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3_9_BKTS_1RND_alljudgesThe Newbery Curse strikes again! Every year during SLJ’s Battle of the Kids’ Books, we joke about how Newbery books always fare badly. And indeed, both Newbery-stickered books in this year’s tournament (The Doll Bones and Flora & Ulysses) were defeated in Round 1. I don’t think either has a chance of coming back from the dead (my bet is on Eleanor & Park or Rose Under Fire), so it looks like they’re out of the running for good.

What about previous years? I took a deep dive to study the Curse’s power:

In 2009, the event’s first year, The Graveyard Book (Newbery winner) and The Underneath (honor) lost in Round 1.

In 2010, the Newbery winner (When You Reach Me) and honor book Claudette Colvin: Twice Toward Justice went down in Round 1. But The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate made it to Round 2 before being defeated by Charles and Emma. We have our first (semi) winner!

In 2011, the only Newbery book–One Crazy Summer–lost in Round 1 to The Odyssey.

In 2012, Dead End in Norvelt lost in Round 1, but Newbery honor book Inside Out and Back Again won once before being vanquished by Drawing From Memory in Round 2.

2013 is special, because all four Newbery-winning and honor books made it into the tournament (what eerie predictive powers you have, Battle Commanders). Three Times Lucky and The One and Only Ivan lost in Round 1. Surprisingly, Bomb and Splendors and Glooms made it to Round 3 before losing out–to The Fault in Our Stars and No Crystal Stair, respectively.

The verdict? No Newbery winner has ever made it past Round 1, or been selected as an Undead Winner. In that sense, the Newbery Curse is omnipotent (0/5). Once you consider the nine honor books, two made it to Round 2, and another two to Round 3. Not a great record, but far from a complete loss. Clearly the Curse has its weak spots. I wonder how the books would fare if BoB occurred before the ALA Youth Media Awards? Does the Newbery sticker create a subtle bias on the part of the judges, who want to highlight books that didn’t get Official Award recognition? I suspect there’s more at work, since the hallmark of BoB is to pit books in different categories against each other. It all comes down to the judges’ personal preferences, and that’s why we spend so much time scrutinizing their publishing history to search for clues. What do you think?

On the eve of battle, here are my predictions for this year’s SLJ Battle of the Kids’ Books. I was amazingly lucky last year, getting 7/8 in round one. Let’s see if my luck holds:

boxers saintsRound One

All the Truth that’s In Me vs. The Animal Book

Boxers & Saints vs. A Corner of White: I’m counting on judge Yuri Morales’ illustrator background to give the graphic novel the edge.

Doll Bones vs. Eleanor & Park

Far Far Away vs. Flora & Ulysses: because I don’t want the Newbery Curse to rear its head this early in the game.

Hokey Pokey vs. March Book One

Midwinterblood vs. P.S. Be Eleven: given Chloe and the Lion, I think Mac Barnett would enjoy the nontraditional structure of Midwinterblood.

Rose Under Fire vs. The Thing About Luck

True Blue Scouts of Sugar Man Swamp vs. What the Heart Knows: everyone knows Mo LeBeau and Bingo and J’miah are kindred spirits.

Round Two

The Animal Book vs. Boxers & Saints

Eleanor & Park vs. Flora & Ulysses

March Book One vs. Midwinterblood

Rose Under Fire vs. True Blue Scouts of Sugar Man Swamp

Round Three

Boxers & Saints vs. Eleanor & Park

March Book One vs. Rose Under Fire

Big Kahuna Round

Eleanor & Park comes back from the dead, facing off against Rose Under Fire and Boxers & Saints: while I would love to see Boxers and Saints walk off with the (virtual) medal, I predict Rose Under Fire will win–not that I’m complaining, of course! Rose’s “Rabbit” family reminds me so much of the large, scrappy families at the heart of Jenni Holm’s books.

I’m a quarter of the way through Eleanor & Park, and enjoying it a lot more than Jen did. I had the advantage of reading without high expectations, whereas Jen read it over the summer, right after it won a Boston Globe-Horn Book Award and much praise from reviewers. That’s the danger with hype: even great books can easily fall short. Luckily, by the time I got to the book a week ago, my main concern was finishing it before SLJ’s Battle of the Kids’ Books begins next week, and the only review I remembered was Jen’s.

Of course, hype can also work the other way: there was a lot of grumbling about What Came From the Stars before Jen and I read it. I like to think we would have loved it regardless of what the reviews said, but our low–or at least neutral–expectations didn’t hurt. We continue to be bewildered by those who fail to appreciate its genius.

Perhaps I should start avoiding certain reviews. I get most of my book recommendations through blogs, twitter, and The Horn Book. When all three sources start rhapsodizing about the same book, I get nervous about the book’s ability to deliver (notable exceptions: The Doll Bones, Bo at Ballard Creek, Team Humanwhich were simply too good). I could impose a quota: if there’s a book I’m going to read anyway, I pledge to read no more than X glowing reviews before I judge for myself? This seems like a superficial solution. Sometimes it takes a good five or six reviews to push me to read somethingie Between Shades of Gray, because I wasn’t ready to be depressed. I would hate to miss another book like that by avoiding what others have to say.

STATS 101 with Sondy

I’d like to share the stats lessons Sondy from Sonderbooks offered in response to my previous post regarding SLJ Battle Stats 101. They’re too good and geeky to be buried in the comments section. First, she caught my terminology snafu: intersection vs union.

You’re actually not finding the union of the events at the end, but the intersection. In other words, you’re finding the probability that you guess all matches right up to the semi-finals AND the probability you guess the last match correctly. They’re independent, so you multiply, as you did.

So to make sure I really understood (midterm in a week!), I made a diagram:

intersection Continue Reading »

The-True-Blue-Scouts-of-Sugar-Man-Swamp-2821158Jen was right–Kathi Appelt’s True Blue Scouts of Sugar Man Swamp is a book that should be read aloud, not read from the page. The cadence of the text drew me in from the first sentence of the audiobook, narrated by Lyle Lovett. It took me awhile to get used to Lovett’s voice, mostly because I’d always imagined a female narrator (my mind must be stuck on Keeper, narrated by Appelt herself). His narration initially sounded too detached for the humorous, warm atmosphere. But after awhile, Lovett won me over. Perhaps it’s because he relished the intrusive narrator moments (“You heard me. The DeSoto.”), and pulled them off so smoothly I barely noticed the intrusion.* I also appreciated the sly, matter-of-fact tone used for the raccoon brothers’ silly antics (“Blinkle,” Bingo’s dewberry guilt, their POUFing near Gertrude).

Speaking of Gertrude, Lovett has a particular talent for sound effects, including the all-important snip-snap-zip-zap! and the Farrow Gang’s ecstatic squeals. As for Coyote Jim’s howl, it was so loud I had to rip the headphones from my ears. Arrroooooooo, indeed.

*For a true test of Lovett’s skills, I suggest asking Charlotte of Charlotte’s Library if she can stomach the intrusive narrator when read by his voice.

battleI’m a few weeks into my statistics class and so far, it’s been a lot of “plug and chug.” But real mastery of statistics requires knowing when to use who’s test where…so for fun, I will attempt to analyze this year’s brackets for SLJ’s Battle of the Kids’ Books, especially now that the Battle schematics are up! (Aside: please correct me if I get the math wrong. Better now than on my exam.)

Suppose you didn’t read any of the battle books, what’s the probability of randomly guessing the correct winners?

Now, there are 14 brackets leading up to and including the semi-finals, and the probability of guessing right per bracket is 0.5, since there are two contestants, but only one winner each time. Each guess is independent of the others, since you’re no more likely to correctly guess the outcome, say, of Boxers&Saints vs. A Corner of White after successfully predicting the previous match-up.

To solve this problem, the gut instinct thing to do would be to multiply 0.5 fourteen times, which equals 0.000061, to get the probability of guessing correctly all the way through the semi-finals. Continue Reading »

oceanAlthough Neil Gaiman’s latest book is steeped in myth like The Graveyard Book and as creepy as Coraline, unlike its predecessors, childhood in The Ocean at the End of the Lane is anything but safe. In perhaps his most reflective novel yet, Gaiman broods with melancholy and memory as his unnamed narrator returns to Sussex as an adult for a family funeral, and finds himself inexplicably drawn to the Hempstock farm at the end of the lane.

There, in front of the duck pond his childhood friend Lettie liked to call her ocean, he begins to remember how the Hempstock property was a place of solace for him, how he turned to Lettie for protection when he awoke from a nightmare choking on a silver shilling, how this sends them into the woods in pursuit of an ancient creature that takes the shape of rotten rags flapping in the wind–a creature that worms its way into the narrator’s life in the shape of a sadistic nanny who then wreaks havoc by turning all his family members against him. Continue Reading »

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