quirky cast of townsfolk. The other is the story of a displaced girl raised in the jungle by a cast of orphaned bonobos. (Okay, I promise, that’s the end of my cleverness).
Both stories have strong narrative voices, told in the first person past tense. Mo LoBeau, of Tupelo Landing, is the natural sister of so many well-loved middle grade heroes. One can’t help but read her and conjure up Opal, Frankie and Turtle. She shares their attributes as well: pluck, smarts, and gumption. It’s easy to get on her side from the very opening pages, and the reader is literally lifted through the story by the buoyancy of the language. This book was written in my native tongue, and it made my ears happy to hear it.
Sophie’s voice, in Endangered, is not nearly so dear. Hers is older, and more melancholy. But it is just as distinct. In it, are the echoes of …
Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein Hyperion/Disney Titanic by Deborah Hopkinson Scholastic Press Judged by Margarita Engle
Judging is inherently biased. It is a blatantly subjective process. Since I am primarily a writer of novels in verse, I foolishly assumed that I would be asked to choose between two volumes of poetry. Instead, I have received two works of prose, and just to make the choice even more challenging, one is historical fiction, while the other is nonfiction. This is not a simple case of comparing apples and oranges; it’s apple pie against whipped cream. I want both!
Titanic: Voices From the Disaster, by Deborah Hopkinson, and Code Name Verity, by Elizabeth Wein, are both spectacular feats of literary accomplishment. Both are based on towering mountains of detailed research. Both cover historical topics so disturbing and terrifying that in my opinion, both books are only suitable for teens. Younger children would be devastated.
At this point, I should probably admit that I have read other books about the Titanic, but I have never seen anything about captive British women pilots in World War II. I didn’t know they existed, and I happen to love the rediscovery of forgotten aspects of history. On the other hand, Titanic surprised me with an astounding array of heart-wrenching photographs, personal anecdotes, and excerpts of letters by survivors.
Let’s talk about those photographs. Am I supposed to judge this Battle between a famous shipwreck and unknown women pilots solely …
Bomb by Steve Sheinkin Roaring Brook/Macmillan Wonder by R.J. Palacio Random House Judged by Kenneth Oppel
You would be hard-pressed to find two books with less in common: a heartfelt novel about a boy with a severe facial deformity who starts school for the first time; and a thrilling non-fiction account of the challenge, intrigue, and daring surrounding the creation of the atomic bomb.
Making the transition from the haven of home schooling to the wilds of middle school would be difficult for anyone, but for Auggie Pullman, the resilient narrator of R.J. Palacio’s Wonder, it’s terrifying. Early in the story, he tells us about the way people look away from him. It’s subtle, and he tries not to let it bother him, but he notices every time. Will he ever be able to fit in and form friendships?
There are many remarkable things about Palacio’s novel. I’m not sure I’ve ever been immersed in a more accurate account of the daily life of a grade five boy, both in and out of the classroom. Palacio’s got all the details right: the politics and passions, joys and sorrows of the ten-year-old are expertly captured here. Favourite books and food and clothing. The brutal rituals of lunch seating. The heartbreak of being betrayed by a best friend.
I admired very much Palacio’s decision to split the narration between Auggie and several other characters, allowing us not only to witness Auggie’s story, but how he effects the people closest …
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