Greetings, fellow bookworms. Our sixth season culminates with a new list of our favorite books of 2011, the ones that kids couldn't put down and adults couldn't refuse. We don't want Mom frowning or the Librarian to catch any flak, after all. One way to look at the Cybils is that instead of telling kids what we think they should be reading, we take a look at what they already are reading (or likely will read) — and then pick out the best of them.
And that brings us to this year's winners. If you're an author or an illustrator and you spot your name on this list, don't forget we have shiny gold stickers now and a fancy logo for you.
For everyone else, get ready to update your "To Be Read" pile.
Elementary & Middle Grade
No one will be able to resist lovable, furry old Grover in this giggle-inducing book app based on the 1971 classic Golden Book. Sesame Street and Callaway Digital Arts hit all the notes perfectly from the opening pages, as Grover draws the reader in with his charm and natural humor. From that point on, no matter what age you may be, you will laugh, smile and read along while Grover tries his best to keep you from turning yet another page. Emerging readers will follow the highlighted words as Grover speaks. Little fingers will tap the screen, discovering ways to untie the ropes and knock down Grover's brick wall, undoing each of his creative attempts to stop them. This app is perfect for preschoolers, but Grover’s silly voice and the engaging interactive features make it fun for all ages.
Fiction Picture Books
Me…Jane is a touching glimpse into the life of a young Jane Goodall as a curious girl with a love of nature, and books, and a stuffed chimpanzee named Jubilee. A unique combination of dreamy watercolor vignettes and nature-inspired vintage engravings complement a simple and evocative text. Every element of the book's design, from its album-like cover and heavy yellowed pages to the inclusion of photographs and Goodall's own childhood drawings, helps create a picture book that feels like a relative's cherished scrapbook. Readers of all ages will take inspiration from a young girl who so fully follows her dreams.
Nonfiction Picture Books
I Feel Better with a Frog in My Throat: History's Strangest Cures
by Carlyn Beccia
Houghton Mifflin Books for Children
Nominated by: Mary McKenna Siddals
From the very first page, A Frog in My Throat offers readers a great deal of scientific and historical information with just enough ick factor to keep readers of all ages turning the pages. The question-and-answer format gives it an interactive feel, and the author includes amazing language choices that continually draw in the reader. The text and the illustrations are loaded with tidbits that will send kids to the library asking for more information on specific topics.
Elementary listeners, middle grade readers, and their parents will eat up this nonfiction picture book, filled with enlightening conversational text and perfectly suited pictures. Kids will likely choose I Feel Better with a Frog in My Throat for the gross-out factor, but they'll put it down ever wiser about history, science, and sociology, too … just don't tell them there's learning inside.
Piggie is surprised to see Gerald's trunk wrapped in a bandage. When she asks how it happened, Gerald starts a v-e-r-y detailed, humorous explanation. It is wonderful how much suspense can be packed into so few words, leaving readers eager to turn the page. Willems effectively blends illustration and early-reader vocabulary in a way that allows new readers not only to decode what's happening, but to add emotion to their reading aloud. With wonderful facial expressions and expressive body language, Gerald and Piggie invite the reader into their friendship circle. Elephant and Piggie is an entry-level Easy Reader that works very well for that very first-time, read-by-yourself story, and hits kids in one of their favorite spots: their funny bone!
Early Chapter Books
Readers of all ages will fall in love with Anna Hibiscus. With beautiful writing and great illustrations, Anna invites us into her world as a young girl from Africa visiting family in Canada during the winter. Have Fun, Anna Hibiscus has a lot of heart and humor. The story not only makes the reader reflect on his or her world, but shows them constructive ways of handling different situations. This is not a "girl book," but a story that celebrates cultural differences and at the same time highlights how childhood cares and concerns are similar around the world. The illustrations – particularly how they are used – add to the story's effectiveness as an early chapter book, making Anna a true friend for developing readers.
"I am a watcher/sitting with those about to die." These are the words of Elisha Schorr/25565 as imagined by poet Paul Janeczko. In Requiem: Poems of the Terezin Ghetto, we all become watchers, viewing snapshots of the Holocaust, one after the other, each one deepening the grief and raising questions to which there are no answers.
Cybils committee members agreed early in the deliberations that this slim volume of poems was a strong contender for the prize, with words like "stunning" and "haunting" coming up repeatedly in our conversation. Ultimately, the voices Janeczko created could not be forgotten.
Zita the Spacegirl's appealing combination of humor and sci-fi adventure already has kids begging their librarians for the sequel. It's got everything: aliens, robots, critters from the cute to the weird to the scary, and a smart, self-sufficient heroine who's unfailingly loyal to her friends whether they happen to be human, robot or giant mouse. The visual storytelling is just as appealing—the drawing style is loose and open, and the fun character design and sound effects add liveliness and humor. There's enough action, novelty, and color to keep younger readers interested, and enough thoughtfulness to satisfy more sophisticated readers, making this a terrific choice for a wide range of ages.
Fantasy & Science Fiction
The Cheshire Cheese Cat slipped into our hearts like Skilley the alley cat sneaks into Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese. Much more than just a cute, talking animal fantasy (though it is that too), this book has a depth of theme and character and a richness of language that blew us away. Both animals and humans ring true to life and the unique alliance that develops between Skilley and Pip, an uncommonly well-educated mouse, matures and ripens like a tasty piece of cheese. The illustrations scattered through the text are warmly humorous and add dimension to the characters. Charles Dickens has an important supporting role and there are abundant literary allusions and though these may be lost on some younger readers, we believe they will remember and enjoy them again in later life. We feel that The Cheshire Cheese Cat has oodles of kid appeal and that readers will be as charmed as we were by this sweet and funny tale of an unlikely friendship overcoming the odds.
Middle Grade Fiction
Gabe is a nerd. He's not ashamed of this fact; quite the contrary, since he's been accepted into the Summer Center for Gifted Enrichment. It's the most exciting thing of his 10-year-old life. Then he meets his soon-to-be stepbrother, Zack. Zack is cool and most definitely not a nerd. In fact, Zack is disdainful of all things nerdy. Gabe really wants his new brother to like him, but he also really loves all things nerdy. In the end, Gabe sets out to find scientific proof, once and for all: are the adventures he has at the SCGE camp over the course of the summer too nerdy for words? Or are they cool in their own right?
With its quirky, nerdy humor; amazing camp activities; and believable characters, Nerd Camp is a delight to read. There are nerds of all stripes, from Gabe's bunkmates Wesley and Nikhil to a guy who goes by C2 (a living legend at the camp because he skipped two grades). Elissa Brent Weissman just gets the awkwardness of being 10. It's admirable that Gabe strongly identifies as a nerd, even though he is picked on, and finds comfort and belonging in a group of people as quirky and as unique as he is. (Memorizing pi to the 20th digit, or rocking the nations of the world song on karaoke night, anyone?) A celebration of all things smart, Nerd Camp is a book that's worth cheering for.
Amelia Lost: The Life and Disappearance of Amelia Earhart
by Candace Fleming
Schwartz and Wade Books
Nominated by: Monica Edinger
Amelia Lost offers both a biography and an expose of Amelia Earhart, the aviation pioneer whose exploits played a groundbreaking role in the achievement of equal rights by American women. Earhart actively crafted and cultivated a mythology around herself in order to create ongoing opportunities as a female aviator and to maintain her heroine status. Exciting chapters alternate between Amelia's high-profile life and the days and hours preceding her still-unsolved mysterious 1937 disappearance somewhere in the Pacific Ocean. Author Candace Fleming carefully separates history from myth with her meticulous research. Packed with photos and informative sidebars, Amelia Lost shows readers in vivid detail the dangers of early aviation and an accurate portrayal of this very real American heroine.
Ghost story—check. Snarky but fully rounded protagonist—check. Believable teen characters and behavior—check. Humor—yep. Anya's Ghost has the perfect blend of story elements and it deftly layers several classic teen literature topics in a relatively short space. The themes of fitting in at school and in life, avoiding toxic friends both earthly and unearthly, and learning to come to terms with who you are, are nicely underscored by the fact that Anya is an immigrant. At the same time, Anya's interactions with the ghost add suspense and the perfect amount of creepiness. The art style is simple, engaging and funny, and works well with a monochromatic format. A fast-paced read that doesn't skimp on story.
Fantasy & Science Fiction
Blood Red Road is one of those books that can be infinitely compared to other stories — one panelist wrote that it “read like the Harlequin Romance version of Mad Max” — while still having its own unique voice and style. We’re not sure where a Canadian writer living in England learned an Ozark accent. Although we sometimes struggled with it, we admired the way the innovative use of language allows the reader to get into the head of the prickly but ultimately sympathetic protagonist.
Saba’s beloved twin brother Lugh has been kidnapped, and Saba knows it’s up to her to rescue him. This is no easy task in their post-apocalyptic world, where food is scarce and those who can’t fight are easy pickings. Luckily, Saba’s a survivor, and she finds some allies in her quest: a handsome man named Jack, a group of fierce warrior women, and even her own little sister Emmi.
Saba is a wonderfully dynamic character, growing from a sometimes cruel girl with a single-minded purpose into a more mature young woman sensitive to the feelings of those close to her, particularly Emmi. The violent wasteland Saba inhabits is well-drawn and terrifying in the best way. The romance can feel cheesy, but it’s interwoven in a way that doesn’t overpower the story. While the plot is sometimes predictable, we loved that this book takes risks, doesn't talk down to its audience, and takes us on a familiar journey in a style that we don't often see. The combination of voice, character, and fast-paced action make this an appealing book that will keep readers turning the pages.
Young Adult Fiction
"I am not stupid funny. I am stupid fast." Enter the frenzied world of Felton Reinstein. His vibrant, engaging voice draws readers into a teenaged mind knocked off kilter by a growth spurt of body and hair that lands him on the radar of the football jocks. Suddenly, Felton is racing past defenders, romance is blooming, his best friend has left the country, his prodigy little brother has stopped playing the piano and turned into a pirate, and his hippie mom is sinking into depression. An extraordinary mix of adolescent angst, football, family drama, first love and refreshing humor, Stupid Fast lets reader run fast with Felton as he navigates the complicated and raucous maze of going from high school joke to high school jock.