Cybils Bling!

The Cybils are coming!  The Cybils are coming!

We are almost in October.  In my mind, October means one thing, and one thing only- Cybils nominations. :)  But right now, you can support the Cybils by getting your own Cybils bling.  Check out their store.  I know I will be placing an order this week.  Maybe a tote bag.  Or maybe a mug?  I can’t decide!  Whatever I decide on, you should check out the store, too.

Cybils store :)

Happy Cybils Day!

Oh, and Happy Valentine’s Day, too.  ;)

Today is the day the kidlitosphere has been waiting for with bated breath……today we learn the winners of the Cybils!  Without further ado, I want to introduce the winner of the middle grade fiction panel….

Chains by Laurie Halse Anderson

A huge thank you to my own panel!  I think we did a pretty awesome job of coming up with a fantastic shortlist.  ;)

Middle Grade Fiction Panelists

Sherry Early, Semicolon
Melissa Fox, Book Nut
Abby Johnson, Abby the Librarian
Kyle Kimmal, The Boy Reader
Becky Laney, Becky’s Book Reviews
Sandra Stiles, Musings of a Book Addict

And me!!

And a huge thank you to the judges!  I have no idea how you managed to narrow down out choices to just one book, but you did an awesome job!

Middle Grade Fiction Judges

Kimberly Baker, Wagging Tales
Stacy Dillon, Welcome to my Tweendom
Monica Edinger, Educating Alice
Kerry Millar, Shelf Elf
David Elzey, Excelsior File

It is an absolute pleasure being a part of the Cybils.  I’ve been very fortunate in that I have been a panelist for the last two years.  It has opened my eyes to reading more critically while also looking for kid appeal.  It’s an overwhelming, fantastic, fun job that I absolutely adore.  Thanks to everyone at the Cybils!

For a list of all the winners, be sure to check out the announcement post at the Cybils blog!

Cybils Finalists!

The Cybils finalists have been posted!  Check out all of the shortlists on the Cybils blog.

I am particularly proud of our middle grade panel.  I love all of the books on our shortlist and I have no idea how the judges will choose one winner!

Cybils Reading

I’m here, I promise!  I’ve just been frantically reading and taking notes for the Cybils.  My panel is narrowing down our working shortlists and next week we will choose our final shortlist.  I have a lot more reading to do!

Right now we have a delayed opening tomorrow, but I am crossing my fingers for a snow day so that I can do some more reading!

Anything But Typical by Nora Raleigh Baskin

Nora Raleigh Baskin’s Anything But Typical has been on my “must read” pile for the last few months. I was excited to see that it was nominated for the Cybils because it meant I finally had an excuse to bring it to the top of the pile. Boy, am I glad I did. This is a fantastic book and I am thinking of using it as a read aloud with one of my classes after the holidays.

The story is written in the voice of Jason, a middle school boy diagnosed as high-functioning autistic. His life is full of letters- ADHD, LD, HFA, PDD-NOS, NT. While he struggles in school to be accepted socially, he is happy to spend most of his time on the Storyboard writing forum online. On the forum no one sees his odd hand flapping or his struggles to control himself. No one looks at him strangely or makes rude comments. He is a great writer and he can interact with other people without fear of ridicule. And when a girl befriends him on the forum he is thrilled. This would never happen to him in real life (despite the promises of his parents, “Someday you will meet a nice girl….”). But online, he suddenly has a girl friend. Maybe even a girlfriend.

Then everything begins to unravel. Jason’s parents surprise him with a trip to the Storyboard Convention. Phoenixbird messages him that she will also be at the convention. Jason knows that he can’t go to the convention- as soon as his online friends meet him they will treat him just like his classmates do.

I don’t want to give much more away, but this is a book that every.single.teacher should read. I found myself brought to tears more than once. This is not just about a child on the autistic spectrum; I found myself more involved than ever before while reading a book. I felt like I knew Jason. I felt like he was one of my own students. The reactions of his classmates were cruel while peppered with pure reality. Anything But Typical is a powerful book and I think it will make a wonderful read aloud for my students. I can’t recommend it enough.

*Review copy courtesy of the publisher. All views are my own and don’t represent those of my fellow panelists.

Positively by Courtney Sheinmel

Emerson Price, more commonly known as Emmy, isn’t a typical kid.  Nothing about her life is normal.  She can’t remember a time when she didn’t take numerous prescriptions, when she didn’t stand out from the crowd as the odd one out.  When she was four years old she and her mother were diagnosed as HIV-positive.  When she was eight, her parents divorced.  She and her mom are best friends and their greatest support systems.  But when Emmy is thirteen her mother succumbs to AIDs.  Emmy must go live with her father and pregnant stepmother.  She feels like no one understands her the she way her mother did- no one else needs to take awful medicine everyday, no one else knows what it is like to be the girl with HIV.  Her life is already in upheaval and she starts acting out.  When her father signs her up for a summer camp for HIV-positive girls, she refuses to go.  She already knows she will hate it.  But it turns out to be just what she needed.

When I was in 8th grade I was a member of my school’s forensic team.  (Yes, I was that dorky).  We each chose an oral piece to memorize and perform at the regional competition.  That year, I memorized and performed Elizabeth Glaser’s speech from the 1992 Democratic Convention (read it here).  I had not thought of that speech in years but this book immediately brought it to mind.  It was an extremely inspiring speech and I am grateful that Courtney Sheinmel has memorialized her own experiences with Glaser through the writing of this book.

Positively is an extremely powerful book and one I am glad I read.  It’s so strange for me to look back and think that a girl like Emmy would have had a completely different life if she was my age.  We have come such a long way in the last two decades.  But Scheinmel will make you laugh and cry in Positively. I felt like I knew Emmy and I wanted to stay with her way after the story ended.  I think my students are going to love this one.  It deals with a tough issue that most tweens and teens aren’t even aware of.  Sheinmel deals with it realistically but also appropriately for the age level she is writing for….be prepared with some tissues when you read this one!

*Review copy courtesy of the publisher.  This is a Cybils nominated title and all opinions are my own.

Gone From These Woods by Donny Seagraves

Eleven-year old Daniel, or D-man, doesn’t have the best dad.  In fact, his dad is pretty mean.  But that’s ok, because Daniel has his Uncle Clay.  Clay is only twelve years older than Daniel and they do everything together.  They fish, play cards, and hang out together all the time.  When his dad is angry and being mean, he can go to Clay’s house just down the road.

Clay can’t wait to take Daniel hunting for the first time in their Georgia woods.  But when Daniel tragically shoots his uncle after missing his first rabbit, his life is forever changed.  The fatal accident rocks his family and their small town, but Daniel is forever changed.  How can he possibly go on living when Clay will never laugh again, never hunt again, never make Daniel feel good again?

This is a heartbreaking book that I could not put down.  Daniel’s pain is palpable but realistic.  Obviously having never been in his situation, I still felt like I was right there with him.  How does an 11-year old deal with the overbearing guilt of fatally shooting his uncle? I found myself unable to stop reading because I needed to know that he would be ok, that he would be able to go on with his life.  There were times when I wasn’t sure he would do it.  The pain he experiences is too much for an adult, let alone a child.

I booktalked this one in my classes today and immediately had five or six students begging for it.  I also think this would make a great read aloud.  The themes of love and loss, sadness and hope, plus the ideas about gun ownership and children vs. adults would make for some great classroom discussions.

*Review copy courtesy of the publisher.  This is a Cybils nominee and all opinions are my own and do not necessarily reflect those of the panel as a whole.

The Kind of Friends We Used to Be by Frances O’Roark Dowell

The Kind of Friends We Used to Be is one of those quiet, unassuming books that is constantly circulating in my classroom library. It is the sequel to The Secret Language of Girls, but it’s one of those sequels you can pick up and fall right into the story even without readind the first book.

Kate and Marylin were best friends, until they grew apart and had a falling out in 6th grade. Now in 7th grade, Marylin’s a middle school cheerleader on the bring of popularity and Kate is the artist, writing songs, playing guitar, and wearing combat boots around school. The two former best friends aren’t quite sure what they are now; they aren’t all-the-time best friends but they also don’t want to completely abandon each other.

As I mentioned earlier, this is a quiet book, the best kind of realistic fiction in the eyes of many of my girls.  There is no huge fight, no major drama, no over-the-topness in this book.  Instead, Marylin and Kate are slowly figuring out their place in middle school while also determining who they want to be as they grow up.  I identified with both characters because they just seemed so real.  Marylin isn’t some caricature of middle school popularity- she is a girl who wants to be popular but also realizes the pitfalls of that popularity.  Kate isn’t some crazy rebel- she is a quiet girl unsure of her writing talent and aware that popularity isn’t for her.

Both girls also have family issues and they are beginning to grapple with boys.  They find themselves at times drawn to the familiarity of their friendship with each other while at other times sure they are not longer meant to be friends.  I really enjoyed this book and as I read at (during reading workshop), many of my girls commented about their love for it, too.  It definitely resonates with my 6th graders!

*My own purchased copy.  This is a Cybils nominee but all opinions are my own and do not reflect those of the panel.

All the Broken Pieces by Ann E. Burg

Wow.  That is all I can say about Ann E. Burg’s All The Broken Pieces. I picked this off my pile of Cybils nominees and began reading without looking at the flap cover. I was caught completely off guard by how amazing this verse novel is!

Matt Pin is haunted by his memories of Vietnam. He was born a bui doi, the dust of life, son of an American GI and Vietnamese mother during the Vietnam War. He has nightmares of falling bombs, land mines, and the awful secret he left behind in Vietnam. He was airlifted out of Vietnam at ten years old, leaving behind his mother and brother.

Through the course of the book Matt is forced to come to terms with his with his horrifying past and his American present. Unsure if he can exist in both worlds, or if he even should, he comes face to face with the effects of the Vietnam War on American soil.

This is an extremely powerful novel. As a huge Miss Saigon fan, my middle school self would have loved this book.  I found myself humming Bui Doi throughout the novel.    However, I don’t think reading the novel requires any previous knowledge of the Vietnam War. Even readers with no knowledge of the Vietnam War will close this book understanding the ramifications of war. The book explores its effects on soldiers, civilians, parents, sons, daughters, and those left behind.

The verse format of this novel also works exceptionally well. The verse is spare yet you can not breeze through it. Being in Matt’s head connects you to him more than a standard 1st person perspective. I know many of my students look for verse novels because they are less intimidating than prose novels. However, this novel is a perfect example of how deeply evocative verse novels can be.  I can’t wait to recommend this to all of my sixth graders.  It will connect with boys and girls, I think.

 

*Review copy courtesy of the publisher, via the Cybils. All opinions are my own and not necessarily shared by the panel as a whole.

Operation Redwood by S. Terrell French

Julian Carter-Li’s mother is following her photography dreams in China but that means she left him behind in San Francisco for the summer. Unfortunately, she left him with his aunt and uncle, who seem to hate him.  He does love his younger cousin, Preston, but he really wishes that his mom would come home sooner rather than later. His aunt and uncle are far from kind (and reminded me a little of the Dursleys!).  When the school calls to say Julian is sick, no one will pick him up!  His aunt sends a cab to take him to his uncle’s office, where he is left to lay on the couch til later that night.  However, while his Uncle Sibley is at a meeting, Julian intercepts an email from a girl his age, Robin, who is furious that Sibley will be clear cutting a redwood forest near her home.  Julian spontaneously responds to her and he and his friend, Danny, begin exchanging emails with her.  The boys and Robin come up with a scheme that helps Julian escape the dreaded math camp  he is being sent to and lands him an exchange with the Robin’s family. On their farm, he discovers the true meaning of family of the beauty of the redwood forest.

Before he realizes it, Julian is working against his uncle’s company to save the grove of old-growth redwood trees from the clear cutting Sibley has planned.

I really enjoyed this book.  It’s a good companion for Carl Hiassen’s eco-novels and I imagine it will really appeal to my middle schoolers.  Julian and his friends are in middle school themselves and their reactions and plans for the protest are very realistic.  I could imagine myself making the same decisions they did as a preteen.  Plus, who has not wanted to run away and live in a treehouse at some point in their life?

*Review copy courtesy of the publisher for the Cybils. All opinions are my own and not those of the panel as a whole.

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