Here are three more Cybils-nominated books, all of them by authors who have already won major awards, all three also about children finding meaning and a new life after major trauma.
by Katherine Applegate.
Illustrated by Charles Santoso
Feiwel and Friends, 2021
Read from library copy.
Willodeen’s town, Perchance, is known for its adorable fuzzy, flying hummingbears, who nest in beautiful bubbles that draw tourists to their town every year. But Willodeen and her pa love all kinds of creatures, including the large, stinky screechers who root under those same trees.
Then comes the Great September Fire that has deadly consequences for many people in town, including the rest of Willodeen’s family. Willodeen is taken in by an older couple, Mae and Birdie. She has all the notebooks she needs, and a pet hummingbear, Duuzuu, of her own. But her new house isn’t home, and she isn’t comfortable enough to go to school.
What finally brings her out is seeing that the screechers are being hunted to extinction, and – perhaps coincidentally, perhaps not – the hummingbears that Perchance’s economy relies on are no longer coming to town. Searching for this brings her in contact with a boy her own age, Connor. Together they work to find the cause and the solution, and together they make a kind of magic that just might help the town see that nature knows more than we do.
This is a lovely environmental story from Applegate. Even though the back story is grim and the possible extinction is painful, the overall feeling is cozy and hopeful.
The Beatryce Prophecy
by Kate DiCamillo.
Illustrated by Sophie Blackall.
Read from library copy.
This is the story of a monk with a roving eye, an orphan boy, a refugee girl, and a possibly demonic, definitely opinionated goat.
Gentle Brother Edik finds refuge and beauty in his work illuminating the Chronicles of Sorrowing. But like all the other brothers at the monastery, he stays as far away from Answelica the goat as possible. So when he goes into the goat pen one morning and finds a girl curled up with Answelica, he is terrified for her. The girl, Beatryce, remembers nothing but her name and how to read, though her clothes are torn and dirty and her feet bloody.
Against all odds, Answelica decides that she is Beatryce’s protector. Brother Edik also feels a strong need to protect her, especially as reading is forbidden to girls. Meanwhile, the king and his oily advisor are hunting Beatryce, as they believe that she is the girl prophesied in the Chronicles of Sorrowing to be the one to take down a king. And even though Beatryce doesn’t know about the prophecy, she’s definitely not one to let the king get away with his crimes without telling him what she thinks of him.
Though the back story is grim, it’s told slowly, in bits and pieces, without dwelling too much on the horror of it, with plenty of time in between spent on friendship, love, the power and joy of reading and stories, and Answelica’s antics. This keeps it at a level to work as a read-aloud for elementary students. Sophie Blackall’s pencil illustrations, frequently in full-page illumination style complete with leafy borders and cornflowers, are the perfect complement. Kate DiCamillo’s many fans are sure to enjoy this.
by Franny Billingsley.
Read from library copy.
The Robber Girl, by contrast, has no name, and won’t have one until she’s helped Gentleman Jack hold up a stagecoach to get the gold he feels is owed him. She doesn’t remember a time before she lived with Gentleman Jack and his Gentlemen in their cave. The dagger that he gave her speaks to her in her mind, encouraging her to make Jack happy and prove her loyalty and gratitude to him. So when Gentleman Jack is captured and Robber Girl is taken in by the town judge who helped to capture him, she is determined to help him get free. Even if the attic bed is cozy and warm and the food delicious, and the mother and father doll in the dollhouse convinced that the town of Blue Roses is calling to her and wants her to stay.
The setting is Western, but definitely magical. The landscape has pink rocks and is covered with scrubby indigo trees, while many of the Gentlemen have Afflictions that make it clear to all what terrible crimes they’ve committed. Robber Girl herself has an Affliction of being unable to speak to people unless they have spoken to her immediately prior, though she doesn’t know what might have brought it on.
It’s hard even to articulate the uniqueness of Robber Girl’s voice, her wonder at describing things new and things suddenly remembered from her previous life. And even as she comes in believing in Gentleman Jack’s rightness and glamour, her perspective shifts as she spends more time in the town he’s preyed on for years. At the same time, she hates the restrictions of school and silverware and the silence and sorrow of the Judge’s cottage. This book, 400 pages long in small type, requiring the reader to look past what Robber Girl is saying to find the truth, was gorgeous and absorbing and definitely meant for the upper end of the middle grade spectrum, and I’d say especially good for adult readers of children’s literature. It is still most definitely worth reading.
Let me know in the comments if you have read or want to read any of these!