Smackdown Books 2019

Piecing Me Together
We Are Okay
Hello, Universe
Nevermoor: The Trials of Morrigan Crow
The Marrow Thieves
The 57 Bus: A True Story of Two Teenagers and the Crime That Changed Their Lives
The Poet X
Children of Blood and Bone
Far from the Tree
Long Way Down
The Goat
Amina's Voice
Macy McMillan and the Rainbow Goddess
The First Rule of Punk
24 Hours in Nowhere
The Astonishing Color of After
Obsessed: : A Memoir of My Life with OCD
Train I Ride

Monday, May 9, 2016

“Crossover” Outmaneuvers the “Jellyfish”
While “Family Romanov” Didn’t Stand a Chance’

This has been a wild ride.  For the first time in Smackdown history, I voted not once but twice for a novel written in verse?  Hell must have frozen over…  Nah, Dia and Arlene just forced me to read two incredible novels: “Crossover” and “Crazy”.  In the final moments of Smackdown, I easily give my vote to “Crossover”.  I read it over a year ago now, but I’m still using the poems from the book for my grade 8 class.  “Dribbling” and “Dear Jordan” are amazing and my students enjoyed mimicking them in their writer’s notebooks.  I thought the premise of having two tight twins being pulled apart by authentic events was original.  I believed JB and Josh’s story.  I also thought it was original that we had two professional african americans as parents instead of the stereotypical black youth in a high risk environment.  This doesn't mean the book doesn’t shy away from race issues though.  “Crossover” shows how middle class African Americans are still subjected to racial discrimination, which is shown when the boy's father was pulled over for a minor infraction or when their mother makes reference to how black men losing their tempers leads to bad things. The book is a crowd pleaser in my classroom and I can’t keep it on the shelf.  Thus, “Crossover” is my pick!

Don’t get me wrong I enjoyed “Jellyfish”, but it had a little too much jelly for me.  Maybe it’s because I just finished reading “Everything Everything”, but the whole kid against the world and wanting to fly somewhere to solve their dilemmas was too overdone for me.  What made this a difficult choice was that my heart hurt for Suzy. The words on the page exhaled pain. I couldn't imagine going through what she was going through, knowing that her last moments with her friend were so dark. The book also hurt because, I see Suzys all over school, I want them to fit in so badly, but I know that for them to fit in will require them to lost what makes them a Suzy. The most epic part of the book was when she froze her urine and let it melt in her ex-bff's locker. The teenager in my was rooting for Suzy...the teacher in me was too... It was ingenious so ingenious that I hope none of my students think to do this after reading the novel…  Finally, the idea that jellyfish are taking over the world made for some interesting dreams… In the end, it's not that "Jellyfish" wasn't worthy, it's that "Crossover" inched ahead of it. It was a tough one, but "Crossover" outmaneuvered the "Jellyfish". Did I not mention "Family Romanov"? Enough said.

Once Upon a Time...

43 educators/book lovers/people bullied into this started a Smackdown adventure. Let's say they had a sixth sense about it. It seemed completely do-able in October but those of us who have battled five times previously - we knew this wasn't a commitment to take lightly. Now it is all over but the book buying and only 35 of us remain. Members have had babies, dropped out along the way, become principals, passed the role onto their kids or secretary but still the majority  have moved on relentlessly. The search for books that will resonate with students is at the core of this whole thing. What has been learned? That tastes are individual, that teachers know their students better than someone on an award committee, that finding a book that a student in your class is going to love keeps you going. Congratulations to all the readers who put time into this and crossed the voting line.

You all have been a part of Smackdown history as a 1st round book - THE THING ABOUT JELLYFISH has come back as a zombie pick and won the whole thing matching all the votes for the other two choices with a vote of 15 - 8(CROSSOVER) - 7(FAMILY ROMANOV).  In this voters mind all three finalists were worth reading and will have a place in our classroom libraries.

Hope to see you all next year at.....Smackdown The Seventh Son.

Friday, May 6, 2016

Jellyfish for the Win

Cast my vote for The Thing About Jellyfish!  At first I was disheartened that it was looking like just another tale of woe from another tortured quirky tween genius, but there were enough surprises and sensitive insights about the complexity of young people and  young people relationships that I was soon won over.  And the LOCKER THING. I mean. 

The Crossover was a fine book, and I see the appeal, but the sparseness of the verse meant I didn't feel like I "got to know" the protagonist and his family as well as I wanted to. If this were a prose novel, I likely would have loved it.  The same can be said for The Family Romanov - a fine book, fascinating history... but I'm a fictional prose kinda gal.  So Jellyfish it is for me!

(Side question for the Smackdown historian - how many zombies have risen to victory over the years?)

Thursday, May 5, 2016

Crossover at the buzzer

I have thought about where my vote would land for a while now and it falls on the side of Crossover.  I teach social studies all day and love a good historical read, but the Romanov's just didn't  capture my interest enough to become the one book to rule them all. Jellyfish was a much better read and actually pulled my zombie vote, but as much as I liked the story it seems too weird be the winner. (People we live in a land locked province, I can't really identify with the great jellyfish scare). Crossover I found accessible to a bigger audience or readers and the story is bigger than just a ball game. I truly believe that the best book of the 2015- 2016 Smackdown is Crossover.

One Vote for Jellyfish

I admit I'm casting my ballot and I still have 50 pages left to read. Really though, I had already made up my mind before starting Jellyfish. I couldn't stand Crossover, for reasons that I already outlined in a previous blog post. The Romanovs was okay, and I think that a lot of students might be interested in it. But I'm a fiction guy at my core. There's something about a good story that does it for me. While I agree with Brent's assertion that the prose lacked much punch, Jellyfish is an easy-to-read, relatively enjoyable narrative. If that doesn't sound like high praise, it's because I still feel lukewarm towards it. Nevertheless, there must be a winner and I think that of the three finalists, Jellyfish is it.

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

The Thing About Jellyfish is that I Loved it

It’s funny how this whole Smackdown thing works. All these months and here we are with the three finalists - all three very good books in their own right - and I didn’t find it really close at all. I feel confident in saying that The Thing About Jellyfish was the best book I read this round, although I’ll acknowledge there has been little time for reflection, as I literally finished it five minutes ago. I feel pretty confident in saying that you could give this book to anyone from a ten or eleven year old , ll the way on up and those readers are going to see themselves in some aspect of this book. I don’t think the prose is particularly sparkling, but I think it is a remarkably honest novel.I found the interplay between the infinite - our young narrator's ponderings on big history - and the intimate- her soul crushing grief and sorrow - really powerful and moving. The other books are very strong, but Jellyfish is the book that I sat down and bought a few copies of on Amazon before I started writing this brief reflection. I have people in my life who will love this book and I want to get it in their hands. (Please picture me very coolly - Obama, Kobe etc - dropping a mic)

3 for Crossover

The Family Romanov was our pick way back in round one. We enjoyed the writing and it was nice to read the story of Russia again. We were happy to see the book make it this far in the Smackdown but this round, for us, came down to the other two books.

We enjoyed Crossover and The Thing About Jellyfish and have waffled back and forth as to which one stood out as the winner. Throughout the Smackdown we have been on the hunt for books we can bring to the students in our school so, with that in mind, I turned the books over to my students. 

When I did a book talk of each book and read an excerpt, the first chapter of Jellyfish really pulled me in again. I was captivated by the characters loneliness. Ali Benjamin hit on some key memories for me of family vacations to the SeaWorld touch tank, being mesmerized by the jellyfish at the Vancouver Aquarium and how we all go through grief differently.

What got me about Crossover, when doing the book talk, was how captivated my students were. They loved the language, the topic and I had boys asking, "Can I read that?" Crossover became one of those books that circulated around the room and had my students begging me to read out loud to them. As a teacher, nothing makes me happier then to see a reluctant reader (and a too cool for school grade 9 basketball player) with his nose in a book!

We won't deny that Jellyfish it's a touching tale about grief that is beautifully written however, most of my students just weren't into another one of those quirky kids who is wiser than their years. There will be no dinner brides this round Holly. Our vote is for Crossover.

Suanne, Katrina and Judy

The Family Romanov - 2 votes

Dianne and I totally enjoyed all three books, but in the end our votes go to The Family Romanov. I almost voted for Crossover but a couple of my grade 7 students persuaded me not to. Although they found the story interesting they did not particularly like the style of writing. We were both glad to have the opportunity to read The Thing about Jellyfish, but in the end we feel that The Family Romanov provides that rare history gem that kids might actually find interesting.
Two votes for The Family Romanov!
Deb and Dianne

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Jellyfish for the Republican Nomination! Or What Was Ellerslie Thinking?

I loved this book and can't stop selling it!

I have but one vote (actually two) to give and it is not in an American election; my vote goes to Jellyfish. This, to me, proves once again that readers and books come together with a wide variety of choice needs to be the center of our work in literacy!  This democratic idea was brought to you by Dia and was approved and voted on by Lisa.

The final round

I was hoping for a big, OVERALL, clear winner this year.  I don't feel like we'll have one.  Each of the finalists will find a limited niche of an audience.  The Crossover will be put into the hands of few basketball-loving reluctant readers, Romanovs will intrigue a few history buff kids, and Jellyfish is a great read for our youngest gr 6-7 readers.
Based on that, Jellyfish seems like the best place to put my vote.
Renae also adds a vote to Jellyfish.  Although her true favourite is Romanovs, she doesn't see it going over big with students.
That's two for Jellyfish.

Monday, May 2, 2016

The Family Romanov vs. The Thing About Jellyfish vs. The Crossover

Our pick for this final round is The Crossover by Kwame Alexander.

The Crossover was an intriguing book about the story of two prodigious basketball-playing twins. It starts off rather light-hearted but becomes sadder and dark after a tragic event happens to the twins. This book was loved by both authors of this blog.

The Thing about Jellyfish by Ali Benjamin was also a great book. It was the story of a young protagonist whose best friend dies in a drowning accident that she believes was actually caused by a rare jellyfish sting. She then plans to prove her theory and ends up exploring life, death, and the general wonder of the universe.

The Family Romanov by Candace Fleming is the story of the last ruling family of Imperial Russia. The story is very interesting, especially if you enjoy history, however it did not compare to the other two.

The reason we chose The Crossover instead of The Thing about Jellyfish is we thought The Crossover had a greater audience appeal with the story gaining momentum throughout the book.

Submitted by Maureen and Cara (teen reader)