The first one is called "Wolf Wilder" by Katherine Rundell. It's about a girl named Feo who lives with her mom Marina in a wilderness part of Russia. They live a simple life that they find satisfying... they rehabilitate wolves. The story is set in Russia towards the end of the reign of the czars. Rich people are adopting wolves as pets and finding that they are too wild to keep. It is cultural taboo to kill a wolf so Feo and her mom teach the wolves to be wild again. Unfortunately, the wolves are accused of killing some of the wildlife around the area (Feo is sure it's not them) and they attract the attention of a local military leader (who is completely terrifying). He comes to take them to jail and Feo and the wolves make a run for it but Matrina ends up in a military prison. Feo decides to rescue her. There was a lot of information about wolf behavior and communication and some great themes of friendship. Parts of the story strained credulity for me (particularly when the kids are riding the wolves) but it was very compelling and had a great ending. Here's the author talking about her book.
The second one is called "Survival Strategies for the Almost Brave" by Jen White. It's about two girls, Liberty and Billie, who are sisters. Liberty is 12 and Billie is 8. Their mother is a killed in a car accident and they are going to live with their dad. They haven't really seen their dad since they were quite small and have had no real contact with him, so they are a bit excited and nervous. But it's what they are supposed to do and they don't seem to have any other choice, so off they go in Dad's RV. At first things are going very well and then suddenly not so well and when Liberty and Billie want to stop at a gas station to go to the bathroom, they are surprised to come out of the bathroom and find their dad gone. They wait for quite some time in hopes that he will come back, but when the man who works in the gas station figures out that her dad is gone, he calls the police and the girls decide that they should make their own way home, to their friend who took care of them after their mom died. It's not an easy trip and part of the trip is the telling of what exactly happened before their dad left them. There are some very interesting characters and this story felt VERY real to me. I found it really hard to put down.
I was surprised by this title "Blue Mountain" Martine Leavitt because the category I'm reading for CYBILS is middle grade fiction and this one is clearly fantasy fiction because the story has bighorn sheep and the other animals in its habitat talking to one another. But it was so good, I was just glad I had the opportunity to read it. It's a National Book Award nominee and I can totally see why. It reads a lot like an old folk tale. It's about a flock of bighorn sheep that are suffering because their predators are getting bolder and their grazing areas are getting smaller and less plentiful. One of the sheep, Tuk, a young sheep has a vision of a blue mountain and decides he's going to go there. He takes a band of his friends (who are not all the sharpest knives in the drawer) and set out on a quest. They encounter a puma, a wolverine, a wolf, a bear and a very chatty otter along the way. The conversations that the animals have are often very funny and the events are pretty exciting. I really liked this story and it would be great paired with other quest stories, like "The Hobbit" by Tolkien or "The Talking Earth" by Jean Craighead George.