The 2015 Cybils Finalists Are Here!

And I had a fantastic time with my Elementary/Middle Grade Speculative Fiction panel. I don’t think I pulled my weight (the fall was busier than I expected), but the books were mostly good, the discussion was super easy, the other panelists were super smart and amazing, and I REALLY love our list.

Bayou Magic
by Jewell Parker Rhodes

In a simple but not simplistic story, 10-year-old Maddie visits her Grandmère in the Louisiana bayou in order to learn the magical traditions of her family. While there, she discovers how friendship and magic (and bonus mermaids!) can help with modern problems, and learns the importance of being connected to the land around her. Rhodes has created book with a lyrical mix of African, French and Creole traditions that has a huge heart and is full of magic and, ultimately, joy.

Melissa Fox, The Book Nut

Castle Hangnail
by Ursula Vernon

The titular castle of Castle Hangnail needs a new master, or it will risk being decommissioned, forcing all the resident minions to find new homes. When 12-year-old Molly comes knocking on the castle door, the minions (who expected a powerful dark magic user) are skeptical, but Molly is determined to convince them that she is wicked enough for the job (though she actually has a very good heart). Everything seems to be going well until an evil sorceress shows up claiming she is Castle Hangnail’s real intended master. Its illustrations, humor, messages of friendship and determination, and a host of memorable secondary characters (with a special nod to one minion–Pins, a voodoo doll with a talking goldfish) make Castle Hangnail an utterly enjoyable and charming place to spend your reading time!

Benda Tjaden, Log Cabin Library

Cuckoo Song
by Frances Hardinge

“Mummy, help me, please help me, everything’s strange and nothing’s right, and my mind feels as if it’s made up of pieces and some of them are missing…” When Triss wakes up from a mysterious accident, she is somehow not herself–she feels an overwhelming hunger that is only satisfied by eating the oddest things, dead leaves appear in her room, on her pillow, and in her hair; her little sister Pen rejects her completely. Triss/Not-Triss must put together the pieces of what turns out to be a larger puzzle, one that encompasses a family’s grief, betrayal, loyalty, and love. Set in post-World War I Great Britain, Hardinge’s Cuckoo Song is a beautifully written, deliciously dark fantasy for fans of historical fiction, horror, fairy tales, or family stories. We think that’s everyone.

Anamaria Anderson, Books Together

Mars Evacuees
by Sophia McDougall

Mars Evacuees– Blast off for Mars on this science fiction debut! In order to keep them safe from the ongoing human-alien warfare on Earth, Alice Dare and other kids from around the world are being shipped off to the red planet . But Mars is far from being a safe haven, and when all the adults vanish, Alice and her new friends set out to get help. Giant floating robot goldfish, unexpected alien encounters and a not-so friendly Martian landscape are just some of the challenges they will deal with along the way. This entertaining and smartly-written romp will make you want to buckle up and enjoy the ride!

Stephanie Whelan, Views From the Tesseract

The Dungeoneers
by John David Anderson

The Dungeoneers is a first-class adventure that reads like a role-playing game on the surface, while being booby-trapped with plot twists and laced with reflections on morality and loyalty. When Colm starts picking pockets to help his struggling family, they are horrified. But before he can be imprisoned, he’s rescued by a man impressed by his talents who whisks him off to study at legendary Tye Twodin’s School for Dungeoneers–professional treasure hunters and monster fighters. There Colm and his new teammates, the shy young mageling Quinn Frostfoot, tough-as-nails (unless she’s bleeding herself) barbarian-to-be Lena Proudfoot, and druid-in-training Serene (with her a pet spider named Mr. Tickletoes) have to master the skills of dungeoneering. Swordplay, spells and lock picking aren’t as challenging as navigating the social pitfalls of an extraordinary boarding school and figuring out who can be trusted…and that’s before the real adventuring begins!

Katy Kramp, alibrarymama

The Fog Diver
by Joel Ross

Set in a world where a deadly fog has taken over the planet, and people are forced to live in the skies, a quartet of ragtag orphans make a living off of what they can scavenge on Earth’s surface, even though it means sending their diver, Chess, down through the toxic mist while still tethered to their sky ship. Chess is in less danger than most, as he has a mysterious resistance to the effects of the fog, but the evil Lord Kodoc will stop at nothing to find out Chess’ secret.

When the four kids – Hazel (the daring captain), Swedish (the strong pilot), Bea (the cheery mechanic), and Chess (the secretive tetherboy) find out that the woman who raised them as family is dying from the Fog sickness, they decide to embark on an mission to save her life, and avoid the evil Lord Kodoc. Featuring air pirates, great characters, and a unique setting, The Fog Diver is a fantastic steampunk adventure with a sci-fi twist that will leave you wanting more.

Kristen Harvey, The Book Monsters

Wings of Fire Book Six: Moon Rising
by Tui T. Sutherland

The Wings of Fire series returns with new dragons and a brand new story arc! After years of war, the kingdoms of the dragons are at peace, and a school has been founded to gather together young dragons from all the different factions. One of these students is Moonwatcher, a young Nightwing who has the Nightwing powers of telepathy and prophecy, gifts that might help her and her new friends thwart the dangerous and deadly plots that threaten the fragile peace. These books, with their wide range of heroic young dragon characters,, are just full of kid appeal, and Moon Rising is one of the best of them. Strong messages of friendship, tolerance, and forgiveness are presented alongside adventures large and small in a way that will have readers clamoring for more.

Charlotte Taylor, Charlotte’s Library

Additionally, THREE  of my nominations that made it through: The Blackthorn Key (YAY!), Baba Yaga (YAY!), and Ms. Marvel (YAY!). Click here to see what all the other (excellent) finalist lists are.

The Cybils: Why I Keep Coming Back

As I’ve been puttering along on my blog here for nearly 11 years, I’ve seen a lot of blogging communities come and go. I’ve been involved in quite a few of them as well. But none has captured my heart the way the Cybils has. I don’t remember how I became aware that a group of bloggers, many of whom I followed, were banding together to create this award. But, I did, and so when the call for judges came out in 2006, I applied. No one knew who I was, and my blog was super scattered back then, so I was turned down. I became determined then: I wanted to be a part of this. And so I worked hard connecting with the community so when the 2007 call went out, I was actually picked.

Over the years that I’ve been involved, I’ve often thought about what it is with the Cybils that keeps me coming back, year after year, to volunteer my time for this award. There are lots of reasons, but I’m going to try and just pick a few.

The people are fantastic. Some of my best blogger friends have come through the Cybils. I’ve served as both a (first-round) panelist and a (second-round) judge, and both offer unique opportunities to connect with other bloggers. Think of it as the best book group ever. It’s short-lived (2 1/2 months for first round, 6 weeks for second), but you’ll have in-depth discussions about great books, you’ll disagree, you’ll be passionate about books with other people who are passionate about books, and you will come out friends on the other end. (Then you need to come to KidlitCon to put faces to the names!)

It’s a unique opportunity to be really well-read in one area of Kidlit. For me, over the years, that has been middle grade books. I was on the Middle Grade Fiction panel for years before leaping over to Speculative Fiction. I’m not as “expert” in those areas as some others, but I am pretty dang knowledgeable. And it’s all because I read a whole bunch every year for the Cybils.

I like being a part of something bigger than myself. This is perhaps the most important reason. There’s just something about working with a team of people, all who have volunteered their time because they are passionate about kids books and kids in general, for a larger goal. In this case: to create a list, and pick the best, kid-friendly book.

I’ve already thrown my hat into the ring, in spite of my busy schedule this fall, to be a part of the 2015 Cybils. I hope to see you there!

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!