Thanks to the many volunteers who made for another successful Cybils contest. Our judges, panelists and — most especially — our organizers gave up their so-called free time to spend with us. You can thank them by passing along the good word about what we do here!
Without further fuss, here are this year’s winners of a Cybils Award:
Elementary & Middle Grade
Disney Animated brings to life the outstanding animation heritage of Disney Studios through the expertise of Touch Press, one of the most exacting and innovative developers in the app space today. Appealing to the entire family, Disney Animated meets all the criteria we seek in outstanding interactive media. The technical elements are impeccably rendered, the interactive elements are directly linked to the content, and the narrative content is endlessly fascinating. From stills to studies, animated shorts, soundtracks, interviews, and games that illustrate the points being made, this app is one you’ll have trouble putting down.
Like any good non-fiction book, you can read this app in linear or non-linear fashion. Interactive workshops built into the app not only give hands-on explanations of how animation works, they challenge our understanding of physics in a game-like way. The app makes every use of the medium, animating just about everything, even the text. You can pinch, enlarge, move, examine and share just about everything in this app. With Disney Animated, Touch Press models what the digital environment is capable of and what a truly great book app can be.
Fiction Picture Books
Mr. Tiger Goes Wild opens to muted tones of a proper Victorian society of well-mannered animals, living in houses and walking on two legs. Surrounded by an abundance of subdued suits, ties, dresses and tea, the daily hum-drum pushes Mr. Tiger outside the city limits to a place where he can ROAR! But first he undergoes the drama and surprising silliness of life on four legs, a swim in the water fountain and *gasp* a view of his magnificent, naked self. Confident artistic elements start on the decorative endpapers, capitalize on the freedom of double page illustrations, built intensity with the color palette, and combine seamlessly with the lean text of most carefully selected words. With great comedic timing and a light-handed touch on message, Peter Brown has written a clever, compelling invitation to self-discovery.
Budding ornithologists won’t be the only ones to delight in this jam-packed introduction to the joys of bird-watching. Annette LeBlanc Cate’s enthusiasm for her subject shines through her humorous yet informative text and in her inviting pen-and-ink illustrations of birds, birds, and more birds. Cate recommends that you begin by looking for birds in your own backyard because “you don’t have to go anywhere fancy to watch birds, nor do you need to know their fancy Latin names”. A useful list of bird-watching dos and don’ts, should-haves and don’t-needs (binoculars!) introduces the text. In subsequent chapters, Cate explains how to identify birds by color, shape, behavior, and other characteristics. Along with charts, sidebars, and a bibliography, the book features an engaging cast of cartoon bird characters. Sassy and opinionated, they help to spread Cate’s message: “Bird-watching is fun!” Look Up! isn’t just a title—it’s an invitation to a new way of looking at the avian world.
It’s a busy day at City Hospital where Doctor Glenda and Nurse Percy have their hands full assisting a little girl in a red coat who lost her grandmother. The excitement of the day only increases when Pengamedics wheel in a choking wolf. Can Nurse Percy put aside his fear of wolves in order to assist Doctor Glenda? And what is that something or someone stuck in the wolf’s throat? With dogged determination, Doctor Glenda and her team work to save the choking wolf and rescue whoever is stuck.
Dosh Archer brings a new twist to a classic favorite in Urgency Emergency! Big Bad Wolf. Archer delivers up a fast-paced adventure to delight both beginning readers and the adults who read alongside them. Though the text is accessible to developing readers, children will discover some new connections with multiple read-throughs with this book. In the end, Archer provides children with an opportunity to celebrate alongside Doctor Glenda and her team for a job well done.
Early Chapter Books
Bloody Mary, Bloody Mary, Bloody Mary!
Liam Finn and his sister just moved into the old Cropsey house. Their father has transplanted his family from Hopeville to Upstate New York. Liam and Kelley are both opposed to the move, but since the death of their mother eighteen months earlier, the family is struggling to survive. Upon moving into the house, Liam begins to hear strange noises and even receives a threatening message in a mirror. When Kelley’s friend, Mitali, comes for a visit and summons “Bloody Mary”, the tale quickly escalates to a spine-tingling conclusion.
Preller takes an urban myth and creates an enjoyable tale of horror that will appeal to the lower grade students. Bruno’s illustrations insert an appropriate amount of creepiness that adds to the ambiance of the tale. Younger readers will appreciate this scary tale without the graphic and gory details of older horror reads. This little page turner could become a campfire classic!
Amy Ludwig VanDerwater invites young readers to explore the beauty and wonder of the forest through poems at once lyrical and seemingly effortless. The gentle watercolor illustrations by Robbin Gourley introduce readers to woodland residents like tree frogs and fiddlehead ferns. From the endpapers to the font, the book’s design beautifully showcases the poems.
As the book’s arc moves readers through the seasons, the poems pay close attention to tiny details, like an oak “throwing acorns” and moss one can “squish across”. VanDerwater’s distinct voice demonstrates a playfulness and musicality in poems such as “The Spider”: “A never-tangling dangling spinner / knitting angles, trapping dinner”.
The variety of forms and subject matter make this book a wonderful choice for teachers to use as a mentor text for nature observations and poetry appreciation. The poems are perfectly suited for the picture book audience and may even have the power to entice children away from their screens and into the world of nature where “Melody / is everywhere”.
Mirka’s boredom and curiosity lead her back to the troll she defeated in the first book, so she can reclaim her sword. When he accidentally summons a meteor that will crush Hereville, the witch transforms it into a Mirka lookalike. Can Mirka prove to be the better real girl, or will she be banished from her home forever?
Deutsch masterfully crafted a story with a unique perspective. How many stories celebrate an Orthodox Jewish family without making religion the central story problem? Mirka’s restless energy, boundless imagination, and flawed, fierce, relatable personality will connect with kids. The characters that share her journey are fleshed out enough that you get a real feel for their personality. The panels and art are engaging and easy to follow, and even the color scheme helps support the narrative. All of these features make Hereville: How Mirka Met a Meteorite a perfect match for middle grade readers.
Set in an alternate England where ghosts stalk to kill, Lockwood & Co.: The Screaming Staircase follows Lucy Carlyle, who has recently joined the smallest Psychic Investigative Agency in London. Run by the dynamic Anthony Lockwood, with help from the abrasive George Cubbins, they operate without adult supervision, and they all have the Talent of being sensitive to ghosts. When Lucy inadvertently burns down a client’s house while investigating the case of an angry ghost, Lockwood & Co. need to make money quickly to pay for damages. So when they’re offered the chance to investigate the most haunted house in England, home of the famous “screaming staircase,” they can’t pass it up.
This book oozes kid appeal, giving us adventure, suspense, mystery, humor, ghosts, and even swordplay. The Screaming Staircase will engage readers until the very last page.
Middle Grade Fiction
Quinn, a new teenager, is an ultra-marathon runner, who started running at an early with his Dad. They soon found out that he had a larger than normal heart, and his body doesn’t produce much lactic acid, so he doesn’t get tired as easily as the rest of us. David Carroll, the author of Ultra, uses a television interview and flashbacks to tell this gripping story. Throughout the 24-hour, 100-mile race, we learn about the relationships he has with his mom, younger brother, and best friend. We find out the hardship of the war in Afghanistan. Most importantly, judges couldn’t put the book down.
Jordan Mechner’s take on popular Knights of Templar uses imagined characters focusing on a small band of renegade knights, and includes an unfinished love story. Lush illustrations by husband-and-wife team LeUyen Pham and Alex Puvilland work in tandem with Mechner to create fully developed characters, conveying not just 14th century France, but the emotions and distinct personalities of each individual.
This graphic novel is a perfectly paced page-turner that alternates with action centered on post-Crusades France, as the Templar knights are tried for heresy by the king. The story develops the relationships of the band of outlaw knights as they struggle to learn the whereabouts of the treasure while staying one step ahead of their pursuers. In outwitting the King’s men and his villainous advisor, Nogaret, Mechner’s band captures the hearts and imaginations of the reader as the enormnity of their task is revealed. They are noble pawns in a timeless game of politics, power, and money.
The Templar story has been widely and successful told in other genres, but Mechner, Pham and Puvilland have created a compelling version that will bring a new audience to this captivating period of history.
Extensively researched and documented using oral histories of actual detainees, Sandler’s examination of Japanese-American relocation during World War II is compelling and personal—difficult to do with such a broad topic—and offers satisfying context, historical as well as present day. The appealing design and vintage images enhance the author’s insightful analysis of this dark episode in our nation’s history, how it was allowed to happen, and how it could happen again if we’re not vigilant to protect the freedoms of all Americans, regardless of ethnic heritage.
The Summer Prince is a sophisticated and unique story that stuck with judges long after we had turned the last page. We were impressed by the complex and challenging world-building, which unfurls slowly and naturally over the course of the story. The future Brazil of Palmares Tres, with its matriarchal political structure, fascinating technology, and bloody ritual sacrifice, is creative and wholly new. Similarly impressive are the characters who inhabit it – artistic and passionate June, rebellious Enki, and thoughtful Gil, whose relationships with each other defied our expectations. Character and setting are buoyed by beautiful writing and a story structure that encourages discovery. The book also stood out for its large cast of people of color and healthy depiction of bisexuality, both of which are underrepresented in YA.
Johnson packs so much into her novel: love, friendship, family, the conflict between generations and genders, class and privilege, the transgressive power of art. While Palmares Tres and its culture may seem strange to readers, these themes are universal. The end result is a multi-layered story that will resonate with many teens.
The weight keeps piling up on Piddy Sanchez: her best friend has left the city for the suburbs, her mom decides to move and Piddy must switch schools in the middle of the year, and she’s recently learned that Yaqui Delgado wants to kick her ass. Piddy cannot figure out why this stranger has decided to target her, nor can she remove herself from the situation. As it continues to escalate, Piddy finds herself struggling with her schoolwork, her social life, and her mother. Piddy must bow to the situation–or grow stronger than she was before.
As heartbreaking as it is heartwarming, Piddy and her story gives a whole new meaning to the word “underdog.” While the protagonist is forced to cope with mounting stress that ratchets tension to the fraying point, Piddy and her world are vibrant and fully developed; the rich setting and characterization never gets lost under the weight of the plot. Medina turns this story of bullying into a universal coming of age tale. Teens will find a friend and ally in Piddy.