I'm wrapping my brain around the idea that this is our fourth annual awards. Wasn't that blogging fad supposed to be over by now? Shhh ... don't tell that to our panelists and judges. They spend a good chunk of their year tap-tapping away on their keyboards, keeping the kidlit world humming with their takes on what makes for a great read.
Maybe new technology will overtake the cozy corner of the Internet known as the kidlitosphere. Perhaps there'll soon be some other way to transmit our enthusiasm for children's and young adult literature. In the meantime, we're still here, still reading, still passionately defending our faves and getting the word out.
And with that, I'll let you scroll down to see our picks for this year's awards.
--Anne Levy, Cybils Admin.
Cybils Awards for Children's and Middle Grade Books
Picture Book (Fiction)
Musical text and breathtaking illustrations capture a day in the life of children "from morning sun becomes noon blue" to "crickets, curtains, day is done." From a quiet beach, to a busy garden, to a rained-out park, the fun and work and disappointment are shared and acknowledged in a way that encourages reflection. Diversity is naturally woven into community life where family, friend and neighbor connections cross age, ethnicity, gender and roles, embracing our distinction and our unity. Young readers will love finding the small stories within the pictures or going back to look at the page before to find the "hint" of the landscape coming up on the next page. This charming, lovely book is a delight to read and share.
Picture Book (Non-Fiction)
It’s hard to imagine a world without Day-Glo’s shocking greens, blazing oranges and screaming yellows. But before World War II, those colors didn’t exist. After an accident in a ketchup factory derailed Bob Switzer’s hope to be a doctor, he and his brother Joe, who was interested in magic, set out to find a paint that glowed. Eventually, the Switzers did what nobody else had — they invented new colors. The war produced a need for fluorescent paint, and today it’s everywhere. The brothers’ invention allowed both to do what they wanted; save lives and dazzle crowds.
This book is the first on its topic, a result of original research from family interviews and newspaper clippings. Barton explains the science with a kid-friendly manner and an easy narrative style. Readers can relate to the brothers’ thwarted plans and celebrate their persistence. Persiani’s stylized art evolves with the story, from a dull gray to splashes of color to brilliant Day-Glo tones at the end.
Watch Me Throw the Ball! (An Elephant and Piggie Book)
by Mo Willems
Nominated by: Melissa
The Elephant & Piggie series continues with another perfectly pitched early reader. The book is a conversation between two friends who speak in simple repetitive phrases about their ball throwing prowess. The illustrations are dynamic and vibrant, offering many clues to help readers decode the text. In just a few words, Willems creates two very distinct, likable characters. Everyone can relate to the central idea that taking joy in what we do is sometimes more important than outstanding achievement.
Early Chapter Book
This dog’s eye view of the world is laugh-out-loud funny. The book is narrated by Down Girl, who has learned her name from how she is most often referred to by her master. Down Girl spends the book trying to teach her master, whom she calls "Rruff," lessons like the need for vigilance where cats and squirrels are concerned and that paying attention to your dog is more important than house painting. The combination of humor and distinctive voice in Nolan’s writing made this a winning book.
Observation, discovery, connection . . . Red Sings From the Treetops embodies everything poetry is meant to be. The vivid words of poet Joyce Sidman -- which are fresh even when writing about the oldest of concepts, color -- and the gloriously hue-soaked pictures of illustrator Pamela Zagarenski combine to create a poetry book that is both thoughtful and exuberant. Readers can hunt for small details in the sweep of larger images and thrill to a-ha! moments of discovery. They can read the book as one full, circular story or as a series of individual, eye-opening poems. Either way, the beauty of this book will leave them feeling connected to something larger than themselves.
This book rose to the top of a strong selection of finalists because of the richness and variety of ways Davis engages the graphic novel format. This is a story that could not be told in any other form but comics. Charts, diagrams, maps and lists all pour forth, creating a wealth of material for the reader to come back to and get lost in. The art is accomplished, with rich inks and a humorous line that captures the tongue-in-cheek sense of old-school adventure in the story. Of particular note are the characters, three very different kids who discover they have very similar interests in the fun, dramatic and loopy possibilities of not just science, but "Science!"
Fantasy & Science Fiction
The judges were blown away by the three-dimensional world-building, believable characterization, lyrical writing and non-stop adventure of this complex fantasy. Silksinger picks up where Blackbringer left off, as fairy champion Magpie fights to find the sleeping Djinn and restore them to their rightful places of power. We meet two new fairy heroes along the way, each with secrets of his or her own. Themes of friendship and betrayal are explored in a way that doesn't shy away from ambiguity or nastiness, while retaining strong appeal for middle grade readers. Although it is a sequel, Silksinger is satisfying on its own -- but why wouldn't you want to start with the first book in this compelling series?
Middle Grade Fiction
Chains is a novel with guts and heart and an unforgettable central character. It tells the story of two slave girls, Isabel and her sister Ruth, who are sold in the 1770s to a wealthy Loyalist family. They're taken to New York where Isabel gets swept into the intrigue of the Revolutionary War, becoming a spy for the rebels.
Anderson writes in such a way that both the characters and New York City at the time come vividly to life. The everyday nature of cruelty is realized, and what was not shocking then, will be to today's readers. From the opening moments straight through the streets of New York, Anderson has readers hoping and praying that Isabel will make it through. It is incredibly well researched, and the historical detail flows seamlessly, never feeling like a lesson. The opposite of dry fact, here is an unflinching look at a cruel time. Expect Isabel's story to grab onto you and hold tight till the end.
Cybils Awards For Young Adult Books
The Frog Scientist covers the ongoing research of biologist Tyrone Hayes into the effects of atrazine on frogs. Atrazine is the most commonly used pesticide in the United States, but Hays has discovered that exposure to atrazine causes "some of the male frogs to develop into bizarre half-male, half-female frogs." His careful development, both in the lab and the wild, of experiments researching diminishing frog populations is an example of science at its best.
Author Pamela S. Turner shows the control Hayes and his assistants exert over their experiments so there can be no questions when their results are determined. For this real-world example of textbook standards alone, The Frog Scientist would be a winner. That Turner makes the biologist's very compelling personal story key to the book's narrative raises it above similar titles in the field. Teens will find the heavily illustrated volume visually appealing but more significantly be intrigued by this powerful example of significant science at work. It's nonfiction writing (and photography) at its best, and incredibly inspirational to boot.
Strange happenings at a mysterious British boarding school involving magic. A talented student who seems to have unique and special abilities. And the dark past of the characters' parents has come back to haunt them all. These elements, which may on the surface seem so familiar, are brought together in fresh and inventive ways in Gunnerkrigg Court. Tom Siddell has published nearly 300 pages of his webcomic in this first collection, and the length really allows for the reader to absorb the entire spectrum of adventures presented here: protagonist Antimony Carver and her growing assortment of friends have humorous, creepy, action-packed and mysterious storylines, all of which allow us to see the different facets of Annie's complex and fascinating world. It also puts lots of meat on the bones of those seemingly overly familiar story elements, to tell tales both unexpected and new.
Fantasy & Science Fiction
As her homeland of the Dells descends into civil war, Fire struggles with changing relationships and her own dangerous powers. If she misuses her gifts, she runs the risk of turning into her psychotic and amoral father. But if she doesn't use them at all, her beloved kingdom and the royal family she has come to love may be lost forever. Nobody combines the fantasy and romance genres like Kristin Cashore. With preternaturally beautiful monsters and unruly children, psychic powers and very human power struggles, her masterfully crafted worlds are close enough to ours to make sense and different enough to captivate.
Fire herself is a dynamic character, a mix of vulnerability and strength, and she is surrounded by others who challenge and support her, especially in the character of Brigan, one of the few who sees beyond her stunning beauty to the complex young woman beneath. Throughout the book, Fire learns to see the people she loves in shades of grey, and in the process learns to accept her own virtues and flaws. Out of all the books we read, this is the one at the top of everybody's list. It's great, start to finish, with appeal for both boys and girls, and the moment you finish it you'll want to read it again.
Young Adult Fiction
Cracked Up to Be, Courtney Summers's debut novel, is a page turner that is sure to please. Once a model student and cheerleader, Parker Fadley has given up that life and turned instead to drinking and failing classes. But what could have caused this sudden change? Spare writing, carefully placed flashbacks, and strong character development create an intense and fascinating read, while the mystery unfolds. Whether or not you fall in love with Parker, her story will not soon be forgotten.