Long, Susan Hill. Whistle in the Dark
September 5th 2013
by Holiday House
Nominated for the Cybils by the Publisher.
Clem is forced to leave school the day he turns thirteen. It's the 1920s in a small Ozarks town, and his family needs the income, especially since his grandfather suffers from miner's consumption and his sister Ettie has epilepsy. While working in the mine is fine for some people, Clem wants more from life. He is a talented student, and his teacher, Miss Pipe, thinks he could be a writer. Chafing at his circumstances, he befriends Lindy, whom he knew in school. Her father is a bootlegger and drunkard who makes her run their moonshine selling point in the woods. Things improve a little when Clem is allowed to keep a stray dog, whom he names Pal, but quickly worsen when Ettie dies suddenly. Shortly after that, there is a mine accident in which a man is killed and Clem's father's legs and hip are crushed. Clem fears that he will never escape the mine, but when a tornado wipes out a lot of his town of Leadanna, the mine shuts down and Clem is given an opportunity to earn money through writing.
Strengths: This was an accurate portrayal of the hard circumstances during this time period, and research has clearly been done on several real occurrences, such as the tornado. All of my 8th grade boys who don't want to do their homework should be made to read this. Better cover than most Holiday House titles.
Weaknesses: Very depressing, and not much action. Might be a touch sell, but since I got a copy for free, I'll put it in the library. Holiday House needs to rethink their page layouts-- they always seem odd compared to other books.
Amateau, Gig. Macadoo of the Maury River.
August 6th 2013, Candlewick Press
Nominated for the Cybils by the publisher.
As a colt, Macadoo challenged his father, who bit off the top of his ear. When the farm where Macadoo was born has to sell off some horses, Macadoo and his mother are to be sold off as meat, but they are saved by John Macadoo and taken to Virginia to live with him and Izzy, his grandson. Izzy loves to write and doesn't want to be a rider, but hopes to be a doctor. Macadoo has a grand life in Virginia, but when John becomes old and infirm, he is sold yet again, this time to Mrs. Maiden, who runs a therapeutic riding school. All the time, Macadoo hopes he can be useful, and longs for the day when he might see Izzy again.
Strengths: Lots of good details about how horses feel, as well as how they are bought, sold and trained. The cover is a good one to appeal to girls who want to read books about horses (this would be fine for boys, but they never seem to ask), even though I checked to see if the horse was missing part of an ear. Clever photo cropping.
Weaknesses: These horses are very philosophical and poetic.
Pileggi, Leah. Prisoner 88
August 1st 201, Charlesbridge Publishing
Nominated for the Cybils by the author/publisher
In 1885, ten-year-old Jake is sentenced to five years in prison for shooting and killing a man who threatened his father. Once he finds out that he will get to eat every single day and work with hogs, Jake thinks this is a far better life than the one he had with his father. There are a few fights along the way, and some unpleasantness to get used to, but in general, prison is a better place to be. Eventually, though, he is pardoned by the governor and sent to a foster family, since his own father has resigned his parental rights. Even though he doesn't get placed with the hog farming family with whom he was working, he ends up in a decent place.
Strengths: This was interesting, with historical information about a variety of crimes and people at the time. There is a nice message about education-- several prisoners work together to learn to read, including a Chinese immigrant.
Weaknesses: This could be a tough sell. The cover is okay, but the one sentence description of this would be "In 1885, a boy goes to jail, where he works with hogs and learns to read." I talked up historical fiction one week where there was a lot of adventure, humor, or romance, and the students STILL didn't want to check it out!