Our Middle Grade Fiction Cybils panel has decided on our finalists! You can see all the finalists here. It was an amazing experience - reading so many awesome books over the course of two and a half months and then trying to sort out the best among them. I am extremely excited and proud of our final five. They are all wonderful books I look forward to sharing with my students in the future. I am also very proud of being part of the cybils awards. I learned about the awards three years ago as part of an ongoing search for excellence in children's literature. I still believe (and probably more so now) that the finalists - and all the nominees, really - are a wonderful resource for finding out about good books.
Comparing books is obviously not an exact science. There were dozens of great books nominated in our category! Most of the titles were sent to us from the publishers, for which I am extremely grateful!
I present to you the Middle Grade Fiction Finalists - with my personal thoughts about them - followed by some of my other top favorites. Please find a copy of these and enjoy!
Alvin Ho: Allergic to Girls, School, and Other Scary Things by Lenore Look. This book is hilarious from the start, and kept me laughing right through to the end. If I were still teaching 3rd grade, I'd be already reading it aloud. Sort of a Clementine or Just Grace for boys, kind of.
Diamond Willow by Helen Frost. I've attempted to explain this one to a handful of people over new year's. Every time, I end up saying, "Just trust me, it's awesome. It's kind of hard to explain." A girl takes her family's dog team out for the first time alone and gets in some trouble. That's the closest I can come to a one-sentence explanation - if I try to explain more, it would take maybe twenty sentences. Written in concrete-poetic diamond shapes with bolded sub(super?) texts. See? I don't even know how to explain it.
Every Soul a Star by Wendy Mass. Three middle school students are brought together along with thousands of eclipse-chasers to witness a rare full solar eclipse. Told in the three voices of Ally, Bree & Jack, the alternating narrations are beautifully written and increasingly weave together. Ally (short for Alpha) and her family own the Moon Shadow campground, and have been preparing for their eclipse-chasing guests for years. Bree's parents have bought the Moon Shadow and are dragging her from city life to try running a campground. Jack is along for the ride as his science teacher's assistant in an amateur astronomy experiment they plan to run during the eclipse. Every Soul a Star offers three humorous and insightful journeys of self-discovery mixed with an intriguing dose of astronomy lessons. Absolutely loved it.
Shooting the Moon Frances O'Roark Dowell. I think I already posted about this, oh yeah: here. Loved it.
The London Eye Mystery by Siobhan Dowd. Great mystery, curious characters, thrilling pace. Two siblings work to find their missing cousin. I really enjoyed this book, and was completely surprised by the ending.
Here are a few I wish we could have added to the list:
The Boy Who Dared by Susan Campbell Bartoletti. The Boy Who Dared is actually based on a true story of a Hitler Youth. Helmuth lives in Nazi Germany and joins the Hitler youth, but is increasingly skeptical of their teachings. He finds an illegal radio that brings in a British signal and uses it to learn about the truths of the war. He recruits friends to help put up posters around town at night to alert people about the real war going on. I really thought this was excellent - I am thinking about pairing it with Number the Stars when we learn about World War II in 5th grade next year. The text includes an extended section at the back about the real boy with photos and documents about his life.
Grow by Juanita Havill, illustrated by Stanislawa Kodman. I already posted about this book here. I thought it was absolutely beautiful.
Clemetine's Letter by Sara Pennyacker. I already posted about this here. I thought this stood up brilliantly on its own, and was better than previous Clementines.
My Dad's a Birdman by David Almond. This was ridiculous and awesome. You might have to be in a certain mood to appreciate the goofball humor. It is full of British colloquialisms, which I actually found enjoyable to decipher. Many have likened it to Roald Dahl, with good reason. The off-the-wall humor and strange adults with mature children all match. In addition, Polly Dunbar's illustrations are certainly reminiscent of Quentin Blake. Possibly an aquired taste, but I enjoyed My Dad's a Birdman!
I'll add a few more later!
If you'd like to read about the short lists of my fellow panelists, click over to their weblogs! (And may I add, it was an absolute pleasure and honor to work with such a tremendous team of readers and writers. I learned a lot from them!)