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>I didn’t see this coming.

>Round 2 of the BoB has begun, with Tim Wynne Jones choosing Kingdom on the Waves over Trouble Begins at Eight. The judges do not have all appeared to get my memo: in this round it was supposed to be Kingdom v. Graveyard Book, Chains v. Tender Morsels, Frankie Landau-Banks v. Hunger Games and Graceling v. Nation.

Everybody except jester-under-the-table Jonathan Hunt is being soooo polite. This makes the competition look a lot less random than it actually is. Think about it: the winner will be chosen via a sequence of fifteen decisions that operate under no common principle, leading in the end to a choice that means nothing. (Go, Lois.) While I’m enjoying the judges’ explanations, we each employed criteria exclusive to us and to the two books we were comparing. The winning book will be one that four people liked better, for different reasons, than one other book. A few commenters here and elsewhere have sniped that the BoB is really “all about the judges.” As far as I can tell, it’s not really about anything else.

Roger Sutton About Roger Sutton

Roger Sutton has been the editor in chief of The Horn Book, Inc, since 1996. He was previously editor of The Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books and a children's and young adult librarian. He received his M.A. in library science from the University of Chicago in 1982 and a B.A. from Pitzer College in 1978. Follow him on Twitter: @RogerReads.



  1. Anonymous says:

    >Your tag says this is stupid, and I don’t understand why. How many of us have listened to Desert Island Discs? Do we think that because Illustrious Someone chooses Appalachian Spring over Eine Kleine Nacht Musik that Copeland’s work is “better” than Mozart’s? We listen to hear what someone we admire has to say about the music. I am reading the Battle of the Books to see what the Judges have to say. You are performance art. I think you did a fine job. I think Tim Wynne-Jones was splendid. I didn’t think Scieszka was very impressive, but it might be that Trouble8 is just impossibly hard to do justice; TW-J certainly didn’t make it sound any more appealing.

    Of course it’s about the judges. Isn’t it ALWAYS? BoB just starts from that premise and runs with the idea. BoB should be interesting, thought-provoking and fun. It’s stupid to insist it be anything else.

  2. Roger Sutton says:

    >I *am* enjoying the comments from the judges but there are a couple of key distinctions between the BoB and “Desert Island Discs” (if I understand the latter properly). First, the BoB judges are handed two books to choose between, so we aren’t learning anything about their actual favorites. Second, this arbitrariness is compounded by the fact that each judge narrows the field for the next round, meaning that Lois Lowry could easily be choosing between two books that say nothing at all to her.

    I don’t think it’s always about the judges. The committees that select awards such as the Newbery have parameters, criteria, rules,and fifteen heads working together on the same books at the same time. The result–even when we don’t like it–means something in a way that the BoB pick won’t.

  3. Anonymous says:

    >Isn’t there some oft-quoted phrase about the race not always going to the swift, blah blah blah? Probably the rest of the quote undermines my argument, but I will make it anyway. The only thing that winning the BoB shows, is that the book one the BoB. I agree that it’s going to be pretty silly if the winner’s publisher puts it on a gold sticker and slaps the sticker on the book, but I don’t expect they will. And I am so pi it is unsettling, but Roger, you aren’t just performance art, you are a Role Model. The judges are showing us how they think about books. Cool.

    Yes, the Newbery has rules that we hope keep people on the same page, but you cannot convince me that the committee that picked HIgher Power of Lucky would have picked Good Masters Sweet Ladies if they had all served their term one calendar year later. Or that the committee that picked Criss Cross would have picked Lucky. We don’t get to see how Mary’s devotion to non-fiction gets trumped by Sarah’s love of historical fiction, but I’m sure it happens behind the closed doors. What matters is that some deserving book gets a prize. The criteria for the Newbery just helps with that.

    Like the person you linked to earlier, you might ask what gets a book into the BoB to begin with.

    Anon 11:44

  4. Anonymous says:


    I meant “book won the BoB.” All the other errors are just typos, too, really.

    Anon 11:44

  5. Anonymous says:

    >Ecc 9:11, Anon 11:14! Sheesh.

  6. Anonymous says:

    >Oh, um, yes, of course. Bible . . . I knew that.

    Aren’t I glad I’m
    Anon 11:14

  7. Anonymous says:

    >The best thing about the whole process is the commentary by Jonathan Hunt. He’s becoming the Simon Cowell of children’s literature.

  8. >apples and oranges…

  9. Anonymous says:

    >Realize this marks me as Enormous Girl, but what actually kind of sticks in my craw about all this is it’s a tiny bit mean.

    If I write a novel and get nominated for the Newbery and then lose, I’m entitled to imagine that 49% of the committee was pulling for me and that I was a close second. But in BoB, I know for sure that some specific person I admire thinks my book is a little less good in some undefined and therefore total way than some other specific book, which I’m sure is a valuable object lesson in You’re not supposed to please everybody, but I gotta tell you, I don’t read the posts, they make me wince a little.

  10. Roger Sutton says:

    >Jonathan (HB reviewer and judge for this year’s BGHB awards) is great indeed and all the judges have had interesting things to say. I love that there’s going to be an Octavian/Chains matchup–two white people writing about two black people in the Revolutionary War.

    11:44, as i understand it the organizers chose sixteen (is that right) of the buzziest books of last year.

    Enormous Girl, how do you deal with negative signed reviews? Getting one of those would probably hurt my pride more than the stated opinions of the BoB judges, who fall all over themselves about how tough it is choosing between two such great, great books–it’s almost as if most of them flipped a coin, by the sound of it.

  11. Anonymous says:

    >Who is the next judge and can we get him or her to please not use the phrase “apples and oranges?” At least it should be easy to avoid in this match up.

  12. Anonymous says:

    >”11:44, as i understand it the organizers chose sixteen (is that right) of the buzziest books of last year.”

    I am imagining the Rube Goldberg buzzometer that they keep in the closet of the School Library Journal office.

    Are there any that you would have put into the BoB that weren’t there?

    Anon 11:44

  13. Roger Sutton says:

    >The novels the Horn Book chose for its best of the year list included The London Eye Mystery, Forever Rose and Last of the High Kings in addition to BoB contenders Kingdom of the Waves, Hunger Games, Graveyard Book, Forever Rose and Nation. Among our nonfiction choices (which included We Are the Ship and The Lincolns) we also had Christo and Jeanne-Claude, The Way We Work, Our White House and what was really my favorite book last year, Pale Male. We gave positive reviews to all of the BoB choices but obviously liked some better than others.

  14. Monica Edinger says:

    >Another BoB contender on your best of the year list was none other than WAYS TO LIVE FOREVER.

  15. Anonymous says:

    >I found the Fanfare list — there are only NINE fiction titles picked as best books of 2008 and one of them is indeed Ways to Live Forever — which is the contender of the first match, against Octavian nothing II.

  16. Roger Sutton says:

    >Yeah, Ways to Live Forever slipped my mind in the recount. Nothing personal.

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