Townsend, Wendy. The Sundown Rule.
Nominated for the Cybils by Nancy Hogan.
Louise and her father live an idyllic life in a small house in the woods, where Louise is free to roam and commune with animals. The only rule-- anything she has caught needs to be released at sundown. When her father gets a job in Brazil, she is sent to live with an aunt and uncle. She misses her cat, who has been left at the house, but soon makes a friend and manages to find animals to tend even in the suburbs. After the death of her cat, her father's attack of appendicitis, and the death of a crow at the hands of a friend's father, she relies on the help of her family and friends (as well as a new pet tortoise) to get over all the bad things life has thrown her way.
Strengths: Lots of good details about working with wild animals-- Louise even stitches up a bird's leg!
Weaknesses: A very, very sad book.
Steinhoefel, Andreas. The Spaghetti Detectives.
Nominated for the Cybils by Jen Robinson.
Rico lives with his mother, who works in a nightclub. She refers to Rico as her "proddity" because he has trouble with math and paying attention, but is good at other things. He fancies himself a detective, and frequently pays visits on the other residents of his apartment building. He befriends Oscar, who loves music and wears a helmet to protect his special brain. Rico's uncle is dying of cancer, so his mother leaves him alone to go visit him. During this time, Oscar goes missing, and Rico suspects the Aldi kidnapper (aka Mr. 2000, because he demands only 2000 Euros for the children he kidnaps, under $3000), Rico checks out everyone in the area to try to save his friend.
Strengths: Fairly interesting mystery, and the German setting (and mention of Aldi!) is new.
Weaknesses: This looks like a lighthearted book for younger readers, but is filled with mature content-- the mother's appearance, the fact that she leaves him alone, the Aldi kidnapper threatening to return body parts of his victims to their families-- maybe this is something that European children revel in, but this is definitely not for elementary students.
Acampora, Paul. Rachel Spinelli Punched Me in the Face.
Nominated for the Cybils by nanmarino.
Zachary and his father live in a rusted out trailed in Colorado, but after Zachary's mother runs off to work on a cruise ship, the two decide to move to Connecticut, where Zachary's father gets a job as the local policeman. The Spinellis are new neighbors, and Zachary soon takes to Rachel, even though she is harboring a lot of anger about her developmentally delayed brother Teddy and has a habit of getting into fights. There are many interesting people in town-- Rachel's family runs a diner in town (where her mother's ashes are kept in a coffee pot), there is a local ice cream parlor run by a Polish couple, and the mayor and teachers are friendly and accessible. Teddy, Rachel and Zachary spend the summer hanging out together and getting into various scrapes. When Zachary's mother wants to come back to visit, Zachary is enjoying his life so much that he doesn't want to see her.
Strengths: Nice humorous book with a romantic interest. Small size and funny cover will encourage boys to pick this up.
Weaknesses: There is great character development, but the plot suffers because of it. At first, the book is one introduction to a new character after another.
Avi. City of Orphans.
Nominated for the Cybils only in my mind!
In 1893 New York, Maks works as a newsboy. When the Plug Ugly gang threatens him, he is saved by the plucky but homeless Willa, whom he takes back to meet his hard working Danish immigrant family. Unfortunately, this is the night that they find his sister Emma has been arrested for stealing a watch from a guest at the Waldorf Hotel, where she works as a maid. Maks sister Agnes is studying but ill with tuberculosis and Agnes and the father are going to lose their jobs when the shoe factory closes down, so Maks and Willa try to find a detective to help them prove Emma's innocence. They find Donck, a former Pinkerton detective also dying of "consumption" who helps Maks get a job at the Waldorf so he can find the watch and the real thief. Willa helps the family out by taking over Maks news job, but the gang continues to threaten the two. Some odd coincidences help the two figure out the real culprit, and the family's fortunes improve.
Strengths: A fast-paced writing style and compelling mystery, combined with a few fun illustrations, make this one historical novel that students won't mind picking up.
Weaknesses: The persistence of teachers to overuse this author's older titles make him a hard sell. This is too bad, since some of his books are really great.
Wallace, Rich. War and Watermelon.
Nominated for the Cybils by Beth Mitcham (pending approval- thank you!)
In the summer of 1969, Brody is dreading junior high while looking forward to playing on the football team. His older brother, Ryan, has just graduated from high school and is stocking shelves at a grocery store, which makes Brody worry that Ryan may soon be drafted. The brothers attend Woodstock, follow the popular rock songs and the Mets baseball season, and try not to have too many generation gap fights with their (shocking!) mother AND father. Brody and his friends also spend a fair amount of time hanging out at the swim club checking out the girls, and the dance there is a highlight of the season. As the summer draws to a close and junior high looms large, Brody realizes that the summer, while busy and filled with some difficult moments, has helped him prepare for his future.
Strengths: Rich Wallace writes fantastic sports fiction, and this book makes it clear that his writing is so good because he remembers clearly what it is like to be a junior high school student. The historical details are spot on in this one, but set against a more interesting story line than a lot of other 1960s books. Boys will pick this one up for the baseball, football and girls and not even care that it is "historical". If books like this won awards, more children would read them! Has a sports book ever won a major award?
Weaknesses: There's almost too much going on, and I wish that Brody had not eaten the chicken salad that had been out all day and missed the moon landing! I would have loved to read Wallace's description of that, although maybe he, too, had some bad chicken salad that day! I barely remember being allowed to stay up to watch that; I had just turned 4!