Ada, Alma Flor. Dancing Home.
Nominated for the Cybils by Lalitha Nataraj
Margie has just managed to convince her classmates that she is NOT Mexican, even though her parents are from that country, when her cousin Lupe comes from Mexico to live with her family because Lupe's father has not been heard from. Lupe wears a fancy, homemade dress on the first day, doesn't look the teacher in the eye, and doesn't speak Spanish. Margie is supposed to help Lupe in class but claims that she doesn't know enough Spanish to do so because she is, after all, American. This doesn't stop boys in her class from making fun of her. Lupe has a hard time with her new home-- she misses her family and is overwhelmed by how much students in the US have and how ungrateful they are for their advantages. Margie makes friends with a new girl whose family is also of Hispanic descent, Lupe gets involved with a folk dancing group, and the two eventually make peace with the changes in their lives.
Strengths: An excellent description of how difficult it must be for immigrant children to adjust to life in the US, but has a nice twist of the second generation Margie wanting to put her heritage behind her.
Weaknesses: This looks much younger than it is: Lupe's family problems are made clear in the last part of the book, and involve a father who has forgotten his first family while in the US and started a second one, which might be harder for younger students.
Boelts, Maribeth. The PS Brothers.
Shawn and Russell don't have easy lives-- Russell lives with uncle after his mother's death and father's incarceration, and Shawn has a huge family. The two really want a dog, and try to figure out a way to earn $200 to buy a Rottweiler puppy. They come up with the idea of pooper scooping and set up a business (hence the title of the book). They slowly earn their money but start to realize that the man who is breeding the puppies is up to no good and involving dogs in illegal fighting rings. With the help of a supportive librarian, Russell and Shawn are able to bring the man to the attention of the police, and in doing so Russell's uncle realizes that he should take better care of the boy.
Strengths: Some fabulous lines ("The guy looked like he could be Jesus' evil twin.", page 16), an interesting premise (wanting dog and working toward it), some mystery, and well developed boys from a background not often depicted in children's literature. I will be looking for more from this author. Very good eye for what boys want!
Weaknesses: The cartoony cover might turn off 8th graders, who will really like this. Did see one with a photo cover of a dog, and wish I had that one instead.
Ford, Christopher. Stickman Odyssey: An Epic Doodle. Book I.
Must admit to being slightly confused. This is not a doodle/stick person version of the Odyssey; it is a retelling of an Odyssey type tale about an ancient Greek stick man, Zozimos, who is trying to get back to Stithica. Once I understood that, it was an interesting twist on the sorts of things that ancient epics liked to include: monsters (including golems), beautiful but wicked women, lots of travel. Students who have a basic understanding of the Odyssey or Greek history will have a deeper understanding of the humor; other students will just find the graphic novel format appealing. Homer himself would be pleased; this book does what the ancients did best, which was retelling others' tale to suit themselves!
Wood, Douglas. Franklin and Winston: A Christmas That Changed the World.
I don't often look at picture books, but this was so intriguing-- in December of 1941, Churchill came to spend time with Roosevelt while they discussed plans for how their two countries should proceed during the war. The two men apparently got along famously (there are whole adults books on their friendship!), and it was an interesting facet of history of which I was mostly unaware. I gave this to a history teacher to read during SSR, and he expressed a desire to some day have prints of the illustrations hanging in his den, since Barry Moser's illustrations (based on photos) are so appealing. Can't justify purchasing for middle school, but would be great to have for elementary.