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Appelt v. Caletti

Very different approaches here from Kathi Appelt (Three Times Lucky v. Endangered) and Deb Caletti (Temple Grandin v. The Fault in Our Stars). Appelt’s voice is very . . . considered, placing her contenders in literary context and braiding her observations on one book with her thoughts about the other and bringing them into contention on theme: “Mo and Sophie [the respective heroines] make us think of the human spirit as a treasure.” One wins: “But at the end of the day, it’s Sophie who does this best.”

We don’t need the immediately following caveat: “At least for this reader.” We didn’t think you were speaking for anyone else.

Caletti is practically hyper-ventilating as she begins, having “a moment of panic” (understandable, but still) about comparing a book she had never heard of to the ubiquitous and multi-laurelled John Green (“What about CARNEGIE HALL?”). And I wish I never knew AND NOW I CAN’T UNLEARN IT that Laurie Halse Anderson called John Green “a holy man.” As Richard observed to me about Bette Midler in Gypsy, the problem with starting big is that the only place to go is frantic, and Caletti’s enthusiasm doesn’t leave enough room for our own. (This is something like the point Kenneth Oppel made about Wonder.) But she identifies respective and common strengths and ultimately her context and criteria: “I am a novelist. I love a perfect sentence and a just-right image.” She chooses Green because she thinks the writing is richer. I’m inferring because she starts going on about birthday cakes then and I had to look away.

Winner: Appelt.

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. I really want to know what followers of BoB think about your choices here, Roger. So, am I right to progress your bracket pairing to the following: Oppel will be pitched against Napoli and Appelt against Leavitt?

  2. Roxanne, I am enjoying this immensely. It has been an education in critique, and clearly delivered. The persistent snark is appreciated but not distracting. After reading the first round I didn’t even need the check to know Caletti blew it.

  3. Sam Bloom says:

    I’m with DaNae, this is super-awesome. And I agree with both of Roger’s decisions so far, including the fact that Appelt has been best so far (at least, that’s what I’m inferring from him from his comments… correct me if I’m wrong, Roger). I think it’s possible to be more critical while also playing nice, and I think it is so true that the judges so often bend over backwards not to ruffle feathers. I love that the two competitions are going on simultaneously, so we can start with BoB, read some of the comments on there, and then immediately come on over to hear Roger’s thoughts!

    Oh, and the changing Batman and Robin graphics – hilarious!

  4. Since I am involved with the year-long process of figuring out the final 16 titles for BoB, I’d like to remind everyone that these books all have received great reviews, won awards, popular with readers, and really positive responses from many readers. So, I think that it is absolutely possible for a judge/reader to see mostly positive aspects of the two books in front of them. If the books do not possess a lot of merits, they wouldn’t have made it to the arena.

  5. In a serious bout of procrastination, I decided to actually do a (very quick) tally to answer the question you posed a few days ago: what proportion of the decisions put the losing book first?

    My numbers were as follows (for all decisions up to Friday’s):
    Losing book(s) first (all of the Big Kahuna Round decisions discussed the winner third): 48
    Winning book first: 12
    Interwove discussion of the two: 4

    Some of my categorizations could be questioned (you could make a case that some of the “loser firsts” could be put into the interwoven category, especially from 2009; when there appeared to be extended discussions, I categorized by which book was discussed at length first. In the case of Appelt’s decision this year, she interwove, but always discussed the loser before the winner for each category), but overall, the trend is clear: the loser gets discussed before the winner way more often.

  6. Roger Sutton Roger Sutton says:

    Roxanne, Monica warned me there was something off about the math but she couldn’t put her finger on what. While I will be able to judge the first set of brackets with no problems, I can’t advance the winner because that would screw up the next round. So what I’m going to do, once the remaining two brackets of round one are completed, is choose a winner from that round. I’ll do the same with the second, third, and final rounds, then choose a winner-winner from that remaining group of four. I hope this is right!

    David, that must have been some SERIOUS work you were avoiding. Thanks!

  7. I think however you do it, it will work, somehow 🙂 This really makes one look at the ways we examine books, especially books for children. However, perhaps what needs to be done is an overhaul of the “professional” practices of the reviewers/critics. I feel that this judging of the author-as-judges does not solve your original query — how, as a field, we examine children’s books. Or, as a field, how we write reviews. One of my teachers at school was surprised when she started reading “professional” children’s book reviews (trying to find good examples for her students to imitate) that so much of the space is given to just plot summary and only one or two sentences toward the end of each “review” say something evaluative about the book — and often not illuminating enough on the literary qualities of the books. Since book synopses are so easy to find online these days, perhaps the reviewers can spend more words on dissecting the books’ literary merits/flaws?

  8. I find that the summaries on line don’t really tell the whole story, and aren’t really helpful. I don’t really care if a book is “literary” or not, but I do want to know if it is a good story that my students may find interesting. Perhaps middle school students are rubbing off on me, but a plot summary and a couple of evaluative lines are all that I really want in a book review. I try to visit a lot of different blogs to find out what new books are out there, and I don’t need a dissection of all of their qualities.

  9. Oh, I totally understand the pragmatic side of these reviews, since they are published as selection aids, mostly for public and school libraries. I am pretty ignorant out of this area: are there more literary reviews for school teachers and parents on children’s books as gateways to higher literary appreciation — and not just for theoretical or academic explorations? Who publish those and where can parents and elementary/middle school teachers access them?

  10. Roger, thank you so much for this reviewer-review. I’ve been lukewarm with the BoB for the past few years because I felt that all of the judges were too nice and not articulate enough about their choices. To tell the truth, they are often dull because of this. Hopefully future judges will rethink their choices!

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