THE RING OF SOLOMON BY JONATHAN STROUD
published by Hyperion Books
16 books. One winner.
THE RING OF SOLOMON BY JONATHAN STROUD
published by Hyperion Books
The Ring of Solomon by Jonathan Stroud Hyperion A Conspiracy of Kings by Megan Whalen Turner Greenwillow/HarperCollins Keeper by Kathi Appelt Atheneum/Simon & Schuster Judged by Richard Peck
Her Ladyship, Katherine Paterson, said last year she found herself in a pickle over three fine finalists. It appears to be an annual issue, and this year the pickle’s on my plate.
On the evidence of these three winning reads, we have moved past the hard and gritty edges of the Printz winners and the conventions of the old-line Young Adult novel: that photographic realism, that plot told in a straight line.
We seem to have awakened into a new era–A.R. (After Rowling) in richly blended melanges of fact and fantasy, looping plotlines, shifting viewpoints, and, often enough, thick tomes in series. A lot of good reading to keep us occupied until the summer debut of the final Harry Potter movie.
Fiction–stories–are alternate worlds that question the readers’ real ones. And here before us we have three worlds that are alternate indeed: (1) a completely fabricated sub-continent of warring city states (2) a prosaic stretch of the Gulf-of-Mexico shoreline woven with myth in a child’s mind and (3) ancient Israel revised by a vast cast of supernatural beings.
In short: magus, mermaid, marid. I don’t know about you, but I feel turned every way but loose.
But these books all reach for young readers, and so they are on the Great American Theme: Coming of Age, being …
Here’s what we’ve come across this week. Let us know what we’ve missed in the comments.
Here’s Book Nut on Week Two. Mr. H is sad. Sondy’s thoughts on Round Two and Round Two. Josephine Cameron is catching up (and finding new books to read). Gail Gauthier is pleased with Bartimaeus’ progress and has some thoughts about the battle here. Eva tuned in briefly. Liz B keeps is keeping on top of ALL the matches here! Dalton BookBlogger c17rg on how he’d have decided Round 2 Match 4, final predictions, and a response. The Sounis folk are gloating. Here’s another take on the undead winner. Kara Schaff Dean on the final three. educating alice (one half of the Battle Commander) reflects on all the matches to date.
As the voting opened, A CONSPIRACY OF KINGS raced to a huge lead, commanding nearly half of the votes. As the days went by, however, that lead was whittled down to 18%, still good enough to win, but never in doubt. A TALE DARK AND GRIMM, THEY CALLED THEMSELVES THE KKK, and WILL GRAYSON, WILL GRAYSON all pulled in just over 10% of the vote. So there’s your final three: KEEPER vs. THE RING OF SOLOMON vs. A CONSPIRACY OF KINGS. Place your bets!
– Commentator Jonathan Hunt
Trash by Andy Mulligan David Fickling/Random House The Ring of Solomon by Jonathan Stroud Hyperion Books Judged by Karen Cushman
When I first saw the two titles that were coming my way, I assumed that one would deal with serious contemporary issues and the other be a fairy tale. I was right, but I put the hats on the wrong heads.
Trash is a gripping examination of unthinkable poverty, abuse, and official corruption. Andy Mulligan gives us adventure, danger, mystery, a treasure hunt, and coded messages. Some have called it a book about a dystopian future. I found it unfortunately much too likely and current. And yet it is a fairy tale, pitting good children against evil adults, who out-clever and out-maneuver the grownups and live happily ever after. They accomplish all this by lying and stealing with little remorse. It’s all they know and their means of survival. It put me in mind of Hansel and Gretel eating the witch’s house, substituting a chicken bone for Hansel’s finger, and finally pushing the witch into the oven she had prepared for the children.
The book, like the Grimm’s fairy tale, asks who are the villains? Who the real thieves and liars?
I loved Trash (I hear Oscar the Grouch singing every time I type the word) and cared deeply about the boys. I loved Raphael’s little shelf of treasures, Rat’s pride and shame at sharing his hole with the other boys, Raphael throwing his arm over Rat as …
Keeper by Kathi Appelt Atheneum/Simon & Schuster The Cardturner by Louis Sachar Delacorte Books/Random House Judged by Grace Lin
When I was asked to be a Battle of the Books judge I hurriedly became acquainted with all the original titles, as I was unsure which two books I would be choosing from. To save time, I listened to many of them on audio book while I worked on illustrations or commuted. One of the first audio books I listened to was Keeper. I have to admit, the audio book did not enamor me and I stopped listening half way though. I thought Keeper would be at the bottom of my list.
However, Keeper turned out to be one of the two books for me to choose from and, valuing the opinions of the esteemed judges before me, I knew I had to give the book another chance. So, with physical book in hand, I began to read.
And what a difference! When I read the book, suddenly the magic became apparent. I loved the slow unveiling of each story, the way the back and forth narratives seemed to echo the motion of the ocean waves that rocked Keeper’s boat. I found the fantasy elements of Yemaya and Jacque der Mer enchanting and I could feel the heartbreak of each character. Even the animals—the dog BD and the crow Captain had fully-realized personalities.
The blurring of myth and reality was seamless and the writing was poetic, yet always accessible. …
A Tale Dark and Grimm by Adam Gidwitz Dutton/Penguin Trash by Andy Mulligan David Fickling/Random House Judged by Pete Hautman
Two tales, dark and grim: one, a retelling of the Brothers Grimm’s “brother and sister” stories, the other a thriller sent in shameful, hellacious underbelly of a third world city.
I felt a little uncomfortable stepping into these books. Okay, I’ll admit it—I like happy books that make me glad I am who I am. Murderous parents, child-eating witches, orphaned trash pickers, and monstrously corrupt politicians do not make me feel good about being human. But that’s because I’m a grownup, all tender and vulnerable and fiercely protective of my comfort level. Younger readers are more adventurous. As was I, once upon a time. Clearly, to give these books a fair shake I would have to channel my younger self.
In A Tale Dark and Grimm, Adam Gidwitz makes it easy. These fairly straightforward retellings are interrupted, frequently, by the author, who offers warnings (“This next bit is a bit gross,”) commentary (“No, I didn’t think the moon ate people either. But is says so, right in the original Grimm,”) and alternate endings to several of the tales. There is a forbidden fruit deliciousness here—like being a kid and having your most favorite and funniest uncle telling you stories that might make your overly-protective helicopter parents blanch.
The retelling of classic children’s stories has become a subgenre all its own, from Twain’s reimagined “Camelot” (A Connecticut Yankee in …
The Odyssey by Gareth Hinds Candlewick The Ring of Solomon by Jonathan Stroud Hyperion Books Judged by Patricia Reilly Giff
I read THE ODYSSEY by Gareth Hinds first. Based on Homer’s epic poem, it tells of the terrible efforts King Odysseus must make to return home to Ithaca.Even holding the book is a joy, the soft blues and greens of the cover, its velvet feeling. Before reading a word, you have to wander through the pages, admiring this world.
The story is wonderfully told in the confines of space allowed in a graphic novel; captivating illustrations enhance the tale. We see the strength of Odysseus the beauty of his queen, the terrifying face of the Cyclops. The eyes of the characters are stunningly portrayed: anger, courage, longing, scheming.
I can only imagine the depths of research that went into this book. The author’s note gives us a hint of the tremendous variations in translations and questions raised by scholars that gave him leeway in telling the story while still preserving historical background.
As in many of the classics, a myriad of characters people the pages. It’s hard in the beginning to keep them straight. I found myself reading and rereading.
And each time, I found something new to admire in the writing and especially in the illustrations; I was moved particularly by the views of the sea.
But what about Jonathan Stroud’s THE RING OF SOLOMON? What about the djinni Bartimaeus? For those who aren’t familiar with djinn, …
Here’s what we’ve come across this week. As always, if we missed yours, let us know in the comments and we’ll add it in here or in next week’s Peanut Gallery.
Judge Rex did some fretting last Sunday night. Book Nut on the first week of the competition. Eric Carpenter has a Leader Board and some ideas about what will happen in Round Two. Liz B’s on a roll with posts on Round One’s Matches 6, 7, and 8 and Match 1 from Round Two. Slightly Addicted to Fiction gives us her thoughts here. Spring Break hasn’t kept one of our Dalton Book Bloggers are following along too. Enthusiastic c19rg has thoughts about this week’s first round decisions here, here, and here, as well as one considering round two here. And here are BoB musing from Random Musings of a Bibliophile. Sondy’s here with hers. Gareth Hinds was very pleased with Judge Hesse. Notes from the Max notes us.
The Good, The Bad, and the Barbie by Tanya Stone Viking/Penguin Keeper by Kathi Appelt Atheneum/Simon & Schuster Judged by Naomi Shihab Nye
Forgive the personal note, but if one is going to read something for a contest, being thunderstruck by illness right beforehand may not be the worst occurrence. It’s reminiscent of some beloved Robert Louis Stevenson poem about lying abed for blurred hours with mounds of rumpled sheets and one’s toys and books piled everywhere. Languid, overheated/chilled lostness enables focused horizontal absorption into material…also one is able to read straight through, pondering and napping between chapters…
So, I got sick, but I went to bed with Barbie dolls and mermaids. As a child of the 50’s & 60’s who never had a Barbie, and even developed some phobia about touching them at other people’s houses (the danger of those particular, uh, mounds)… this felt exotic. Who would know how fascinating her history really is, without reading THE GOOD, THE BAD, AND THE BARBIE – A DOLL’S HISTORY AND HER IMPACT ON US by the intrepid Tanya Lee Stone (Viking) – a lavishly illustrated, carefully constructed exploration of the half-century-plus history of an icon, both adored and loathed, by more people than many of us could have dreamed.
I feel as if I have somehow caught up with my childhood friends.
And who could not admire Ruth Mosko Handler, “inventor” of Barbie? Although I still have more questions about Barbie’s extremely derivative nature since the 1959 original, …
The Card Turner by Louis Sachar Delacorte Books/Random House Countdown by Deborah Wiles Scholastic Press Judged by Laura Amy Schlitz
Let me make one thing clear: I’m not going to be dispassionate about this. I agreed to be a judge, but I refuse to be judicious; I’m not going to nitpick and split hairs. If I had been given two mediocre books, I might have managed it: one can be beautifully dispassionate about mediocre books. But COUNTDOWN and THE CARDTURNER are remarkable books, and the proper response is not assessment, but appreciation. I’m going to fling objectivity out the window (let’s face it; it’s overrated) and have myself a good time.
It’s fascinating to compare COUNTDOWN with THE CARDTURNER, because they are so much alike. They are radically different in flavor, but Ms. Wiles and Mr. Sachar were forced to grapple with the same technical problem: how to incorporate great lashings of exposition into a story without losing momentum. (I like to imagine both authors in a bar, enjoying a good grouse about it.) Anyone who reads THE CARDTURNER has to pick up enough bridge to follow what happens at the card table. In COUNTDOWN, the reader must assimilate the culture of the early sixties and feel the impact of the Cuban Missile Crisis. In order to develop the background of Franny’s story, Ms. Wiles makes expert use of visual materials, conversational essays, and quotations. Mr. Sachar teaches the reader about bridge through dialogue, …
Trash by Andy Mulligan David Fickling/Random House Will Grayson, Will Grayson by John Green and David Levithan Dutton/Penguin Judged by Mitali Perkins
I was assigned novels featuring two unforgettable trios of guys: Raphael, Gardo, and Rat in Trash, and Tiny, Will, and Will in Will Grayson, Will Grayson. I loved all six of these boys. Focusing first on character, I felt like Meryl Streep as Sophie forced to choose between two sets of favorite sons—a virtually impossible task. So far, it was a tie.
I moved to setting. As usual, expert young adult writers David Levithan and John Green portrayed the angst and agony of life in America’s suburban high schools perfectly in Will Grayson, Will Grayson. Trash’s setting was fictional, but Andy Mulligan’s vivid descriptions brought to mind the squalor in several cities I’ve visited. Once again, when it came to setting, I had a tie.
Next I considered language. Clever turns of phrase, funny and moving dialog, rich vocabulary, and scrupulous avoidance of cliché gave Will Grayson, Will Grayson an edge over the more sparely told Trash. I wondered if this was partly due to the older target audience Levithan and Green had in mind, but nonetheless, the language point went to Will Grayson, Will Grayson.
What about plot? Both books were page turners. I tore through Trash, rooting for the boys in their impossible quest to escape the force of corrupt authority and start a new life without fear and suffering. In Will Grayson, Will …
A Tale Dark and Grimm by Adam Gidwitz Dutton/Penguin They Called Themselves the K.K.K. by Susan Campbell Bartoletti Houghton Mifflin Judged by R.L. Stine
A TALE DARK & GRIMM by Adam Gidwitz
When I was in elementary school, I was already fascinated by the worlds of fantasy and magic and horror. I read every book of fairy tales in our school library. I then proceeded to our town library where I moved up and down the shelves of fairy tales, Norse legends, and Greek myths, devouring book after book.
As a long-time devotee of these stories, I opened Adam Gidwitz’ A Tale Dark and Grimm with great anticipation. I’m happy to say the book provided a wonderful return to the Grimm world—the world of dark woods, unspeakable evil, not-so-innocent children, witches, dragons, and more—that had enthralled me as a child.
Gidwitz has not only presented us with a masterful retelling and re-imagining of the original Grimm works. His book provides a wonderful lesson in story-telling—how stories are made, how they can be twisted and turned, and how they change over time.
The book is inviting right from the start. The author warns that the old Hansel and Gretel story isn’t what you expect, that fairy tales aren’t for the faint-of-heart. His warning that “the one true tale is as violent and bloody as you can imagine” makes the book irresistible. Who could stop reading after a warning like that?
He then presents a retelling of several Grimm tales, beginning …
The Ring of Solomon by Jonathan Stroud Hyperion Books Sugar Changed the World by Marc Aronson and Marina Budhos Clarion Books/Houghton Mifflin Judged by Adam Rex
I’ve been asked to decide which book is better–The Ring of Solomon by Jonathan Stroud, or Sugar Changed the World by Marc Aronson and Marina Budhos. That is, I’ve been asked to choose between a rollicking fantasy about a waggish djinni who becomes unwittingly embroiled in plots to steal a ring of unfathomable power, and a nonfictional exploration of the sociopolitical influence that sugar has had over world history and culture. I’m especially suited for this, since I’m always posing these sorts of questions to myself in my daily life: which is better–jogging or goldfish? A really good haircut or Thai food?1
So it was with absolutely no trepidation at all that I plunged into reading The Ring of Solomon, which just happened to arrive four days before the other one.
Thanks to my background as an illustrator I’ve had the almost unheard of privilege of designing all or part of each of my book covers, and not once has it occurred to me to ask if there’s any money in the budget for iridescent ink. You probably know what I mean–the prismatic oil slick sheen that varnishes the illustrations on the covers of each of Stroud’s Bartimaeus books.2 Otherwise the cover is quite traditional, similar in composition to the sort of color plate-pasted-over-cloth-binding you’d see on a book published almost a …
Here’s what we’ve come across this week. As always, if we missed yours, let us know in the comments and we’ll add it in here or in next week’s Peanut Gallery.
Roger Sutton thinks our first judge is a ….well, go see for yourself! Slightly Addicted to Fiction appears addicted to us too. The Brain Lair has her first round picks here. And here are Brandy Painter’s. The Los Angeles Times mentioned us in…um… “The Crazy Proliferation of March Madness Book Contests.“ Miss Julie also includes our Battle in her round-up. Good Books for Kids is “…glad we aren’t judges.“ The Dalton School Book Bloggers have some, er, strong thoughts about this week here, here, here as well as this take on one of next week’s battles. Based on his Bracket Challenge, here are Eric Carpenter’s Round One Previews: Part 1 and Part 2. Linda suggests that “This would be a fun reading activity in your school using the Battle of the Kids’ Books list or your own list.” We agree. Liz Burns on Match 1, Match 2, Match 3, Match 4, and Match 5. Kara Schaff Dean on the story so far and a bit farther. PCL Book Space is pleased with Judge Stork’s decision, reflects on Tuesday’s match. Wednesday‘s, and Thursday‘s. Conspiracy of Kings’ fans are not giving up. Eva on the first three matches. Mr. H was outraged with Barry Lyga’s decision! Mirka and Barry are gracious. Finally, the Everdeen Sisters are back!
The Odyssey by Gareth Hinds Candlewick One Crazy Summer by Rita Williams-Garcia Amistad/HarperCollins Judged by Karen Hesse
In the summer of 1968, eleven-year-old Delphine boards a plane in New York, along with her younger sisters, Vonetta, and Fern, to spend a month in California with the mother who abandoned them shortly after Fern’s birth. Though that mother, Cecile (aka Nzila), grudgingly meets her daughters at the airport, she takes no further responsibility for them once she brings them home, and Delphine, who has been mother to the two younger girls since the moment of Cecile’s desertion seven years earlier, must now look out for her siblings in a strange place and without the support of a father or grandmother to back her up.
The story is set in trying times. Both Kennedys and Martin Luther King Jr. have been assassinated and the country is drowning under a swelling tide of racism. Because Cecile refuses to let the girls into her life, Delphine, Vonetta and Fern, who had led sheltered lives in their Brooklyn home, are suddenly thrust into the politics of the time, spending their long summer days at a Black Panther community camp.
We, as readers, process all of this through the keen sensibilities of Delphine, who is tall for her age and wise beyond her years. With a voice that is sometimes an echo of her grandmother, sometimes a perplexed adolescent, we ache as we watch her come to terms with her emotionally crippled mother, …
Hereville: How Mirka Got Her Sword by Barry Deutsch Amulet/Abrams Keeper by Kathi Appelt Atheneum/Simon & Schuster Judged by Susan Patron
For me, the first Battle was in being assigned a book, Keeper, whose author Kathi Appelt had six months earlier provided a gorgeous blurb for my own new book. Some of her Acknowledgment read like some of my Acknowledgment; we share a much-loved editor.
I explained the dilemma and asked my Commander at SLJ for a different set of books to judge.
He wrote to me, “Actually, since the world of children’s book writers isn’t all that huge, we’ve had stuff like that happen in the past,” and he asked me to try to forge ahead, as had judges in previous years. Plus, it was too late in the process to re-assign books.
I wrestled with the problem, my inner librarian springing into action. “Oh, come on,” she said. “We are professionals at this; we judge the book, not the author. “
Yes, my inner writer shot back, but this is really difficult. It will look like I compromised myself if Appelt’s book wins and it will look base and ungenerous to her if it doesn’t.
My inner librarian flared up. “You won’t compromise yourself because you will be transparent, honest, and straightforward. And Kathi Appelt certainly expects no reciprocation for the blurb; it underestimates her to assume that.”
Well, true enough. I, too, have blurbed other authors’ books, and only when I genuinely loved the books, …
The Dreamer by Pam Munoz Ryan, illus. by Peter Sis Scholastic Press The Good, The Bad, and the Barbie by Tanya Stone Viking/Penguin Judged by Barry Lyga
BATTLE! OF! THE! BOOKS! a review in One Act
[We open at Barry Lyga’s home. There is a knock at the door. Barry rises from a comfortable sofa to open the door. A package is waiting there.]
BARRY: Oh! Of course. These are the books for SLJ’s Battle of the Kids’ Books. These seem perfect for me — one book is about a pop culture icon, while the other is about a world-renowned literary figure. Two of my favorite reading subjects! Fortunately, these books are so different that it should be easy to pick a winner. (checks his watch) Hmm. This would go faster if there were two of me.
[Barry splits into two.]
BARRY-A: This will be easy. We’ll each read a book and the best one wins.
BARRY-B: Piece of cake. And then we can get back to playing Xbox. Er, I mean, writing books.
BARRY-A: I’ll read The Good, the Bad, and the Barbie by Tanya Lee Stone.
BARRY-B: And I’ll read The Dreamer by Pam Muñoz Ryan and Peter Sís.
[They sit on opposite ends of the sofa and read. After many hours, they look up.]
BOTH TOGETHER: That was easy! We have a winner!
[They each do a double-take, shocked.]
BARRY-A: Your book can’t be the winner. My book is the winner.
BARRY-B: I beg to …
A Conspiracy of Kings by Megan Whalen Turner Green Willow Books/HarperCollins Countdown by Deborah Wiles Scholastic Press Judged by Dana Reinhardt
I should begin with the admission that this was never really a fair fight. When these books arrived in my mailbox, despite the old adage about how one should never do so, I confess that I judged them by their covers. One was clearly right up my alley. The other, not so much. But I swore to keep an open mind, and a blind eye to my predispositions, as I started to read.
Anybody who pays attention to such things can’t help but have heard wonderful things about both A Conspiracy of Kings and Countdown, so I was thrilled to have the occasion and purpose to dive right in.
Now I will tell you what happened when I did.
If this were a novel instead of an essay, I’d insert the surprise twist here. I’d tell you that the book I thought I’d favor turned out to engage me less than the one I thought I’d have a hard time settling into.
I’d give the win to the underdog.
But that isn’t what happened. What happened was precisely what I thought would happen when I first opened my mailbox. The most likely to succeed did indeed succeed.
Since you probably don’t anything about the kind of reader I am and what sorts of books I gravitate toward, I’ll end the suspense here and tell you that …
As Easy as Falling off the Face of the Earth by Lynne Rae Perkins Green Willow Books/HarperCollins The Card Turner by Louis Sachar Delacorte Books/Random House Judged by Francisco X. Stork
Suppose you want to torture me, what do you do? You give me two excellent books and you ask me to pick one. What criteria should I use? “Pick the one that was most fun to read,” says a voice. “Impossible”, says another. They were both fun in different ways. Suppose you’re sixteen-years-old and you get to spend a day at the beach with the girl you’ve had a crush on for a year. That’s like the kind of fun you have when you read As Easy as Falling of the Face of the Earth by Lynn Rae Perkins. Suppose you’re an astronomer and on a clear night you see a star you’ve never seen before. That’s like the kind of fun you have when you read The Cardturner by Louis Sachar.
So if “fun” is an impossible criteria, how about plot? This too is impossible. I lost (and found) myself in both books. I couldn’t put the books down. In each case, I was hooked from the first line. In As Easy as Falling off the Face of the Earth, sixteen-year-old Ry is on his way to summer camp when he finds out camp is canceled and the train he’s on takes off without him and he’s stranded in the middle of Montana. He needs …