Janitors, by Tyler Whitesides (Shadow Mountain, 2011, middle grade, 288 pages), was nominated for the Cybils last fall...and a review copy came for me (thank you!)...and I read and enjoyed it...and am only now writing my review (hangs head). *
Here's the basic premise--schools across the world are invested by hideous, (though invisible to most eyes) supernatural beings known as Toxites that suck all goodness from the learning experience. Lethargy, indifference, distractedness--all caused by these monsters. But there is hope for the children! A brave band of magically empowered Janitors is using the ancient lore of their guild to fight the good fight against this horrible blight. At least, that the way the Janitors tell the story...
And Spencer, and ordinary boy, stumbles into this shadow world when an encounter with mysterious pink soap opens his eyes to what's really happening at school. Allied (slightly uneasily) with his goodhearted but guilable classmate Daisy, Spencer must decide if can trust Merv and the other janitors, or throw his lot in with the Beareau of Educational Maintence, the mysterious agency who seek to wrest the magic of the janitors away from them.
Things quickly escalate, and mayhem and danger ensue!
This was an interseting take on magic that felt fresh and fun, especially because the school setting is one not used very much. I appreciated the fact that the kids stumbled into things, and weren't Chosen Ones--it made it easy to relate to them and their strange situation. Spencer and Daisy never became quite fully alive to me, but I liked them well enough, and believed in them just fine. It was perhaps a tad too expository in places (lots of time is spent on explaintations), but that didn't keep me from enjoying it in a light-hearted sort of way.
Not really one I'd recommend to grown-up fans of mg fantasy, and I don't think I'll ever feel the need to re-read it myself, but with its zippy, whacky story it should appeal to young fantasy fans (I'd say fourth and fifth graders in particular) who want something with a contemporary, real-life feel to it. And if it leads to greater respect for school custodians, that's a nice added bonus!
Other reviews: Ms. Yingling Reads, ThomStratton.com, and Geo Librarian