Happy New Year! The Cybils are Posted! That means it's time to start my first challenge -- my personal Cybils Shortlist Challenge!
I haven't actually finished last year's list yet, due to a reading collapse in December, although I had all the books. I'll finish ticking them off as I work through this years list. Endless optimism from me! I also note that I managed to read exactly zero of the nominees this year, which means that nothing I nominated made the cut.
I'm especially looking forward to the new audio category. I'm not sure if I should read the book that appears in as both an audio and a text choice, though, except that Grace Lin's illustrations definitely enhance the reading. Again, I'm listing the entries in reverse order, to encourage me to start with the longer ones.
Young Adult Speculative Fiction (Completed! I picked the winner!):
- Illuminae by Amie Kaufman. I was completely unprepared for this book -- I didn't read the jacket copy and thought it would be a spy thing with hidden societies. I was very pleased to find myself instead on a battered space battleship fleeing a murderous corporate dreadnaught. The kids themselves were rather thin, but they were so busy fighting with the enemy, the authorities, the computer system, and each other that I didn't have time to notice. The various formats of the books kept things interesting as well. Fun read that I recommend to my teens.
- Still Life with Tornado by A.S. King. This started slowly but ending up keeping me turning pages. I'm a bit jaded by books about teen artists, which explains my reluctance to commit, but strangely the magic realism of the other Sarahs led me in. I did feel that it became a bit of an issue book -- bad teachers, school bullying, dangers of social media, home issues and wished that only a few of these menaced our protagonist but maybe then the magic resolutions wouldn't have worked.
- The Keeper of the Mist by Rachel Neumeier. Interesting magic world with unexpected responsibilities and a strong group of friends working towards a goal and then an unnecessary and glued-on romance at the end to keep thing from getting too realistic. I liked the strong friendships between women, and the nuanced problems of the brothers.
- The Door at the Crossroads by Zetta Elliott. I liked parts of this very much -- Judah's life in slavery was harrowing, and his ruthless belief that he was free sustained him through torture and violence. The descriptions of the other slaves and owners also seemed nuanced and emotionally real. But the pieces didn't all seem to hold together; the characters seemed to change between sections of the book in ways unrelated to their experiences.
- This Savage Song (Monsters of Verity) by Victoria Schwab. I liked the concept of monsters born from human cruelty, and August's struggle to remain moral despite his physical challenges was moving. The epilogue seemed a bit of a cheat, and Kate's quest to become a supervillain wasn't that appealing to me.
- Labyrinth Lost (Brooklyn Brujas) by Zoraida Cordova. Again there were interesting parts -- the characters and the setting were great. But I found the main character's useless guilt wearisome; if you don't know how to do something and the people who could help you ignore you, then it's not surprising when it goes wrong. And I found her passivity and lack of competence also aggravating because it seemed like the author was trying to avoid having a girl be too strong. She's the long awaited hero -- she can notice her strengths and use them without pretending she doesn't know what she's doing! This is probably more my problem than any kids, though. My son liked this.
- When the Moon was Ours: A Novel by Anna-Marie McLemore. The prose was lush but the characters and plot didn't live up to them, making the magic realism fall flat for me. I found myself more interested in the four "mean girl" sisters rather than in the main love story that didn't seem to have any impediments other than the participants' insecurities and inability to trust their life-long friendship.
- The Serpent King by Jeff ZentnerThis book hit me just right. I liked seeing the three different kids, with three very different situations but still close friends. I thought they treated religion well, showing differences in opinion but still firm beliefs. Even the tragedy worked for me.
- Run by Kody Keplinger. Two girls become friends despite differences in temperament, family background, and vision. I really liked the relationship between the girls, especially when one revealed herself as bisexual which doesn't change their friendship in the slightest. There's a solid feel of rural Kentucky township making the setting a character as well.
- Beast by Brie Spangler. This was a story about a boy dealing with his discomfort with his immense size, his mother's grief over his dead dad, and oh yeah, his relationship with a girl who is trans. Despite his mother's attempts to focus on that last part, it's the least of his worries. Not that it's a small worry, but the others are much bigger.
- Salt to the Sea by Ruta Sepetys. I enjoyed the four teens' various perspectives on life in the collapsing Nazi Germany, from the disillusioned nerd to the cowardly enthusiast through the more apolitical women. It was grim reading since I knew they were desperately trying to reach a disaster disguised as a haven, but that's par for the course in WWII books -- it wouldn't have bothered me at all in my youth. The ending felt a bit pat but I guess some strings had to be at least knotted.
- This Is Where It Ends (2016-01-05) by Marieke Nijkamp. Very topical story of a school massacre. I read it on the day of the Florida attack, which made it harder to evaluate fairly. I found the self-sacrifice bits at the end hard to accept.
- A Study in Charlotte (Charlotte Holmes Novel) by Brittany Cavallaro. I can't really judge this one fairly because I have a real problem with drug abuse in books, and it's doubly a problem in a YA. Of course Holmes is addicted, but I still cringe away from the page. Also, the police were unbearably stupid, and I was saddened when the romance stalked in since I was really hoping they could be friends. Watson doesn't really know how to be friends with a girl, though. Young Adult Graphic Novels (Complete!)
Middle Grade / Young Adult Non-fiction (completed)
Middle Grade Fiction (completed) (I picked the winner!)
- Ghost (Track) by Jason Reynolds. How do the Cybils folks keep finding sports books I like? They have an inside scoop on track books somehow. This has a strong protagonist who makes mistakes but tries hard, and wishes authentically to fix things, and the details of the work involved in training keep things real and grounded. I only wish they explicitly named his city somewhere.
- In the Footsteps of Crazy Horse by Joseph Marshall. I surprised myself with how much I liked this story of a Lakota boy and his grandfather retracing the important locations of Crazy Horses's life, many of which are now national parks. I especially liked how close the family was, had how they both appreciated their heritage.
- Ms. Bixby’s Last Day by John David Anderson. Three sixth grade boys decide to bring their teacher's Last Day party to her when she's too sick to attend. Their adventures skate right at the exciting edge of implausible, and their three distinct personalities give plenty of room for characterization and growth. I do wish it weren't considered realistic for all boys to be misogynists -- it's always true in books but not as much in my experience with actual children. Maybe I've just been lucky in knowing good kids.
- Slacker by Gordon Korman. Middle schoolers embrace community service with humorous ferver, as seen from the viewpoint of endearing stock characters. It's a fun read, and I liked the format of hearing from almost everyone.
- Save Me a Seat by Sarah Weeks and Gita Varadarajan. Two kids bond together over the shared attention of the classroom bully. The two authors alternate writing the boys' viewpoints. The final day was great -- emotionally strong plus hilarious.
- Some Kind of Happiness by Claire Legrand. Some readers classified this as fantasy, but although Finley has a strong imagination I didn't notice anything happening that isn't explained by ordinary means. I thought the parts written from the forest didn't really integrate well with the main story (maybe why I don't buy it as fantasy?) but I did like the emotional detailing of Finley's depression and her time with her extended family.
- Full of Beans by Jennifer L. Holm. A slice of little known history comes alive as Beans deals with the depression in his small Key West Florida town. He and his family are trying to stay afloat while the town struggles to exist despite bootlegging, fire dangers, and girls who keep pretending to be actual people. Poetry (completed)
- LOOK, LOOK AGAIN by Agnese Baruzzi. Delightful book clearly aimed at tiny readers, with the fun of opening pages, the magic of changed expectations, the consistency of counting, and the clarity of sheer color. It made me want to hunt up a large infant to read with.
- Dinosaur Dance! by Sandra Boynton. Standard Boynton -- fun pictures, fun words, faintly sophisticated and companionable. I wanted a few more rhymes.
- Cityblock (Alphablock) by Christopher Franceschelli. This had sharp interesting pictures and a simple narrative. It's much thicker than the board books I'm used to and uses more sophisticated techniques I associate with picture books -- the cat that appears on each spread, the way the constant character interact with the people around them. I'm a bit confused on the audience -- is it for highly sophisticated infants or for extra clumsy preschoolers who can't manipulate paper pages?
- Cuauhtemoc: Shapes/Formas (English and Spanish Edition) by Patty Rodriguez. The colors seemed gently muted, which is not what I look for in a baby book. The pages were pleasant, shape and word on one side and an illustration on the other, but often the illustration seemed a bit subtle for the audience, such as a snake inside a shape that grabs the interest from the named word.
- The Slowest Book Ever by April Pulley Sayre. This ended up being inspiring. I thought it would be just a random collection of facts about slow things, but it insisted on continually challenging its readers scientifically, curiously, and thoughtfully.
- Masters of Disguise: Amazing Animal Tricksters by Rebecca L. Johnson. Bright colors and a good balance between descriptive sections and background science. Good elementary school science book. I needed to know about the spiders who build robot minions.
- Some Writer!: The Story of E. B. White by Melissa Sweet. Excellent biography of the children's book writer, including but not focusing on his adult writing and life. The decorations helped build the mood; it really evoked the feeling of reading his books as a child.
- Floodwaters and Flames: The 1913 Disaster in Dayton, Ohio by Lois Miner Huey. Interesting tale of the flood, with clear stories told from a variety of viewpoints and photos illustrating each point. Captions indicate the difference between the image and the story, with clear lines showing where the information is coming from. Most people were chosen to show what was happening in various sections of town, although the inclusion of Orville Wright was clearly for his celebrity.
- The Inventors of LEGO Toys (Awesome Minds) by Erin Hagar. A good balance between a history of the company and a biography of the founders, with short bursts of information set off by clear and attractive illustrations.
- Will’s Words: How William Shakespeare Changed the Way You Talk by Jane Sutcliffe. Detailed pictures that left me wondering if I was missing a Where's Waldo gag (was Shakespeare on every page?) were muted but appealing. I enjoyed the brief text, which used descriptions of the time and theaters in which the plays were held to give examples of words Shakespeare made part of the language, and then on the alternate page described the use of these words. I'm not sure if it would entice readers who weren't already interested in the Bard, though.
- Animal Planet Strange, Unusual, Gross & Cool Animals by Charles Ghigna and Animal Planet. This works as a fun picture book, with large pages suitable to share across a lap. The pages vary between big pictures of a single animal and collections of creatures with something shared among them (cool eyes, etc.). I'm not sure how it works as an actual reference book, as there is no real connection between pages.
- Juana and Lucas, Anna Wilson. Fun story about a girl in Bogota with decided opinions on many things, including learning English in school. The mix of Spanish words reminds us that she is thinking in Spanish, and the final incentive to get her to buckle down and study is endearing.
- Dory Fantasmagory: Dory Dory Black Sheep by Abby Hanlon. Another fun visit with Dory aka Rascal. We see both her real friends and her imaginary ones, and watch her deal with the worry of not being a good reader and the rather archaic ways her teacher and parents deal with it (I speak as the parent of a late reader). It didn't really seem to have a unified whole, although I appreciated that Dory didn't magically start reading even when she decided to start trying. But her friendships stayed strong as did her commitment to her imagination.
- Where Are You Going, Baby Lincoln?: Tales from Deckawoo Drive, Volume Three by Kate DiCamillo. A shy elderly woman breaks away from her bossy older sister to take an independent train journey, meeting people who teach her about humor, candy, and creativity, and then is met by her family again and things settle down happily. I like the idea of kids emphasizing with old people.
- Mango & Bambang: The Not-a-Pig (Book One) (Mango & Bambang 1) by Polly Faber. The story was fine, with a mix of fantasy and realism -- tapirs do live in Malaysia, although this one is unusually articulate. But what really charmed me were the illustrations -- pencil with violet touches, the purple bringing to life small details either for fun or the emphasize a plot point. A fun read for a newly independent reader.
- The Princess in Black and the Hungry Bunny Horde, Shannon Hale. Fun but a bit disappointing. As expected, the disguised Princess Black and her loyal pony defeat the monsters. Some of the monsters are cute bunnies, but I expected more from that premise than I got.
- Weekends with Max and His Dad by Linda Urban. This seemed emotionally rather flat. The chapters are the right size and the text is easy enough, so it works as a early chapter book, but Max has no emotional connection to either of his parents. The stories about the neighbors are cute but it had no lasting feeling.
- Out of Abaton, Book 1 (Library Edition): The Wooden Prince by John Claude Bemis. I enjoyed the special effects -- sound effects and background music that made it even better for car listening. It suffered a bit because I only listen to audio books while driving, so it takes me forever to finish and in this case I had to recheck it out of the library. But after a slow start the middle and especially the end kept me interested.
- Raymie Nightingale by Kate DiCamillo. The narrator made good use of her voice in this audio -- all three children were easily distinguished by sound alone, and their accents were more southern than the narration. Even the adults were distinguished, although all the old people sounded alike at the home. I enjoyed it.
- The Best Man, by Richard Peck. Another narrator who easily kept all the characters distinct. The story itself was fine, but the characters all seemed a bit cliched, especially the girls. Actually even the boys were rather unsurprising. The only surprise was the amount of postering the kids put up with from their British classmate.
- When the Sea Turned to Silver by Grace Lin. The narrator slowly grew on me (at first she didn't seem too excited about the story) and she had a good balance of voices for the characters and emotion in the narration. However, the story itself seems to be about two children who spend the book trying to help the evil overlord destroy the world, which doesn't really seem like a good plan. They mean well, but that wouldn't mean much to the thousands of lives they are comfortable with destroying.
- The Inquisitor’s Tale: Or, the Three Magical Children and Their Holy Dog by Adam Gidwitz. This one really didn't work for me. I found the pace excruciatingly slow, and disliked most of the varied narrators. I also (maybe helped by the mismatch of audio to me) found the children flatly unbelievable, and found the wavering historical tone annoying and condescending. I was glad to reach the end of this. I know it's been acclaimed by all, but I'm not getting it.
Fiction Picture Books:(Done)
Elementary / Middle Grade Speculative Fiction
- Elementary / Middle Grade Graphic Novels (DONE) (The winner wasn't my favorite, but I liked it a lot.)
Elementary Non-Fiction: DONE! I picked the winner!
Audio Books: (Complete) (I disliked the winner, but enjoyed all the others)