March 19, 2018

The Advocate's Toolbox

The Joys of a Good Book (Battle, That Is)| Editorial

1602_BOBGuy_editorialSLJ’s Battle of the Kids’ Books is back. This feverish book-based version of college basketball’s March Madness playoffs pits 16 middle grade and YA books against one another over four rounds of matches, culminating in one winner crowned on March 30. It provides a unique and fun way to engage kids in some of the best books published in the prior year. Along the way, it fosters important critical skills as the many kids and adults who play along have robust conversations about literary quality, storylines, characters, and what makes a book great. Participants join in, living the pleasures and pains of comparing tales they may love equally.

Now in its eighth year, BOB, as we at SLJ affectionately call this project, is the baby of three librarian masterminds who together serve as the “Battle Commander”—Monica Edinger, Roxanne Feldman, and Jonathan Hunt. In house, it’s Shelley Diaz’s third year taking editorial point on BOB. For those new to the battle, or those up for a refresher, she describes the process in “Primed for a Fight.”

“BOB can be a wonderful peer-to-peer project, where kids debate and vie for a specific book and convince their friends to read it,” Diaz, who is SLJ reviews team manager and the editor of the SLJ Teen newsletter, told me. “They’re fighting for their title, and it creates a kind of ripple effect, because as one friend hears why their friends think a title should win, they may want to investigate, and they’ll get turned onto books they may not have read otherwise.”

Assessing this year’s lineup of contenders, Diaz praised the Commanders. “They’ve done a good job of balancing so-called ‘literary quality’ books—though they all have literary quality—with fun, accessible titles that reluctant readers will pick up,” she said. “There’s a little bit of everything for every kind of reader, from the middle grades to the most well-read teen.”

The list is diverse, too, Diaz adds, in “format, topic, focus, characters, and authors”—citing the list’s two graphic novels, five nonfiction titles, and a Coretta Scott King medalist (Gone Crazy in Alabama) and honor book (X: A Novel)—and does not shy away from the controversial. Referring to the inclusion of the much-debated YA novel The Hired Girl, Diaz said, “I’ll be looking forward to the conversations that arise as the book is discussed.”

One of Diaz’s main tasks is to recruit and assign judges, who are celebrated authors in kids’ and YA lit. “I’ve tried to address diversity in that process, too, so that we have authors who can bring us new perspectives on the contenders,” she said. “Each year we think we’ve exhausted the potential, and each year we have an amazing judge roster, and we’ve never repeated a judge.”

This year is special to Diaz. “The ‘Closer’ [the final judge] is the author who made me a reader,” she confided. “I was teary-eyed when she said yes.”

Librarians, teachers, and parents have put BOB to good use in past years, and 2016 promises to be no different. To help, Mark Tuchman, SLJ’s creative director, put his artistic juices to work on the images that have become part of BOB’s reputation, including a playoff bracket to use as a tool as the battle progresses. This bracket is available for download in two sizes and as a poster with book bundles available through SLJ sister company Junior Library Guild. The bracket is not only useful, but it’s colorful and playful, too—I particularly like the little figure exclaiming it’s “a fight to the endpaper!”

Let the battle—and the brain building—begin.


Rebecca T. Miller

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Rebecca T. Miller About Rebecca T. Miller

Rebecca T. Miller ( is Editorial Director, Library Journal and School Library Journal.

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