December 26th 2012 by HarperCollins
Nominated for the Cybils by Freya Hooper.
Eric thinks that 6th grade, his last year in elementary school, will go fairly well. He has his friend Melody in his class, but when his best friend Donovan shows up, he's gotten taller and tougher and is hanging out with class bully Jason. Soon, Eric realizes that he has been picked out as the class "Grunt"-- the one kid everyone makes fun of-- and not the rather damp Colin. Colin's brother, however, was the "grunt" for his grade, and tells Eric about the existence of a "bully book" that is handed down from year to year. Told in alternating chapters, we see Eric's struggles as well as information from the Bully Book about how to select and treat your grunt. Eric feels that if he could find the original author of the book, he could somehow neutralize it, and the quest puts him in contact with other students who went to his school in the past.
Strengths: Adding a bit of mysterious and investigation helps this book along, and the methodology of the bullies is realistic. The bullying is depicted as more psychological and less physical, which is accurate. I liked how Eric sought out the help of others who had been in a similar situation.
Weaknesses: Yet another bully book. While teachers love these to use in class, students are not much interested in them.
Cheng, Andrea. Etched in Clay: The Life of Dave, Enslaved Potter and Poet
January 15th 2013, Lee & Low Books
Nominated for the Cybils by Alex Baugh
This historical novel in verse follows the real life story of Dave, who made pottery for the Pottersville Stoneware company. He was very talented at what he did, and also learned to read and write, even putting words on some of his pottery even though slaves were not allowed to be literate. His life was difficult-- his wives were sold away from him, he lost his leg in an accident, and he was sold several times because his masters didn't make wills. The poems are all dated, so we can see the progression of events, and are told from the point of view of quite a few historical characters. The book is illustrated with wood cut prints by the author.
Strengths: This is one of the better written novels in verse I have read-- the poems hold together individually and also read like poems instead of chopped up prose. I liked how each one was dated. This was shelved in the nonfiction area of my library, but I think the story is definitely a fictionalized account.
Weaknesses: Novels in verse are almost impossible to get my students to read, and since historical fiction is also something that they tend to shy away from, I won't be buying this.