Monday, February 20, 2017

Cybils Awards Finalists and Winner!

It’s award season, not only for movies and TV shows, but also for books. Book awards are my favorite, starting with the American Library Association Book and Media Awards in early January, and continuing with the Cybils Awards, which were announced appropriately on St. Valentine’s Day, the best present for book lovers everywhere. The Cybils Awards mission statement reads:
The Cybils Awards aims to recognize the children’s and young adult authors and illustrators whose books combine the highest literary merit and popular appeal. If some la-di-dah awards can be compared to brussels sprouts, and other, more populist ones to gummy bears, we’re thinking more like organic chicken nuggets. We’re yummy and nutritious (
Last fall I saw a call out for judges, and I applied, and I was thrilled when I was accepted as a round 2 judge. This is an inclusive list of all the nominees in the Middle Grade Fiction category.
My job didn’t start until Christmas Eve, when the finalists were announced. What a fantastic Christmas Eve present! The shortlist was outstanding, and I started reading immediately. I loved getting to know all the other judges, and the discussions through email and google groups. What’s better than talking books with other book lovers? Exactly! Not many things can top this pleasure.
            The runners up, in no particular order were:
Everyone knows there are different kinds of teachers. The boring ones, the mean ones, the ones who try too hard, the ones who stopped trying long ago. The ones you’ll never remember, and the ones you want to forget. Ms. Bixby is none of these. She’s the sort of teacher who makes you feel like school is somehow worthwhile. Who recognizes something in you that sometimes you don’t even see in yourself. Who you never want to disappoint. What Ms. Bixby is, is one of a kind.
Topher, Brand, and Steve know this better than anyone. And so when Ms. Bixby unexpectedly announces that she won’t be able to finish the school year, they come up with a risky plan—more of a quest, really—to give Ms. Bixby the last day she deserves. Through the three very different stories they tell, we begin to understand what Ms. Bixby means to each of them—and what the three of them mean to each other.

Grown-ups lie. That’s one truth Beans knows for sure. He and his gang know how to spot a whopper a mile away, because they are the savviest bunch of barefoot conchs (that means “locals”) in all of Key West. Not that Beans really minds; it’s 1934, the middle of the Great Depression. With no jobs on the island, and no money anywhere, who can really blame the grown-ups for telling a few tales? Besides, Beans isn’t anyone’s fool. In fact, he has plans. Big plans. And the consequences might surprise even Beans himself.

Cameron Boxer is very happy to spend his life avoiding homework, hanging out with his friends, and gaming for hours in his basement. It's not too hard for him to get away with it . . . until he gets so caught up in one game that he almost lets his house burn down around him.
It's time for some serious damage control--so Cameron and his friends invent a fake school club that will make it seem like they're doing good deeds instead of slacking off. The problem? Some kids think the club is real--and Cameron is stuck being president.
Soon Cameron is part of a mission to save a beaver named Elvis from certain extinction. Along the way, he makes some new friends--and some powerful new enemies. The guy who never cared about anything is now at the center of everything . . . and it's going to take all his slacker skills to win this round.

Things Finley Hart doesn’t want to talk about:
-Her parents, who are having problems. (But they pretend like they’re not.)
-Being sent to her grandparents’ house for the summer.
-Never having met said grandparents.
-Her blue days—when life feels overwhelming, and it’s hard to keep her head up. (This happens a lot.)
Finley’s only retreat is the Everwood, a forest kingdom that exists in the pages of her notebook. Until she discovers the endless woods behind her grandparents’ house and realizes the Everwood is real—and holds more mysteries than she’d ever imagined, including a family of pirates that she isn’t allowed to talk to, trees covered in ash, and a strange old wizard living in a house made of bones.
With the help of her cousins, Finley sets out on a mission to save the dying Everwood and uncover its secrets. But as the mysteries pile up and the frightening sadness inside her grows, Finley realizes that if she wants to save the Everwood, she’ll first have to save herself.

Jimmy McClean is a Lakota boy—though you wouldn’t guess it by his name: his father is part white and part Lakota, and his mother is Lakota. When he embarks on a journey with his grandfather, Nyles High Eagle, he learns more and more about his Lakota heritage—in particular, the story of Crazy Horse, one of the most important figures in Lakota and American history. Drawing references and inspiration from the oral stories of the Lakota tradition, celebrated author Joseph Marshall III juxtaposes the contemporary story of Jimmy with an insider’s perspective on the life of Tasunke Witko, better known as Crazy Horse (c. 1840–1877). The book follows the heroic deeds of the Lakota leader who took up arms against the US federal government to fight against encroachments on the territories and way of life of the Lakota people, including leading a war party to victory at the Battle of the Little Bighorn. Along with Sitting Bull, Crazy Horse was the last of the Lakota to surrender his people to the US army. Through his grandfather’s tales about the famous warrior, Jimmy learns more about his Lakota heritage and, ultimately, himself.

Joe and Ravi might be from very different places, but they're both stuck in the same place: SCHOOL.
Joe's lived in the same town all his life, and was doing just fine until his best friends moved away and left him on his own.
Ravi's family just moved to America from India, and he's finding it pretty hard to figure out where he fits in.
Joe and Ravi don't think they have anything in common -- but soon enough they have a common enemy (the biggest bully in their class) and a common mission: to take control of their lives over the course of a single crazy week.

Although all these books were deservedly finalists, the winner title was all of the judges' first choice.
            Ghost, by Jason Reynolds!
Ghost. Lu. Patina. Sunny. Four kids from wildly different backgrounds with personalities that are explosive when they clash. But they are also four kids chosen for an elite middle school track team—a team that could qualify them for the Junior Olympics if they can get their acts together. They all have a lot to lose, but they also have a lot to prove, not only to each other, but to themselves.
Ghost has a crazy natural talent, but no formal training. If he can stay on track, literally and figuratively, he could be the best sprinter in the city. But Ghost has been running for the wrong reasons—it all starting with running away from his father, who, when Ghost was a very little boy, chased him and his mother through their apartment, then down the street, with a loaded gun, aiming to kill. Since then, Ghost has been the one causing problems—and running away from them—until he meets Coach, an ex-Olympic Medalist who blew his own shot at success by using drugs, and who is determined to keep other kids from blowing their shots at life.

The Cybils’ official statement on Ghost is:  "Ghost is a true joy to read, share, and celebrate the powerful messages. You’ll remember many of the passages long after reading. Ghost’s spot-on unique voice and amusing insights are surprising and always in character. This budding track star has a lot of societal strikes against him: poor, African-American male, a victim of violence, child of a single-parent household, and his father is in jail. It would be easy for him to give up and join a gang, but instead he discovers the power of teamwork and consequences for his poor choices. Ghost is an engaging and fully realized character and many kids will find something to relate to. The supporting characters are also multi-dimensional, each with a story of their own. This begins with Coach. The benefits of hard work and practice are something Ghost would never realize without him. He is a strong figure who has something to offer his team and a willingness to stick with these kids. The storytelling is endearing and diversity takes center stage. Author Jason Reynolds deserves a victory lap. We’ll sit back and anxiously await the next book in this track and field series."

Congratulations to all the finalists, and especially to Jason Reynolds for Ghost!If you need any help adding books to your TBR pile, here is the complete list of all the winners.And remember, next August Cybils sends out their call for judges. Their call for nominations goes out in October. Mark up the dates on your calendar and nominate, and why not volunteer as a judge and see what the process is like for yourself?*All blurbs were copied from book jackets and/or Goodreads

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Fasting Story by Joanna Roddy

Photo by: Marco Ottobelli, Source: Wikimedia Commons
This fall, I was up to my eyebrows in work commitments with very little time to write. I knew the new semester in February would bring half the teaching load and twice the scope for creativity. In the months when my fiction writing lay fallow, I came to terms with the end of a long-hoped-for project and realized that the time I wasn't writing was actually rich creative time in a totally different way. 

Freed from the responsibilities of writing, missing writing and wishing I could have the time to do it again, I was suddenly filled with new ideas for stories. I've never felt like much of an idea factory, but it seemed like every day I had some new exciting thought for a character or setting or plot element. They were all thoroughly disconnected, of course, but I was swimming in a rich primordial soup of creative life. It felt like I was on the edge of something new, and I leaned into that with the total freedom of someone who doesn't have to do anything about it yet. 

Finally, in December, with the new semester coming and past projects shelved, I realized it was time to channel the next story. I didn't know what it would be, or if any of the myriad ideas I'd been entertaining would play into it, but I knew it was time to start dreaming something larger. 

Then I did something weird--something I've never done before. First you have to understand that I'm a total book gobbler. I get audio books through my library, I have several e-books on my phone or printed books on my nightstand (or in my purse--anyone else? Lit. nerds unite!), and at any given time, I am voraciously reading at least one or two of them at every possible opportunity. But in December I decided that if I wanted to receive something new, I needed to get other people's words out of my head. I needed to carve out quiet, empty spaces where my own words and ideas could form. So I decided to fast story. 

Yes, fasting. Like a spiritual practice, or a diet. That meant no books, no audio books, not even podcasts. I also took a break from mindless phone games that I sometimes play while listening to an enthralling novel. Instead, I sat with the silence and I waited. 

I'm not a saint, and I'm not a liar, so I'll be honest: it was uncomfortable. There were times I cheated with a podcast. But I pressed into my story fast anyway with the kind of dogged faith we creative people have to have, believing that there are stories for me to tell and trying to make my mind and heart open to receiving them. I had a piece of paper on my dresser that I looked at every day that said simply, "Let it come."

One night at the end of December, I lay in my bed, very tired and a little sick after all the holiday hoopla, and it happened. A story began to come into my mind in a series of images, scenes, characters, and plot twists. I could see it all unfolding in front of me. I was a bit bent on getting a good night's sleep, so I actually fought the idea of getting out of bed to write it down for a good ten minutes. But the idea was so vivid that all hopes of sleep had fled, and finally I went out to the dark dining room, sat down at the table, and filled a page in my notebook with lines and lines of small print as I shaped the idea into words.

And I'm excited about this new story. I feel it burning in me, waiting for the chance to move from my mind to the page. 

I don't know whether all this is merely coincidental--perhaps it is--but I think there's something true in the idea that our lives are so full of clamor that we miss quieter voices within us that would guide us in transformative ways if only we stopped to hear them. I know that for me, the act of faith precedes the miracle. If inspiration is to find a way in, leaving the door open to her can't hurt.