Edinger, Monica. Africa Is My Home: A Child of the Amistad
8 October 2013, Candlewick
Nominated for the Cybils by: Flowering Minds
During the Amistad ship slave revolt in 1839, there were a number of children who were also being taken as slaves. These children were involved in the court case deciding the fate of 35 of the Mende people on the ship. This case went on for years and finally decided that the Mende should be returned to Africa. One of these children, known as Margru, returned to Africa but came back to the US with an American family and was educated at Oberlin college before returning to Africa as a teacher. This well-illustrated book tells her story from the time she is happy living in Africa with her family until she is about to be reunited with them years later.
Strengths: This is an interesting but little known facet of history, and is well-researched. An afterword explains that since little is known about Margru's childhood (although later documents exist), the author felt more comfortable fictionalizing the story. The illustrations are nice, but the length of the book and the complexity of text make this solidly middle grade and not a picture book.
Weaknesses: While the Margru's perspective is interesting, it is also somewhat limited. This might have been more informative if narrated in the third person omniscient.
Donovan, Gail. The Waffler.
August 15th 2013
Nominated for the Cybils by Gail Gauthier
Monty has troubles making decisions about the smallest thing. What pet to get, what to name it, what to write his school papers about. He's dealing with a very complicated family life, including both a stepmother AND a stepfather, as well as older and younger step and half siblings, and his twin sister Montana, with whom he squabbles a good deal. When his teacher decides he needs help to stop "waffling", she plasters his arm with adhesive bandages that she calls "decision aides"-- he has to remove one every time he changes he mind, and once he is out of them, he has to stick with his decision. When his fourth grade class gets younger reading buddies, he enjoys working with Leo, but when other students approach him to be their buddies, too, he can't decide which one to choose, so says he will work with them all. Of course, Monty's inability to make decisions eventually catches up with him, and his family must help him with a new approach.
Strengths: I imagine there are students out there who struggle with this issue, and the book is very realistic. It would probably be a good read aloud in elementary school.
Weaknesses: Monty's rat ALMOST dies by falling in the toilet as the result of Monty's inattention. (Thank you to Ms. Donovan for letting me know I got this wrong at first!)This would be traumatic for a fourth grader to read about; in fact, I will blame my inattention to detail to a severe flashback I had about the near death experience of Gimli the Dwarf Hamster once very fraught Christmas day. I also wondered about whether Leo's mother would really bring a kindergartner to a fourth grader's house for a play date.