Once again the amazing people on the Cybils team have prepared my yearly reading list. Despite the fact that I lazed around this year and haven't finished last years list, this year I'm going to try harder. And I'll try to blog more so I can apply to be a judge, which will mean reading and blogging more.
Looking over the list, I've read two already, so I'm starting with a bang.
There, I've started a reading challenge and made a New Years Resolution. I'm clearly doing Monday right so far this year. The list of books is below; as usual I've attempted to preserve the links that give an Amazon kickback to the Cybils team but sometimes I mess up.
Young Adult Speculative Fiction (complete)
Hey, I picked the winner!
- Scythe (Arc of a Scythe) by Neal Shusterman. In the future, DEATH has been banned and the government refuses to control the winnowers. Only our protagonists are willing to stand up against to corruption in their ranks. It's fun but moves to a familiar rhythm. I did like how the two protagonists played against each other, even after they were separated.
- Wonder Woman: Warbringer by Leigh Bardugo. In the PRESENT, Diana is unsure of her place among the Amazons -- after all, she's never died. When a strange teen shows up on the island, Diana takes on a quest to save both her and the world, two goals which are seemingly contradictory. Along the way Diana learns the difference between defining yourself and proving yourself, and makes friends with some extraordinary New Yorkers.
- The Hearts We Sold by Emily Lloyd-Jones. In the PRESENT, demons are trading favors for body parts. It turns out they have a use for these parts, as Dee finds out when she encounters an unusual demon. This leads her to a break with her family, a chance at a future, and first love. And possibly to saving the world. It's fun and keeps the emphasis on the small problems (Dee's terrible life) rather than the world saving.
- They Both Die at the End by Adam Silvera. In the NEAR FUTURE, a company calls to warn people if they will die the next day. Two boys receive this call and meet up to spend that day mostly together instead of alone. The narrative switches between them and some of the people they connect with throughout the day. It's a great concept but I kept wondering about the implications, which are deliberately ignored.
- Song of the Current by Sarah Tolcser. All the river generations of her family have had a special connection with the river god, but not our heroine. Even as she steps up to captain the boat and deal with the sudden introduction of cute aristocrats and dynastic ambitions that niggles a bit, but then she learns her special destiny. It's a lot of fun, but sadly I'm at the time of life (parenting older teens) that I find young adult enthusiasm tiring rather than endearing. I plan to weather the years and get back to enjoying myself as my kids age.
- The Rules and Regulations for Mediating Myths & Magic by F.T. Lukens. The fantasy part was fun, with lots of fun things showing up to menace our hapless protagonist, and a warm found family for him to train with. The teen stuff bogged down for me -- I understand how anxious the boy was about his bisexuality, but it was clear from the beginning that everyone in his life would be fine with it -- from his mom to his friends to the football team. So after a few hundred pages his angst got dull.
- Moxie: A Novel by Jennifer Mathieu. I was starting to drag my feet on reading more YA -- the kids were so emotional, so sure that their problems were the biggest ever (whether they were saving the world, their family, or their love lives), but this one charmed me completely. The girl had a sense of proportion but still wanted to try to make changes. She found love, but isn't ready to sound wedding bells. Friends mattered as much as new love. I will press this on my teen readers.
- Piecing Me Together by Renée Watson. Another one that knocked my socks off. This book about a girl attending a posh school on scholarship really examined the dynamics of beneficence, both by the school and by the mentors in the uplifting program the school selects for her. Does needing help mean being broken? Does accepting it mean accepting being judged and found wanting? How does racism feel from the outside (and from the inside?).
- The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas. Great voice, timely book. Was a bit too by-the-numbers, but still an affecting and fresh book. (read in May 2017)
- Saints and Misfits by S. K. Ali. Janna is a hijab wearing Muslim who worries about her grades, has a crush on a cute boy, has to give up her room to her brother, and earns extra money helping out with her eighty year old neighbor. But what really defines this year is the assault by the popular boy from the Mosque, which leaves her uncertain and unable to talk to her friends about the biggest thing in her life. How she navigates the next few months and learns to find her own strength makes for a fresh and convincing book.
Young Adult Graphic Novels (done)
Older Non-Fiction (done)
Senior High Non-Fiction (done)
- A Dog in the Cave: The Wolves Who Made Us Human by Kay Frydenborg. I was fascinated by the ideas presented in this book. I love the idea of humans and dogs co-evolving, and enjoyed the archeological, genetic and social information put forward. A few times I was left unsure where the information came from (including, unfortunately, in the first few pages) and at the end I wanted more but the bibliography didn't help me find it.
- The March Against Fear: The Last Great Walk of the Civil Rights Movement and the Emergence of Black Power by Ann Bausum. I was vaguely aware of the March Against Fear through Mississippi, but this book brought it into perspective -- how it started, what it meant to the marchers (different thing to different people), what it meant to the observers, what it meant for the Civil Rights movement both as effect and policy. The small print did hinder my enjoyment, but I guess it's not aimed at old people!
- How Dare the Sun Rise: Memoirs of a War Child by Sandra Uwiringiyimana. I had a mixed reaction. The parts about her early life were interesting, the description of the massacre and life as a refugee heartbreaking but fascinating, and her integration in America and struggles with American racisms maddening but effective. But I'm a curmudgeonly parent and found her teen rebellions and fights with her parents a bit dull, which is unfair but there it is. I assume actual teen readers would not have that reaction.
- Uprooted: The Japanese American Experience During World War II by Albert Marrin. Often my adult general knowledge is enough to get me though YA nonfiction, but in this case the pre- and post-war stuff filled in a lot of gaps. I also liked the tone, which fairly presented both sides even when it was clear that the author found one repugnant (racists in America and Japan, war crimes committed by anyone, etc.). The pictures were good. I'm not sure who reads big tall books like these though -- are they what kids want?
- Vincent and Theo: The Van Gogh Brothers by Deborah Heiligman. Entwined biography of the famous painter and the younger brother who supported him both emotionally and financially throughout his life. I liked seeing the past through their lives, although the final months of Theo's life were harrowing -- boy is syphilis a sad end. I particularly like the detailed analysis of key paintings; they really helped teach how to read a painting.
- Alice Paul and the Fight for Women’s Rights: From the Vote to the Equal Rights Amendment by Deborah Kops. I learned a lot from this, especially about American suffrage during President Wilson's tenure, and the brutal acts of the government when the women annoyed people too much. I thought it had a nice balance of current events during the women's protests. Alice Paul was unknown to me before, so I'm glad I've learned something about the author of the ERA, even if it never becomes part of America. But than America turns out to be a rather lousy place.
- Queer, There, and Everywhere: 23 People Who Changed the Worldb y Sarah Prager. This collection of short biographies of historical people who fit our modern idea of "queer" (the book talks about changing vocabulary and cultural context) is lighthearted and serves its purpose of showing that queerness was not invented last week but has been a part of the human condition as long as we've had humans. The tone is casual and almost trendy and seems to assume the reader lives somewhere welcoming and tolerant.
- Undefeated: Jim Thorpe and the Carlisle Indian School Football Team by Steve Sheinkin.This was exciting, suspenseful, heartbreaking, and outraging. Sheinkin focuses on the boys and men who make up the team, but also manages to convey the history and conditions of the school, and the stated intentions, probable intentions, and actual results of many of the characters from the football players through the Olympic officials and the opposing players. A lot of them do not come out looking good (Eisenhower is one of the better off names!). I learned a lot, sorted through information I kinda knew before but lacked context for, and found the book gripping.
- Isaac the Alchemist: Secrets of Isaac Newton, Reveal’d by Mary Losure. I liked how this book made the writing of history almost explicit. The author assumes that readers will be interested not only in the life of Isaac Newton, but in who he was as a person, in how we know what he was like and what he did, and in how the world was different in the past and what was the same. She would often show the original document and then what is inferred from this information.
- Locked Up for Freedom: Civil Rights Protesters at the Leesburg Stockade by by Heather E. Schwartz. A slim book that covers a specific event in American history -- the imprisonment in atrocious conditions of girls arrested for peaceful protests in Americus, Georgia in 1963. The girls were held in a filthy, probably abandoned prison twenty miles away, and their parents were not allowed to visit or in many cases to know where they were. Schwartz writes her story mainly from interviews with the women who remember their weeks there, as well as with the man who snuck in to take pictures documenting the conditions. It's a well told story, with a strong throughline accompanied by short boxes giving context or explanations, but with the distance built by being a story of a group, not of an individual.
- Bound by Ice: A True North Pole Survival Story by Sandra Neil Wallace. Exciting and tense story of a polar expedition that ended poorly. I liked how the chapters were arrange for suspense, and how we also got to see the science they did along the way, and at the end how that science is being used today.
- by Martin W. Sandler. This history of a ship is a thread on which to look quickly at the slave trade, more deeply into piracy in the 1700s and especially Sam Bellamy, and then ship wreckers around Cape Cod and finally treasure seekers and archeologists of the modern day. The pirate stuff was solid but my favorite chapters looked at modern aquatic archeology and what the relics from the Whydah are doing to change our perceptions of how pirates lived.
- Poison: Deadly Deeds, Perilous Professions, and Murderous Medicines by Sarah Albee. A gleeful look at poison through history, with descriptions of how they were used and where, both deliberately and accidentally and the shades in between. Large pages and type make this a welcoming read, with boxes pulled out for specific topics often on a recurring theme -- "Drop Dead Gorgeous" for poisonous beauty treatments, for example. It was grisly but fun.
- Motor Girls: How Women Took the Wheel and Drove Boldly Into the Twentieth Century (History (US)) by Sue Macy. A fun history of the automobile, especially racing, through the lens of women. It discusses the social implications of women driving, and how it jarred with many of the narratives America and other countries wanted to impose. It's a light read with lot of good pictures. The sections at the end of each chapter were amusing as well as context-setting.
Younger Non-Fiction (done)
Middle Grade Non-Fiction (done)
I picked the winner!
- Two Truths and a Lie: It’s Alive! by Ammi-Joan Paquette andI really enjoyed this book -- it was a fun way to present a variety of facts along with a lesson on bibliographies and source checking. I liked it so much I didn't even begrudge realizing I read the wrong one first (last years) and had to sneak another book into my hectic November. The inserts were good addition, from the illustrations to the extra quizes and information.
- Red Cloud by S.D. Nelson. Despite the confusing first person (was there a journal? how do we know Red Cloud's motives and emotions?) the pictures and text work together beautifully to give a sense of the time and constraints Red Cloud dealt with. It represents the attitudes of all parties to the conflict, and shows how Red Cloud modified his tactics depending on the situation.
- Pathfinders: The Journeys of 16 Extraordinary Black Souls by Tonya Bolden. Short biographies of people I mostly had never heard of, with great photographs as illustrations and well defined pages including side bars on contemporary events or similar notable people in addition to the one profiled. The individual sections are personal enough to lure in story hungry kids and the format also provides a historical overview along with the details.
- Lost in Outer Space (Lost #2): The Incredible Journey of Apollo 13by Tod Olson. Of course I love this book about space, and I turned the pages quickly, but I've read so much that it's hard to overly impress me.
- Zoo Scientists to the Rescue by Patricia Newman. Three chapters describe three programs run by scientists associated with zoos. That's the link between the chapters so the book doesn't really feel cohesive. But it has some good pictures of animals, the explanations of the programs are clear and inspiring, and the different career paths of the scientists give some idea of how they came to their jobs.
- Beauty and the Beak: How Science, Technology, and a 3D-Printed Beak Rescued a Bald Eagle by Deborah Lee Rose and Beautiful pictures, but it seems more of a picture book than a nonfiction. I don't have a real sense of how much of the opening section really happened to this eagle, at least until it is captured. And the description of the prosthetic beak minimizes its shortcomings -- the smaller text in the back discusses how far short of the original it comes. As a picture book it's wonderful; as a history of the 3D beak it's a bit unclear.
Elementary Non-Fiction (done)
My #2 was the winner, but I'm happy because they were all good.
Middle-Grade Fiction (done)
- Refugee by Alan Gratz. This book gripped from the start and even while bouncing from one story to another. The three kids were very different, and had very different problems, but all wanted to survive with their families. The tiny connections between the stories reminded me that all humanity is connected. This one stays with you after the cover closes.
- Restart by Gordon Korman. This book got a boost because I read it with my elementary school book club, and the kids made that a great meeting. It had good specifics (what was the worst thing before-Chase did?) and raised good general questions (is it fair for someone to restart? are you responsible for moral actions you have forgotten?). And Korman always delivers great kid voices, and I'm liking his mosaic chapter approach linking multiple POVs.
- Insignificant Events in the Life of a Cactus by Dusti Bowling. An eighth grader moves to a new school and must make friends. It goes slowly but she makes some good ones. She has no arms and she meets a boy with Tourettes and they bond over being obviously disabled. It's a great voice and a good mix of very specific problems (no arms!), very general problems (new school!) and book problems (mystery at the amusement park!).
- Armstrong and Charlie by Steven B. Frank. Two boys become friends during a transformative year for both. They deal with issues but it's not an "issue" book -- Armstrong is integrating a white school by bussing; Charlie is grieving his brother's death. Their families are important and distinct. Adults are mostly shadows but well detailed ones.
- Caleb and Kit by Beth Vrabel. Caleb wants more independence, but his mom is reluctant to take chances, especially because of his medical condition, which he is starting to feel overwhelmingly defines him. So he sneaks off to be on his own, but that does not incline his parents to trust him more. And when he gets into a situation he isn't sure he can handle, it's hard for him to ask for help when step one is giving up any privacy he has stolen.
- Amina’s Voice by Hena Khan. Easy middle grade read about a girl stumbling over the higher social expectations of junior high. She's a bit immature for her age and it shows. She's also Muslim, painfully shy, intimidated by her more devout uncle, and scared by an attack on her Mosque, making her an interesting and realistic character.
- The Epic Fail of Arturo Zamora by Pablo Cartaya. No school to worry about in this one -- it's summer vacation! Instead we see a boy dealing with his first crush and his job as a dishwasher in the family restaurant, a job threatened by gentrification and a proposed new development. The boy eats good food, reads some poetry, and stretches himself a bit.
These were all great reads. My #4 was the winner, but I would have been happy with any of them.
- by Written by Ginger Ly. Deeply creepy story about a girl haunted by a shadow that has been stalking her school. It mixes some real world angst (lonely, aloof girl moved to new area) with a slowly emerging ghost story that gave me the shivers. The ending was a bit pat, but the midgame was haunting.
- Real Friends by Shannon Hale, ilustrated by LeUyen Pham. The emotional journey of a girl on the periphery of a popular clique and who also feels on the periphery of her family resonated with me, although I didn't fit either of those situations.
- Pashmina by Nidhi Chanani. I liked the illustrations and the realistic story -- amazingly for me, I could usually tell who was who from page to page. I was a bit disappointed with the resolution of the fantastic pashmina parts; it didn't seem integrated with the emotional themes of the rest of the book.
- Where’s Halmoni? by Julie Kim. This was almost a picture book, but the bright colors and smooth story was engaging. (Winner!)
- The Big Bad Fox by Benjamin Renner. I can definitely see kids chortling over this as the fox haplessly tries to be evil. I had some problems with the kidnapping (chicknapping?) but I doubt children would have those qualms.
- The Dam Keeper by Robert Kondo and A good start to a story, and I'll probably read the rest, but it didn't feel complete in itself.
I picked the winner! It was so good I ran around giving it as a present.
- I’m Just No Good at Rhyming: And Other Nonsense for Mischievous Kids and Immature Grown-Ups by Chris Harris. This ranked up there with Shel Silverstein for me, with poems referencing each other, poems making fun of themselves, poems celebrating words and childhood and children and humor. I shared it with my poetry-adverse son and he wasn't mad. I want to buy it and send it to kids I know, which is always a sign of a good Cybils book.
- One Last Word: Wisdom from the Harlem Renaissance by Nikki Grimes. This introduced me to a new form of poetry and then made me love it. The idea of reacting to a poem by writing a new poem based on the words in a line or a stanza (or the whole poem) sounded gimmicky until Grimes demonstrated the strength and power of the form. And the pictures were perfect.
- Bull by David Elliott. The different styles of poetry differentiated the different voices telling the story of Crete during King Minos's rule, with the Minotaur, his parents, his sister, his captor and his killer all chiming in. I don't particularly like the hip-hop style but it did suit Poseidon, and I'd gladly push this on kids interested in Greek Mythology (even if through Percy Jackson).
- Fresh-Picked Poetry: A Day at the Farmers’ Market by Michelle Schaub. This picture book combined energetic illustrations with short poems evoking different aspects of a neighborhood farmers market, from dawn until shut down. All the senses are celebrated, various types of poems are used but the top of my head knew they were all poems.
- Keep a Pocket in Your Poem: Classic Poems and Playful Parodies by J. Patrick Lewis. A short picture book collection of classic poems or excerpts of poems accompanied by the author's twist on them. It's a great way to show poems as something people create and to encourage people (kids!) to make their own versions, or just to engage with poems as something living. The pictures are lighthearted but not goofy.
- Miguel’s Brave Knight: Young Cervantes and His Dream of Don Quixote by Margarita Engle. This lovely picture book biography of Cervantes shows how imagination and creativity can sustain people even through tough situations. It gives some history of his childhood and how long the idea of Quixote worked within the author. I did tend to read it more as a nonfiction book than as poems, although the format reinforced the emphasis on imagination and fluency.
- Out of Wonder: Poems Celebrating Poets by Kwame Alexander, Like Lewis's book this is a book of poems celebrating poets (especially ones from the Harlem Renaissance). It also has lovely images and I liked the poems, but since I am uneducated I didn't know the styles of many of the poets featured. I really wished they gave examples of the originals along with the homage pieces because I kept feeling like I was missing half the conversation. I bet most kids are also ignorant of some of these greats, but maybe it wouldn't bother them?
Early Chapter Books (done)
These were all great -- I would be happy for any of them to have won. As it turned out, my #6 won.
- Princess Cora and the Crocodile by Laura Amy Schlitz. Enchanting mix of gentle self discovery and ridiculous shenanigans as the princess and her pet crocodile switch places to give her a day away from the royal grind. It feels more like an extended picture book to me, but the illustrations and words draw readers in and the story drives the message rather than the other way around. A delight.
- Overboard! (Survivor Diaries) by Terry Lynn Johnson. This felt like a real chapter book. I liked the firm setting and realistic kids who dealt with their extreme situation. As an adult, I resented the lesson the boy learned as he was forced to overcome his personal fears to rescue himself, but I think I wasn't as jaded when I was a kid. This is one I'm gifting to entice a slightly reluctant reader.
- My Fantástica Family (Sofia Martinez) by Jacqueline Jules. This feels like a first chapter book. I actually read it as 3 separate books as that's how my library is acquiring the series. Sofia is again brash but quick witted, and I like her extended supportive family. The problems are small but the energy is large, and the Spanish sprinkled throughout give it an authentic feel; that's how a lot of kids talk.
- Dragons and Marshmallows (Zoey and Sassafras) by Asia Citro. Another "real" book. Zoey has to step up and join her mom as caretaker to injured animals, and she uses a mixture of research, the scientific method, and empathy to figure out how to treat the baby dragon who applies to her family's rescue operation. I liked how it was Zoey and the cat on the line, although the adults were there to support her when she got overwhelmed.
- The Princess in Black Takes a Vacation by Shannon Hale and Dean Hale. Another extended picture book. The Princess just wants to take a nap, which I completely emphasize with but I'm not sure kids would agree. Her exhaustion is detailed with humor, so maybe. Meanwhile the Goat Avenger really wants to step up -- it's not quite that he's hoping for a monster attack, it's just that he'd be really good at dealing with it. I appreciate that even as Goat Boy wants to strut his stuff, it's clear that Princess Black is a much superior super hero.
- Wedgie & Gizmo by Suzanne Selfors. Definitely felt like a book. This one ran a bit long for me but the basic premise should have wide kid appeal. I can see it working well as a shared read, where the weaker reader takes the pages for Wedgie the Corgi and the other reads for Gizmo the genius. (Winner!)
- Heartwood Hotel, Book 2 The Greatest Gift by Kallie George. Read like a book. The working class animals of the hotel won my heart -- our hero is a new maid and a bit worried about keeping up and clueless about cultural traditions that her orphan status kept her away from, such as gift-giving and secret santas. Meanwhile there are aristocrats and true hardship cases, and a tough winter for everyone.
- Barkus by Patricia MacLachlan. More of a texty picture book in feel. A girl and a dog bond over life, including school, a new kitten, and other domestic adventures. Fun, enticing pictures, and easy reading.
Easy Readers (done)
Fiction Picture Books (done)
My book club has started a summer tradition of sitting down with all these picture books and rating them to see how we stack up against the Cybils judges. This year everyone appreciated the wide range of stories in the finalist list, and we enjoyed them all. There was a sense that the Book of Mistakes was aimed at adults, but we liked that as it meant we could entice a few spouses into reading along. I picked the winner.
- Big Cat, Little Cat by Elisha Cooper. This one shot me right in the feels. It's a lovely concept, with the two minimally drawn cats nevertheless showing a full range of feline behaviors and emotions, and the very distinctive black and white making for good contrast. Then the final twist, which I should have expected but did not, was powerful. I also loved the single shot we got of the human family. (Winner)
- Baabwaa and Wooliam by David Elliott, illustrated by I didn't realize until we met him that Wooliam is an avid reader, so already I loved this book. The mix of fantasy and realism was perfect -- the sheep read and knit, but live in a meadow bounded by a stone wall. And the friendship with the wolf had all sorts of kinks and awkwardness, but was still a friendship.
- After the Fall (How Humpty Dumpty Got Back Up Again) by Dan Santat. Gentle pictures show Humpty dealing with a fear of heights after his crack-up, and triumphing. The final scenes are beautiful, with all the feathers. (Read Oct 2017)
- Escargot by Dashka Slater, illustrated by The confidence of the snail grabbed me from the first pages -- she knew she was great, and brave, and willing to try new things. Even being afraid of things didn't shake that confidence, or knowing she'll never top the list of favorite animals. I liked how it engaged the reader, but I worry that I would not be able to muster up the appropriate French accent.
- Creepy Pair of Underwear! by Aaron Reynolds, illustrated by The brash voice of the boy claiming the creepy underwear and then frantically trying to rid himself of them carries this book. I worry that the transgressive nature of a book about underwear would entertain listening kids much longer than reading me.
- Flowers for Sarajevo by John McCutcheon, illustrated by Kristy Caldwell. The pictures and text delicately tell this story of war, death, and grief. An afterward separates the history from the literary license; I found the made-up story of the boy who takes over his drafted father's flower stand very moving, since we never learn the fate of his dad.
- The Book of Mistakes by Corinna Luyken. A great philosophical picture book, but I think it works better as a gift for a graduate than for a beloved read by a preschooler.
Board Books (done)
The winner was #3. I gave it to a baby and it seemed pleased.
100/104 (ish), 14/15 categories