I love it when covers look thematically linked when I haven't planned it at all. the second title is my first review for the Cybils middle grade fiction. Head on over to look at the nominations. Remember, if you haven't nominated yet, that Middle Grade Fiction is for REALISTIC titles. I've seen a lot of nominations with ghosts or magic; that belongs in Middle Grade Science Fiction Fantasy. ("Middle grade fiction encompasses a wide range of stories that do not have magical elements and are geared toward the 8 to 12 year old age group. Mysteries, histories, humor, sports, adventure and other tales set in the real world are all part of this category.)
Mariconda, Barbara. The Voyage of Lucy P. Simmons.
2 October 2012, Katherine Tegen Books
In 1906, Lucy is quite happy with her loving father and retired seaman father, but a happy outing turns to tragedy when her father tries to rescue a drunken boater and both he and Lucy's mother are killed. Luckily, Lucy has kindly family retainer Addie to watch out for her when, in the absence of a world traveling aunt who is supposed to gain custody of her, her aunt and money-grubbing uncle are installed in her beloved family home as her guardians. A small dog, Mr. Puggsley, also makes her feel a little better. Her uncle is demanding and probably looking into ways to kill her so he can get her father's money, and Lucy strongly suspects he is hiding mail from her aunt. Lucy tries to behave, but finds it impossible, but is rescued by the mysterious Marni, who masquerades as a school teacher and offers to take Lucy to her "school". She is really caring for the three children of the man Lucy's father rescued. The man was abusive and is still trying to locate them, which causes problems. Lucy must somehow prove that her uncle is not acting in her best interests, and finds another unlikely ally-- the house itself, which seems to have the magical ability to know when bad things are occurring and to fix them. Will the house be able to help Lucy, Addie and Marnie make everything right?
Strengths: This was a fun read with a good cover; it reminded me a tiny bit of A Drowned Maiden's Hair for some reason. The magic was believable, Lucy was a pleasant character, as were her supporters, and it seems like there may be a sequel.
Weaknesses: There's not much of a "voyage" in this first book, so the title bothered me a bit. Journey, yes; voyage, no. The ending was a tiny bit abrupt and somehow caught me by surprise.
Pennypacker, Sarah. Summer of the Gypsy Moths
24 April 2012, Balzer and Bray
Nominated for the Cybils by Livania
Stella's mother is unreliable, so she is left in the care of her great aunt, Louise, who has also taken in a foster child, Angel. Neither Stella nor Angel are terribly thrilled to be living with Louise, but when she passes away, the girls both know that if they tell the authorities, they will go to other foster families. They decide to try to stay on their own, taking care of four summer cottages with the help of George, a neighbor and friend. There is the small problem of what to do about Louise' body, and this has gotten a lot of discussion. It was handled very realistically but not too gruesomely, although I could have gone without some details like the use of Febreeze! The girls have to spend a lot of time putting off George's questions, and are desperate for food from time to time, but they manage to take care of themselves. Stella tries to get her mother to come to take care of her, but eventually the two are discovered. The moths in the title refer to an infestation that is killing blueberry bushes that Stella is trying to save.
Strengths: This reminded me of The Boxcar Children, but with more lyrical writing. Even with the death, the cover makes a fair amount of sense-- the story is about freedom, and in middle grade fiction, this has to be achieved through the absence of adults. Lots of good turns of phrase, and a thought provoking story.
Weaknesses: I found it hard to suspend disbelief over several plot elements: George really doesn't inquire further about Louise for that long? Nothing happens to the girls when they are discovered? I have to concur with Betsy Bird on this one-- it would have made the news.