Sunday, January 1, 2017

2016 Cybils Shortlist Reading Challenge


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!): 

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. 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. 

    Young Adult Fiction 

  1. 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. 
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.

  7. The Weight of Zeroby Karen Fortunati
    Delacorte Press Books for Young Readers
    Nominated by: MarisaR

    Young Adult Graphic Novels (Complete!)

    1. Dare to Disappoint: Growing Up in Turkey by Ozge Samanci. A brisk memoir about growing up in Turkey, emphasizing the schools and the opportunities that various schools provide. Peeks into the religious and political tensions come from various groups in the schools, as well as excitement over what to modern American eyes are small liberties. I enjoyed both the look at another culture and the characterization of the family.
    2. March: Book Three by John Lewis. Again I enjoyed this memoir that John Lewis wrote with his comic book friends. I balked a few times when Lewis appeared particularly saintly, but on the other hand he probably just was that idealistic. In any case, the words and pictures worked well to reinforce each other, and the March from Selma fit the title as well as the March on Washington.
    3. Faith Volume 1: Hollywood and Vine by Jody Houser. Comic book about a young woman trying to go solo as a superhero, complete with secret identity (that doesn't last long). She has normal problems -- job is dull, ex-boyfriend is disappointing, rent is tough, and super problems -- puppy farms, disappearing kids, self-combusting enemies, alien invasions. But it's fun and fast moving, and I could tell everyone apart!
    4. Ms. Marvel Vol. 5: Super Famous by G. Willow Wilson. I didn't enjoy this one as much as the previous volumes; I think I like my ratio of heroics to normal problems to skew more towards the hero stuff. The center this time seemed the problems anyone could have. I realize that I'm wrong, but that's how I roll.
    5. Monstress Volume 1: Awakening by Marjorie Liu. I spent a lot of time baffled and paging backward to see what was going on. This book requires a sophisticated comic reader, and that is something I'm not even close to claiming. The art was lovely and the story intricate, but I kept falling behind. 
    6. Lucky Penny by Ananth Hirsh & Yuko Ota. Story that runs up to magic realism of a girl who hasn't mastered all the parts of adulting but is still optimistic about learning someday. I could mostly tell the characters apart.
    7. Trashed by Derf Backderf. Rather unpleasant college dropout picks up a job as a garbage man in a small town, showing the reader the trade from the underneath. Backderf, who really did work as a trashman, spices things up with facts about the industry of trash collection but nothing made up for my lack of engagement with the main character.

    Middle Grade / Young Adult Non-fiction  (completed)

    Middle Grade:  (completed) (I liked them all)

  1. A Storm Too Soon: A Remarkable True Survival Story in 80 Foot Seas (True Storm Rescues) by Michael J. Tougias. Exciting story of three men in a boat overwhelmed by a surprise storm, and the skill, luck, and heroism that saved them. The Coast Guard Search and Rescue teams really shine in this adaptation of the adult version of this story.
  2. We Will Not Be Silent: The White Rose Student Resistance Movement That Defied Adolf Hitler by Russell Freedman. Pictures and text report the brief lives and struggles of the Scholl family who played important parts in the White Rose resistance movement in Germany. I learned a lot of details I didn't know before. The big size of the book gave plenty of room for pictures and easily access text chronicling the events.
  3. Sachiko: A Nagasaki Bomb Survivor’s Story by Caren Stelson. Biography of a survivor of the Nagasaki bombing, from the deaths of three siblings (physical injury, two radiation victims) immediately afterward to the slower death by cancer of first her little sister and then her father, and then Sachiko's development as a peace activist. Personal details are interrupted with boxes giving background information on the war, setting decisions and events in context while keeping a strong narrative.
  4. Bubonic Panic: When Plague Invaded America by Gail Jarrow. Another clear analysis of a disease provided by Jarrow. She traces the history of the first two waves of plague, and then incorporates the medical response to the rise of the third in the late 1800s/early 1900s. When plague arrives in San Francisco she details the municple, state, and federal responses. I would have liked a bit more discusses of why certain policies (racist ones) were pursued, especially since they were manifestly unsuccessful in dealing with the problem. Maybe that would have made the book seem too topical, though.
  5. Ten Days a Madwoman: The Daring Life and Turbulent Times of the Original “Girl” Reporter, Nellie Bly by Deborah Noyes. This biography zeros in on her first famous stunt in the asylum but also covers her entire life, pausing again on her trip around the world. It's interesting and pauses to set the scene with details about the context of her work, but I frequently found myself wanting more depth.
  6. This Land Is Our Land: A History of American Immigration by Linda Barret Osborne. Carefully balanced history of immigration to America, tracing the various ethnicities and countries sending representatives and their welcome across time. Racism and nativism are carefully depicted. In the epilogue the author's belief in an open society comes across clearly, but in the other sections she stays dispassionate.
  7. Fashion Rebels: Style Icons Who Changed the World through Fashion by Carlyn Cerniglia Beccia. Interesting short chapters on various women with enduring fashion senses, although I didn't get a feel for the topic as a whole. People who notice what they wear might enjoy the tips on borrow some of the ideas.

    Young Adult Nonfiction (complete) (I picked the winner):

    1. Every Falling Star: The True Story of How I Survived and Escaped North Korea by Sungju Lee. This powerful story of a child forced to survive on his own reminded me of some of the WWII fiction I read as a kid, except that the realism and nonfiction level made things grimmer. I alternated between admiration for the independence and leadership Sungju displayed and horror at the grim choices and dehumanizing situations he found himself making.
    2. The Borden Murders: Lizzie Borden and the Trial of the Century by Sarah Miller. True crime history of Lizzie Borden, with the author carefully avoiding taking sides. The traditional side boxes giving background information interrupts the Lizzie-centric narrative to keep things varied. I know see how the trial went (and the verdict makes complete sense), but there's no way to know whodunnit, partly because of the focus on Lizzie rather than the victims which this book (by necessity -- that's where the history is) follows.
    3. In the Shadow of Liberty: The Hidden History of Slavery, Four Presidents, and Five Black Lives by Kenneth C. Davis. Solid descriptions of the lives of some of the people history spends a lot of time trying to forget. I like the way he describes both the facts and the process of finding them, especially for people without much of a paper trail and puts that in context of both its own time and ours.
    4. Blood Brother: Jonathan Daniels and His Sacrifice for Civil Rights by Rich Wallace. I learned stuff about Daniels and the Selma march and civil rights activities in Alabama; it was fun to read this soon after John Lewis's March: Book Three since some of the same characters (including Lewis) show up in both. The bright colors of some of the pages made the book seem lively but also made some pages hard to read.
    5. The Plot to Kill Hitler: Dietrich Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Spy, Unlikely Heroby Patricia McCormick. The younger kids also get a book about German Nazi resistance, in this case a biography of a pacifist minister so appalled by Hitler that he joined a conspiracy to assassinate him. I question the title a bit -- Bonhoeffer was an unlikely assassin, but I doubt if many of his friends were surprised he was a hero.
    6. Radioactive!: How Irène Curie and Lise Meitner Revolutionized Science and Changed the World by Winifred Conkling. Two interesting biographies of scientists who made significant advances in science that affected the course of World War II and who were also discriminated against because they were women.
    7. Blood, Bullets, and Bones: The Story of Forensic Science from Sherlock Holmes to DNA by Bridget Heos. The individual chapters had plenty of fun facts about how authorities figured out who killed the dead bodies that turn up, but it didn't real gel together as a complete book. 
    Middle Grade Fiction (completed) (I picked the winner!)

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. 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.

  8. Poetry (completed)

    1. Garvey’s Choice by Nikki Grimes. Wow, a verse novel that I felt worked in part because of its format, not just in spite of it. The tanko form forced some rigor into the words, so that while it didn't feel real it felt authentic. It was the emotion and feeling of the boy's words, not their exact words that were conveyed.
    2. Guess Who, Haiku by Deanna Caswell. This worked as a picture book for preschoolers, and it does a good job of demonstrating the haiku form, but none of the individual poems really took my breath away.
    3. Fresh Delicious by Irene Latham. A fun picture book about a farmer's market, with pages for most of the food kids would get there. The words are in poem format, which keeps the pages clear enough for a good visual. Nothing blew my head off though.
    4. The Last Fifth Grade of Emerson Elementary by Laura Shovan. I was very distracted by the framing conceit, that these were poems written as opening exercises by a class saddened by the impending sale of their school. The poems didn't seem like the things kids would write, and few fifth graders I know would care what happened to the school after they left. A few would cheer its destruction. It seemed a book for adults who like rosy pictures of childhood. Some of the poems were good illustrations of poem types, I guess.
    5. When Green Becomes Tomatoes: Poems for All Seasons by Julie Fogliano. More poetry book than picture book, although the pictures are delicate, gentle and lovely. Although the title line is vivid, most of the rest didn't really resonate with me. It's possible I grew up in the wrong climates so most of the child's poems didn't induce nostalgia.
    6. To Stay Alive: Mary Ann Graves and the Tragic Journey of the Donner Partyby Skila Brown. The poems are mostly of the "hit return and space a lot" variety, and they never really felt like they were representing Mary Ann. I would rather they pretended to be from a made-up person rather than a real person who did leave letters and stories about these events.
    7. Booked by Kwame Alexander. Another victim of my aversion to verse novels. I didn't believe that the narrator would write in those words, so I was constantly thrown out of the first-person verses. This left me with a story of a boy dealing with a tough year -- divorce, injury, and the stress and joys of his first girlfriend. And this year's pet peeve was in full force -- girls aren't seen as real people, but as mysterious objects either to be desired or rejected.

    Board Books: 

    1. 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.
    2. Dinosaur Dance! by Sandra Boynton. Standard Boynton -- fun pictures, fun words, faintly sophisticated and companionable. I wanted a few more rhymes.
    3. 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?
    4. 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.
    5. Follow the Yarn: A Book of Colorsby Emily Sper
      Jump Press
      Nominated by: ediew (not cataloged at kcls, spl)

      Fiction Picture Books:(Done)

      1. A Hungry Lion, or A Dwindling Assortment of Animals by Lucy Ruth Cummins
      2. There’s a Bear on My Chair by Ross Collins
      3. Ida, Always by Caron Levis
      4. The Night Gardener by Terry and Eric Fan 
      5. One Day in the Eucalyptus, Eucalyptus Tree by Daniel Bernstrom
      6. Strictly No Elephants by Lisa Mantchev
      7. They All Saw a Cat by Brendan Wenzel

      Elementary / Middle Grade Speculative Fiction

      1. When the Sea Turned to Silver by Grace Lin. I still think the format of short chapters and many included stories make for a delightful read aloud or introduction to longer books for solo readers. The many detailed illustrations only encourage more reading, and the puzzle-box idea of having all the Chekov's guns assembled in the final chapters is always fun. The kids were willing but rather simple, but I don't think readers would notice that they spend the book attempting to solidify a tyrant's rule.
      2. The Goblin’s Puzzle: Being the Adventures of a Boy with No Name and Two Girls Called Alice by Andrew ChiltonThis hit my sweet spot with its delight in logic and common fallacies, all wrapped up in strangely perceptive dragons, bookish sages, and a slave boy learning to be free. Oh, and the goblin who delights in logic and should become good friends with the sage girl. The princess and the boy can enjoy understanding fuzzy humans together.
      3. The Firefly Code by Megan Frazer Blakemore. The lone science fiction entry in this fantasy-heavy category stands out for its ethical and societal questions, which are strengths of science fiction. Do the children of Firefly Lane live in an utopia or a dystopia? How different are their choices from ours? Are their parents making fair decisions? Is their community? I eat this stuff with a spoon. 
      4. The Evil Wizard Smallbone by Delia Sherman. I liked the mix of the realistic growth of a boy from surly abused runaway to confident and secure reliable neighbor, with the growth mainly encouraged by a helpful magic library that teachers him elemental and shapeshifting magic. I disliked the library's contempt for Romance books, which I view as a lazy way to say girl stuff is dumb.
      5. Shadow Magic by Joshua Khan. There's a princess and a commoner/stable boy. (There's also a prince, but he's the third wheel.) There's a giant bat, a history of necromancy, and a plot to rule to world. And this a smidge of looking at the injustice of hereditary government, but it's just a smidge. Fun and the hardback is an interesting size to read.
      6. The Voyage to Magical North by Claire Fayers. Fantasy story of two runaway children, one a lost girl with probable special powers who feels unappreciated and the other an apprentice wizard worried about the effects practicing magic will have on his morality, and the pirate captain, evil wizard, and giant octopi they find in their journey. Also there's a library, which is always nice.
      7. The Memory Thief by Bryce MooreI liked the paranormal aspect of this one -- Benji is worrying about his status at school, his relationship with his sister (he may depend on her too much), and the animosity between his parents and then he falls in with memory thieves and the way those problems weave in and out with the mundane ones work well.

      Elementary / Middle Grade Graphic Novels (DONE) (The winner wasn't my favorite, but I liked it a lot.)

      1. Mighty Jack by Ben Hatke. I devoured this in one effortless gulp. Jack was an interesting boy; wanting to help his struggling mom but still getting distracted by simple things like magical seeds and his non verbal sister. The pictures told stories that matched with the dialogue in a way that built upon each other. I'm eagerly looking forward to the sequel.
      2. The Wolves of Currumpaw by William GrillTragic and heartbreaking yet very compelling. The simplistic artwork didn't grab but also didn't repel me. I didn't know the story so I kept hoping feebly for a miracle, knowing it wasn't coming. The oversized pages enhanced the experience.
      3. The Nameless City by Faith Erin Hicks. Pictures and story worked well together. The plot was a bit slow, but the final action sequences had a lot of pay-off. I'll look for the next story.
      4. Lowriders to the Center of the Earth (Book 2) (Lowriders in Space) by Cathy Camper. Three animal friends and their fancy car rescue their cat from the underworld, with a lot of Spanglish and adventures along the way. The red colors make things seem energetic and alert, and the Spanish words made me feel smart.
      5. Princess Princess Ever After by Katie O’Neill. This was a cute story with many twists on standard fairy tale tropes, as the characters reveal themselves to have additional depth and quirks. The main characters are of course married at the end, but at least they agree to wait until they've reached competence in their careers (warrior and ruler). I think some kids will find the fact that the romantic couple are both princesses fascinating, but it's not such a big deal around here.
      6. Bera the One-Headed Troll by Eric Orchard. A pumpkin farming troll steps up to help a baby, despite the uselessness or active malice of the heroes she appeals to for help. The pictures were finely drawn but rather dark, and my face-blindness for graphics meant that I managed to be confused about who was there even with the sparse characters. Fun enough read  but hard for me.
      7. Compass South (Four Points) by Hope Larson. Two sets of unscrupulous twins plan to defraud a grieving man, and have adventures along the way. The main pair are the nasier set, with no loyalty to anyone outside themselves and precious little of that. The girl falls in love (of course) and the boys grow emotionally. The pictures are well done.

    Elementary / Juvenile Non-Fiction (COMPLETE):

    Elementary Non-Fiction: DONE! I picked the winner!

    1. Giant Squid by Candace Fleming and Eric Rohmann. First of all -- GIANT SQUID! So it's starting off on a strong foot. Then I was charmed by the poetic yet informative text, which echoes the majestic beauty of these creatures while educating me on the facts and unknowns surrounding them. The final pages give some dull diagrams, and the fold out spread was not as colorful or dramatic as I might wish, but still a great read for preschoolers or young school kids.
    2. The First Step: How One Girl Put Segregation on Trial by Susan E. Goodman (2016-01-05) by Susan E. Goodman. The narrative of the first pages, where a family in Boston sued (and lost) to have their child attend a school closer to home works as a story and the pictures complement it well. After focusing on this case, the book gives an overview of how segregation was ended in Boston and eventually everywhere, discussing the step-forward and step-backward pace of social justice. It's a child's-eye view of a lesser known historical event and also historical theory -- how societies change in non-linear ways.
    3. Step Right Up: How Doc and Jim Key Taught the World about Kindness by Donna Janell Bowman. Fun story starting with an enslaved child and ending with a rich businessman and his clever horse. I'd heard about Jim the smart horse before so it was fun to get more details, and the illustrations would make this a fun picture book to share or give a young reader. The language was fresh and modern ("enslaved child" rather than "slave" for example).
    4. Finding Winnie: The True Story of the World’s Most Famous Bearby Lindsay Mattick. Frame of a bedtime story keeps the journey of the bear Winnie from Canada to England cosy and heroic. Example of a nonfiction book that works well as a picture book for sharing at bedtime or reading time. Wow, Canadians are sure apple-cheeked!
    5. Pink Is For Blobfish: Discovering the World’s Perfectly Pink Animals (The World of Weird Animals) by Jess Keating. This is a short version of the Strange (etc) Animal book on the other little kid nonfiction list. Each page has a photo of a pink animal, and then we get fun information and a cute drawing about it, along with a standard kartush with it's location, size, endangered status, etc. It's a good book to read with animal-loving kids, especially ones whose attention spans don't last the whole book as each page is distinct.
    6. Plants Can’t Sit Still (Millbrook Picture Books) by Rebecca E. Hirsch. A fun picture book that describes how plants grow in all directions, and then adds in all the ways their seeds get around. It's fun and informative.
    7. Tortuga Squad: Kids Saving Sea Turtles in Costa Rica by Cathleen Burnham. A focus on a single child opened the window to this look at turtle conservation on a small island in Costa Rica. The rescue squad of children makes this interesting to the elementary crowd, but I was left unsure of some science facts (do hatching and egg laying overlap that much? What does evil Poacher Carlos eat when he's not poaching turtles?). I guess I wanted more specifics, either about turtles or about Bianca, the viewpoint child.

    Juvenile Non-Fiction: DONE! The winner was my #3, but I still loved it.

    1. 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.
    2. 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.
    3. 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.
    4. 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.
    5. 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.
    6. 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.
    7. 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.
    8. Easy Reader and Early Chapter Books (DONE):
      Easy Readers (done). The winner didn't mesh with mine, but I and my kids have a weird sense of humor.

      1. The Infamous Ratsos (Ratso Brothers) by Kara LaReau. Wow, I thought I would be too cynical for the obvious moral coming along, but instead it won me over. I liked the way the text and pictures complemented each other, and how the stakes of the brothers' dubious plans rose, and even how the dad responded.
      2. Elephant & Piggie Like Reading! We Are Growing! by Laurie Keller and Mo Willems. I liked the cover and the illustrations, and the way that every page of the book worked toward the overall effect. I also liked the humor and the grass personalities, although the lawnmower stressed me out a bit. It looks like a fun chance for a share read, maybe with a crowd of kids.
      3. Elephant & Piggie Like Reading! The Cookie Fiasco by Dan Santat and Mo Willems. Conflict resolution through neurosis and math -- this book was written for me (and my kids). The pictures work perfectly to add to the fun.
      4. Snail and Worm: Three Stories About Two Friends by Tina Kugler. Two quirky friends have gentle adventures that children will relate to and feel slightly smug about. The pictures and text are good, but somehow I didn't fall in love (except with Snail's eyeballs). Maybe I needed a kid next to me?
      5. The Great Antonio by Elise Gravel. I'm still baffled by the difference between nonfiction and Easy Reader. I thought this was a biography of a real person? I know the author makes a few jokes about aliens, but they are clearly marked off from the more factual text, and the author tries to discuss how substantiated the facts she relates are. This was easy to read and fairly engaging.
      6. Rabbit and Robot and Ribbit by Cece Bell. This one was a bit didactic for me -- Rabbit was clearly misbehaving and doomed to learn better, although I thought the penalty was a bit drastic -- Robot was basically in a coma with failing life support for a while. Oh well, no hard feelings.

      Early Chapter Books (done). The winner was my number 4, but I still liked it a lot.

      Juana and LucasDory Dory Black SheepWhere Are You Going, Baby Lincoln? (Tales from Deckawoo Drive, #3)The Not-a-Pig (Mango & Bambang #1)The Princess in Black and the Hungry Bunny Horde (The Princess in Black, #3)Weekends with Max and His Dad

      1. 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. 
      2. 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.
      3. 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.
      4. 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.
      5. 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.
      6. 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.

      Audio Books: (Complete) (I disliked the winner, but enjoyed all the others)
      Out of Abaton, Book 1: The Wooden Prince The Best Man

      1. 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.
      2. 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. 
      3. The Best Manby 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.
      4. 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.
      5. 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.

      Completed: 104  /106

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