Woods, Brenda. Saint Louis Armstrong Beach.
Nominated for the Cybils by Nancy Paulsen.
Saint (whose name forms the title) is happy in his life in New Orleans in the summer of 2005. He is an avid clarinet player saving for a new clarinet, he has a neighborhood dog for whom he cares, and his network of family and neighbors is strong. When hurrican Katrina approaches, his family is late leaving town because of his mother's work in a local hospital, but his family has an evacuation plan. So does Saint, and it includes rescuing Shadow, the dog. When he can't find the dog, he runs off to look for him and also finds that an elderly neighbor, Miz Moran, has stayed behind. As the storm rages and the water rises, Saint helps Miz Moran deal with her health problems and survive. After Miz Moran is evacuated, Saint is taken to the area of the Superdome, where Shadow is instrumental in helping him reunite with his worried family.
Strengths: This is a good story of Katrina, especially the parts of Saint's life before the storm hits. I don't think that students in my area have a good idea of how the culture in that town is different from our Northern one.
Weaknesses: It would have been good to have a bit more action. I am going to look at Hurricane Song (2008) by Paul Volponi, which I had somehow missed.
Hilmo, Tess. With a Name Like Love.
Nominated for the Cybils by Amanda Snow.
Ollie's father is an itinerant preacher in 1957, and his last stop lands the family of five girls in Arkansas. They set up their tent and go around the town passing out flyers. Ollie meets Jimmy Koppel, whose mother has been accused of murdering his father. Ollie quickly learns that Jimmy's mother was abused and probably did not kill anyone, and enlists her family to help her prove this. The locals are not thrilled with this, killing Jimmy's frogs and setting fire to the family's tent, but some are nice. Mrs. Mahoney takes the family in and even offers the father an abandoned church in which to set up a local ministry. The family stays on long than planned, and do help to set things right for Jimmy's family.
Strengths: A little bit of a mystery, and a strong family support system make this fairly interesting.
Weaknesses: Rylant's A Fine White Dust (1986) and Tolan's Save Halloween (1993), the two books with religious themes that came to mind first, have very few circulations in my library. Other libraries might have more call for books on this topic.
Marsden, Carolyn. Starfields.
Nominated for the Cybils by Sarah Wones Tomp.
Rosalba lives in a traditional Mayan community in rural Mexico. When scientists come to the area to investigate why frogs are dying of fungus, she makes friends with the daughter of one of them. Alicia tells Rosalba about the ancient prophecy that the world will end in 2012, and the two believe that this is somehow tied to the death of the frogs. When the construction of a road further endangers the frogs, Rosalba is convinced that it must be stopped. She has been having dreams about a boy from 600 AD who suggests that if she can stop the frogs from dying, she can stop the world from ending. The boy is used in his time by the shaman's to deliver visions after being drugged; he also sees Rosalba in his visions. When Rosalba's visions work their way into her weaving, the elders in her village are alerted to the trouble and attempt to stop the road.
Strengths: Like this author's other works (Take Me With You), this book covers a unique place in the world. Ancient Mayan civilization is part of our 6th grade curriculum.
Weaknesses: I know that differentiating between fantasy and reality is difficult, but this one may come down more heavily on the side of fantasy. If Rosalba had only dreamed about the boy, that would be one thing, but someone the boy dreaming also about her made it seem more like fantasy.