Every September before Cybils nominations open, I look around for eligible books that I can read in the meantime. Here are three that I enjoyed that were not nominated, though there are still a few days for their publishers or authors to submit them for consideration.
Muse Squad: the Cassandra Curse by Chantel Acevedo. Read by Kyla Garcia. Balzer + Bray, 2020. ISBN 978-0063001978. Purchased audiobook from Libro.fm.
In an opening that feels more surreal in current conditions than anything else in the book, Cuban-american Callie Martinez-Silva and best friend, Venezuelan-American Raquel, attend a huge pop concert and then have an eventful ride back home on crowded public transportation together. When Callie accidentally turns her friend into a pop star herself, she learns that she really does have the powers of her namesake, Calliope, the muse of epic poetry. Soon she’s traveling by portal to meet other muses her own age from around the world (London, India, and Chicago) and has a mission – to inspire her classmate Maya Rivera to SCIENCE! But will her new talent and Raquel’s new fame drive the former best friends apart?
This has a vivid Miami setting with some glamorous scene changes, as well as themes of dealing with bullies, jealousy, friendship, and body positivity. I bought this for my daughter because of her love for Rick Riordan books, but despite the travel and magic elements, it felt more like the Whatever After books (but with a little more depth) than like Rick Riordan to me.
Weird Little Robots by Carolyn Crimi. Candlewick, 2019. ISBN 978-0763694937. Listened to audiobook on Hoopla.
Penny Rose has been staying in her shed building robots from discarded objects ever since her family moved, not sure she’ll ever make a new friend. Then she and her neighbor Lark, a birdwatcher, hit it off. They build a city in the shed for the robots to play in, and the robots start moving and communicating on their own! Still, Lark is undeniably an outcast at school, so when only Penny Rose is invited to join the Secret Science Society that includes some of the popular kids, Penny Rose is really torn. But are her robots science or magic? And should she believe Lark that they need to be kept a secret? This is sweet and thoughtful with a nice Halloween climax.
If We Were Giants by Dave Matthews and Clete Barrett Smith. Disney-Hyperion, 2020. ISBN 978-1484778715. Read from library copy.
Kirra lives in a city hidden in a dormant volcano, though she travels out with her father, a storyteller who spreads tales of the demons in the volcano to keep people away. On one of these trips, they hear about the Takers, strange and inhuman-looking people who invade and destroy every village in their path. Kirra’s father tells her not to worry… and then the Takers find their home (though we only see Kirra in the aftermath, not the destruction of her home.)
Years later, Kirra is the only survivor, living with the Forest Folk. Although she’s never quite grown used to the self-reliant and private natures of her new society, she’s still determined to help them when the Takers are sighted again. Can the inventions of new friends and her knowledge of the power of the story save the day?
My biggest quibble with this book was that Kirra has multiple older mentor-type characters, including her father, an older refugee man in the Forest Folk, and the boy who rescues her who’s just a couple of years older – all men. On the plus side, though she’s not as close to any of them, there are several women in positions of power, including her mother as a clan leader and skilled hunters in the Forest Folk.
Other fantasies with strong environmental messages include Spark by Sarah Beth Durst, and previous Cybils finalists Bayou Magic by Jewell Parker Rhodes and The True Blue Scouts of Sugarman Swamp by Kathi Appelt.