The 2014 Cybils Winners are Here!

I’ve had a fantastic Cybils year. I eschewed my usual round 1 reading — which is why there’s not been nearly as many reviews as usual around here — to be the Cybils blog editor, something which I really enjoyed. I liked reading all the reviews, visiting blogs I usually don’t.

I was, however, chosen to be a second round judge for the Elementary/Middle Grade Speculative Fiction category. And today, we announce that (and the others!) winner! (An inside tip: read all the way through to the YA Speculative Fiction blurb. It’s GREAT.)

I’m always a little sad at the end of Cybils season, because it’s such a great community effort.

Though, to extend the season a bit more, over the next two weeks, I’ll post reviews of the finalists.

Here’s to another fantastic Cybils!

We Need YOU!

My favorite thing (and one of the reasons I keep my blog going after nearly 10 years) is participating in the Cybils. It’s a lot of work, yes, but it’s a fantastic thing to be a part of something larger than oneself. You find new favorite books (and yes, lots of duds as well), and you get to talk books with other people who are just as passionate about them as you.

And, on top of that, you’re helping create a list of  books that are both terrific but also kid-friendly. I’ve recommended the Cybils finalist lists to people as a resource for great books for years.

But, this award doesn’t give itself. We need judges (in all categories). And that’s where YOU come in. Go here, and fill out an application. (It’s easy. Promise.) And be a part of the fun!

And the Winners Are….

(Or the reason February 14th Isn’t Horrible.)

The Cybils winners are announced! Go here for all the awards, but the one I’m most invested in (though none of my three nominations that made it to the finals won…) is the Elementary/Middle Grade Speculative Fiction winner is:

And honestly, if they had picked anything else, I’d be incensed. It really was the best book we read.

And, because they turned out so awesome, here are A and K’s valentine’s boxes for their parties today.

OH! It’s also International Book Giving day! Find/buy a book to pass on to a child. I think I’m going to finally take those bags of books to our local children’s home. Seems like a much better thing to do today than to eat overpiced chocolate. (Now tomorrow, the chocolate will be discounted. I’ll eat it then.)

Happy Valentines Day!

10 (Really Good) Books That Didn’t Make Our Cybils Shortlist

I know this is a bit late. And things have moved on to awards season (yes, I am avidly reading Heavy Medal and I squeed — and put a bunch of books on hold! — when Battle of the Books announced their line-up). But when I sat down to do this month’s list, I realized that here was an opportunity to highlight some of my favorites (ones that were really good, even if they weren’t perfect) that we didn’t all agree on. (They are roughly in the order of excellence. In my opinion, anyway.)

1. The Vengekeep Prophecies, by Brian Farrey: “There’s so much to love in this book. Jax is a terrific character: a bookish kid (I love that he’s wearing glasses. I know it’s a little thing, but I do love it.), an unwilling hero, and yet he finds a way to outsmart the more Savvy characters and Save the Day.”

2. The Real Boy, by Anne Ursu: “This was a lovely, lyrical book; Ursu is a magnificent, quiet writer. She knows how to evoke a feeling and a place — the forest is dark and magical and calming.”

3. Parched, by Melanie Crowder: “That said, the writing was gorgeous. And I have to give Crowder props for setting a dystopia book in an African-feeling setting.” I think out of all the ones I read, this one I had the worst initial reaction to, but I can’t stop thinking about.

4. How to Catch a Bogle, by Catherine Jinks: “[T]he combination of a clever take on the paranormal and the plucky character of Birdie was enough of a combination for me to fall head over heels for this one.”

5. Pi in the Sky, by Wendy Mass: “I really enjoyed Joss’s learning of evolutionary science. And physics and chemistry as well. And I thought Mass was clever to frame it as a fantastical adventure. It made the science less… boring.”

6. The Year of Shadows, by Claire Legrand: “Olivia was dark and grumpy and prickly and perfect for a ghost story. Additionally, I loved the musical setting for this — the concert hall, the strains of orchestral music (it needs a soundtrack!) running through the story; in the endnote, Legrand talks about choosing pieces to fit the mood of Olivia’s life, and being familiar with many of the pieces, I think she did fabulously.”

7. The Hero’s Guide to Storming the Castle, by Christopher Healy: “How will the League of Princes handle this? Well, much like they do in the first book: with of silliness, laughs, luck, and heart. Yeah, sure, this is more of the same as the first book, but why mess with a good thing?”

8. Fortunately, the Milk, by Neil Gaiman: “I enjoy Gaiman’s stuff normally, but I really do think I prefer his whimsical works for younger kids.”

9. Neptune Project, by Polly Holyoke: ” I’ve read books about exploring the ocean as an option for when global warming takes over and turns this planet into one gigantic mass of water, and I’ve read books that deal with genetic mutation of people (and I think I’ve read one that combines the two in some search for Atlantis, now that I think about it), but this one struck me as unique.”

10. Magic Marks the Spot, by Caroline Carlson: “There’s more to this book — magic and treasure and an Enchantress and a Wicked Parent — but really, what I loved most about this book was that Hilary set out to be a pirate and succeeded ON HER OWN TERMS.”

There you have it. For other favorites that didn’t make the shortlist check out the post at the Cybils website.

Happy New Year!

And you know what that means? Cybils Shortlist Day! I’m actually quite proud of our shortlist; it was one of the easier ones to come up with. I’ve included it in full… you can check out everyone else’s list here. Then go out and enjoy a good book!

State of the TBR Pile: December 2013

I’m thick in the middle of Cybils season, and my TBR pile reflects that.  I’ve got two piles, and yes, they do mean something, but no I’m not going to tell you. Know, though, that I want to finish all these books before the end of the month. I won’t, but I want to.

A Question of Magic, E. D. Baker
True Blue Scouts of Sugar Man Swamp, Kathi Appelt
Stolen Magic, Stephanie Burgis
Ghoulish Song, William Alexander
Anton and Cecil: Cats at Sea, Lisa Martin and Valerie Martin
Lara’s Gift, Annemarie O’Brien
Saving Thanehaven, Catherine Jinks
Parched, Melanie Crowder
How to Catch a Bogle, Catherine Jinks
Rose, Holly Webb
The Water Castle, Megan Frazer Blakemore
The Year of Shadows, Claire Legrand
How I Became a Ghost, Tim Tingle
The Lost Kingdom, Matthew J. Kirby
Goblins, Philip Reeve

What’s on your pile this month?

High Ho, High Ho, Off to read (Middle Grade Speculative Fiction) I go!

It’s Cybils panel announcement time! And I find myself with a host of other really cool bloggers on the Middle Grade Speculative Fiction (aka Science Fiction/Fantasy) panel. To say I’m excited about reading 120+ MG SF books is like saying that the sky is blue. Or that I like cake.

The other (awesome, amazing, really cool) panelists I’ll be working with are:

Kristen Harvey
Allie Jones
Cecelia Larsen
Brandy Painter
Charlotte Taylor
Stephanie Whalen

You can see who made it on the other panels here. Hooray for Cybils season!

The Best of 2012 On the First Day of 2013

Or, in other words: the Cybils shortlists are up!

It took some doing to get our shortlist, but in the end, I think we’ve got a good one. And I have to say that this was the best, chattiest, funnest panel I’ve ever been on. Hooray for Middle Grade SFF! 🙂

Follow the link to see what the other panels came up with!

by Kate Saunders
Delacorte Press Books for Young Readers
Nominated by: Ms. YinglingWhen Flora, off to boarding school under duress, wakes up on the train to find that she’s now on her way to school way back in 1935, her horror is great. How will she survive? Though she manages to adapt to the nasty bathrooms, alien food, and strict education, and befriends the roommates who had accidentally summoned her back in time, she can’t help but wonder if she’ll ever get home again.

Beswitched is a Must Read for anyone who loves British boarding school stories, historical fiction and time travel, combining all three in an utterly delightful fashion. But its appeal is more general than that. Flora’s struggles with an alien time and its alien culture are convincing and very amusing, and her growth as a character, from selfish brat to good friend and decent person, make her story one that will resonate with many readers.
— Charlotte Taylor, Charlotte’s Library

Geeks, Girls, and Secret Identities
by Mike Jung
Arthur A Levine
Nominated by: Jeannie MobleyWho says encyclopedic knowledge of superhero trivia isn’t an important skill? Vincent Wu knows more about Captain Stupendous than anyone. That must be why he’s the only one who notices a change in the Captain after he fights a giant robot and rescues Polly, a girl in Vincent’s class. And why is Polly suddenly interested in what Vincent knows about Captain Stupendous?

Geeks, Girls, and Secret Identities takes a light-hearted look at a world where superheroes are real, including humorous touches such as all kids having Stupendous Alerts on their phones. Ultimately, Vincent needs all his allegedly useless knowledge to figure out how to save his family, his town, and the world. This science fiction adventure is a geek’s fantasy written in a way so everyone can enjoy the ride.
— Sondy Eklund, Sonderbooks

The Cabinet of Earths
by Anne Nesbet
Nominated by: Jessalynn Gale“It was his own grandmother who fed Henri-Pierre to the Cabinet of Earths, long ago when he was only four.” Now the strange and beautiful Cabinet is calling for another keeper—Maya, who’s only just arrived in Paris with her parents and her extraordinarily charming little brother James. But what exactly do Cabinet-Keepers keep? The answer is at the heart of debut author Nesbet’s shimmering fantasy: to find it, follow Maya through the door of 29 avenue Rapp (watch out for the bronze salamander!) and into the magical underworld of Paris, a place where science and magic combine to challenge mortality, morality…and Maya’s little brother.
— Anamaria Anderson, Books Together

The False Prince: Book 1 of the Ascendance Trilogy
by Jennifer A. Nielsen
Nominated by: Natalie AguirreThis first book in the Ascendance trilogy begins in the midst of an episode of roast-theft. Our resourceful and inventive orphan-boy hero, Sage, soon becomes the unwilling servant of a man named Conner. Connor wants to use one of the four orphans he has purchased–or kidnapped–to save the kingdom of Carthya from civil war or takeover by a hostile neighboring kingdom. But after Conner chooses one boy to be his false prince and heir to the throne, what will happen to the others? In light of Conner’s ruthless character, it can’t be good.

Sage is a feisty and surprising character with plenty of hidden depth. The action and adventure are front and center in this non-magical tale set in a fantasy world, but children will also find lots of food for thought on the nature of courage and friendship and leadership in this rags to possible riches story. Readers may figure out some of the twists and turns of this tale of adventure and false identity, but they will question their own guesses every step of the way until the ending takes the unsuspecting reader completely by surprise and leaves us all wanting more.
— Sherry Early, Semicolon

The Last Dragonslayer (The Chronicles of Kazam)
by Jasper Fforde
Nominated by: itsmeerincMagic has been vanishing from the Ununited Kingdoms. Instead of the great magic once practiced, sorcerers find themselves using spells to unclog drains and magic carpets to make pizza deliveries. Ever since Mr. Zambini disappeared, fifteen-year-old Jennifer has been left to run Kazam Mystical Arts Management, where she must look after a building full of eccentric sorcerers and strange creatures. When an unusual upsurge in magic coincides with multiple predictions of the death of Maltcassion, the last dragon, Jennifer finds herself involved in even bigger magic–and with bigger responsibilities. The Last Dragonslayer is a humorous take on magic in the modern world, giving readers plenty of adventure while poking fun at high fantasy tropes. Readers will be left wanting a Quarkbeast of their own as they follow Jennifer’s madcap introduction to Dragonslaying and learn why Dragonslayers may occasionally be called upon to save dragons.
— Jessalynn Gale, Garish & Tweed

The One and Only Ivan
by Katherine Applegate
Nominated by: Bigfoot ReadsIvan, a mighty silverback gorilla captive since infancy, is resigned to his glassed-in life of staring humans, without a gorilla’s instinctive troop-protecting purpose. When his owner buys baby elephant Ruby–and after a mid-story climactic loss–Ivan questions his narrow existence and stops referring to his shopping-mall confinement as a “domain” and begins seeing it for what it is: a cage. Ivan bravely vows that he will save Ruby from his twenty-six-year fate.

Anthropomorphism can be a tricky business–finding the animal voice, yet giving it human depth–but Applegate not only pulls it off, she gives readers a character as existential as Wilbur and as stoic as Charlotte. Written in a prose-like economy of words befitting Ivan’s astute observations on life, the author captures the voice of a gorilla, but quietly speaks to the greater themes of humanity. As Ivan would say, “Humans waste words. They toss them like banana peels and leave them to rot. Everyone knows the peels are the best part.”
— Cheryl Vanatti, Reading Rumpus

The Peculiar
by Stefan Bachmann
Greenwillow Books
Nominated by: Monica EdingerIn Victorian England, where faeries have been trapped for hundreds of years, a young halfling boy, Bartholomew, and his halfling sister Hattie survive by the mantra “don’t get noticed.” However, when the halfling boy across the street disappears, Bartholomew lets his curiosity get the better of him. He finds himself in a dangerous world of magic and fast-paced action, as he struggles to find out where and why nine half-breed children have been brutally murdered. And the stakes only get higher when Hattie is kidnapped. The Peculiar is a wholly original mix of mystery, steampunk and chilling faerie stories, reminiscent of Neil Gaiman and Jonathan Stroud. With a dash of humor and definitely a hero (or two) to root for, this one is sure to have everyone clamoring for the next book in the series.
— Melissa Fox, Book Nut

Need Help Figuring out What to Nominate?

So, the Cybils nominations opened up Monday, bright and early, and even if you weren’t obsessive like me (or not; I didn’t get up at some ungodly hour to nominate)… you still can help out.

I don’t have any suggestions off the top of my head, but thankfully, there are people who have! Also, thankfully, Cybils blog has a list of places to go, so I don’t have to work so hard. And Great Kid Books have a list of book apps that deserve to be nominated as well. 

So, even if your favorite book has already been nominated, there are still many, many more that deserve attention. (And besides, you really want to make us round 1 panel types work, right?)

Get out and nominate! (Please.)