Smackdown Books 2021

Ordinary Hazards
We Dream of Space
If These Wings Could Fly
We Are Not Free
The King of Jam Sandwiches
All Thirteen: The Incredible Cave Rescue of the Thai Boys' Soccer Team
The Companion
Punching the Air
Show Me a Sign
Land of the Cranes
Dragon Hoops
When Stars Are Scattered
The Radium Girls: The Scary But True Story of the Poison That Made People Glow in the Dark
American as Paneer Pie
Tune It Out
The Gilded Ones
The Left-Handed Booksellers of London

Wednesday, May 18, 2022

That's As Close As We Can Get And Still Declare The Winner!

 It always fills my withered heart with joy when the three finalists of Smackdown are all so worthy of attention and an audience. You all may not completely agree but I found the finalists to be all MIGHTY contenders. May is a time when ships go down metaphorically speaking. Many of our most eager bloggers and readers are spinning away right now in a distant universe. We had a few schools who did not vote - yet so many of you who took time to come up with criteria and pick a winner. This year's winner was put over the top with just ONE vote. Dragon Hoops wins again (life and art right?) by one. Final scores: 21 Dragons 20 Furia 13 Cranes. Thanks to all our participants who got to see first hand that book choice needs to be the real winner in any battle!

Monday, May 16, 2022

All good things must come to an end...

 Another year, another Smackdown.... Here's how it rolled out for Team Sweet Grass:

Vanessa: So much has been said already about these three.  For me, Dragon Hoops was a clear third place (and to be honest, lots of other books should have been here before it).  I loved Furia and Land of Cranes - they both deserve to be here. And while Land of Cranes could be in my library here at school, I’m picking Furia for the win.

Norma: I don’t like graphic novels but Dragon Hoops was one of the first graphic novels that I can appreciate.  I loved Furia and Land of the Cranes.  I won’t be disappointed if either was the eventual winner.  For me though my choice for the win  is Land of the Cranes.  It gave me a glimpse into the camps and highlighted the good in people in spite of their circumstances.

Mel:I loved “Land of the Cranes” - her voice telling the story and how she saw things really connected with me.  That’s my winner.  “Furia” was obviously targeted at a different audience and I thought it was good too although I had to read about 5 chapters before I started to feel into that story (unlike “Cranes” which had me at “Hello”). I like Basketball and sports in general.  I love History - especially looking at stories and events from a 3D perspective.  BUT .  NO.  NO.  I can not take in that story in pictures. So “Dragon” isn’t a pick for me on any ballot.

Rushmi: I liked Furia and reading about her story, even the expected happy ending. However, the book I would allow to take up some real estate on my bookshelf is Land of Cranes. The topic is not common, and I think the advocacy it brings is excellent. It can reach a number of targeted audiences. It is well written in verse which actually adds to the beauty of the story, and I would think about this character over time because her story made an impact. So, Land of Cranes holds my vote.

Stephanie: I absolutely loved Furia, especially because it took place in Rosario, Argentina and so I felt a special connection to the cultural aspects. I thought the female protagonist was authentic and the storyline interesting. I was immediately hooked by the narrative and it was very eye opening for me to see the more machista side of the Argentine culture because I’ve always studied about the strong females like Las Madres de la plaza de mayo and seen first hand from my mother-in-law’s example, how powerful and effective they have been at evoking change. Despite all of the wonderful reasons why I could choose Furia, my pick is still Land of Cranes. The story is heartbreaking and beautifully told and should be shared with as wide of an audience as possible:)

Emily: Dragon Hoops was okay, but the more I reflect on it, the more frustrated I am that it made it this far. I loved both Land of the Cranes and Furia and I would be happy with either book winning. Land of the Cranes is a painful, beautiful and necessary book, but I’m not sure it’s a book I’ll be able to reread anytime soon. It did take a few chapters for Furia to really grab me, but once it did, I was very invested in the story. I loved Camila’s story of overcoming the expectations and limitations placed upon her. When I think of Furia, the word that comes to mind is “triumphant”. Furia is my pick to win. 

Jon:  Furia started out strong, but my interest began to wane halfway through.  More to come, but my pick is Land of Cranes.  Dragon Hoops second place, but Furia didn’t finish as strong as it started.

Cranes - 5, Furia -2

Wednesday, April 20, 2022

Worst Blog Ever, but Yay for Dragon Hoops


In a month that has been an uninterrupted flurry (weather punning partially intended) it’s maybe no surprise that we struggled to find time other than through some disjointed email correspondence to really sink into what may have indeed been a smackworthy battle. I’m somewhat more surprised that after an extended and necessary break for us all, I somehow completely forgot to craft a blog until now. So, no craft really, but here’s where we landed. I think our QE team clearly held both books in high regard and we had good arguments for both to go through. Both books are carefully crafted and deal with a range of significant issues that are relevant to our students. In regard to Me and Banksy, There was a sense that while the larger issue of privacy, particularly in the cyber world, was one our kids at the high school would be eager to engage with, some of the specific socio-economic context and (This is just me) the overly cutesy pitter patter dialogue, may not speak to our kids quite as much. This is our second sitting with Dragon Hoops and I think it confirmed our sense that it is a book that has broad appeal - both in content and in form - for our students. We’d like to see Dragon Hoops move on into the final round.

Tuesday, April 19, 2022

Ellerslie Campus votes for Land of the Cranes!

For whatever reason, we had a hard time getting into Furia this round. The details were believable and realistic... the coming of age premise mixed with the constant pressures to fit into societal norms and familial expectations is one that will resonate with many readers... I'd definitely recommend this novel to older Div 3 and 4 students. 

On the other hand, we fell hard for The Land of the Cranes. Everything about the text draws readers in. Land of the Cranes is gut wrenching and humbling demanding great empathy and compassion from readers. This is a highly engaging text told through the eyes and words of a young poet at heart as she grapples with in/justice and humanity in the face of dehumanizing immigration policies. We highly recommend this text in any Div 2-4 classroom (with guidance and supportive conversations for readers as this is a heavy hitting text with a lot to unpack).

"Trigger warnings: deportation, ICE, family separation, physical and emotional abuse, child abuse, recollection of sexual assault, racist and xenophobic slurs' 

Thursday, April 14, 2022

Banksy vs. Dragon Hoops

I liked both books this round, and I think I could recommend either to my students. My vote goes to Dragon Hoops this round, simply because I know it will be a popular choice with many students who don't like reading but like basketball. Right now I have two boys asking me for it every time they come in, when normally they just fake read during our independent reading time. Banksy is a better novel overall, but Dragon Hoops will be more popular with kids. 

Wednesday, April 13, 2022

 The Kids from Sweet Grass blog about:


Vanessa: I’ll make this quick, my vote is for Banksy.  Although Dragon Hoops was fine, I have read the last four books now and the other 2 (Land of Cranes and Furia) are both better than these two.  So whatever goes out on the side will be my Zombie pick.  Much has been said about Banksy and Hoops in previous rounds.  Banksy was better.  That is all.

Norma: Dragon hoops was a graphic novel that I did appreciate.  I think a lot of that had to do with a subject area that was of interest to me.  I enjoyed Banksy as well.  My vote is for Banksy,

Mel: Banksy all the way on these two.  It did take me about half-way through to start to like it but felt it picked up as things went along. NO to Graphic Novels for me.  I am confused by characters and storylines when a story is told with pictures.  I admit it.  I give up. I would have enjoyed the story if it was written out.    Land of the Cranes is still my pick (even over Banksy).

Emily: Dragon Hoops was fine. The sections that dealt with the history of basketball were cool to read, but the narrative failed to grip me. Banksy hooked me right from the beginning. I was far more invested in this story, and it was a much more satisfying book to read. I vote Banksy.

Stephanie: Well, I have surprised myself with this one. I loved the book Me and Banksy; however, my vote is for Dragon Hoops. I thought Dragon Hoops was cleverly written. I actually thought the meta techniques of the author and his writing process were interesting. It allowed us to see the choices that a writer has to make and how really difficult the Phelps history was for him to tell, especially when no verdict was officially given and all of the players that he knew personally had such a different impression of him. I was so engaged in all of the different histories of basketball. I honestly couldn’t put the book down, and Lionel stole the book from me on numerous occasions after constantly sneak-reading over my shoulder. Clearly, it’s an excellent book, if a 4 foot 11 Comparative Literature major and lover of art chooses it over Me and Banksy!!

Rushmi: I can appreciate a book about sports, and learn the history as we go. In the form of a graphic novel, it was easier to learn the history too. However, reading about an author who doesn’t know what to write about for the duration of the book did not win me over, and my interest fizzled out. Bansky on the other hand had me asking more and more questions, wanting to find out about the true Bansky. The typical highschool happy ending was regular but overall this one takes my vote.

Jon: Read Dragon Hoops, did not finish Banksy therefore, abstained from voting at the time of publishing.

Monday, February 28, 2022


Late to the blogging and I now feel like this post has to become a defense of why Traci Chee's We are Not Free should be our zombie pick!

We've had some meh selections this year - four books we didn't love. This bracket changed that. These are both great books. 

Although we're not all fans of multi-narrator books, we all agreed We are Not Free was well crafted. The different viewpoints drew us in and kept us reading. We enjoyed  that the narrators didn't retell the same parts but moved the story forward. The chart of characters at the beginning helped us to keep track of who was who. We loved how Chee experimented with different styles for the different voices - verse, letters, etc. The varying styles really mirrored how individual the experience was for internees. Some of us grew attached to the characters and wanted more from their perspectives. More than one reviewer was moved to tears by the powerful narrative. 

Although one can be intellectually aware of Japanese internment camps in Canada and the US, a book this well written shows us, emotionally, what it was like. The war sections were very powerful.  I will be recommending this one to my 9s next year when we talk about Canada's internment camps in WWI and II. The exploration of racism makes it an important book for any classroom.

We liked Me and Banksy too. It was well written and dealt with some important topics. A Canadian setting is a nice change. It's an interesting exploration of topic we probably don't give enough though to - surveillance. The exploration of the power of art and of Banksy in particular was interesting. We appreciate the interwoven nature of Banksy and how people can connect social movement/reform through multiple avenues such as art, There's a great lesson about the importance of using one's voice.

The main character is a strong female lead. The secondary characters were not as appealing to some reviewers. We wish the principal had been given a more unlikable back story - as educators, as moms, some of us felt sorry for her and couldn't root for her demise; young readers may not have that problem! Some of the surveillance aspects / security concept were a bit incredulous.

 I appreciated that the girls realized the problem was too big for them and went to the principal for help. I know it's a more exciting story when the young protagonists take on the problem without adult help, but I like that the author showcased that as a way to get help and then got around it to still write the exciting story of the kids having to fix the problem themselves.

Overall, our vote was for We Are Not Free. It's a great story; it's well-written, and the themes are so important. Maybe it has a future as a zombie pick.

Renee, Nikki, Kelly, Krystal, Evelyn