Tuesday, March 13, 2012

2012 Battle of the Kid's Books - Round 1 - Sepetys vs Blumenthal

Some of my favorite children's authors have been selected to judge this year's Battle of the Kid's Books contest.  Check out the bios of Sara Zarr, Matt Phelan, Maggie Stiefvater, Jeff Kinney, and BARBARA FLIPPIN' O'CONNOR!! (emphasis added ;)) I mean, have you read The Small Adventure of Popeye and Elvis?? If not, go, now, do it!


Today we have two historical titles, one fiction and one nonfiction, battling it out for the right to proceed to the next round! Both books bring an aspect of history to light that many students may not know much about.  The authors take little known bits of two major topics, the Holocaust and Prohibition, and make them informative and engaging. But who does it better?

Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys

Ruta Sepetys brought to us another aspect of the Holocaust withe Lina and her family being sent to Siberia by the Soviet Secret Police.

"They took me in my nightgown."

Lina's story opens with the NKVD arresting her family. Their father is missing and they have no time to wait for him. They are hoarded onto a trunk and transported out of the city. That much we expect from reading past histories.

What follows are the horrors the family endures as they are led to a collective farm with a "shanty village". Lina, her mother, and her brother Jonas, are forced to sleep in a corner of a hut and pay "rent" to the owner. They have to dig with the blade part of a trowel. And they don't know why they are digging this hole. Since the collective grows beets and potatoes, they are sure they won't have to worry about food. They are wrong.  The rations they receive are meager at best, a smaller than palm-sized piece of bread.  With winter on the way, how will they survive?

Things go from bad to worse as the families are told they must sign a document stating they owe money to the government, they AGREED to work the farm, and they must work for 25 years!

Lina's mother is determined to do whatever it takes to keep her family safe and sound. Lina is determined to document what's left of their lives, so the people can know and maybe one day, her father will know what happened to his family.

Bootleg: Murder, Moonshine and the Lawless Years of Prohibition by Karen Blumenthal
This nonfiction picture book brings to life the era known as Prohibition. Blumenthal opens with The Valentine's Day Massacre - which I knew was when Al Capone was murdered but didn't know it was a part of the country's rebellion against Prohibition.  We then get some background knowledge of Morris Sheppard, who sparked the movement to stop the sale of alcohol.

This would prove to be more difficult that not.  Everybody drank alcohol since it was safer than water and cheaper than coffee! I mean, "families stared teh day with a glass of whiskey or cider."  In steps Carrie Nation, who believed divine inspiration led her to trash saloons. Soon she was in and out of jail and she died fighting to end sales of alcohol.  The book continues by telling us that Prohibition did not come easy even to the folks who passed the law.

The Winner?
I have to give it to Between Shades of Gray. I may have a bias against nonfiction though! I already lost the Amelia vs. Anya contest. And while I appreciated Matt Phelan's reasoning, I think kid's will side with me. There is something about Historical Fiction that draws you in to the story and leads you to find out more about what's going on. When I finished Between Shades of Gray, I immediately bought four copies and shared them in the school library. The teachers then started booktalking it in class.  Today is the first day, I've seen a copy in the library.


  1. How do you decide who wins in this battle and who votes? I loved Between Shades of Gray, but then I haven't read the other book. So I would concur with your vote.

    1. These are just my opinions on which book should be moved ahead based on what I've read and how I think students will like the book. The real contest is over at http://battleofthebooks.slj.com

      I'm just a lowly commenter...:)

  2. YES! Hooray! BSoG is my absolute favorite of the whole battle. For some reason it seems like a lot of commenters aren't too fond of Lina's story, so I love finding someone else who loves her just as much as I do :)

  3. Tough choice! I think I am leaning towards the Bootleg book but BSoG sounds like a moving book. I don't like war books though.

  4. Looks like you won this round! I really agree with your choice, I totally loved Between Shades of Gray, and I'm saying that as a teen [although I haven't read Bootleg yet...]. I'm so glad Between Shades of Gray actually won! Hopefully, it will beat Amelia in the 2nd round.

  5. Between Shades of Gray needs to be part of my next book buying binge. Friday can't come soon enough...


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