Your comments on Sir Balin got me thinking about why I had included it on my list in the first place, because I certainly agree with you that it is not as distinguished as some of the other books I mentioned. But here’s the thing: I read a lot of bad books. It’s a professional hazzard both as a working Teen Librarian (God, how many vampire books did I read a couple years ago?), and as a reviewer. Bad books hurt me to read. Many are just incompetent–poorly written, barely visible characters, hackneyed plots, the works. Others are downright offensive. And some are just totally forgettable. What’s worse, when I’m reviewing them, I don’t just have to read them, but to give them brain space and time, and 250 words.
And Sir Balin The Ill-Fated is decidedly a Not-Bad book. By which I mean, not just mediocre, but that it has something that interests me, that makes me happy that I read it, as opposed to pained or indifferent. A Not-Bad book gives me pleasure. In the case of Sir Balin it’s mostly in the humor–specifically for the way the humor illuminates ideas: the silliness of the way we think about a whole range of things from fate and destiny, to the King Arthur legend. Interestingly, though, it is not that broad catch-phrasy stuff that Elsa has liked about the book. And she doesn’t really get a lot of the humor. She is genuinely interested in the adventure story, constantly asking me why Sir Balin is doing things and how it relates to the story. So as a book for early readers, I might argue (and Jonathan Hunt did argue exactly this about Sir Gawain) that the book is something more than just a Not-Bad book.
The Fairy Ring is actually another good example: you really spotted a lot of the things that made me pause and think. I too was very perplexed by Losure’s refusal to probe Elsie’s true beliefs about the fairies, and I too decided that in the end this was perhaps the more ambitious choice. But it did make for strange reading, and I agree that audience questions are paramount. In the end, it is not a perfect book, but I’m glad to have read it. And since we’re happily writing our blog and not just commenting on Someday . . . or Heay Medal, we don’t have to worry about silly things like whether it fulfills the criteria for various awards, or how it stacks up to other similar books.
I love talking about those things, but sometimes, I’m just relieved to have read something that made me laugh, made me think, and that I didn’t hate. It sounds, perhaps, like damning by faint praise, but I don’t mean it that way at all. I take pleasure in art wherever I can find it and I’m genuinely grateful for both the books I’ve mentioned and all the other Not-Bad books out there.