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2017 Middle Grade Fiction: Short Takes

Posted by Sherry on 10/11/2017 in 2017, Children's Fiction, Cybil Awards, Fantasy Fiction, General |

Apartment 1986 by Lisa Papademetriou. While skipping school, Cassie meets Cassius, an unschooled and independent spirit who is doing research on art at museums all over NYC. Cassie is dealing with her own family and personal issues, and she and Cassius become friends and allies as they discover that Callie’s family history is both surprising and complicated. The story deals with homosexual behavior, family dynamics and regrets, and forgiveness and restoration, all in a fairly standard, morally tolerant, and one-dimensional manner. The “bad guy” is Callie’s grandfather, a homophobic bigot, who is conveniently dead and gone. The “good guys” are all the ones who realize and understand that “people are born gay.”

Posted by John David Anderson. When cell phones are banned at Branton Middle School, a new communication method becomes a fad: sticky notes. But when the sticky notes begin to turn ugly, Frost and his friends are forced to decide where their loyalties lie. Will they be able to remain friends and even take a new kid into their “tribe”—or will the ugly taunts and bullying notes break up the friendships they have built? The story is told from the point of view of one of the middle school kids, Frost, and I found him to be pretentious and whiny at first, but his voice grew on me. By the end of the book, I was absorbed in the story and fond of most of the characters. Some kids may find the book to be too introspective, but for others it will hit a sweet spot of just right.

Feliz Yz by Lisa Bunker. A gay thirteen year old named Felix lives with his bisexual mother and his gender-switching grandparent (three days a week as Vern and three days a week as Verna; Wednesdays are spent alone and genderless) as Felix deals with he repercussions of a childhood accident that fused his psyche together with that of a fourth-dimensional creature called Zyx. Yeah. If Posted was introspective and angsty, this one is beyond—altogether in another dimension.

Me and Marvin Gardens by A.S. King. Obe Devlin spends his days picking trash out of the creek behind his house and mourning the loss of his family’s land to housing developers. He also spends a lot of time nursing his frequent nosebleeds. Then, one day he finds a new species of animal, and things get interesting. Can Obe save the animal he calls Marvin Gardens from the encroaching housing developments and the curiosity of neighbors? Is Marvin himself a danger to the neighborhood, or is Marvin the solution to the problem of pollution? The story is quite pessimistic and didactic, but if you’re looking for a preachy environmental title, this one will fit the bill.

Gnome-a-geddon by K.A. Holt. Buck Rogers and his best friend, Lizzie, enter the world of their favorite book series, The Triumphant Gnome Syndicate. Immediately, things start to go wrong when Buck realizes that he isn’t necessarily the hero of this adventure, and maybe the gnomes aren’t even the good guys in the story, and trolls, well, trolls are different in the real underground land of the Gnome Syndicate, too. The story alludes to several popular fantasy books, movies, and series, including Harry Potter, Star Wars, LOTR, Princess Bride, Back to the Future, superhero comics, and the Narnia books. Fun for fans.

One for Sorrow by Mary Downing Hahn. I didn’t like any of the people in this ghost story, except for the elderly lady who befriends the narrator at the end of the book. A group of girls bully and torment Elsie, a girl of German heritage, during World War I and the influenza epidemic. Elsie is a liar and a tattletale, and Annie, the new girl in school, must choose whether to befriend Elsie or the mean girls who pick on Elsie. It’s not much of a choice. Unfortunately, there’s no one at school for Annie to be friends with, so Annie becomes one of the bullies. It just gets worse from there with a nasty, mean ghost who harries Annie into a mental asylum.

Amazon Affiliate. If you click on a book cover here to go to Amazon and buy something, I receive a very small percentage of the purchase price.
Some of these books are also nominated for a Cybils Award, but the views expressed here are strictly my own and do not reflect or determine the judging panel’s opinions.

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Tumble and Blue by Cassie Beasley

Posted by Sherry on 10/10/2017 in 2017, Children's Fiction, General |

Cassie and Kate Beasley are sisters who both write children’s fiction. They live in rural Georgia, near the swamps, hence the setting of Tumble and Blue in a rural town near the Okefenokee Swamp. Tumble and Blue is dedicated by Cassie to Kate. It seems the sisters not only share a vocation, but also are close friends and writing encouragers. Cassie’s first book, Circus Mirandus, and Kate’s debut, Gertie’s Leap to Greatness, were both intriguing and rewarding reads.

Tumble and Blue are also friends. Tumble Wilson is a girl who wants to be a hero. She admires and tries emulate her hero, Maximal Star, author of the best-selling book, How to Hero Every Day. Blue Montgomery is cursed with a terrible fate, just like all of the Montgomerys. Actually, some of the Montgomerys have an awesome fate, like always winning or charming animals into submission. But others are not so fortunate. Blue’s fate is that he always loses, every game, every contest, every fight, every time. His last fight earned him a broken arm, so his daddy has left Blue to stay with his Grandmother Eve for the summer at the family homestead in Murky Branch, Georgia (Population: 339).

This book is about fates and talents and persistence and optimism in the face of disaster. Tumble is determined to a hero, even though the results of her previous attempts at heroic deeds have been less than stellar. And Blue is determined not to try anymore, since he always loses anyway. Can the two friends teach each other something, like when to be optimistic and try and when to fold and walk away?

Some of the “gifts” of the Montgomery family members turn out to be curses in disguise, and vice-versa. I was reminded of Ingrid Law’s Savvy series and of Adrian Monk, of course: “It’s a blessing—-and a curse.”

Only in this story, it’s a swamp instead of a jungle.

Amazon Affiliate. If you click on a book cover here to go to Amazon and buy something, I receive a very small percentage of the purchase price.
This book may be nominated for a Cybils Award, but the views expressed here are strictly my own and do not reflect or determine the judging panel’s opinions.

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A Single Stone by Megan McKinlay

I read Laurel Snyder’s Orphan Island just after I read this book. Both books are partly about keeping the traditions that are handed down, obeying the laws of your own community, and questioning those traditions and laws. But each book comes to a very different conclusion.

In Orphan Island, questioning and breaking with tradition lead to disaster, a disturbance in the natural order of things on the island. In A Single Stone, questions and rule-breaking lead to freedom from tyranny. In the real world, of course, some rules and traditions need to be questioned, but often the law is for our good, and the transgression of that law leads only to evil and heartbreak. Since I believe the latter lesson is one that rarely gets spoken these days, and since I’m a conservative at heart underneath my rebel tendencies, I have more sympathy for the story of Orphan Island than for A Single Stone.

Jena is one of the chosen seven. She’s been trained and molded for this job ever since she was born, and now she leads the other six girls who also have been chosen to tunnel into the mountains to search for the precious mica that sustains life in their isolated village. The village has maintained itself, precariously, cut off from the outside world by a ring of impenetrable mountains all around, by using mica as a fuel for the long, cold winters. Only the chosen seven young girls can fit themselves into the tight crevices and low tunnels inside the mountains to bring back the harvest of mica that allows the villagers to remain alive.

This is the way it is, and this is the way is has been from time immemorial. That’s what Jena has been taught, and she believes the Mothers who teach and train the children to become useful to the village as they grow up. But what if the Mothers are wrong? What if they’re deceiving the villagers or perhaps even deceiving themselves? Can the world be different? Is there a way through the mountains, and is there something or someone on the other side?

Again, it’s a good book, by an Australian author, but I preferred Orphan Island. Both the premises and the conclusions were more intriguing in Orphan Island than in A Single Stone. Read both for comparison’s sake.

Amazon Affiliate. If you click on a book cover here to go to Amazon and buy something, I receive a very small percentage of the purchase price.
This book may be nominated for a Cybils Award, but the views expressed here are strictly my own and do not reflect or determine the judging panel’s opinions.

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Saturday Review of Books: October 7, 2017

Posted by Sherry on 10/6/2017 in Saturday Reviews |

“The Cybils Awards aims to recognize the children’s and young adult authors and illustrators whose books combine the highest literary merit and popular appeal. If some la-di-dah awards can be compared to brussels sprouts, and other, more populist ones to gummy bears, we’re thinking more like organic chicken nuggets. We’re yummy and nutritious.” ~Cybils organizers

Have you nominated your favorite children’s and young adult books of 2017 for the Cybils, blogger-nominated and blogger-awarded books awards? If not, hie thee over to the Cybils nominations page and do it.

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Welcome to the Saturday Review of Books at Semicolon. Here’s how it usually works. Find a book review on your blog posted sometime during the previous week. The review doesn’t have to be a formal sort of thing. You can link to your thoughts on a particular book, a few ideas inspired by reading the book, your evaluation, quotations, whatever.

Then on Friday night/Saturday, you post a link here at Semicolon in Mr. Linky to the specific post where you’ve written your book review. Don’t link to your main blog page because this kind of link makes it hard to find the book review, especially when people drop in later after you’ve added new content to your blog. In parentheses after your name, add the title of the book you’re reviewing. This addition will help people to find the reviews they’re most interested in reading.

After linking to your own reviews, you can spend as long as you want reading the reviews of other bloggers for the week and adding to your wishlist of books to read.

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Middle Grade Speculative Fiction Books in Search of a Nomination

Posted by Sherry on 10/4/2017 in 2017, Children's Fiction, Cybil Awards, General |

Cybils nominations are now open. These are some middle grade speculative fiction books that I’ve either read or intended to read that also have NOT yet been nominated. I believe all of the following books are eligible for this year’s Cybils nominations and fit into the middle grade speculative fiction category.

Books in search of a nominator:


Henry and the Chalk Dragon by Jennifer Trafton. NOMINATED
Tumble and Blue by Cassie Beasley.
Blueberry Pancakes Forever by Angelica Banks.
Broken Pride (Bravelands, #1) by Erin Hunter.
Frogkisser by Garth Nix. NOMINATED
Dragonfly Song by Wendy Orr.
Edgeland by Jake Halpern.
A Face Like Glass by Frances Hardinge.
The Emperor’s Ostrich by Julie Berry.
Dragon With a Chocolate Heart by Stephanie Burgis. NOMINATED
The Alarming Career of Sir Richard Blackstone by Lisa Doan.
Grandfather and the Moon by Stephanie LaPointe.
Olive and the Backstage Ghost by Michelle Shusterman. NOMINATED
A Properly Unhaunted Place by William Alexander. NOMINATED
Joplin, Wishing by Diane Stanley.
Quest to the Uncharted Lands by Jaleigh Johnson.
The Song from Somewhere Else by A.F. Harrold.
Siren Sisters by Dana Langer.
The Fearless Traveler’s Guide to Wicked Places by Pete Begler.
The Tiny Hero of Ferny Creek Library by Linda Bailey.
The Silver Gate by Kristin Bailey.
Nevermoor by Jesica Townsend.
Unicorn Power! by Mariko Tamaki.
Warrior Bronze by Michelle Paver.
Threads of Blue by Suzanne LaFleur.
The Wonderling by Mira Bartok.
The Adventurer’s Guild by Zach Clark.
The Night Garden by Polly Horvath.
Emily and the Spellstone by Michael Rubens.
The Emperor of Mars by Patrick Samphire.
The Matchstick Castle by Keir Graff.
The Dollmaker of Krakow by R.M. Romero. NOMINATED
The Star Thief by Lindsay Becker.
The Bone Snatcher by Charlotte Salter.
Beast and Crown by Joel Ross.NOMINATED
Word of Mouse by James Patterson and Chris Grabenstein.
A Dash of Dragon by Heidi Lang.
Rules for Thieves by Alexandra Ott.
Black Cats and Butlers by Janine Beacham.
Journey Across the Hidden Islands by Sarah Beth Durst.
Last Day on Mars by Kevin Emerson. NOMINATED
The Door Before by N.D. Wilson.

Nominations are open this week and next, through October 15th. Be sure your favorite children’s and young adult books of the past year get nominated. I’m on the panel for Middle Grade Speculative Fiction, and I’ll be working with some other great panelists to whittle down the nominations list into a short list of finalists. But your favorite books can’t make it to the finalist list if you don’t nominate now.

Go forth and nominate!

Amazon Affiliate. If you click on a book cover here or on this link to go to Amazon and buy something, I receive a very small percentage of the purchase price.
One or more of these books is may be nominated for a Cybil Award, but the views expressed here are strictly my own.

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A Face Like Glass by Frances Hardinge

Posted by Sherry on 10/4/2017 in 2017, Children's Fiction, Fantasy Fiction, Young Adult Fiction |

There will be time, there will be time
To prepare a face to meet the faces that you meet;
There will be time to murder and create,
And time for all the works and days of hands
That lift and drop a question on your plate;
Time for you and time for me,
And time yet for a hundred indecisions,
And for a hundred visions and revisions,
Before the taking of a toast and tea.

The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock by T.S. Eliot

As I was reading A Face Like Glass, those lines from J. Alfred Prufrock kept floating through my mind, especially those first two lines: “there will be time to prepare a face to meet the faces that you meet.” In the underground city of Caverna the inhabitants are born with blank faces. They must learn to put on faces that serve the wearer’s ends, set expressions that are learned and bought and sold, such as “World Weary, with a Hint of Sadness” or “Wry Charm” or perhaps, “Careful Disinterest.” These Faces enable the citizens of Caverna to lie and dissemble and carry on political intrigues that would make the most crooked politician dizzy with their multiple layers of trickery and subterfuge.

But the girl Neverfell is different from all of the other inhabitants of Caverna. Her guardian, Grandible the Cheesemaster, insists that she wear a mask whenever she meets with anyone else from Caverna, perhaps because Neverfell has such a hideous, ugly face? Maybe “Ugly” is the only Face she has been given? Or maybe it has something to with Neverfell’s past, a past that, before the age of seven and the endless cheese tunnels of Grandible’s massive cheese factory, she can’t remember at all?

The other piece of literature that this book reminded me of was C.S. Lewis’s The Silver Chair. A Face Like Glass is much more layered and complicated than Lewis’s story and Hardinge’s writing style is utterly different from Lewis’s, but the underground city and the pervasive deception and manipulation of memories and the longing for an elusive otherness aboveground are all similarly key to both books. Neverfell doesn’t remember the world above Caverna, the lands on the surface of the earth, but she does long to escape the deception and darkness of the underground world. There are other similarities between the two books that I can’t talk about without spoilers, but suffice it say that I was intrigued by the parallels.

“And the worst thing about it was that you began to feel as if you had always lived on that ship, in that darkness, and to wonder whether sun and blue skies and wind and birds had not been only a dream.” The Silver Chair, C.S. Lewis

And I loved the ending of A Face Like Glass. It was perfect, made so much sense, but also unexpected. I would recommend this one for older middle schoolers and high schoolers and adults. A Face Like Glass provides a lot of food for thought and enjoyment; it’s a “True Delicacy”.

Amazon Affiliate. If you click on a book cover here to go to Amazon and buy something, I receive a very small percentage of the purchase price.
This book may be nominated for a Cybils Award, but the views expressed here are strictly my own and do not reflect or determine the judging panel’s opinions.

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Bravelands #1: Broken Pride by Erin Hunter

Posted by Sherry on 10/2/2017 in 2017, Africa, Children's Fiction, General |

Grass-eaters, meat-eaters, scavengers, predators and prey—all live together in the grassy savannah lands of Africa, more or less peacefully, following the ancient code of Bravelands. The primary rule of the Code: Kill only to survive. But things are changing in Bravelands, first among the lions where Gallantpride, headed by the male lion Gallant, is stolen by treachery and becomes Titanpride, ruled by an autocratic and cruel dictator. Then, things begin to go wrong among the baboons and among the great elephants, too.

“Windrider paused as the clamor rose around her. She swiveled her head. ‘Do you smell it, Blackwing? Do you taste it?’
‘The scent in the sky?’ He nodded once.
‘Do you know what it is?’ she asked him. ‘Something we have not tasted for our lifetimes, Blackwing, for though it is slow and constant, it happens so slowly it can’t be noticed.’
He tilted his head. ‘And now?’
‘Now it comes fast; fast enough to be dangerous. Change, Blackwing. What you smell on the Bravelands sky is—change.'”

I’ve never read any of Erin Hunter’s* Warriors series about clans of wild cats.Nor have I read her Survivors series of novels, which focus on the lives of wild dogs. She also has a third series, Seekers, about bears in the wild. I’m not really an animal person, although I have enjoyed the occasional animal book. Nevertheless, I would recommend Bravelands, at least the first book, Broken Pride, to all my friends and fellow readers who are animal lovers—and to those who love books set in Africa.

The animals in this book are somewhat anthropomorphized; they talk to one another, they plot, they plan. But the Code of Bravelands is similar to the unwritten “code” of wild animals everywhere. Predators kill only to eat. Animals, particularly male lions, fight to establish dominance. But there is no sin, no arrogant pride, no violence for the sake of violence. However, in this book, unlike on the real savannah of Africa, the animals take on some human characteristics. The title “broken pride” has a double meaning as the young lion cub, Fearless, sees his pride of lions scattered and has his own pride and self-respect also broken.

The balance of Bravelands has been disturbed, and only the combination of a lion cub, a young elephant, and a baboon can set it right. Maybe. If only they can figure out what has happened to make such horrible change come and what they can do to make things right. As I said, I haven’t read Erin Hunter’s other, very popular, books, but I thought this one was every bit as good as Brian Jacques’ Redwall series. The writing is adequate, and sometimes exceptional, as the author describes the beauty and danger of sub-Saharan Africa. (No human characters are in the book, and the place name “Africa” is never used.) And the characters and plot are memorable and engaging.

Bravelands #2: Code of Honor comes out in February, 2018 and takes up where Broken Pride leaves off. And, fair warning, I can see why Ms. Hunter’s books are known as a series, rather than individual books. The ending to Broken Pride is a cliffhanger, leaving the reader thirsty for more.

*It turns out that “Erin Hunter” is a pseudonym for six people: Kate Cary, Cherith Baldry, Tui T. Sutherland, Gillian Phillips, and Inbali Iserles, as well as editor Victoria Holmes. They write these books in the series that I mentioned as a group—somehow.

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Cybils 2017 Nominations Are Now Open

Posted by Sherry on 10/1/2017 in General |

The 2017 Cybils nominations are now live!

Some quick reminders:

First, check out the category descriptions. If you don’t know where the book should go, please read through the descriptions to help you decide. If you’re still not quite sure, make your best guess, and the organizers can straighten things out behind the scenes.

Take a minute to check out the Rules and Regulations. The Big Rule: the book needs to be published in the U.S. or Canada between October 16, 2016 and October 15, 2017. Oh, and ONE book per CATEGORY per PERSON. No exceptions. The form will kick you back if you try to nominate more than one book (or if someone else has already nominated the book).

If you are a publisher or an author, you need to wait until the public nomination period closes before submitting your nominations.

If you have any other questions, check out the Cybils FAQ page.

Follow this link to nominate your favorite books in all our categories. You have until October 15th.

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Saturday Review of Books: September 30, 2017

Posted by Sherry on 9/29/2017 in General, Saturday Reviews |

“Standing around the books, even books in a foreign language, you feel a kind of electricity buzzing up towards you.” ~Aravind Ardiga, The White Tiger

SatReviewbutton

Welcome to the Saturday Review of Books at Semicolon. Here’s how it usually works. Find a book review on your blog posted sometime during the previous week. The review doesn’t have to be a formal sort of thing. You can link to your thoughts on a particular book, a few ideas inspired by reading the book, your evaluation, quotations, whatever.

Then on Friday night/Saturday, you post a link here at Semicolon in Mr. Linky to the specific post where you’ve written your book review. Don’t link to your main blog page because this kind of link makes it hard to find the book review, especially when people drop in later after you’ve added new content to your blog. In parentheses after your name, add the title of the book you’re reviewing. This addition will help people to find the reviews they’re most interested in reading.

After linking to your own reviews, you can spend as long as you want reading the reviews of other bloggers for the week and adding to your wishlist of books to read.

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Harvey and Me: Update #3

Posted by Sherry on 9/28/2017 in General |

Still living in Harveyland. Life has gone back to normal: people back to work, football games and homecoming parades, the businesses that didn’t flood are back in business. We’re eating and sleeping and mowing grass and checking Facebook and getting flu shots and buying pumpkins for fall.

But. As many, many people have said and written, it’s not really normal around here, anywhere in southeast Texas, and it won’t be for a long time. I know dozens of families who are living with friends, crowded into other people’s houses, living in hotels halfway across Houston because that was the nearest place available, living in RV’s in their own driveways, living in the second story bedrooms of their own houses. Others are living in houses with bare concrete floors and with sheetrock torn out and possibly mold growing because they have no other place to go.

And then there are the piles. Wherever you drive you see the piles of “trash”, not really trash but rather people’s lives strewn across the front yard or piled neatly into categories on the edge of the front yard. Some people just ripped stuff out and piled it up as fast they could. Others got the “memo” (many days late) that the county and the city preferred that the “trash” be sorted into as many as six different piles: normal household trash, vegetative debris, construction and demolition debris, electronics, appliances, and household hazardous waste.

I passed one house where the first pile I could see was a tower of once-beautiful wooden furniture: a broken dresser, parts of a bed, other odds and ends of furniture and wooden slats and pieces. It was all broken, all wood, all sad. Which of those wonderful categories fit these pieces of a family’s life? It’s certainly not “normal household trash”, not hazardous, not vegetative, not construction debris. How does a person divide the pieces of a home into debris categories, and what do we do with the leftovers?

Yes, we are thankful that so few people lost their lives during Harvey. Yes, we have a great deal of compassion and concern for the people of Puerto Rico and other Caribbean islands who lost so much more than we did and who are suffering the lack of basic necessities like food and water. But we don’t have time or emotional energy for much more than a quick prayer of gratitude and another of supplication for the needs of those we cannot reach or help before we need to turn back to the task at hand.

The piles are real, but also symbolic. There are piles and piles of needs and wants and tasks to be done here in Harveyland. Those of us who didn’t flood are busy helping those who did, trying to figure out their complicated piles of needs and sort them into some kind of order so that we can get a handle on beginning to meet those needs. It’s messy. Do these people need help now with rebuilding, or is it more important to find them a temporary place to live? If I find a refrigerator or a stove for that family who can’t make meals for themselves, will they have a place to put the appliances? Do the children and teens need to “get back to normal”, or is it important for them to be involved in the work of rebuilding? Or can they do both? How much can I do or should I do to help one particular family when there are so many needs?

Finally, I’ll tell you what I really don’t have time or energy to engage. I don’t care whether the NFL football players stand or kneel or turn cartwheels during the national anthem. I don’t care whether our president supports them or disses them. I don’t care about the newest iPhone. I don’t even care whether Congress repeals or replaces Obamacare or who’s to blame for global warming. Right now I care about the piles and the people behind them and the work that must be done. I care that people are loved and that God is glorified in all of it.

You guys who are not living in Harveyland (or Irmaland or La Tierra de Maria) can worry about all that other stuff. Or you can pray, and give, and come help out here in Houston or in Florida or in Puerto Rico. We’re all going to be dealing with the piles for quite a while.

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