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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
Senior High Non-Fiction
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
Middle Grade Non-Fiction
- 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.
- 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)
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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)
67/104 (ish), 5/15 categories