January 8th, 2008

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Trends in 2007's Cybil nominations

I'll start by saying(again) how tickled I was to have been able to participate in the process of nominating books for the Cybils. When the only bookstore in the county is Walmart, and the local library's collection dates to the golden age of kidlit, it can be hard to keep up with what's out there now. So I felt like a kid on Christmas morning every time a new pack of books arrived on my porch, and pretty much read each on the spot (unless there was some pesky task I had to do, like make dinner;o) As they arrived, I found myself increasingly fascinated by the trends in content.



I wasn't a bit surprised to see titles like Garage Band and Stuck in the Middle: 17 Comics from an Unpleasant Age on the list.
Teens and young adults are a huge chunk of the graphic novel/comics market, so a novel about a bunch of friends who are trying to make their dreams of rock stardom come true, and a collection of shorts about the horrors of early adolescence (many hilarious, at least for those of us who no longer have to deal with it on a daily basis) are right on target.


Cecil Castelluci and Jim Rugg's story, The Plain Janes focuses on American adolescence with a fun art angle (and some references to 9-11, if I'm not mistaken).
Here's a good review by Mary Lee Hahn.


Manga titles like Pichi Pichi Pitch 5: Mermaid Melody show Japanese adolescents immersed in a magical world but still dealing with school and relationship drama, while Lat's Town Boy takes a more realistic trip through the author's Malaysian adolescence starting with a move from the kampung (see his acclaimed novel, Kampung Boy)to the town of Ipoh.


I enjoyed the latter titles partly because, in addition to good storytelling,  they provided a window on other cultures that I would never get from a travel guide. Likewise, as I followed Yotsuba (volume 4) through her daily adventures(trying to ease a neighbor's broken heart, curing global warming by turning on all the air conditioners in the house, etc), I learned subtle details about Japanese daily life, as well as more basic information like how to read manga (a first for this directionally challenged westerner). And I laughed the whole way.


Other topics were more surprising. For instance, who would guess that in 2007 we would have two novels focusing on the creatures who participated in the early space program? Laika, by Nick Abadzis, follows the first Earth creature to be blasted into space, from her origins on the streets of Moscow to her tragic end. Relationships and politics intertwine to make a compelling (if tear jerking) tale.
Where Laika talks about the first dog in space, First in Space, by James Vining, talks about the first monkeys shot into space (and discusses what happened to the chimps after they returned home).  I'll admit I was a bit gun shy when I read this one-- I'd just finished Laika, and I wasn't sure whether the chimps would survive. This story knits together the events and characters involved in the early American space program with an equally bittersweet tone, even though the outcomes are different-- and it's well worth reading.


Another trend is towards turning literature classics into graphic novels, thus making them more accessible for struggling readers. I was blown away by Classical Comics, LTd's version of Shakespeare's Henry V. What is particularly good about this series is that there are three different texts available for each of the plays. The one I read was the original Shakespearean English version. As I made my way to the end, I remember wondering if kids who were reluctant readers would be drawn in, since the language was so difficult. Then I noticed that the publisher makes a common English version available, as well as one designed specifically for the comic format. If I were a lit teacher, I would be finding copies of all of their titles for my students!
Another well-loved title on our list was Manga Romeo and Juliet, but sadly I was not able to find a copy of this to compare it to the others, so I'll point you to committee members Gina Ruiz's review in Blog Critics Magazine, and to Mary Lee Hahn's review on her own blog.



Mary Lee Hahn has also reviewed the two Beowulfs on our list, though I think it's worthy of note that Neil Gaiman and Roger Avary's's script for the movie also became available this year-- and that version has other wrinkles on this theme. I found the visuals in Gareth Hind's book more appealing than the other, though perhaps Storrie's version offers more to the reader who would like to learn more about the history.
I knew nothing of Yu the Great (reviewed here at Graphic Classroom blog), Storrie's other nominated title, when I picked it up, but emerged with a keen desire to research it-- which is not a bad outcome for any book, especially if it's geared towards kids.



Other historical figures that warranted nominations include Harry Houdini and Satchel Paige. ..

And then there were the fantasy titles....

fodder for another blog post.

(you've been very patient with me, if you're still reading this far, so I'll quit while I'm ahead).

All in all, I was very impressed with the contents of our list, and I'm feeling very enthusiastic about this genre! Hope you find some good reads here.

Be sure to check out the main Cybils blog for the finalists in all the categories, as well as links to more reviews!



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