Trying to make a list of my TOP 10 CYBILS AWARDS NOMINATED BOARD BOOKS/PICTURE BOOKS made me feel relieved I am not a Round 2 Judge! Unlike judges in this category I had not read all the titles, so take my list with a grain of salt. I DO love all of these books and I have reviewed most of them. I tried to create a list that reflects the diverse titles nominated.

10. All Are Welcome By Alexandra Penfold

9. The Book Tree By Paul Czajak; illustrated by Rashin Kheiriyeh

8. Islandborn By Junot Díaz

7. Julián Is a Mermaid By Jessica Love

6. C is for Consent By Eleanor Morrison

5. If You’re Going to a March By Martha Freeman, illustrated by Violet Kim

4. You Can Be By Elise Gravel

3. Drawn Together By Minh Lê

2. Prince & Knight By Daniel Haack

1. Families By Jesse Unaapik Mike and Kerry McCluskey; Illustrated by Lenny Lishchenko

Families is #1 by me. It’s published by Inhabit Media, an Inuit-owned small press that brings amazing #ownvoices children’s literature into the world. I love that the book celebrates diverse family formations and represents indigenous peoples in a non-romanticized contemporary setting that organically incorporates cultural specificity while dealing with universal issues.

Du8Fv8YXQAIbvg0.jpg largeThe Armchair Cybils Shortlist Contest

Boys and Their Best Beasts

Big Foot and Little Foot (Book #1)Big Foot and Little Foot and Axel and Beast are two new series for confident young readers comfortable with early chapter books. Both series introduce emotionally engaging boy protagonists and their beastly besties.

Written by Adrian C. Bott and illustrated by Andy Isaac, the first installment in the Axel and Beast series, The Grabbem Getaway, is a fast-paced book that introduces readers to Axel Brayburn. Axel is a skilled gamer who spends most of his free-time playing Tankinator Arena. He lives alone with his mother, Nedra, after his father’s sudden disappearance, which is only briefly introduced in the book. Nedra is a hard-working mechanic who cannot afford the game upgrades Axel’s competition, particularly BAGGER-63, take for granted. As a result, although Hugo has tremendous skill, his wealthy opponents claim victory.

Early in the text, Beast, a robot created by Grabbem Industries, shows up in Axel’s garage after escaping his greedy creators. Axel and Beast quickly bond. Of course, Grabbem Industries is not going to let their property go without a fight

Axel uses his gaming skills to aid Beast in making his escape. The two are aided by a disgruntled Grabbem employee, Agent Omega, Axel’s mom, Nedra, and Rusty Rosie, owner of the local junkyard. It is a happy ending for all, all the good guys anyway! Beast is saved and his tracking devise is expertly removed.

It’s hinted that Axel and Beast will work with Agent Omega to take down Grabben Industry, since according to Agent Omega: “They destroy nature and take away people’s homes just to make themselves rich. What’s worse, they keep getting away with it.”

I appreciate any text that encourages critical class-consciousness and creates strong women characters like Nedra and Rusty Rosie. I found the pace and tone of The Grabbem Getaway engaging and think it will likely to appeal to reluctant readers with strong vocabulary and comprehension skills.

The first two books in the Big Foot Little Foot series, written by Ellen Potter and illustrated by Felicita Sala, deal with the themes of loneliness and being an outsider. The Sasquatch protagonist, Hugo, and the human protagonist, Boone, accidentally meet and eventually become best friends who are as oddly paired as Axel and Beast.

Hugo is happy enough in his community of Sasquatches, but he longs for adventure, and is particularly interested in sailing. But, Sasquatches are afraid of humans who they fear wish to hunt them, so they tend to stay very close to home.

Boone is a lonely boy who lives with his grandmother and is homeschooled because of the lack of public schools in the rural wooded-area he calls home. He wants to be a cryptozoologist when he grows up.

Hugo and Boone begin passing messages to one another using a toy sailboat. In one message Boone confides to his friend that he has seen a Sasquatch. When Hugo shares that he is the Sasquatch, Boone becomes angry assuming that he is being mocked because, of course, Sasquatches can’t write.

Both humans and Sasquatches maintain unflattering stereotypes of the other that end up getting between them. However, Hugo and Boone overcome these difficulties and become best friends by the end of the first book.

The second book in the series, The Monster Detector, plays with the insider/outsider theme that emerges in the first book. When Boone decides to attend the Sasquatch school, not all the children are willing to accept an outsider within their classroom. However, they eventually become more comfortable with their new human peer.

The Big Foot Little Foot series avoids being didactic while encouraging many moments of reflection through Boone and Hugo’s unlikely but convincing friendship. The books are sweet and fun to read.

If you are looking for a book about a young boy and his sort of odd best friend, either of these series will excite the young readers in your life. The Axel and Beast series requires greater reader proficiency and is likely to appeal to an older audience, but advanced young readers will surely enjoy it as well!

*Review for the Cybils Awards



Terry Lynn Johnson’s Lost!

Terry Lynn Johnson’s Lost! is the first book in the Survivor Diaries series. Two recently introduced children vacationing with their families at a resort in Costa Rica get lost in the rainforest. They survive through will, wit, and a little luck.

In the first chapter, one of the two protagonists, Carter, a young African American boy, is interviewed by a reporter about surviving being lost in the Costa Rican rainforest. We learn that his friend and fellow survivor, Anna, a white girl who is older, taller, and stronger than him, will be interviewed the next day. Knowing the children survive alleviates a sense of doom in the chapters that follow, which pull us back in time six weeks to when Carter and Anna disappeared into the rainforest.

Carter and Anna are interesting, nicely developed characters. I appreciate the near equal attention paid to both characters, although it is a first-person narrative told from Carter’s point-of-view. The book is sure to appeal to both girls and boys. Anna is a brave, bold, seventh grader strong enough to give her father a piggy-back ride. Carter describes her as “taller and stronger than any girl I’d ever met.” Carter is younger, shorter, and has been diagnosed with anxiety. Throughout their short adventure, Carter develops strategies to manage his anxiety that he takes with him after the children are safely home.

Johnson folds a lot of interesting tidbits about animals and survival into the narrative, which encourages curiosity and invites further research. This early chapter book will make a great addition to classroom and personal libraries. It’s a fast-paced read likely to engage reluctant readers. The diverse racial and gender identities of the characters as well as their age difference invites readers to consider friendships based on things other than shared identities, in this case survival!

* Reviewed for the Cybils Awards.


Courtney Carbone’s This Makes Me Sad

This Makes Me Sad, written by Courtney Carbone and illustrated by Hilli Kushnir, is one of several books in Rodale Kids’ Dealing with Feelings series. This easy reader does a great job teaching emotional literacy through simple sentences that build an accessible and engaging story about a boy and his lost dog.

The story is told in the first-person by a little boy who accidentally left the gate on his fence open, which allowed his dog, Kit, to escape. His parents try to reassure him that everything will be okay, but he is anxious and sad.

The text often takes a poetic turn, allowing children new and creative ways to visualize their emotions. For instance, the family drives around town unsuccessfully looking for Kit and the young narrator says: “The sun sinks in the sky./ My heart sinks, too.” A simple sentence pairing that eloquently captures and communicates the anxiety felt by the narrator. Later that night, the family is back home, and the narrator looks out a window at a stormy sky and says: “The raindrops look like tears on my window.” His sadness frames everything he sees. The family continues to look for Kit the next day. Seeing other people with their dogs makes the narrator’s insides feel “like ice cream melting in the hot sun.” Carbone prompts children to think expansively about their feelings in order to express their specificity.

Later that afternoon, the family looks for Kit in the local animal shelter. He is not there, but the narrator is slightly cheered by the idea of making the animals at the shelter happy by collecting supplies for them. Although keeping busy does not erase his thoughts of Kit, it helps redirect his attention. The family works together to collect supplies and then brings them to the shelter.

The young boy’s dog is eventually returned home, bringing him great joy. The story closes with the question: “What makes YOU sad?”

I love that this book gives children so many ways to articulate their emotions. It also allows for the simultaneous experience and expression of contradictory feelings. The narrator can feel good about collecting and donating objects to the animal shelter even as he feels bad his dog is missing. I also appreciate the subtle rejection of gender stereotypes. It is his father who comforts him when the narrator stares out a rain streaked window with tears streaking his cheeks. Even more, the story features a diverse cast of minor characters and the narrator and his family are racially ambiguous with skin tones that range from medium to light brown.

This is a great early reader and I plan on checking out the rest in the series!

* I received a review copy of this book and evaluated it in my role as a Cybils Awards Round One Easy Reader/Early Chapter Book Judge.

Shannon and Dean Hale’s The Princess in Black and the Science Fair Scare

The Princess in Black and the Science Fair ScareShannon and Dean Hale’s The Princess in Black and the Science Fair Scare is delightfully and generously illustrated by LeUyen Pham whose many images are sure to encourage young readers’ transition from early readers to easy chapter books. The story strains against traditional fairytale conventions by engaging contemporary ideas and empowering its diverse princesses.

The star, Princess Magnolia, is entering the Interkingdom Science Fair for the first time. At the story’s opening, the blond rosy-cheeked princess makes her way onto a train crowded with diverse characters. She is heading to the science fair with her project. Once at the science fair, she finds her friends Princess Honeysuckle and Princess Snapdragon. The group is quickly joined by other princesses. They delight in each other’s projects. The princesses are far less competitive than cooperative in their mutual enjoyment and appreciation of each other’s work.

One young boy, Tommy Wigtower, and his project, a talking volcano, catches Princess Magnolia’s attention. Tommy is insistent that his volcano is not supposed to talk – it is supposed to erupt! The princesses try to help him troubleshoot. It turns out Wigtower added some monster fur to his more traditional ingredients. And the monster fur… well, it turned his science experiment into a monster!

With the monster growing quickly, Princess Magnolia disappears and reappears as the Princess in Black. Another hero princess, Princess in Blankets, emerges. She is a clumsy, but not incompetent, disguised princess.

The monster erupts from the volcano and eats Princess Magnolia’s science project. The ever-growing monster hops from science project to science project. Instead of trying to destroy the monster, which only wants a place to call home, Princess in Blankets and Princess in Black steer the monster onto a train and to a suitable location. Of course, this is easier said than done and quite a bit of excitement ensues, but the goo monster eventually finds a home and a friend.

The princesses return to the science fair and winners are announced.

This is a wonderful transitional text for readers ready to move from easy readers to early chapter books. It fills an important niche and it does it extremely well! Even more, this is a series. If young children fall in love with the characters and style of delivery, they will have lots more books to devour!



Anna Humphrey’s Megabat

In Anna Humphrey’s Megabat, a boy named Daniel leaves his friends, school, and home behind when his family moves to a new city. He is unenthusiastic about his creaky, kind of creepy, new house and resolutely refuses to try to make friends; that is, until he is jolted out of his loneliness by a talking bat who has taken up residence in his new attic bedroom. The two quickly bond over shared sadness and Star Wars. It turns out the bat, who is from Borneo, wandered into a shipping container and accidentally ended up half way around the world. Once Daniel meets the talking bat, who he names Megabat, the central conflict of the story shifts from getting Daniel comfortable in his new home to getting Megabat home.

Daniel enlists his new neighbor, Talia, to help him care for Megabat. Talia’s antisocial brother, Jaime, who is constantly at war with the local pigeon population, finds out about Megabat and threatens to tell their parents. Emotions soar as Talia and Daniel plot to help Megabat return home while pacifying Jaime, so he will keep their secret. Several failed attempts to get Megabat back to Borneo ensue.

I devoured this delightful early chapter book, giggling, while feeling deeply for all the characters. Daniel and Megabat’s stories parallel, allowing Daniel to learn from his small winged friend. Children are bound to fall in love with Daniel, Talia, and Megabat. Many will likely wish for a talking bat to befriend and all will surely enjoy Humphrey’s whimsy, humor, and cleverly unfurled life lessons.