Monday, January 1, 2018

Happy New Year! The 2017 Cybils Are Here!

2017 Cybils Finalists Reading List

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!

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

Young Adult Fiction

  1. 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.
  2. 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?). 
  3. 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)
  4. 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.
A Short History of the Girl Next Door by Jared Reck
Alfred A. Knopf Books for Young Readers
Publisher/ Author Submission

The Inexplicable Logic of My Life by Benjamin Alire Saenz
Clarion Books
Nominated by: Maureen E

The Lake Effect by Erin McCahan
Dial Books
Nominated by: SteveL

Young Adult Graphic Novels (done)

  1. Buddha: An Enlightened Life by by Kieron Moore; Illustrated by Rajesh Nagulakonda. I really doubt I picked the winner, but I loved the illustrations and was fascinated by the tale of the Buddha, from his sheltured childhood to his embrace of all possible gurus to his nirvana. I don't think I really understand any nuances of Buddhism, but this was a lovely read.
  2. Spill Zone by Scott Westerfeld. I loved the graphics of the monsters, and appreciated the diverse characters that made it easy for me to tell who was doing what. The story of the energetic but short-sighted older sister who is frantically trying to keep her damaged younger sister alive after an apocalypse was gripping, and the hints of the similarly affected young man at the end made me want the sequel. (WINNER)
  3. Soupy Leaves Home by Cecil Castellucci, illustrated by Jose Pimienta. This is a short historical story drawn in a matter-of-fact way about a youth who starts riding the rails to escape an untenable home situation during America's great depression. There's a good balance between societal problems (joblessness, poverty) and personal issues (abusive parents, making good judgments), and everything seems very specific rather than educational. Amazingly, I had no trouble telling people apart, which is highly unusual for me with a graphic novel.
  4. New Super-Man Vol. 1: Made In China (Rebirth) (Super-Man – New Super-Man (Rebirth)) by Gene Luen Yang. I liked that I was rarely confused about who was who, but I don't like pulling against the narrative so much. I disliked the friendship between the heroes, which ignored the kidnapping and torture, I disliked the government agency that sponsored said crimes (even though in a surprise reveal it turned out to be bad! or at least ambiguous!), and the home life reveals seemed a bit emotionally cheap. But this is one of my first DC comics so maybe it works better with more context?
  5. Spinning by Tillie Walden. This memoir of growing up gay and lonely in Texas has an insular feel that gives the impression of really being inside the emotions of the isolated girl who feels distanced from her family and bound to the rhythms of the demanding world of competitive skating. But it feels stationary, or maybe spinning in place; understandably the harsh pressures of her life make Tillie reluctant to reach out so she never connects or reaches out (either to help or to request help) which gives a bit of a claustrophobic feel to the story.
  6. I never got over my dislike of the spoiled bratty main character. When I thought she was twelve I had sympathy, but when she was identified as about to turn 18 I backed away. And I know this is because I'm terrible at graphics, but every action scene left me utterly baffled and I had to hope the dialogue afterward would tell me what had happened.

Older Non-Fiction (done)

Senior High Non-Fiction (done)

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

Junior High Non-Fiction (cover pictures are out of order, I dunno why) (done)


  1. 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.
  2. 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. 
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. The Whydah: A Pirate Ship Feared, Wrecked, and Found 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.
  6. 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.
  7. 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!

  1. Two Truths and a Lie: It’s Alive! by Ammi-Joan Paquette and‎ Laurie Thompson. I 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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. 
  6. Beauty and the Beak: How Science, Technology, and a 3D-Printed Beak Rescued a Bald Eagle by Deborah Lee Rose and ‎ Jane Veltkamp. 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.
  7. Fred Korematsu Speaks Up (Fighting for Justice) by Written by Laura Atkins and Stan Yogi. Perhaps I'm jaded, but I found the optimism of this books philosophy a bit jarring. I don't think our country and our government is determined to march down a path seeking less racism and more equal justice, but that the things that happened to Korematsu were the results of the basic nature of our country, not an immaturity that we are growing out of. The text was clear but the pages seemed a bit cramped -- unnecessarily as there was a lot of space left over.

Elementary Non-Fiction (done)

My #2 was the winner, but I'm happy because they were all good.

  1. Once Upon a Jungle by Laura Knowles, illustrated by James Boast. The illustrations were lovely, but the science was also simple but strong. Using careful word choices the book combines lyrical repetitive phrases to illustrate a food chain from bug to apex predator to decay and regrowth. This is a wonderful book for any family or classroom that loves science and reading.
  2. Hatching Chicks in Room 6 by Caroline Arnold. I had low expectations that were hugely exceeded. The pictures of this class science unit on hatching chicks brought to life both the facts learned and the wonder of the children as they absorbed information.
  3. Dazzle Ships: World War I and the Art of Confusion by Chris Barton. I enjoyed learning about this artistic phase in naval history. The afterword that discusses choosing what to include or leave out also gave a good introduction to how history is shaped and understood. But there were no final answers as no one knows how effective dazzle actually is.
  4. Danza!: Amalia Hernández and Mexico’s Folkloric Ballet by Duncan Tonatiuh. Again it was fun to learn about someone I had never heard of (Amalia Hernandez) and a subject I am ignorant about (choreography and cultural dances). The illustrations weren't really to my taste but they did a good job reinforcing the text.
  5. Adrift at Sea: A Vietnamese Boy’s Story of Survival by Written by Marsha Forchuk Skrypuch with Tuan Ho. The painted illustrations and simple texts vividly bring to life Ho's memory of his dangerous emigration Since it's based on his young memories, there's no attempt to put the history, period, or stakes in context and even the afterward can't do much for that. It's a good emotional history and a wonderful picture book but isn't integrated into a timeline.
  6. Shark Lady: The True Story of How Eugenie Clark Became the Ocean’s Most Fearless Scientist by Jess Keating. Another fun read about somebody (Eugenie Clark) that I knew nothing about. I was left with some questions (the illustrations of her college days -- I thought she went to a women's college? why all the men? ) but it would be a fun picture book and also a good introduction to possible careers.
  7. What Makes a Monster?: Discovering the World’s Scariest Creatures (The World of Weird Animals) by Jess Keating. Fun picture book, but I felt like the book was cheating on its premise. After setting the reader up to see all the creepy and deadly creatures as monsters, it spins around on the final pages to cast shame on using the "monster" label. Have the courage of your Halloween gimmick!

Elementary/Middle-Grade Speculative Fiction (done)

  1. A Properly Unhaunted Place by William Alexander. This book had a lot of heart. It also had a good balance of personal and wider issues -- Rosa's worries about her mom and Jasper's shyness about performing, vs the imminent destruction of the town and all its inhabitants by a mob of angry ghosts. The characters wre well written and the text engaging.
  2. Miss Ellicott’s School for the Magically Minded by Sage Blackwood. I really like Sage Blackwood's books, and this one is no exception. She's always willing to work in shades of gray -- the good guys make bad choices, the bad guys have their own reasons. People mean well but fall short, and the children must differentiate between what they can do, what they should do, and what they must do. And the magic and dragons and cross-boy wielding barbarians are fun too!
  3. The Dragon with a Chocolate Heart by Stephanie Burgis. As an adult, I was very stressed by many decisions made by the characters in the book; as a reader, I applaud them. I liked how fiercely draconic Aventurine was throughout, and how her loyalty to her friends was returned and repaid to help with the ending. She would be an annoying sister but was fun to read about.
  4. A Face Like Glass by Frances Hardinge. So many great bits! The crazy and deadly technologies, the society where facial expressions are expensive and reserved for the elite, the growing understanding of Neverfell as she first discovers the world outside the cheesemaker's tunnels. This book was long but still could barely contain itself. 
  5. The Countdown Conspiracy by Katie Slivensky. I do love a good SF story, and the trope of super-smart kids doing real work is a favorite of mine. This one had six smarties on a team of future astronauts, and that future might not be as far off as they thought. The emotional throughlines were solid, and the friendships and conflicts among the children were my favorite parts. The conspiracy against them was well done emotionally if a bit impractical. That relates to my biggest issue; I found a lot of the science incredible, from orbit adjustments to programming techniques. This is probably not a problem for kids.
  6. Last Day on Mars (Chronicle of the Dark Star) by Kevin Emerson. Another great SF story, this one that doubles down on plot and lightens up the internal conflict. Liam is the clear protagonist, with other characters being more lightly drawn. This makes way for an exciting and twisty plot, with the characters confronting challenges and setbacks that leave the reader on the edge of their reading couch. It also might distract from some of the hints dropped that promise even more danger and complication in the rest of the series, which I know want to read. 
  7. Spirit Hunters by Ellen Oh. Very spooky ghost story, where a sweet little brother is slowly possessed by evil and only his sister can save him. She needs help from her grandmother, but her mom won't let them meet because she's mad that the grandmother believes in ghosts. The memory loss was very plot convenient but it did amp up the suspense. I didn't like the journal notes but I think that's an adult prejudice.

Middle-Grade Fiction (done)

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

Elementary/Middle Grade Graphic Novels (done)

These were all great reads. My #4 was the winner, but I would have been happy with any of them.

  1.  Suee and the Shadow 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.
  2. 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. 
  3. 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.
  4. Where’s Halmoni? by Julie Kim. This was almost a picture book, but the bright colors and smooth story was engaging. (Winner!)
  5. 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.
  6. The Dam Keeper by Robert Kondo and Dice Tsutsumi. A good start to a story, and I'll probably read the rest, but it didn't feel complete in itself.

Poetry (done)

I picked the winner! It was so good I ran around giving it as a present.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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).
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. Out of Wonder: Poems Celebrating Poets by Kwame Alexander, Chris Colderley,‎ and Marjory Wentworth. 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?

Easy Readers and Early Chapter Books (done)

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.
  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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!)
  7. 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.
  8. 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)

Another strong category -- I would be happy with any of the top five winning, and even the bottom three weren't bad. (#4 won)

  1. My Kite is Stuck! and Other Stories (A Duck, Duck, Porcupine Book) by Salina Yoon. I fell hard for Little Duck and never looked back. The wordless member of this group clearly carries all the brains for his team, and it would be fun to share a reading experience with kids following their adventures. I of course would volunteer to read Little Duck's parts.
  2. There’s a Pest in the Garden! (The Giggle Gang) by Jan Thomas. I had read the other book in this series first, so I could appreciate Duck's worries about his turnips. This would be a fun book to listen to a child read, and the final twist about who is really the pest would make all the effort worthwhile.
  3. We Need More Nuts! (Penguin Young Readers, Level 2) by Jonathan Fenske. I like numbers, and I have an affinity for annoying brothers who mean well but need a clue-by-four to understand that they have exceeded their sibling's patience. So this would've worked well for my family, and we are the kind of people who would appreciate the worries about the missing 11th nut.
  4. King & Kayla and the Case of the Secret Code (King and Kayla) by Dori Hillestad. I should mention that I solved the code before King, because I've read other code/spy books. The reading is gentle and a bit repetitive to encourage novices. I think my kids would have preferred the children not to need hints, though. (Winner!)
  5. Charlie & Mouse & Grumpy: Book 2 by Laurel Snyder. I enjoyed this book about two young kids (boys?) and their visiting grandfather, who cherishes them and enjoys spending time with them. It felt more like a picture book than a guide to independent reading, though; perhaps because I don't think of kids as so sentimental about good-byes. Maybe this is a relic of my own heartless sons.
  6. What Is Chasing Duck? (The Giggle Gang) by Jan Thomas. A chicken-little type story with the expected twist at the end but it should encourage readers with the large letters and predictable plot.
  7. Tooth Fairy’s Night (Step into Reading) by Candice Ransom. This seemed more like a picture book -- the words were simple but didn't seem designed to lure early readers somehow. They were neither simple or elegant.
  8. I Like the Farm by Shelley Rotner. The photos of both children and animals were great, but the words were rather dull. I guess it would allow for some sight word recognition, but honestly it works really well as a picture book but I don't see it as a good encouragement to read.

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.

  1. 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)
  2. Baabwaa and Wooliam by David Elliott, illustrated by ‎ Melissa Sweet. 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.
  3. 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)
  4. Escargot by Dashka Slater, illustrated by Sydney Hanson. 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.
  5. Creepy Pair of Underwear! by Aaron Reynolds, illustrated by Peter Brown. 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.
  6. 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. 
  7. 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.

  1. Circle, Triangle, Elephant: A Book of Shapes and Surprises by Kenji Oikawa and Mayuko Takeuc. This would have been perfect for me, especially if reading to both kids at once. The simple shapes for the baby, and the surprises for the toddler would keep both entertained. And I liked the colors and the combinations enough for the rereading every board book gets.
  2. Peek-a Moo! by Nina Laden. It is easy to imagine sharing this book with a baby -- the short, patterned words, the bright pictures, the fun of peeking through the pages all make for an energetic read.
  3. Changing Faces: Meet Happy Bear by Nathan Thoms, illustrated by Carles Ballesteros. Clearly I'm a sucker for moving parts -- I loved how the movement happened just by turning the pages, so you see the bear's changing expressions. The mouse's antics also worked well. It had just the right amount of plot for a baby book -- one page leads to another, but it's not a complicated tale.
  4. One Happy Tiger by Catherine Rayner. The illustrations of the tiger were luminous, from it's lonely One page to its increasing happiness as it interacts with the growing numbers. It would be a lovely gift for new parents and one that the baby would also appreciate.
  5. Bears Are Big by Douglas Florian,  illustrated by Barbara Bakos. Fun pictures, interesting things to explore on each page, and a very gentle rhyme scheme that you might not even notice make for a good board book.
  6. When Your Lion Needs a Bath by Susanna Leonard Hill, illustrated by Daniel Wiseman. Fun and playful, with the right kind of gags to entertain. A bit sophisticated for baby hands, but maybe good for clumsy toddlers and preschoolers who don't do well with paper books but want to read to themselves.
  7. Hair (Leslie Patricelli board books) by Leslie Patricelli. This is an art style that doesn't really work for me, and again it was rather plotty for a baby -- it might make a better picture book.
100/104 (ish), 14/15 categories

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