April 19, 2018

The Advocate's Toolbox

Dark Horse ‘No Crystal Stair’ Takes Battle of the Kids’ Books Top Prize

Bob winner

Illustration by Mark Tuchman


School Library Journal’s fifth annual Battle of the Kids’ Books (BOB), our online elimination contest between 16 of 2012’s best children’s and teens’ fiction and nonfiction books, has crowned a winner: Vaunda Micheaux Nelson’s No Crystal Stair (Lerner/Carolrhoda). The final match was decided on April 1 by last year’s victor and the 2013 Big Kahuna, Frank Cottrell Boyce.

In her biographical documentary novel about Lewis Michaux, Nelson “recounts her great-uncle’s enterprising and unflinching efforts to enrich and empower fellow African Americans” with the establishment of the African National Memorial Bookstore in Harlem. It has already garnered several accolades, including the Coretta Scott King Book Honor, the Horn Book-Boston Globe Award, and SLJ Best Book.

“Watching from the sidelines was exciting, enlightening, and nerve-racking. My fingernails couldn’t have taken much more, so I’m glad the battle is over and thrilled, obviously, with the outcome,” Nelson tells SLJ, noting that she anxiously kept track of the exciting results as each match brought her title closer to the finish line. “Hooray! What an honor to have been amidst the 15 other wonderful contenders. All of the judges—Paul Griffin, James Patterson, Catherine Gilbert Murdock, and Frank Cottrell Boyce—in their commentaries, gave me thoughtful new ways of seeing Lewis, his journey, and his contribution.”

And it’s not just the authors who closely tracked the results; publishers got in on the action, too, including Nelson’s editor Andrew Karre, editorial director of Carolrhoda Books. Karre says he believes Lewis Michaux would’ve been tickled by the BOB tournament results. “The idea of books struggling to beat all odds would’ve made so much sense to him,” he tells SLJ. “We’re really proud to have helped bring this book to fruition.”

Penguin Young Readers Battle of the Kids' Books Trophy

Penguin Young Readers Battle of the Kids’ Books Trophy

At Penguin Young Readers, a trophy of goodies awaited the person who correctly guessed the most accurate outcomes in this year’s BOB. In a tradition that began four years ago (at the time, among only four editorial assistants), this year, 20 staffers pooled together bags of candy to be part of the publisher’s in-house BOB competition. Then Dutton editorial assistant Andrew Harwell (now an editor at HarperCollins) and Dial assistant editor Heather Alexander created the papier-mâché trophy and helped orchestrate the complicated Harry Potter-like point system.

As one of this year’s organizers, assistant editor Claire Evans, explains, “Each person prints off the bracket from the SLJ website and fills it out (including their Undead Poll pick). Each day the score keeper will update the scores and send them along to our commentator who will send out a mass email summarizing the verdict, the scores, and anything else that piques his interest. First round picks are worth two points, second round picks are worth four points, and third round picks are worth eight points. If you guess the ‘Back from the Dead’ book correctly, you get 12 points (like Harry Potter’s snitch), and getting the overall winner right is worth 16 points.”

Schools and libraries across the country also participated in the “March Madness”-style competition. In Texas, district library director Donna Cook incorporated BOB into Pollok’s Central High School programming. “It was a lot of work, but I’ve been astonished this week with all the chatter around the school about those books. I ended with 137 kids making at least one prediction and most making five or more,” she tells SLJ. “In the first weeks I was thinking, ‘I don’t know if I’ll ever do this again.’ Now I’m thinking ‘I have to do this again.’”

Most of the Penguin participants had slotted John Green’s In the Fault of Our Stars (Dutton, 2012) for the win because of its acclaim, but no one expected No Crystal Stair to go all the way. Alexander, chiming in from Paris, checked her work email to hear the final results, and was happy to find that she has the honor of walking away with the coveted sugary Penguin prize.

“I voted for Code Name Verity as my Undead Pick,” she says, a choice that gave her the most amount of points. “I felt so bad about knocking it off my brackets so early. So now that I have the trophy for a year, I can embellish it and make some much needed repairs to it.”

Below is a roundup of all of the resources and links for this year’s Battle of the Kids’ Books. We hope that next year can join in on the fun! Congrats to all of the contenders!

How did your school or library celebrate Battle of the Kids’ Books? Feel free to share in the comments section.

SLJ Coverage:

SLJ’s Battle of the Kids’ Books Final Results
SLJ’s Battle of the Kids’ Books Round Two Results
SLJ’s Battle of the Kids’ Books Round One Results
’s Battle of the Kids’ Books Starts Today

Downloadable Graphics

For many, seeing which fun illustration SLJ art director Mark Tuchman would create next was almost as important as finding out which book made it to the next round. From a complete bracket listing of the contenders to the colorful winner’s circle image of a bespectacled Lewis Michaux-shaped tome, fans can still download full scale, high resolution graphics designed for BOB.

Peanut Gallery

Reactions and comments from the internet, via social networking sites, blog posts, and news stories are highlighted in several Peanut Gallery blog posts, making it an interactive activity.


Batman illustration

The image that always accompanied Roger Sutton’s commentary on BOB judges

For the first time ever, BOB results and fan-made art and displays were featured on SLJ’s Pinterest account this year.


SLJ blogger Liz Burns kept track of her BOB predictions on her A Chair, A Fireplace, and a Tea Cozy blog, sharing her opinions on the judge’s assessments.

The Horn Book’s Roger Sutton put the judges in the hot seat, pitting their analyses against each other. His most important criteria? Which author-judge was the most critical of the books, discussing both faults and strengths of each competitor?

Other No Crystal Stair and Vaunda Micheaux Nelson resources:

No Crystal Stair Editor Reacts to BOB Win

Picture: Vaunda Micheaux Nelson and R. Gregory Christie at the Horn Book Colloquium

No Crystal Stair Wins Coretta Scott King Book Honor Award

2012 Boston Globe-Horn Book Award Winners Unveiled

Teaching Books.Net: This Meet-the-Author Book Reading with Vaunda Micheaux Nelson

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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.