Nominated for the Cybils by Jenny Schwartzburg
The always delightful Ms. Kimmel continues her story of Kat Roberts, who can talk to the dead just like her hippie-eqsue mother. With her trusty side-kick, the cello playing Jac, she manages to enjoy a school field trip to Canada while fending off several ghosts and sending them on their way to the light. Further complicating matters are the snotty Brooklyn Bigelow and the enigmatic but oh-so-attractive Ben Greenblott. Brooklyn just makes life difficult for Kat with her barbs, but Ben makes her heart flutter. Will Ben be able to accept Kat, ghosts and all?
Strengths: The writing is funny, facile, and fresh. Kimmel is just so much fun. Adored Lily B., and we've worn out about four copies in my library! Kat comes through as a wonderfully normal, impetuous middle schooler who just happens to have a supernatural gift.
Weaknesses: Supporting characters are somewhat one dimensional. Jac develops a little more, but we've seen her mother several times, and I'm starting to feel sorry for her. Why is she so uptight?
Harris, M.G. Invisible City (The Joshua Files)
Nominated for the Cybils by Kathy M. Burnett
Joshua's life has just taken a horrible turn for the worse-- his father has been murdered in Mexico, supposedly by the husband of his mistress. This sends his mother into such a spiral that she eventually lets Joshua go to Mexico with his martial arts buddy and a slightly older girl from his hometown of Oxford that he just met. They manage to meet up with the suspected mistress-- who turns out to be Josh's half-sister. Things are very complicated, because not only is Josh being stalked by federal agents, it turns out that he is descended from ancient Mayans and is the only one who can access a sacred book that kills anyone else that touches it. He visits the hidden city of his ancestors and manages to solve several mysteries.
Strengths: This has a lot of action and adventure, quite a few clues to figure out, and a fresh and innovative fantasy world.
Weaknesses: This was rather complicated, and keeping all of the story lines straight would be difficult for younger children. I would definitely put this at 6th grade or above, especially since we witness the death of several characters.
Marcos, Crystal. Bellyache: A Delicious Tale
Nominated for the Cybils by Brenda
Peter is working with his grandfather, who owns a sweet shop. He is told to eat just three pieces of candy, but goes overboard and ends up with a stomach ache. He receives a mysterious package and ends up in a world where the people are all Candonites-- made of various types of candy. He stays with the mayor's family for a day to try to learn that he should have exercised restraint, but when he is set to return home, he and another visitor must save two local children from the evil Goaltan and the Peblars even though the local children were mean to them.
Strengths: Fun and innovative descriptions of the Candonites' world. I especially liked the restaurant. Extra points for sending the book nicely wrapped with two bookmarks and a business card: some of the review copies I have received come only with terse notes that make me feel like the Cybils are imposing by asking for books that we can't locate anywhere!
Weaknesses: This tends toward the didactic, and the subplot of rescuing the children seemed a bit tacked on.
Butler, Darren. J. Merlin's Curse.
Nominated for the Cybils by Diane Hamilton of Onstage Publishing
Lucy is tired of transferring schools and having to deal with difficult children. It's not much different this time, except that she meets Shelley, who invites her to investigate a neighbor's attic to find things for a garage sale fund raiser. The two girls find rings that turn Lucy into a cat! While they figure out an antidote, they also realize that Merlin turned the evil Princess Pendalyn into a cat, and she is stalking them, trying to figure out how to regain the rings and return to her original form.
Strengths: Easy to follow plot, good chemistry between the characters.
Weaknesses: Unattractive artwork throughout, awkward writing at points, and a variation on the Merlin tale that seemed unlikely. I think the gibberish of the spells made the story seem less convincing to me.
Book Fair Report: Everything is cleaned up and most of the paperwork done. Whew. I was a little nervous about the cash drawer balancing, since Scholastic has a fancy new cash register now, but it did. Time spent in retail never really leaves one, does it?