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The Story Behind the Story of Battle of the Books

by Melanie Ellsworth


Written by Melanie Ellsworth

Illustrations by James Rey Sanchez

Little Bee Books, 2022

Jacket Flap Copy from BATTLE OF THE BOOKS:

“Every night, Josh chooses a bedtime story. While he’s out of the room, his books battle for the best, most eye-catching spot on the bookshelf. But when Pirate Book falls off in the tussle, can the bickering books put aside their rivalry to rescue him? And who will Josh choose for story time? May the best book win!”

My picture book BATTLE OF THE BOOKS evolved from a real-life experience – that magical (and occasionally maddening if you’re the parent) moment of bedtime book selection. My young daughter would pull picture books off her bookshelf (always more than one!), and we would settle in to read.

I’ve always enjoyed books with unusual POVs, so I began to wonder what this bedtime ritual would feel like from a book’s perspective. How would a book feel if it wasn’t picked for story time? And what personalities might the books have? There would undoubtably be an overconfident book, certain it would be picked, and a wise book, experienced in the fickleness of the bedtime story selection process. And maybe a vain book, proud of its cover, and a forgotten book – pushed to the back of the shelf, encased in dust. And perhaps a book that was only picked by the parent, never the child? I also wondered what would happen if the person who usually read to the child wasn’t there one night and another reader came instead.

Certain book genres seemed well matched to these personalities: Pirate Book was overly confident, Pop-Up Book super proud of its design award, and Poetry Book concerned with the fairness of story time. These characters and more made BATTLE OF THE BOOKS so much fun to write as they squabbled like siblings over who would be chosen. Illustrator James Rey Sanchez imbued the book with a cinematic quality that brings all these book character to life. Though it has its share of silliness, at its heart, BATTLE OF THE BOOKS is my love letter to the wonder of stories and reading.

“Battle of the Books” is also the name of a reading incentive program used by many elementary schools to challenge and encourage their students to read and read and read some more! Unfortunately, my Google alert for “Battle of the Books” also delivers to my inbox weekly stories of school board battles around book censorship. As a former literacy specialist, a teacher, and a mom, I’m heartbroken when I hear about important books being removed from school libraries. Books offer children essential windows and mirrors. It’s powerful to give children choice – to allow them to pick the stories that resonate with them. And it’s powerful to read to them in school and every night at bedtime. Even my squabbling book characters in BATTLE OF THE BOOKS eventually come to understand that they are all important – they deserve to be picked. So, let’s choose ALL the books!

And in that spirit, head on over to the Educator Resources section of my website (, click on the “Teaching Tips and Read-alike Titles” link under BATTLE OF THE BOOKS, and you’ll find a list of many more picture books about books and reading that you can share with your favorite readers. If you listen carefully, under the clamor of “Pick me!” “Read me!” “Choose me!” you might hear a book saying quietly, “Thanks for reading us.”

Melanie Ellsworth writes in an old barn in Maine, surrounded by books. Her picture book titles include Hip, Hip…Beret!, Clarinet and Trumpet, and Battle of the Books. With an M.Ed in Language and Literacy, Melanie has also worked as an ESOL teacher and a literacy specialist and is currently a member of the Equity & Inclusion Committee for the New England Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators. Melanie loves creating books that make children laugh while they learn!

Twitter: @melanieells

Instagram: @melaniebellsworth


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