Bite-Sized Reviews of Cybils Nominees: Recipe for Disaster, What About Will, The Magical Imperfect, My Magic Wand, and Delicious!

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Even though the Cybils finalists have already been announced, I still want to review the remaining books I read as a judge for the Poetry category. (I’ll have one more post after this one.) I hope these bite-sized reviews will be enough to feed your fiction addiction!

Recipe for Disaster by Aimee Lucido
Published by Versify on September 14, 2021
Genres: Contemporary, Verse
Pages: 352
Source: The Publisher
Cover Artist: Emma Trithart
My rating:

In this heartfelt middle school drama, Hannah’s schemes for throwing her own bat mitzvah unleash family secrets, create rivalries with best friends, and ultimately teach Hannah what being Jewish is all about.

Hannah Malfa-Adler is Jew . . . ish. Not that she really thinks about it. She’d prefer to focus on her favorite pastime: baking delicious food! But when her best friend has a beyond-awesome Bat Mitzvah, Hannah starts to feel a little envious …and a little left out.

Despite her parents firm no, Hannah knows that if she can learn enough about her own faith, she can convince her friends that the party is still in motion. As the secrets mount, a few are bound to explode. When they do, Hannah learns that being Jewish isn’t about having a big party and a fancy dress and a first kiss — it’s about actually being Jewish. Most importantly, Hannah realizes that the only person’s permission she needs to be Jewish, is her own.


Recipe for Disaster is actually a mostly-prose novel with some poetry and recipes mixed in (often the poems are also in the form of recipes). The result meant that it was a bit hard to judge next to the other Cybils verse novels – but, still, the combination is both fun and effective! The story centers around Hannah, who has always considered herself Jewish(ish) but doesn’t quite know what that means for herself. Her father isn’t Jewish. Her mother was raised Jewish but has since left the faith, but Hannah’s grandmother insists that being Jewish is passed down through mothers, so that makes Hannah Jewish anyway. Hannah herself doesn’t know exactly what to think. But when her best friend has a bat-mitvah, Hannah decides she wants to have one too–much to the surprise of some and the dismay of others. The book explores many of the prejudices from both inside and outside the Jewish faith and the ways in which we judge each other. I actually loved that Hannah not only found herself on the receiving end of that prejudice, but she found herself making her own judgments as well. It shows how easily we can fall into these sorts of traps. And the theme of jealousy is something that any middle grade reader can relate to from time-to-time. So, I recommend this book for just about any middle grade reader!

***Disclosure: I received this book from the publisher for Cybil’s judging purposes. No other compensation was given and all opinions are my own.***

What About Will by Ellen Hopkins
Published by G.P. Putnam’s Sons Books for Young Readers on September 14, 2021
Genres: Contemporary, Verse
Pages: 384
Source: The Publisher
Cover Artist: James Firnhaber
My content rating: MG (Drug use; Divorce; Abandonment; Some minor violence)
My rating:

From #1 New York Times bestselling author Ellen Hopkin’s comes a new heartbreakingly tender middle grade novel-in-verse about the bonds between two brothers and the love they share.

Twelve-year-old Trace Reynolds has always looked up to his brother, mostly because Will, who’s five years older, has never looked down on him. It was Will who taught Trace to ride a bike, would watch sports on TV with him, and cheer him on at little league. But when Will was knocked out cold during a football game, resulting in a brain injury–everything changed. Now, sixteen months later, their family is still living under the weight of the incident, that left Will with a facial tic, depression, and an anger he cannot always control, culminating in their parents’ divorce. Afraid of further fracturing his family, Trace begins to cover for Will who, struggling with addiction to pain medication, becomes someone Trace doesn’t recognize. But when the brother he loves so much becomes more and more withdrawn, and escalates to stealing money and ditching school, Trace realizes some secrets cannot be kept if we ever hope to heal.


What About Will explores the depths and limits of family bonds. After Trace’s older brother Will suffers a brain injury, he is a completely changed person. He’s become angry and distant. Trace has always worshipped Will, so the transformation has been particularly hard on him. And since his mom is outright missing (she left to go tour with her band) and his dad isn’t completely paying attention, Trace seems to be the only one noticing Will’s increasingly erratic behavior. Many kids will relate to Trace’s struggle with whether or not he should say something about what he’s seeing (that can be a tough call for many middle graders – how do you know if you’re overreacting?). And they may also relate to the fact that no one seems to really take Trace’s concerns seriously enough once he does voice them. Then, of course, there’s the issue of loving someone even when they’re really struggling and going down a wrong path. Unfortunately, that can be a reality for many people. Families can be messy and complicated sometimes!

***Disclosure: I received this book from the publisher for Cybil’s judging purposes. No other compensation was given and all opinions are my own.***

The Magical Imperfect by Chris Baron
Published by Feiwel and Friends, Focus Readers on June 15, 2021
Genres: Historical Fiction, Verse
Pages: 336
Source: Library
Cover Artist: André Ceolin
My content rating: MG (Mental illness; Physical Illness; Bullying)
My rating:

Set against the backdrop of the 1989 San Francisco earthquake in a town of refugees who came to America via Angel Island, the middle grade novel in verse is about a boy who is selectively mute and a girl who won’t leave her house because of a skin condition and the magical Jewish clay that allows them to help each other.


The Magical Imperfect is a story about hiding—and what it means to come out of your shell. Etan has barely spoken since his mother went away to get help for her mental illness. He keeps his thoughts locked away inside where they can’t hurt him. Meanwhile, Malia has kept herself (including her beautiful singing voice) hidden because of extreme exzema and the bullying she’s experienced because of it. The two bond over their insecurities and soon form a fast friendship. But when Malia’s skin condition worsens, keeping her from stepping into the limelight where Etan knows she belongs, he is determined to help her—using the magic of his Jewish ancestors. The book incorporates culture and religion with 80’s pop-culture, baseball, and even earthquakes. And the result is wholly engrossing!

My Magic Wand: Growing with the Seasons by Pat Mora
Illustrator: Amber Alvarez
Published by Lee & Low Books on March 1, 2021
Genres: Picture Book, Verse
Pages: 32
Source: The Publisher

From bestselling Latina author Pat Mora comes a collection of poems celebrating a young child’s growth and everyday experiences throughout the seasons of a year.

Would you like to …

write with a magic wand?
sled down a snowy slope in winter?
plant flowers in a garden in spring?
splash in a pool like a fish in summer?
ride high up on a horse in autumn?
blow out birthday candles?

Come share the fun of these activities, and more, with a spunky young girl enjoying a year of growth, creativity, and discovery with her diverse family and friends.


My Magic Wand is a sweet book of poems that celebrate the joys of each of the seasons. Spanish is incorporated into many of the poems as the narrator takes a trip to Mexico with her family, and we also get a sense of many of the sights, sounds and flavors of the country as seen through the little girl’s eyes. The book is beautifully and vibrantly illustrated, so it is sure to catch a young child’s eye!

***Disclosure: I received this book from the publisher for Cybil’s judging purposes. No other compensation was given and all opinions are my own.***

Delicious!: Poems Celebrating Street Food around the World by Julie Larios
Illustrator: Julie Paschkis
Published by Beach Lane Books on April 13, 2021
Genres: Picture Book, Verse
Pages: 32
Source: Library

Journey around the world with this poetry collection celebrating delicious international street food!

The world is a delicious place! Come along on an international journey to try a hot pretzel in New York City; saffron tea in Mumbai, India; deep fried scorpions in Beijing, China; and much, much more.

This poetry collection celebrates all the different kinds of street food from around the globe, introducing young readers to snacks they know and ones they’ve never heard of—showing that no matter where we live, we all appreciate a yummy treat!


Delicious! is a collection of poems celebrating foods from around the world. Each poem is simple and sweet, just enough to give the reader a tiny taste of the culture represented. The delicacies range from common foods that most kids will recognize to more exotic fare. At the back of the book, the author also shares a little more information about the street foods of each country. The illustrations each show colorfully patterned motifs that frame children enjoying the foods in question. This book is sure to tempt your taste buds!

***Disclosure: I received this book from the publisher for Cybil’s judging purposes. No other compensation was given and all opinions are my own.***

That’s it for now! Have you read any of these? What did you think? Do you have any books you’re rooting for when it comes to the Cybils Awards? I wanna know!

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