Cybils: Young Adult Speculative Fiction

Nominations are open through October 15th for the Cybils, the book awards for children’s and young adult literature that are administered, judged, and awarded by kid lit bloggers. The category description for YA Speculative Fiction says:

Magic, aliens, ghosts, alternate universes, time travel, space travel, high fantasy, dystopian, post-apocalyptic futures, horror, and sentient animals are just some of the many topics that belong here. If a book could happen today or could have happened in the past, nominate it in YA Fiction. But any story that’s impossible, improbable, or merely possible – but not quite yet – belongs in Speculative Fiction. Magic Realism is tricky, but more often than not ends up here. The age range for this category is approximately 12-18.

Here are a few YA Speculative Fiction books that may deserve a look, but haven’t been nominated yet. If one of these is your favorite, please nominate it for a Cybils award.

Parched by Georgia Clark.
Don’t Even Think About It by Sarah Mlynowski.
Destined for Doon by Carey Corp and Lorey Langdon. Reviewed at The Book Nut: A Booklover’s Guide.
Nightmare City by Andrew Klavan.
Mindwar by Andrew Klavan.
One Realm Beyond by Donita K. Paul. Reviewed at Redeemed Reader.
Merlin’s Nightmare by Robert Treskillard. NOMINATED
Rebels (The Safe Lands) by Jill Williamson.

Do carry on with nominations for all your favorites in all of the categories, but only those books published between Oct. 16, 2013 and Oct. 15, 2014 are eligible.

Alvin Ho: Allergic to the Great Wall, The Forbidden Palace, and Other Tourist Attractions by Lenore Look

Alvin Ho is back again, kind of like his namesake, the chipmunk. (Actually, the two have nothing to do with one another. I just was reminded of Alvin the Chipmunk for some reason and wanted to post a picture. Maybe because both Alvins have a penchant for getting into lovable trouble.)

This time Alvin Ho goes on a trip at Christmas time to China with his family to visit his relations who live in a tall scary apartment building. And Alvin has to fly across the ocean in an airplane, aka tin can, to get there. And there are maybe a billion people in China who could squash you. And you might have to use a squat toilet or be stuck all over with acupuncture needles like a pincushion. Scary, right?

Those are only a few of the dangers Alvin faces as he explores, or tries to keep from exploring, a new country. I’m getting a little jaded on Alvin, but I think this book might be just as funny and just as comforting to the average second or third grader as were Alvin’s previous adventures.

I did especially like chapter 15, You Can Make a Friend Anywhere, where Alvin does something very generous and kind in spite of all of his fears and phobias. The rest is standard Alvin Ho fare, although it provides a good introduction to the tourist attractions and interesting aspects of a visit to China. I felt sorry for Alvin’s dad, though, who is forced to be very, very patient and forgiving with Alvin’s childish anxieties and careless misdeeds.

Read this one if you’re a fan or if you want a painless introduction to China or if you have yet to meet the inimitable Alvin Ho.

Cybils: Middle Grade Speculative Fiction

Nominations are open through October 15th for the Cybils, the book awards for children’s and young adult literature that are administered, judged, and awarded by kid lit bloggers. I’m on the panel for the Middle Grade Speculative Fiction category, described as “books written for eight- to twelve-year-olds . . . with talking animals, time-travel, ghosts, and paranormal abilities, and all the other books that might not have obvious magic or travel to distant planets, but which push past the boundaries of daily life into the realm of the almost certainly impossible.”

Here are few books that haven’t been nominated yet, but deserve a look.If you’ve read one of these and want to give it a nod, go to the Cybils website and put in your nomination.

Dreamwood by Heather Mackey.NOMINATED
The Hero’s Guide to Being an Outlaw by Christopher Healy. NOMINATED
Minion by John David Anderson. NOMINATED
Magic in the Mix Annie Barrows.
Twelve Minutes to Midnight by Christopher Edge.
Mouseheart by Lisa Fiedler. NOMINATED
The Warden and the Wolf King by Andrew Peterson.
The Glass Sentence by S.E. Grove. NOMINATED
Jack Staples and the Ring of Time by Mark Batterson and Joel Clark.
Revealed by Margaret Peterson Haddix.
Shouldn’t You Be in School? by Lemony Snicket.

Frankly, I’m surprised that some of these haven’t yet been nominated. Go forth and nominate your favorites in all of the categories, but only those published between Oct. 16, 2013 and Oct. 15, 2014.

Saturday Review of Books: October 4, 2014


“The person who deserves most pity is a lonesome one on a rainy day who doesn’t know how to read.” ~Benjamin Franklin

SatReviewbuttonWelcome 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. That’s how my own TBR list has become completely unmanageable and the reason I can’t join any reading challenges. I have my own personal challenge that never ends.

Poetry Friday: Yuki and the One Thousand Carriers by Gloria Whelan

Yuki and the One Thousand Carriers By Gloria Whelan. Illustrated by Yan Nascimbene. Sleeping Bear Press, 2008.

This week and next in our homeschool we’re traveling to Japan: sushi, haiku, kimonos, rice paper, origami, big city, small farm, tsunamis, cherry blossoms. And what else might we discover in our imaginary journey to Japan?

When you’re looking for children’s books with an international setting and flavor, Gloria Whelan is a go-to author, and Sleeping Bear Press is definitely a premier publisher of such books. Sleeping Bear has published a whole bushel basket of alphabet books featuring different countries, states, regions, and interests from A is for Aloha: A Hawai’i Alphabet to K is for Kabuki: A Japan Alphabet to Z is for Zamboni: A Hockey Alphabet. And their non-alphabet, non-concept books rate high in both beauty and educational value, too. Sleeping Bear Press specializes in picture books, ergo the pictures in the books are delightful, colorful, and rich in detail.

Yuki and the One Thousand Carriers is no exception to that description. The illustrations, in double page and page and a half spreads, are Japanese in flavor, with the delicate figures and light and dark contrasts of Japanese character writing. However, there’s also a lot of color splashed all over these pages to delight the eye and engage the imagination. Yan Nascimbene also did the small, intricate illustrations for another lovely picture book set in Japan, Hachiko: The True Story of a Loyal Dog by Pamela S. Turner.

Gloria Whelan’s text tells the story of an seventeenth or eighteenth century girl, Yuki, who must accompany her family on a 300 mile journey to the capital city of Edo. Yuki must ride in a palanquin (most of the time), and her teacher has given her an assignment to write a haiku every day to chronicle the journey. Yuki writes all of her longing for home and her fears about the future as well as her enjoyment in the small pleasures of each day into her haiku.

Once outside the gate
how will I find my way back?
Will home disappear?

River is busy
making its own long journey;
it doesn’t look back.

Gulls write their haiku
in the sky, dipping and darting,
not caged in a box.

Once during the long journey, Yuki is able to climb out of the palanquin and walk a little way. She writes:

Grass under my feet
plum blossoms drift down on me
just for a minute.

Finally, the family reach Edo, the end of their journey, and Yuki learns to appreciate where she is, instead of always looking back to long for her old home.

The book is a fantastic introduction to historical Japan and a lovely story of overcoming homesickness through poetry and awareness of daily blessings.

Jama’s Alphabet Soup has today’s Poetry Friday Roundup.

Skies Like These by Tess Hilmo

I really, really enjoyed Tess Hilmo’s first novel for children, With a Name Like Love. I think, had my expectations not been quite so high for her second book, Skies Like These, I would have enjoyed it a lot more. As it was, I did like it, but I didn’t get the full experience. That’s the trouble with Great Expectations.

On the other hand, the Tourism Bureau in Wyoming and maybe in neighboring states should buy copies of Skies Like These in bulk and give them out as advertisements. The book is paean to the wide open spaces of the western United States, particularly Wyoming. Ms. Hilmo writes of “Wyoming’s remarkable kaleidoscope skies” and “the strong, harsh rocks of the mountain range” and “apricot-tinted light” dissolving into the red dirt of the yard, and stars in the “complete, uninterrupted stillness of the night.” Then, she fleshes out those descriptions with a story that tells how Jade, a city girl from Philly, comes to love and appreciate the wonders of the great, wild west.

Unadventurous Jade has never been to visit her Aunt Elise in Wyoming until the summer before seventh grade. In fact, Jade has always spent her summers watching TV and reading and trying out recipes at home in Philadelphia, and she likes it that way. But Aunt Elise is all excited about Jade’s visit, and Jade’s parents think that Jade could use a little adventure in her summer. So Wyoming it is!

When she gets to Wyoming, Jade meets twelve year old Roy Parker, a wannabe cowboy who believes he’s a descendant of LeRoy Parker aka Butch Cassidy. “During their Wild West summer together, Roy helps Jade find her inner cowgirl, and jade helps Roy find himself.” (cover blurb) There’s no romance here, not even an intimation, just Jade and Roy, two friends, helping each other see and do things that neither of them would have seen or done on their own.

Skies Like These is a gentle story of growing up and learning to try new things and maybe let go of old things. It is quite similar in tone to With a Name Like Love, although set in the present day instead of the 1950’s, so if you liked that one, you’ll probably enjoy Skies Like These. Just don’t get over-expectant –unless you live in and love Wyoming. If you’re a Wyoming resident, you’ll probably want to give a copy to every child in Wyoming. (There aren’t that many, right?)

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 is also nominated for a Cybil Award, but the views expressed here are strictly my own and do not reflect or determine the judging panel’s opinions.

Cybils: Middle Grade Fiction

Nominations open today for the Cybils, the book awards for children’s and young adult literature that are administered, judged, and awarded by kid lit bloggers. For Cybils purposes, “Middle grade fiction encompasses a wide range of stories that do not have magical elements and are geared toward the 8 to 12 year old age group. These stories could be mysteries, histories, humor, sports, adventure and other tales set in the real world.”

I’ve read a lot of Middle Grade Fiction this year. Here are a few suggestions if you’re looking for a book to nominate in this category:

A Month of Sundays by Ruth White.
Somebody on This Bus is Going to Be Famous by Janie B. Cheaney.
Absolutely Almost by Lisa Graff. NOMINATED
A Hitch at the Fairmont by Jim Averbeck.
Uncertain Glory by Lea Wait. NOMINATED
Upside Down in the Middle of Nowhere by Julie T. Lamana. NOMINATED
Ollie and the Science of Treasure Hunting by Erin Dionne.
The Great Greene Heist by Varian Johnson. NOMINATED
The Crossover by Kwame Alexander. NOMINATED
The Summer I Saved the World in 65 Days by Michele Weber Hurwitz. NOMINATED
The Spy Catchers of Maple Hill by Megan Frazer Blakemore. NOMINATED
Hope Is a Ferris Wheel by Robin Herrera. NOMINATED
Another Day As Emily by Eileen Spinelli.
PK Pinkerton and the Pistol-Packing Widows by Caroline Lawrence. NOMINATED
Saving Kabul Corner by N.H. Senzai. NOMINATED
Bird by Crystal Chan. NOMINATED
Under the Egg by Laura Marx Fitzgerald. NOMINATED
I Kill the Mockingbird by Paul Acampora.
The Battle of Darcy Lane by Tara Altebrando.
Zane and the Hurricane by Rodman Philbrick. NOMINATED
Rain Reign by Ann Martin. Review coming soon. NOMINATED
Skies Like These by Tess Hilmo.

Links are to my reviews. Certainly, if you’ve read one of the above titles or any other children’s or YA title published between October 16, 2013 and October 15, 2014, you should nominate your favorite(s) for the Cybils. Nominations are open through October 15th.

Circa Now by Amber McRee Turner

An eleven year old girl named Circa loses her beloved father in an accident and doesn’t know if she can depend on her sometimes-depressed mother to care for her and for her father’s memory.

I liked a lot of things about this book. Circa Monroe was a spunky protagonist; she reminded me of my youngest Z-baby. In fact, Circa’s father reminded me of Engineer Husband, a nurturing and very responsible presence for Circa and for her mom. I can imagine life around the Semicolon household being much like Circa’s life after dad if Engineer Husband were to exit this earth prematurely. I am not dealing with clinical depression, but Engineer Husband definitely helps me hold it together in so many ways.

I also liked that the only place that Circa’s mom feels safe and nurtured outside of her home is the church. If they don’t go anywhere else, Circa and her mom go to church, and there they feel loved and respected and supported. Church and churchiness aren’t at all the focus of the story; the church scenes are a very minor part of the novel. And I liked that aspect, too. The church is Circa’s family’s natural community, and it’s treated as a normal part of life.

Another insignificant (but significant to me) part of the novel was that Circa’s best friend, Nattie Boone, is black—or at least she has “braided hair” and “dark skin.” I liked that race was never mentioned and that the Boone family go to church with the Monroes and take care of them with sandwiches and hospitality and peanut butter pie. If the friendship between Circa and Nattie is at all unusual for small town south Georgia, there’s no indication of that barrier in the book. I really like that.

Then there’s Circa’s “disability” or abnormality: she was born without a pinkie finger on one hand. That, too, is a minor part of the plot, and it’s written very matter-of-fact, even though Circa does get teased by some boys, called “circus girl”. Circa is a competent, independent young lady who wouldn’t give a missing finger a second thought if a few bad apples didn’t bring it to her attention with their taunting.

The plot of Circa Now focuses on something else entirely, not Circa’s missing finger, not her mom’s depression, not church. The story is really about Circa’s attempts to work through her grief and loneliness after her father’s accident by continuing his work with photo restoration. Circa keeps making the “shopt” photo projects that her dad did just for fun, as a joke between the two of them. And she wants to continue working on the Wall of Memories that she and her dad were making for the nursing home of Alzheimer’s patients near their home. However, when Circa’s mom doesn’t want her to try to finish the nursing home photo restorations and when a strange boy who might be a magical result of the shopt photos shows up at their house, Circa doesn’t know what to do.

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 is also nominated for a Cybil Award, but the views expressed here are strictly my own and do not reflect or determine the judging panel’s opinions.

Empire of Bones by N.D. Wilson

About the first book in this fantasy series by N.D. Wilson, I wrote: The Dragon’s Tooth by N.D. Wilson. Too much action and it moved way too fast for me. I think there was a sub-text that I just didn’t get, and I think Mr. Wilson is too smart for my Very Little Brain.

About the second book, The Drowned Vault, I wrote: I really should just wait until all of the (three?) books in the Ashtown Burials series are out and then I could read them all together. I’m pretty sure my little brain would thank me.

I should have taken my own advice. There are just too many characters and too much history and too much stuff for me to follow the story and really get it. And this book doesn’t provide a satisfying ending to the entire story, so I’m fairly sure there are more books in this series to come. I really, really need to quit now and come back when the series is complete. (Or maybe it is complete? If so, I really don’t get it.)

If you would like to read more about Empire of Bones, from the point of view of someone who read it, understood it, and loved it, here’s one glowing review at Pages Unbound.

I want to love these books, but I still like N.D. Wilson’s first book for children, Leepike Ridge, the best. It was just right for my Baby Bear/Goldilocks brain.

The Glass Sentence by S.E. Grove

Maps, maps, and more maps. If your fascinations veer toward the cartological, especially if there’s an intersection with the fantastical, then this debut novel by “historian and world traveler” S.E. Grove will be just the ticket.

Since the disappearance of her parents when she was a small child, Sophia Tims lives in Boston with her uncle, Shadrack, a famous cartologist and former adventurer. However, this Boston is not the Boston we all know. Almost a century before, The Great Disruption shook the entire earth and threw different parts of the globe into different “ages” or time periods, remaking and disrupting time itself. Boston is now part of the New Occident, beginning after the Great Disruption in the late eighteenth century. Explorers and pirates are the only ones who dare to travel from one age to another, across boundaries that delineate more than just governing authorities or time zones—they also demarcate eras and the cultures associated with those eras.

Accurate, trustworthy maps are very important in such a world, and Shadrack is the most famous and reliable mapmaker in Boston, perhaps in the world. He is teaching Sophia all he knows, but when kidnappers and changes in the weather patterns interrupt their lessons, Sophia must set out on her own with only a runaway from the Baldlands, Theo, to help her escape from her pursuers and find the answers to what is happening to her, to Uncle Shadrack, and to the New World. And she’s not even sure she can trust Theo.

The world-building in this 489 page novel was exquisite. The story was well-plotted, and the characters were engaging, especially Sophia and Theo and Calixta the Pirate Captain. (I like that name, Calixta. If I had another child . . .) The only complaint I have, and it’s really a small complaint, I suppose, is that I never felt I knew what the story was about or what the underlying themes were. It seems to be partly about trust and lies, but the messages about whether those things are good or bad or indifferent are mixed. It’s also about time and maps and fate, but I’m not sure what the novel is saying about those things either. (Maps are good? We can live outside the constraints of time if we try? You can’t escape your fate, so don’t try?) Not every novel has to have a deep theme, but if it runs to almost 500 pages, I would expect it to say something about something.

Maybe I just didn’t get the something.

If you want a little more to go on before you commit, check out Charlotte’s review at Charlotte’s Library or Becky’s at Becky’s Book Reviews. It is a good book —especially for map-lovers and fantasy world dwellers.

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 is also nominated for a Cybil Award, but the views expressed here are strictly my own and do not reflect or determine the judging panel’s opinions.