The last two months of 2014 were spent reading, reading, reading. While that’s not too much out of the ordinary, I was reading many more easy readers and early chapters books than normal because of being a Round 1 panelist for the Cybils awards. The whole experience was amazing, fun, and beneficial as a reader, writer, and reviewer. I’m so thankful for the opportunity to have been a panelist!
Our panel picked our shortlist together, which was posted at the beginning of the year. (See all the finalist lists here.) The final discussion we had was awesome – full of in-depth book talk and passionate responses to books that struck our hearts. Narrowing a list of solid books with a mix of literary merit and kid appeal to only 7 books was tough! Because of our limit, we had to knock a few books off the final shortlist that many of us would’ve kept on if we could.
Three of My Favorite Books that Could’ve Been on the Cybils Shortlist
Fly Away by Patricia MacLachlan (Margaret K. McElderry Books/Simon and Schuster, 2014) – Oh my goodness, this book. This book follows Lucy and her family as they travel to her aunt’s farm in North Dakota to help stop rising floodwaters from reaching the house. Lucy, the oldest in her family, has a special bond with Teddy, the youngest, a 2-year-old. The family thinks Teddy can’t talk, but Lucy knows he can as he sings perfectly to her every night. Lucy feels she lacks talent since she can’t sing or make other music as the rest of her family can, but the family encounters a situation where Lucy is forced to find her voice to help.
This book tells its story in an incredibly moving tone, one that will linger in your mind long after you’ve finished reading the story. Quiet in ways and seemingly about “slice-of-life” situations, this book tells a powerful story of trust, connection, growth, self-forgiveness, and love. For a book geared towards 2nd-4th graders, it dives deeply into important themes any kid (or adult!) with family-like relationships can understand. The family relationships are unique, the conflict interesting, and the growth inspiring. As I shared on my Instagram account, this book is like a mix between A Snicker of Magic by Natalie Lloyd (one of my top 10 books I’ve ever read in any genre) and May B. by Caroline Starr Rose (an incredible novel in verse for young readers).
The Life of Ty: Non-Random Acts of Kindness by Lauren Myracle, illustrated by Jed Henry (Dutton, 2014) – Ty is a goofy, lovable second grader learning to navigate the wilds of 7-year-old life, amongst school happenings and family relationships. His teacher creates a project where each student needs to complete an act of kindness and prepare a verbal presentation for the class by the end of the week. Ty struggles to figure out who he can help as he encourages his friends, aids his baby sister, and more.
I love the tone of this book. Both the family and kid-to-kid conversations feel realistic, and the book offers a positive message without being too “preachy.” This early chapter book is fun and funny to read, offering defined characters and unique aspects of situations, largely because of Ty’s energetic personality. (He follows such a rambling thought process that I can relate to as an adult, too!) I love how this book shares a different family dynamic with a wide age range between siblings, differing relationships between siblings, and parents that aren’t the stereotypical “dumb” or “mean” that you often find in mainstream chapter books. (I love when a book shows that parents need to learn and grow, too!) A great read aloud for 1st graders or individual read for 2nd-4th graders.
The Sea Monster (A Steve and Wessley Reader) by J. E. Morris (Scholastic, 2014) – Steve and Wessley are two best friends taking a day at the park. Steve sees something in the pond and thinks it’s a sea monster! Wessley says it’s just a stick. Who ends up being right?
This easy reader offers simple sentences for growing readers and a relatable concept (mistaking an object for something else) with subtle humor in the conversation that ensues between Steve and Wessley. The entire story is told through dialogue and funny back-and-forth humor even preschoolers can pick up on. The illustrations are some of the best parts of the book, including a subplot of a bear falling asleep in the background and a duck reading his book. And, if you enjoy this one, be sure to pick up The Ice Cream Shop, an even more hilarious Steve and Wessley book!
Stay tuned to the Cybils website for the final winners, picked by the Round 2 panelists and announced in mid-February!
What are some of your family’s favorite easy readers and early chapter books from 2014?
Disclosure: I was not required to blog about any books I read as a Cybils panelist. I’m only sharing these because I loved them, and you might love them, too!
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