Okay for Now by Gary D. Schmidt Clarion/HMH Life: An Exploded Diagram by Mal Peet Candlewick Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys Philomel/Penguin Judged by Jonathan Stroud
When those fine people at School Library Journal asked me to judge the conclusion of this year’s Battle of the Kids’ Books, I knew at once it was a great honour. What I didn’t know, exactly, was what a “Big Kahuna” actually was. To me it conjured an image of a patriarchal sort of cove, wearing an impressive white beard, a set of mercifully long robes and a pair of leather sandals. Probably sitting resplendent on some kind of throne. Well, I did the best I could. The beard is false, the robes are itchy, and instead of a throne I’ve got a fold-up picnic chair, but that’s all incidental. What matters is what I’ve been reading. Three superb books, the hard-won finalists of a magnificent competition.
Here’s something I discovered right off. It doesn’t matter how big your beard is, sitting in judgement is a tricky job.
Or at least it is when each of the books is so individually excellent and tonally distinctive. And when their subject matter is so apparently disparate: love and sex in the shadow of the Cuban Missile Crisis; enduring the unimaginable horrors of Stalinist persecutions; the life of a kid growing up in Vietnam-era small-town America. How do you adjudicate something like that?
Well, for …