Yay! I’m a Cybils Judge!

The Cybils Award is a book award given by a coalition of children’s and teen’s book bloggers, and about the coolest thing that happened to me last month is that I was selected to be a middle grade judge. Me!  Yippee!  To be welcomed into this group of uber-bloggers is a real honor.  I mean, listen to this quote from their website:

The Cybils have only two criteria: literary merit and kid appeal. We don’t think those two values have to collide. There are books we want kids to read and books kids can’t resist. Somewhere in the middle, they meet. 

 That’s exactly the same criteria I use when blogging here!  *Pause for elated sigh*  I spend so much time reading and discussing children’s books with my students, school community, my husband (a grade five teacher), and my daughter (a fifth grader), I am thrilled to join a group of fellow-minded bloggers who command a national audience. I feel like this:

Read more about Cybils here.  Want to nominate a book?  Click here. (You have until Oct.15.) Want to see the list of books already nominated?  Click here.

As a Round 2 Panelist, I don’t really start my role until after the big list becomes a short list (January 1), but the fun has begun!

A Three-Book Series for the Girls

I admit to a weakness for Maine authors, especially when they live in the same town as me, as does Jennifer Richard Jacobson.  That said, I would love her Winnie series no matter what.  First off, I have immense respect for authors who can tell a satisfying story in 112 pages.  What a gift to children eager to read a novel but not ready for the thick, complex books older middle graders read!  Not one extra word in the whole book, I tell you.  Brilliant.

Winnie Fletcher differs from popular Ramona/Judy Moody-type characters– bold and wacky– because she is vulnerable.  Perhaps this makes her a bit more real.  An only child, Winnie’s mother died when she was an infant. For most young girls (and their moms!), this premise is both terrifying and fascinating. Left to navigate the world of childhood friendships, ballet recitals, packing for camp, and such with her loving if hapless dad, Winnie is at once buoyant and self-doubting.  Jacobson never dwells on the sadness inherent to the situation, but rather on spinning situations that keep us rooting for Winnie to find her way.

In Truly Winnie (my favorite of the three), Winnie is off to overnight camp for the first time.  She’s going with her two best friends, but they are assigned a different tent. Winnie’s tent-mate is confident, bubbly, and gregarious, and in an effort to impress her, Winnie inadvertently leads her to believe her mom is alive.  And a famous artist.  Whoops.

The lie gets bigger and bigger as the week progresses, and all kinds of tension bubbles around Winnie’s being able to keep her home friends from knowing her lie or spilling the truth to her camp friends.  Everything builds to Parents Weekend, when she’ll have to keep dad in the dark or blow her new friendships– and risk dad’s disappointment.  The poignancy of this predicament may resonate more with the adult reader than the child, but all kids know what it’s like to get caught up in fibbing.  Winnie manages to learn her lesson and save face at the same time in a resolution that resists moralizing.

The other two books are equally worth reading. Winnie Dancing on her Own deals with a question all kids face at one time or another:  What do you do when two of your closest friends are crazy about an activity you simply don’t enjoy (in this case, ballet)?  If you don’t do it, will they still be your friends?  In Winnie at Her Best, Winnie struggles to find her own special talent or skill.  Why are everyone else’s so obvious?  What if she doesn’t have any talent at all?

Great characters, masterfully tight plotting, universal issues about growing up, and fun details (have you ever heard of a “floating lunch” when campers attach their lunches to flotation devices and eat in the lake?  Cool!)   I hope you can get your mitts on these.

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