2012 Frannies: the Wyzbery Award

My students read a lot this past year. Part of this is our course requirement to read at least one choice read a month. Part of this is because there were a lot of good books released, and my students and I ate ’em up! And then, of course, we read them. Or maybe it’s the other way ’round. Anyway, we read a lot, and we enjoyed what we read.

So at the end of the year, the 86 of us each chose our favorite book published in 2011. 7 of the 30 books nominated received more than one vote, and those became our Top Seven for our playoffs. The seeding:

7. Sign Language by Amy Ackley (2 votes)

6. Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs (2 votes)

5. Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Cabin Fever by Jeff Kinney (5 votes)

4. Alex Rider: Scorpia Rising by Anthony Horowitz (6 votes)

3. Inheritance by Christopher Paolini (6 votes)

2. Son of Neptune by Rick Riordan (7 votes)

1. Divergent by Veronica Roth (12 votes)

That created the following bracket:

We gave speeches. We gave impassioned cries and pleas. And then, we voted. The first round, only three matches, had 2 upsets: one small, and one pretty big. And, though I lost the tally sheets (and by lost, I mean threw away, forgetting that I still needed them to do this post), I do recall that the one matchup that was not an upset was the closest vote (I think it was something like a 3-vote victory).

Many were quite upset about Inheritance‘s loss, but that’s the way it goes. The cover of Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children swayed many who had read neither title. I mean, check it out!

Seriously, come on. Is that girl floating? For my money (not that there really is any), this is one of the best covers of 2011. Anyway, a lot of good matchups in round 2. Here are the winners:

Did I see that right? Did Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children take out 2 of the top YA/MG fantasies of 2011? Could it possibly take out our number one seed as well?

The final round was tense. We gave our last reasons to vote for our choices. They probably petitioned each other in the hallway. As far as I know, no threats were issued, but I can’t be certain. And then, when all the words were spoken, we voted. And we had a winner.

But before we get to that, I must say, we also talked about what to call these awards. The “Wyzlic Awards” seemed too. . .lame. Two suggestions quickly rose to the top of our list: The St. Francis Middle School Book Awards — shortened to The Frannies — and the Wyzbery Award (I think some of my students are following the Nerdy Book Club and the #nerdbery challenge. . .)

So, in our first annual Frannies, we are giving one award: the Wyzbery Award for Best Book of 2011. This year’s winner. . .











Divergent! Congratulations to Veronica Roth!

Thank you to all the students for your speeches and your voting. We’re already off to a great start reading some excellent books published in 2012. I can’t wait for next year’s Frannies!


The Fault in Our Stars by John Green

Wyzlic’s note: this review was written minutes after finishing the book. It is fawning, it is unscripted, and it is a bit wandering. I will revise this soon, but for now, I just want to get my thoughts out and share them with anyone who happens by.

YA gets a bad rap at times. It’s too cheesy, too formulaic, too insipid. It follows what’s popular just to make a buck. It will never enter the realm of classic, canonical literature.

The Fault in Our Stars may give reason to people who claim those things to re-think their stance.

This story of pain and laughter, of friendship and love, of dying and living, is truly remarkable. Hazel, our narrator, is 16. And she’s dying of cancer. And she meets, at a cancer support group meeting, a survivor: one Augustus Waters. And boy, are the two of them a pair. Follow them as they discuss existential free throws, their legacies, and just the honest-to-God truth of being a teenager looking for some meaning in this world.

Something I really love about this book is that even though nearly every single page is touched by cancer, this is not a cancer book. It’s not an issue book at all. It’s a book about life and death, especially that which happens between the beginning and the end. It’s honest. It’s smart. I mean, really smart.

For the literature snobs out there, TFiOS has allusions galore to all kinds of things found in the traditional canon. Vonnegut, William Carlos Williams, Frost, Dickinson, Whitman, Shakespeare, Ginsberg, and Fitzgerald just to name a few. And in case you think these references are being dumbed down because it’s only YA, most of these references are untagged or hidden in the dialogue or narration. Occasionally, the characters explicitly make a reference, but otherwise, they’re just there. Hidden nuggets of Awesome awaiting those well-read enough to know them.

More than anything, though, TFiOS grabs me by the heart and doesn’t let go. It’s hilarious. And it’s hopelessly sad. I really could not stop reading this book. To that end, I recommend it for anyone who loves a good book. It is not a happy book. It will leave you drained. But it’s worth it. Oh, it’s worth it.

Rating: 5 out of 5 fish. 

Goliath by Scott Westerfeld (audiobook narrated by Alan Cumming)

The ending of the Leviathan series, Goliath wraps up the story of Deryn/Dylan and Alek, and we see a revisit from just about all the main players from the other books along the way. In this tale, the Leviathan is carrying our heroes across Russia, to rescue a mysterious Clanker boffin. Adding to the mystery is the machine smuggled aboard for this man. We find ourselves seeing Clanker and Darwinist work side-by-side closer than ever in this book. Sparks are also flying between our characters, both figuratively and literally. What will happen to Deryn and Alek? Will Alek complete his destiny and end the war? And what of Dr. Barlow? She seems to have her hand in everything — what will her role be in all of this? These questions are answered for us as we read (or listen) on.

I had been anxiously awaiting the finale in the series, and then found myself caught up in so many other good books that this was pushed to the side. Then, I was given a recommendation for this one as an audiobook, and it just so happened that the good folks at the downtown Ann Arbor library had it in stock. I was instantly hooked by Alan Cumming’s narration. There are so many dialects and accents (not to mention hidden genders!) that he is so deftly able to read. His voice really brought the book to life; I still hear their voices in my head, a few days later.

As for the book itself, I was not disappointed. Following the pattern set forth in the first two books, Goliath alternates narration between Alek and Deryn as the story proceeds. This really was a great way to tell the story, especially as they are closer than ever after the events of Behemoth. I was really fascinated by the history that I never knew about (a lot of what goes on in this book is true — excepting the flying man-fabricated hydrogen-breathing whale, of course). I would love to talk more about the story, but there’s so much to tell that it’s really better if you read it and find it all out for yourself.

Side note: it was interesting to hear a Scottish man voice an American accent. Do we really sound like that?

I recommend Goliath to those who enjoyed the first two in the series. If you liked those, you’ll like this one as well. In general, if you haven’t checked out the Leviathan series, it’s a great introduction to a war-based steampunk style of book. I think we’ll be seeing a lot more of this genre in the next few years, and this is quite an enjoyable way to get into that.

Rating: 4 out of 5 fish. 


Make Lemonade by Virginia Euwer Wolff

“When life gives you lemons, make lemonade.” Such is the common aphorism that lends itself to the title of this novel told in blank verse. Our narrator, 14-year old LaVaughn, thinks she has some lemons in her life: she lives with just her mom in a not-so-great neighborhood. She has dreams of college, but she would not only be the first in her family to go, but the first in her entire 64-apartment building. Her mom has told her the work it will take. More than that, it takes money, too. So LaVaughn looks for a job.

She finds one, and it’s a wake-up call to what real lemons are. LaVaughn becomes the babysitter for 17-year old Jolly’s 2 children. Their apartment seems to be a place not fit to raising two children: stains and spills abound, and there’s a sticky coating to everything. LaVaughn’s mother does not approve, but she’s hesitant to tell her daughter to leave the job. She seems to know the true importance of it. Read this wonderfully-written book to see how LaVaughn and Jolly learn from each other, and how they each learn to make lemonade.

I am very impressed with this book. The story is powerful, if not a bit predictable. The poetry used to tell the story, though, is fantastic. It is blank verse, but don’t let that fool you into thinking poetic devices aren’t used. Metaphors, allusions, and repetition abound. Rhyming is avoided, but slant rhyme is inserted delicately, like someone placing a seed into the flesh of a lemon. The verse is great, and it definitely enhances the reader’s experience of this story.

I recommend this book for 8th graders and up, especially high schoolers. I think it’s a story that we all should hear, and the poetry really adds another nice angle to it. However, there are some thematic issues with Jolly’s pregnancies, particularly how they happened, that may not be appropriate for our younger readers.

Rating: 4 out of 5 fish.