Sunday, March 9, 2014

Cybils 2013 Easy Reader Finalists

I gathered the collection of Cybils Easy Readers and read them all. Then I tried to read them with the not-quite-independent reader. This is exciting because he's right about the level that these books are aimed at, so I feel it's a fair test.

Then I got my high schooler to read them. There are many reasons I love my son, and the fact that as a high schooler he's still willing to read and enjoy books like these is only one of them. But it's a wonderful reason, isn't it?

Finally I watched the junior high boy read them, so I completed my family of testers.

A Big Guy Took My Ball! (An Elephant and Piggie Book), Mo Willems.  I loved share reading this with the elementary student. He's very familiar with Elephant and Piggy books (I think one was his first official READ BOOK), so he claimed Gerald and had me read Piggy, and listening to his expression and dynamic changes was refreshing. We both read the parts of the Big Guy, using Dory's whale accent from Finding Nemo. As always, Willems delivers a fun story with great characters using minimal text.

So this one was a hit with everyone, adult, high school, junior high, and elementary student.

Joe and Sparky Go to School, Jamie Michalak. When I share-read with a new reader, we often alternate pages. This works really well for Michalak's fun story about a field trip to a school by a giraffe and a turtle, and my emergent reader is also currently very game for pauses to speculate what will happen next or what the effect of what just happened. Particularly relevant was the scene where poor Joe gets lectured for interrupting when he tries to hush Sparky in order to hear the teacher, and then the teachers rubs salt in his wounds by awarding Sparky a star for good listening.

We've all been through the agony of injustice, haven't we? Then the chapter about the "restroom" literally had the boy rolling around laughing. The words "magic pond" will never be the same. This was his and my top pick of the set, and enjoyed by everyone.

Love Is in the Air (HC) (Penguin Young Readers, L2), Jonathan Fenske
This was a sweet small story, almost as easy to read as the Willems book but with enough plot and emotion to justify itself. I also liked the action in the pages, both the constant up and down and the vividly depicted twists and spins.
The high schooler actually found it creepy -- he read the final scene as a Romeo & Juliet style suicide pact. Interesting connection there. The junior high boy also appreciated that ending; he's been a bit depressed lately so any book that ends with "and then they all died" is pronounced a Happy Ending.
Penny and Her Marble (I Can Read Book 1), Kevin Henkes. I enjoy almost everything Henkes has written, from picture books through early readers into middle grade books. I do admit that my older boys find them dull now -- they are not charmed by the cosy family life or Penny's very realistic moral crisis.

So, I liked it, but all three boys regarded this as a snoozer.

The Meanest Birthday Girl, Josh Schneider. I actually read this one months ago, pulling it off the library "New Books" wall for its cover. But in fairness I reread it with the others and then offered it around.

The high schooler awarded it the prize, and loudly guffawed as he read it. He proclaimed it one of the the best books he's read all year (OK, it's February) and called it a "Monkey's Paw for little kids." High praise indeed. The junior high boy and the elementary kid both praised it as well.

Urgency Emergency! Big Bad Wolf, Dosh Archer. I liked how the lost child in the first pages tied back to the devoured grandmother inside the wolf.  The pictures were good and the story solid, although I have more sympathy for the wolf than the text supports.

This got high marks from the youngest reader, but the older two were just mildly amused. The Cybils judges gave it the prize, but after all, they could keep the real audience in mind while my test readers really stretch that border. Well done Cybils authors -- it's not every author of an Easy Reader who can also keep the attention of teenagers!

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