Poblocki, Dan. The Nightmarys.
Nominated for the Cybils by D. M. Cunningham
YES!!! What do my students ask me for day after day after day? Scary books. Mysteries. Murder. I've had to explain that really, not a lot of middle grade authors write about murders; it's frowned upon. And so my four copies of E.E. Richards The Devil's Footsteps and my R.L. Stine and Christopher Pike books are reaching unsanitary states of preservation. NOW, however, I can start stocking up on Mr. Poblocki's scary stories.
Timothy July has problems. His brother has been injured in the military and his parents aren't talking about it. He has to work on a school project with a weird new girl, which has made his best friend angry. To top it off, he keeps having weird nightmares... while he's awake. And he's not alone. His best friend almost drowns when he thinks the monster from his favorite video game is in the pool with him. The new girl, Abigail, has dreams, too, about two girls at her previous school who were bullying her. Even Abigail's grandmother has them, and it turns out that she might be the key. When she was young, her friend was kidnapped by the creepy Professor Hesselius, who wanted to use the friend to fuel a powerful corpse. Timothy and Abigail find out about this through a book written by the grandmother's relative, and begin to realize that the source of the dreams is an artifact in the local museum. Will their fears take over, or will they be able to ignore them and destroy the artifact?
Strengths: Creepy. Super creepy. I made faces while reading the first gruesome chapter, and the descriptions of Timothy being chased by a painted dragon are awesome. It's perfect that it's horror AND mystery.
Weaknesses: Might be too gruesome for elementary students; does use the term "butt munch" which may irk parents, although you have to love "fart slap". Ever so slightly confusing with all of the stuff going on, but still a great read.
Kirby, Matthew J. The Clockwork Three
Nominated for the Cybils by Kristen.
On the flip side, this book was NOT what my students are asking for. The whole Steampunk thing? Not a sell, except for the Philip Pullman Clockwork (1996), and that ONLY because it's 2 points long and over the 5.0 level for Accelerated Reader. This is in the Scholastic book fair.
Three children in the late 1800s intersect-- Giuseppe, an orphan living on the streets at the mercy of an evil padrone who makes him beg and steal while trying to get together enough money to make it back to Italy; Frederick, a boy whose mother abandoned him at an orphanage who has some technical skills and is apprenticed to a clockmaker; and Hannah, a girl working as a maid in a fancy hotel because her father is ill and she is supporting her family. Hannah is taken up by a woman in the hotel who approaches Frederick to make an automaton, and also gets drawn into a mystery involving a possible treasure hidden in the hotel. Each of the children helps the other toward their goals-- Giuseppe to escape his padrone and get back to Italy, Frederick to become a journeyman clockmaker, and Hannah to help her family. All are aided by a little bit of magic.
Strengths: Well-developed characters who work well together, fair amount of action.
Weaknesses: Weak beginning: "When Giuseppe found the green violin, he did not think it would help him escape." Way too much description of opera and squirrels. I wanted to like it, but I just couldn't. Something too dense with the prose? This historical era works for Barnaby Grimes, but not as much here. I feel bad, because I usually agree with Kristen's recommendations!