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Rural juror

The Morning News started its tournament of books yesterday with a match between Louise Erdrich’s The Round House and John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars. I thought the critic, Edan Lepucki, did a great job of assessing each book’s strengths and shortcomings and coming up with a winner. Today, the match between Adam Johnson’s The Orphan Master’s Son and Maria’ Semple’s Where’d You Go Bernadette is judged by a more milquetoasted Elliot Holt, but I found a useful link in the commentary. I seem to have missed Jacob Silverman’s “Against Enthusiasm” when it appeared in Slate last August, but I hope every member of the kidlitosphere reads it.


Our sis School Library Journal begins its Battle of the Books on Monday Tuesday, and I’ll be over here critiquing the judges in brackets of two and allowing one to “move forward,” where, eventually (and if I’ve done the math right) one shall face the BoB’s Big Kahuna judge, Frank Cottrell Boyce. I’m not doing this to be mean–unless somebody drives me to it–but to test my frequent assertion that there’s too much diplomacy in children’s book discussion (again, see the Silverman essay linked above). I am also interested in exploring what kind of criticism these non-professionals will employ: will they argue from personal taste, moral significance, reader appeal, aesthetic value? Each or all of these can work; what matters most in this contest is that the judge is able to express a clear preference for one book over another and say why. The prize is two one-year subscriptions to the Horn Book Magazine, one to the winning judge and another to the library of his or her choice.I’ll be judge and jury (shades of SLJ’s Lillian Gerhardt: raise your hand if you’re old enough to remember her infamous Billy Budd Button and Huck Finn Pin!)

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. This is cool. To be honest I stopped reading the SLJ BoB a couple of years ago because the judges’ decisions seemed so bland and squee-y, and I was getting more irritated than seemed reasonable.

  2. Roger, just a couple of things:

    1. The BoB’s first match starts on TUESDAY, March 12th… not Monday 🙂

    2. I’m not so sure that authors are not “professionals” — they write professionally, right? and they definitely can think critically and professionally when reading someone else’s work. They are not professionally paid critics, that’s true.

    And Wendy, perhaps you’ll see who wins Roger’s best judge prize and at least read THAT one?

  3. Roger Sutton Roger Sutton says:

    Thanks, Fairrosa I fixed it. As far as no. 2 goes, I do think these are non-professional critics despite whatever virtues or job descriptions they may have otherwise. (I was going to call them amateurs in the term’s strictest sense but I don’t know if they’re judging BoB for love or money.) It doesn’t mean they can’t/won’t do a great job, merely that they come to it from a different place. Did you sign these people up for their critical skills or because they are noteworthy creators of books for young people?

  4. Roger,

    All the judges who are invited to judge for BoB volunteer their time and thoughts without any compensation. (I’m surprised that you aren’t sure about this, since, after all, you were our inaugural judge, in 2009!!) This is a link to that year’s matches and judge statements – with yours on the very top 🙂

    As to your last question — SLJ definitely invites noteworthy creators of books for young people and I believe many, of not all, of them have the ability to employ critical skills in comparing two worthy children’s books. Just because they don’t write book reviews for a living doesn’t mean that they can’t figure out literary merits and flaws in books. There is something to be said about reading the industry insiders’ views on a particular craft. I think it offers something different and allows the readers a few new angles to consider the same books.

  5. Roger Sutton Roger Sutton says:

    I wasn’t sure because as a Media Source employee I couldn’t be paid anyway!

    Interesting that you call writers “industry insiders.” Really? But I have no doubt they will have valuable things to say. I just want to know why they tend to be so wimpy. (As was I, not confessing straight-out that I found Kingdom on the Waves worthy but boring.)

  6. Sorry for my poor terminology — hmm… practitioners? field experts? Perhaps you can host an expose of some of our previous judges and make them “confess” their true feelings? :p

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