Cybils Poetry Finalists! And Bite-Sized Reviews of Everywhere Blue, Snow Birds, You Don’t Have to Be Everything, and Call Me Athena

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As my regular readers know, I was a round-one judge for the Cybils Awards in the Poetry category. Well, the finalists have been announced, so I thought I’d share them! You can check out the lists of finalists for the other categories on the Cybils website.

Since I hadn’t yet reviewed four of the finalists on the blog, I thought I’d feature those reviews for you now. (I’ve already posted reviews of Me(Moth), Starfish, and Red, White, and Whole. Click the links to read them!)

I still plan to review the remaining Cybils books I haven’t gotten to, as well, but that might take me a little while. For now, I hope these bite-sized reviews will be enough to feed your fiction addiction!

Everywhere Blue by Joanne Rossmassler Fritz
Published by Holiday House on June 1, 2021
Genres: Contemporary, Middle Grade, Verse
Pages: 256
Source: Library
Cover Artist: Elena Megalos
My content rating: MG (Family discord, Disappearance of a family member)
My rating:

A brother’s disappearance turns one family upside down, revealing painful secrets that threaten the life they’ve always known.

When twelve-year-old Maddie’s older brother vanishes from his college campus, her carefully ordered world falls apart. Nothing will fill the void of her beloved oldest sibling. Meanwhile Maddie’s older sister reacts by staying out late, and her parents are always distracted by the search for Strum. Drowning in grief and confusion, the family’s musical household falls silent.

Though Maddie is the youngest, she knows Strum better than anyone. He used to confide in her, sharing his fears about the climate crisis and their planet’s future. So, Maddie starts looking for clues: Was Strum unhappy? Were the arguments with their dad getting worse? Or could his disappearance have something to do with those endangered butterflies he loved . . .

Scared and on her own, Maddie picks up the pieces of her family’s fractured lives. Maybe her parents aren’t who she thought they were. Maybe her nervous thoughts and compulsive counting mean she needs help. And maybe finding Strum won’t solve everything–but she knows he’s out there, and she has to try.

This powerful debut novel in verse addresses the climate crisis, intergenerational discourse, and mental illness in an accessible, hopeful way. With a gorgeous narrative voice, Everywhere Blue is perfect for fans of Eventown and OCDaniel.

 

Everywhere Blue focuses on the sometimes messy business of family relationships. When Maddie’s brother disappears from his college campus, her family is thrown into upheaval. No one knows what happened to him: did he walk away of his own accord or was he taken—or worse? Maddie already struggles with anxiety and compulsions, and things certainly don’t get any better when her brother goes missing. She tries to focus on her music, since her brother always encouraged her in her gift, but the fears are always there, ready to break out onto the surface. The relationship between Maddie’s brother and her father was sometimes pretty rocky. I think may kids will relate to that, since tensions between parents and teenagers is (let’s face it), not uncommon. The verse in this book is beautifully written, more lyrical (in my opinion) than many other current middle grade verse novels—that was a big plus for me. Plus, the mystery of what happened to Maddie’s brother will keep kids turning the pages. Overall, I definitely recommend this one!

Snow Birds by Kirsten Hall
Illustrator: Jenni Desmond
Published by Harry N. Abrams on November 3, 2020
Genres: Picture Book, Verse
Pages: 40
Source: Library
My rating:

Discover birds who survive winter against all odds in this poetic, gorgeously illustrated picture book   Snowflakes whirling, snow-flocks swirling, streaks of white twirl through the night . . . You’ve heard of birds who migrate to warmer climates in the wintertime—but what about those who persevere through snowy weather and freezing temperatures? With elegant verse and striking illustrations, Snow Birds salutes the brave and resourceful birds who adapt to survive the coldest months.  

 

Snow Birds is a lovely picture book in verse that highlights the many different species of birds who stay north during winter. The verse is especially wonderful when read aloud; many of the poems cleverly integrate a particular species’ song. And the poems also often use whitespace and word placement to their advantage. The realistic art style has whimsical touches and serves as a celebration of the true beauty of nature!

You Don’t Have to Be Everything: Poems for Girls Becoming Themselves by Diana Whitney
Illustrator: Christina González, Kate Mockford, Stephanie Singleton
Published by Workman Publishing Company on March 30, 2021
Genres: Contemporary, Verse, Young Adult
Pages: 176
Source: The Publisher
My content rating: YA (Covers topics such as Sexual Assault, Eating Disorders, Suicidal Thoughts, Racism, etc.)
My rating:

Poems to Turn to Again and Again – from Amanda Gorman, Sharon Olds, Kate Baer, and More

Created and compiled just for young women, You Don’t Have to Be Everything is filled with works by a wide range of poets who are honest, unafraid, and skilled at addressing the complex feelings of coming-of-age, from loneliness to joy, longing to solace, attitude to humor. These unintimidating poems offer girls a message of self-acceptance and strength, giving them permission to let go of shame and perfectionism.

The cast of 68 poets is extraordinary: Amanda Gorman, the first National Youth Poet Laureate, who read at Joe Biden’s inauguration; bestselling authors like Maya Angelou, Elizabeth Acevedo, Sharon Olds, Naomi Shihab Nye, and Mary Oliver; Instagram-famous poets including Kate Baer, Melody Lee, and Andrea Gibson; poets who are LGBTQ, poets of diverse racial and cultural backgrounds, poets who sing of human experience in ways that are free from conventional ideas of femininity. Illustrated in full color with work by three diverse artists, this book is an inspired gift for daughters and granddaughters—and anyone on the path to becoming themselves.

No matter how old you are, it helps to be young when you’re coming to life, to be unfinished, a mysterious statement, a journey from star to star.—Joy Ladin, excerpt from “Survival Guide”
 

 

You Don’t Have to Be Everything is a collection of poems from a wonderfully diverse group of woman poets. The book both celebrates the joys of femininity and mourns the pains related to being female in this world. The poems are split into several categories: Seeking, Loneliness, Attitude, Rage, Longing, Shame, Sadness and Belonging. Some of the poems are deeply personal, while others are more universal. Some are written rather simply and in straightforward verse while others take more reflection and digestion to parse out their deeper meanings. Because the collection is written by so many different voices, almost all teen girls will find something to resonate with here. And every girl needs to feel seen.

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

Call Me Athena: Girl from Detroit by Colby Cedar Smith
Published by Andrews McMeel Publishing on August 17, 2021
Genres: Historical Fiction, Verse, Young Adult
Pages: 576
Source: The Publisher
Cover Artist: Hülya Özdemir
My content rating: YA (Wartime violence)
My rating:

This enchanting novel in verse captures one young woman’s struggle for independence, equality, and identity as the daughter of Greek and French immigrants in tumultuous 1930s Detroit.

Call Me Athena: Girl from Detroit is a beautifully written novel in verse loosely based on author Colby Cedar Smith’s paternal grandmother. The story follows Mary as the American-born daughter of Greek and French immigrants living in Detroit in the 1930s, creating a historically accurate portrayal of life as an immigrant during the Great Depression, hunger strikes, and violent riots.

Mary lives in a tiny apartment with her immigrant parents, her brothers, and her twin sister, and she questions why her parents ever came to America. She yearns for true love, to own her own business, and to be an independent, modern American woman—much to the chagrin of her parents, who want her to be a “good Greek girl.”

Mary’s story is peppered with flashbacks to her parents’ childhoods in Greece and northern France; their stories connect with Mary as they address issues of arranged marriage, learning about independence, and yearning to grow beyond one’s own culture. Though Call Me Athena is written from the perspective of three profoundly different narrators, it has a wide-reaching message: It takes courage to fight for tradition and heritage, as well as freedom, love, and equality. 

 

I’m not normally a huge fan of historical fiction, so the fact that I loved this book is saying something. The author juxtaposes Mary’s story, which takes place in America during the start of the Great Depression, with her parents’ stories when they were two lovelorn teenagers separated during WWI. Mary finds their letters to each other and learns their fascinating history. The intertwining of these stories is expertly done, and the war brings a level of intrigue to the story. As you read, you wonder how Mary’s parents, from different countries and entirely different backgrounds, eventually come together. And the verse in the book is compelling, especially in the letters. I actually suggested this to my daughter as an enjoyable book with “literary merit” that she can use for free reading for her AP Lit class, so obviously I’d recommend it! (My daughter has since read it and did, indeed, enjoy it immensely.)

***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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