Friday, February 11, 2011

2011 Battle of the Kids' Books - Round 1 - Perkins VS Sachar

The SLJ Battle team has picked their judges and they are reading the books. Why don't you try guessing the judges identities while I weigh in on a couple of our contenders.

As Easy as Falling Off the Face of the EarthAs Easy as Falling Off The Face of the Earth by Lynn Rae Perkins 
Ry is on his way to an absolute blast of  a summer camp when his train breaks down.  He pulls out the last letter from the camp and decides he'd better call his Grampa.  He steps off the train and searches for a better signal.  In his zeal to find this signal, the train takes off and he's suddenly stranded!

Meanwhile, Grampa decides he needs to take a walk.  He takes the dogs with him and sets off to explore his new hometown. Grampa then has his share of mishaps.

Meanwhile, Ry's parents are on vacation and suffer their own set of mishaps. And if you think that's all, you are mistaken because even the dogs have mishaps!!

Perkins does a fantastic job of weaving these four stories together.  They are all related in some way and throughout the book, the parties are trying to reach each other.  The stories are wrapped in a subtle humor;

"He tried to picture Pete with a mother. It wasn't what you thought of when you first looked at him. That would be more like, I hope he doesn't hurt me. Okay, not really--"
and laced with beautiful word pictures;

" drive to the third sandpile on the left, on the Island of the Saint of Lost Causes, an emerald dot in the azure of the Caribbean Sea. Waupatoneka slipped away from them like a twig dropped in a stream."
Did I mention there's also the story of Del and Yulia?  As Easy as Falling Off the Face of the Earth is a tribute to how our lives are all connected even when we can't see it ourselves.

The CardturnerThe Cardturner: A Novel About a King, A Queen and a Joker by Louis Sachar
Alton will be the cardturner for his "favorite uncle" Lester.  Uncle Lester is blind and he plays bridge.  Uncle Lester is also rich, so Alton's mother forces him to take the job, even though he doesn't know anything about bridge. Or his uncle.  But, Uncle Lester and Alton forge a relationship as they learn to tolerate each other's company during their four times a week card games. 

Yes, this is a young adult book about bridge. What was Sachar thinking?  Well, he was thinking that the passion he felt for the game would come through in his writing and he was right. Sachar explains the intricacies of bridge in a way that's engaging and entertaining.  As Uncle Lester moves up into the ranks of bridge, our knowledge of the game also increases.  But, Sachar doesn't make learning bridge an integral part of the story, he actually uses a visual device for those of us who'd like to skip those parts or who'd like to delve deeper into the game.  Sachar uses bridge to teach us about relationships and how shared experiences can help you become closer.

The characterization is what moves The Cardturner.  Alton Richards is a boy we can relate to: his old girlfriend is now dating his best friend, his needs money for gas, he wants to work but he's lazy, and he has a great storytelling voice.  You feel a connection with him and want to know how things are going for him;

"Nights were the hardest for me. I usually didn't think too much about Katie, or Cliff and Katie, during the day, and even if I did, I was strong enough to handle it. I was weaker at night and sometimes came close to calling her even though I knew I'd regret it."

In addition, to the strong main character,  Uncle Lester, Toni, Alton's Mom and Cliff are all easily pictured. Sachar also tosses in a mystery and a ghost story.

The Winner?
This was tough.  I enjoyed both books, even the second and third time around.  Perkins juggles a parallel structure to weave four stories into one while infusing the book with humor and imagery.  Even the complicated coincidences come off as realistic.  Sachar's uses a straightforward plot for most of the story but intertwines the story of Trapp and Annabel with the story of Alton and Toni towards the end.  The humor is light but intelligent, Sachar teaches us more than just bridge but also about how the brain works and about families.

These storytellers are nearly evenly matched but I have to give props to Sachar.  The Cardturner sticks with you while Ry's story is somewhat forgettable.  You can pick up the Cardturner and open to any page and fall back into the story. Alton is a such a well-written character you want to know more about him. And don't get me started on the bridge parts! I wanted to know more about the game and almost looked for a beginner's league around my house! Sachar has mad skills.  Hat's off to
The Cardturner: A Novel About A King, A Queen and a Joker by Louis Sachar

What do you think?


  1. I have to say I'm a Sachar fan and read his books before I give them to my kids--not to check for appropriateness, but enjoy them. However, I think I'd have as hard a time as you did in deciding between these two books. I love an intertwined story when it's well as done as Perkins' book is. Glad I don't have to choose. I'd still be dithering. :-)

  2. I really enjoyed Cardturner and I didn't get the love that folks had for As Easy as Falling Off the Face of the Earth. I thought that there were some hysterical moments and instances of lovely writing, but it felt so contrived and forced to me.

    Cardturner was imperfect, and I was nearly turned off by the flip from realism to fantasy. But I loved Alton and the intergenerational friendships that he cultivated.

    Good choice.


  3. CARDTURNER for me! I "read" this book by audio with Sachar reading it; I don't know if that added to the magic, but I love this book.

  4. So happy to see you guys agree! Sachar is a fantastic writer and even my students loved this book!

  5. I really enjoyed Cardturner, like Brenda I wasn't able to get into As Easy as Falling Into the Face of the Earth.

    I made all of my first round Battle picks already. I also went with Cardturner. I can't wait to see who the judges are.


Thanks for chatting! I love comments and look forward to reading yours! I may not reply right away, but I am listening! Keep reading and don't forget to be awesome!


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