Nominated for the Cybils by Gail Gauthier.
Bailey has chosen to go to school on the mainland near her small Maine island, and misses her friend Olivia and her class activities. Her single mother (by choice) and aunt (who is fighting cancer) are supportive of her, but she is still having trouble fitting in. When she gets head lice, her life becomes a constant see saw of ups and downs. Few students come to her birthday party, during which her beloved bird escapes, but her class is invited to the island for the yearly historical reenactment. She temporarily loses her babysitting job but gains some new friends. Most wrenching is the thought that she might have to cut off her hair, which she is growing in order to donate to an organization that makes wigs for people with cancer. In the end, Bailey's determination and supportive family help her through.
Strengths: Bailey is a very likable character, and her struggles are realistic. Can't think of any other books about dealing with lice! There is a lot in this book, which elementary students should enjoy very much.
Weaknesses: Most lice policies indicate that students with actual lice are not permitted to come to school. Used to be nits, but that's changed. Bailey continues to go to school with lice. Also, mayonnaise has not been proven an effective method to deal with lice.
Nominated for the Cybils by Kate Messner.
Mattie and her mother, after moving a lot, have come to stay with Mattie's Uncle Potluck until he has knee surgery. Mattie enjoys the quiet, rural house where her mother grew up, but has trouble fitting in to her new school, where her uncle is the janitor. She helps him, is forced to hang out with an older neighbor who makes her feel young and uncool, and keeps her thoughts in a journal. She is also trying to overcome previous hurts from friends and come to term with her mother, who has problems of her own. In the end, her new support network helps her through.
Strengths: Beautifully written and descriptive. It's nice to see an extended family and neighborhood drawn so positively.
Weaknesses: Uncle Potluck? Definitely a quirky book.
Hanigan, Katerine. True (...sort of)
Nominated for the Cybils by The Brain Lair.
Delly Patterson has trouble fitting in because she is obnoxious and ill-behaved. She can't seem to get through a school day without getting herself in trouble. If she has one more incident at school, she will be sent to a school for troubled students, but then she meets the troubled Ferris Boyd, who doesn't talk and refuses to be touched. Ferris is often mistaken for a boy, and plays a lot of basketball with Brud, which fascinates Delly. In the end, Delly's supportive brother, R.B. and the need to assist the troubled Ferris help get her through.
Strengths: Inventive use of language, interesting and different characters.
Weaknesses: I had a lot of trouble like Delly, and the fact that Ferris was abused by her father should have been apparent to all of her teachers. Delly makes up a lot of words, which are listed in the back, and I found this to be very annoying. Some people will not.
Holm, Jennifer L. The Trouble with May Amelia.
Nominated for the Cybils by Jone MacCulloch
In Washington State in 1900, May Amelia has trouble fitting in. Because she is surrounded by brothers, she doesn't like to act "ladylike", preferring overalls to dresses. She finally has a chance to prove to her father that girls are not useless by translating for him when he is working with a man interested in buying the family's land. Her brother loses a hand, cousins move in and then move away, and the family loses its money and are hated by the community when the man buying up local land turns out to be a criminal. In the end, May Amelia's spunk and determination help get her through.
Strengths: Based on events in the author's own family, this is a different look at life during this time period. I adore Holm's Boston Jane series.
Weaknesses: I found The Use of Capital Letters to be very annoying. The first book, Our Only May Amelia has only been checked out ten times in the last ten years, and once in the past five.
LaFleur, Suzanne. Eight Keys.
Nominated for the Cybils by Susan Kusel.
Elise, who has lived most of her life with her aunt and uncle after the death of her parents, has trouble fitting in as she starts middle school. Her good friend Franklin shares a lot of her interests, but their friendship and those interests (playing "ghost knight" and fighting with wooden swords, hanging around outside) make the other girls look at her as child like and "uncool". On top of that, she cannot cope with the amount of homework in middle school. She is habitually tardy, doesn't do the work, and is bullied by her locker mate. An aunt and her baby daughter move in with her family, complicating her life. When she finds a series of keys that were left for her by her father, they lead to a series of discoveries that teach her the importance of knowing herself. In the end, Elise's family, both living and deceased, help her through.
Strengths: Elise's family is very supportive, and her struggles, while extreme, are realistic and well-drawn.
Weaknesses: This is a rather bleak picture of middle school that will scare off students who are looking ahead to starting. Plenty of girls wear jeans and sweatshirts, and no one makes fun of them!
A Note: These books, which randomly arrived from different libraries, are all very similar, with their strong family depictions and quirky characters. Middle school students tend to prefer children on their own, and no one ever asks for quirky. They are also all about girls: the covers, while beautiful, will scare boys off. (I tested the array of them yesterday.)