Monday, March 30, 2009

SLJ's Battle of the Kids' Books -- Give me a Break!

School Library Journal recently announced its first annual Battle of the (Kids’) Books contest, which will "pit" 16 of last year’s best books for young people against each other.

It's all supposed to be fun and Oscar-ish, a real buzz builder, I suppose. But come on! Really? I've been storming around the house all morning, cranky as hell, muttering to the cat and saying things like:

Do we really need one more meaningless contest that winds up deciding nothing? Which is better Octavian Nothing or Disreputable History? Red or Blue? Pizza or Spaghetti? Hasn't the Newbery already made this completely arbitrary decision once this year?

How many times do we need to hear about the same handful of books? Oh no, not yet another analysis of the joys of Graveyard Book?!

Is this really a meaningful use of space? We authors complain (rightfully so) about the shrinkage of review space in SLJ and PW, etc. There are no newspaper book sections left. Publishers have slashed their publicity budgets unless you've written -- fill in the names of the books mentioned above. So, what's the solution to informing the public about a new book? Hey, let's use the small amount of space available to write about Chains again!!

And how about all the awesome talent lined up to be judges. Jon Scieszka, Meg Rosoff, Tamara Pierce, Lois Lowry. I'd love to hear about their special finds, books that they loved that maybe didn't get the author's handsome face on the cover of every magazine around. But no, they will be weighing in on the same books that everyone else has already talked to death.

Okay, maybe my problem is that I'm an envious, cranky mid-list YA author who talks to her cat and has to fight for every bit of attention for her books. But I wish those who love books and writing and authors used their power to take this contest in a different direction. What about Battle of the Books that You Should Read but Didn't Even Hear About?


Carol Doup Muller said...

May I be the first to suggest that Jill's newest book, Cold Hands, Warm Heart (pubished 3/31 by Holt) deserves a place in the brackets next year? I'm a former colleague of Jill's from the San Jose Mercury News, where she did amazing reporting with the skills and humanity that she's now bringing to children's literature.
Cold Hands, Warm Heart is a can't-look-away story about organ donation. It brings to life a 15-year-old girl who needs a new heart and who fully recognizes that her great luck will be somebody's else horrific tragedy. Y-A readers will love it for its romance and humor and for the ways in which Jill doesn't sugar-coat difficult questions.
If Lois Lowry needs some compelling reading before she judges the final round, she'll find much to admire in Cold Hands, Warm Heart. Neil Gaiman probably would love it, too, for its awesome (in the original sense of the word) forensic detail.

Kaethe said...

Take heart, Jill. The Internet means never having to complain about a lack of space. Even as old media space is dwindling, the online opportunities for books are expanding exponentially. Sure, I wouldn't blame you for being tired of hearing about the same (well-advertised and well-reviewed) sixteen books every year. But if people are talking about books with the engagement and partisanship of sports fans, so much the better. The ToB, by including Frankie, spurred conversations all over about the merit of YA fiction as Art, as well as how much fun it is to read. Everyone is talking about whether Frankie's failure reflects deeply ingrained sexism.

So, the ToB spawns a thousand conversations and the BoB. And the BoB will probably do the same. And your blog posts on it get linked, and I discover another blog and another author that I might have missed otherwise.

As for the awesome talent arrayed as judges, Jon Scieszka, Meg Rosoff, Tamora Pierce, and Lois Lowry all have their own sites with their own special finds.

Embrace the linkage, Jill. I look forward to reading all your books!

Paula said...

Cranky mid-list authors rule! LOL

I love the concept of the BoB. But don't disagree on the missed opportunity to pit books that most haven't heard of.

When I went to weigh in on my predictions I realized just how many of them were historical fiction and I thought - holy roly, if I read all of these books I'd end up in a history-inducing coma. And I'm somewhat of a history geek.

The list could definitely use some variety and diversity.