Salisbury, Graham. Calvin Coconut: Hero of Hawaii
Nominated for the Cybils by Deb Nance
Calvin is helping to prepare for his sister Darci's birthday party, which involves a huge water slide, but the weather is not cooperating. Soon, there is a major tropical storm causing the drainage canal right near Calvin's house to rise alarmingly. When Calvin and his friend Willy are out in the storm, Willy falls into the canal and gets swept out to sea, leading to a very suspenseful rescue. Book five in this series.
Strengths: I can see younger students really enjoying Calvin's family and his adventures. The Hawaiian setting is exotic for those of us living in Ohio, and the details about life there are interesting.
Weaknesses: For my collection, this is too young. The cartoonish cover and odd character name make it a less attractive choice for an easy read than Shredderman or Hank Zipzer. This author's Eyes of the Emperor is hugely popular in my school, though-- Salisbury does such good books for older students that I just wished this one would be a bit older.
Klise, Kate. Grounded.
Nominated for the Cybils by Bigfoot.
Daralynn's father, brother and sister are all killed when her father's airplane crashes; the only reason Daralynn was not on the plane was because she had been grounded. Life is difficult for Daralynn and her mother, but slowly improves. Her mother gets a job at a local funeral home doing the hair of the deceased, but when a new crematorium opens up, Daralynn is afraid that fewer people will need her mother's services. With the help of the funeral home, Daralynn tries to start a trend for "living funerals". Daralynn's grandmother starts to slide into senility. Her quirky aunt, who runs a sort of rest home for elderly men, gets involved with the man trying to get the crematorium started, and soon problems emerge that affect the entire town.
Strengths: Imaginative and well-written. Can't think of other books about funeral homes, and students might be interested in the gross details about the crematorium.
Weaknesses: This is set in the early 70s, and it would have helped a lot if a specific date had been mentioned. Instead, there are passing references to an uncle who came home from Vietnam 6 years before, haircuts costing a dollar, Dippity-do, etc. While I could place this in time, students might be confused by these details, because most of the story seems modern.
Vernick, Audrey. Water Balloon.
Nominated for the Cybils by Sally Gee.
Marley's mother and father are separated, and she will be spending the summer with her school teacher father. This was not her plan-- she would much rather hang out with her friends Jane and Leah. Instead, she is babysitting twin girls every day and has no computer at her father's. After a disastrous water balloon prank that Leah and Jane do not find amusing at all, Marley starts to doubt that her summer can be anything but horrible. When she meets the boy next door, Jack, things get a little better, until she realizes that her father is dating the woman for whom she is babysitting. Marley begins to realize that her life is going to change a lot: her parents are going to divorce, her friendship with Leah and Jane is not going to be the same, and boys like Jack are going to become more than friends.
Strengths: Love that her father is supportive but also gives her room to be on her own. There is a wonderful scene where Jack and Marley have to get home from New York City on the train. It's that whole orphans-in-middle-grade-fiction thing; there are so many orphans because middle grade children are often annoyed with their parents! There aren't as many books where kids are annoyed by their parents even though they love them. I also liked Marley's struggles with lack of technology; it is a hard balance to strike in fiction today.
Weaknesses: I didn't like Marley at the beginning of the book, although I did warm up to her later. She was too whiny.