Happy Cybils Day! As always, we want to thank all our judges for their reading, discussing, and ultimately deciding on our fantastic winners. And to our organizers who rose to the challenge of wrangling said judges, making sure everything ran smoothly, on top of everything else that was going on in life. (Life, it does get in the way of more fun things like reading and judging!) It’s amazing and fantastic that we have a great group of people (ALL of them) working together to come up with this fantastic award.
And now, without any further blathering, here are your 2015 Cybils winners!!
The colors, music, animations and content focus (space) give Professor Astro Cat’s Solar System an impressive amount of kid appeal. The app, based on the book by the same name, contains informative content presented within an easily navigable interface enriched with cleanly designed illustrations and meaningful interactive features. Favorite graphic features are the size comparison chart assigning planets to different types of fruits and vegetables (Jupiter is a watermelon to Earth’s cherry tomato) and the “unzip” feature which reveals a cutaway view of the inside of each planet. Unique facts will unlock a fascination with the extraterrestrial abound: discover your age on Mercury, why there are no seasons on Venus, that 1,300 Earths fit inside Jupiter and that one day on Uranus…takes 42 Earth years! Exciting sound effects and adventurous music complement the app’s palette of blue, orange, yellow & white creating an auditory and visually appealing backdrop for one irrepressible retro-looking space Cat. Have jetpack, will travel! The app is full of inspiring, exciting topics to explore, all reinforced with a “Jetpack Challenge” interactive quiz game designed to help kids retain what they have read. Answer questions correctly and earn rocket parts to build your own rocket. Children will enjoy exploring the solar system with Professor Astro Cat as their guide.
Fiction Picture Books
A distracted dad and his daughter take a walk home in this beautifully illustrated, wordless picture book. The story unfolds through a unique combination of graphic novel style format and traditional full-bleed or framed art. While the city seems drab and dark in the beginning, the little girl finds beauty around every corner. Details invite the reader to linger and pause over the pages, discovering along with the girl on her walk through the neighborhood. As she matter-of-factly shares her appreciation for things around her, color begins to spread beyond just the people and places where she distributes her finds. Readers young and old alike will be charmed by this story of a little girl’s ability to stop and notice the weeds and her natural willingness to spread kindness in a busy, fast-paced world. The wordless aspect of the book makes it accessible to everyone, no matter what language they read or speak.
Ling & Ting: Twice as Silly (Passport to Reading, Level 3: Ling & Ting)
by Grace Lin
Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Nominated by: Heidi G.
Ling and Ting are two precocious Chinese-American twins who like to be silly, stick together and laugh. Their adventures are told in six delightful stories which include trying to grow a cupcake garden, swinging higher than a tree and reaching for an elusive apple as a snack. Their adventures converge in the end as they write a story that embellishes their escapades and gives us a book within a book.
These six vignettes are perfect for beginning readers as they discover that each story ends with a pun, a clever word play or a solution that will have them laughing at its obvious conclusion. This third book in the series will be appreciated by kids, parents and teachers alike for its quick-witted humor and its two delightful main characters.
Early Chapter Books
Dory has one foot in reality and the other in the world of her vivid imagination. So when it’s time for school to start, her brother and sister warn her that it’s time to leave her imagination at home–she needs to make a real, live friend or else forever be a “weirdo.” Nervous as she is, Dory goes to school only to be surprised and delighted to meet a girl in her class named Rosabelle–a princess who lives in a castle and has a pet dragon! As Dory does her best to win over her new friend, including making plans to escape the clutches of an evil witch, her siblings doubt the whole thing. Can such a friend really be real?
In her sequel to Dory Fantsmagory, Hanlon has created a hilariously unpredictable story about friendship, and captured the true nature of kids in a compelling way. Dory and Rosabelle are endearing characters with vibrant imaginations, charmingly depicted through clever narration and illustrations. The mix of imagination and reality–and having those worlds collide–was brilliantly executed. The text is simple and accessible for early chapter book readers, yet the story makes it perfectly enjoyable for all ages.
Flutter and Hum / Aleteo y Zumbido: Animal Poems / Poemas de Animales
by Julie Paschkis
Nominated by: Linda Baie
In Flutter and Hum: Animal Poems/Aleteo y Zumbido: Poemas de Animales, Julie Paschkis adds several layers to a focused study of 14 animals. In a note, author/illustrator Pashkis explains her process. She began by writing about each animal in Spanish, then composed a fraternal twin poem in her native English
Paschkis’s art itself is a joy, and within these pages words swirl through motifs surrounding the animals and the poems. For example, for the poem, “Dog,” the text reads “His wagging tail/fans wild happiness/into the wide world.” Paschkis embeds into the art the complementary English words bump, bounce, and abound, along with the Spanish words juego, rebote, and pronto, which mean game, rebound, and soon. All invite the reader to make additional linguistic and visual connections. Each page is a splash of wonder.
Comments from our judges include: “The author has combined so many elements for each poem and illustration that I kept finding something new each time I looked at it.” Also: “The poems are challenging and provocative”. . . “this book MATTERS, poetically and culturally.”
Flutter & Hum will find a broad audience–from the youngest readers, to native Spanish speakers enjoying poems in their language, to those learning to read and speak Spanish or English. The brief, deceptively simple poems beg to be read aloud. It is the total package: unique, unexpected and delightful.
This exciting tale of codes, puzzles and a mysterious cult is set in 1600’s London. The story is a page-turner told through the eyes of 14-year-old apothecary’s apprentice, Christopher Rowe. He’s happy in his role learning how to make powerful medicines, potions, and weapons from Master Benedict Blackthorn. At the same time, he’s a kid horsing around with his buddy, the baker’s son. But when a string of shocking murders to other apothecaries gets closer and closer to the Blackthorn shop, Christopher must take action. His master knows of a secret that could destroy the world and trusts Christopher with coded messages that will also help him gain that knowledge.
Since infancy, Astrid has always had her best friend, Nicole. But now that they’re twelve, Nicole begins to focus on dance camp and boys while Astrid is drawn to the knockdown, drag-out world of roller derby. Unfortunately, Astrid is terrible at roller derby. But as the summer progresses, Astrid learns little by little how to fall (literally), how to get back up (figuratively), and how to accept the inevitable changes that growing up brings. ROLLER GIRL tackles the tension of growing apart from a longtime friend and the transition to adolescence, and captures the tween voice expertly. In finding friends, communicating with parents, and meeting new mentors, Astrid begins to realize people are more complicated than she thought they were. ROLLER GIRL is a complete package: great art, great action, emotional grab, and all the right scenes and moments to help us understand Astrid’s journey toward forgiveness.
I, Fly: The Buzz About Flies and How Awesome They Are
by Bridget Heos, illustrated by Jennifer Plecas
Nominated by: Terry Doherty
Who knew a fly could be so entertaining as he talks about his own life cycle? Through humor and interaction, kids, parents and teachers will delight in learning new facts and comparing the metamorphosis of a butterfly with a fly. The colorful cartoon illustrations and dialogue bubbles will engage readers in this nonfiction science book. The opening line is sure to capture the attention of a reader, “Hey, kids! What are you studying?” Um . . . butterflies. “Sigh.” It’s always the butterflies. I get it.” Fly is very persuasive as he encourages the reader to study and learn more about flies – maybe a little too persuasive! Everyone studies butterflies, but flies are cool and you will want to grab this book off the shelf to find out why! An excellent glossary and some outstanding words to know are included in the back matter.
The Fog Diver is a fun, exciting adventure set in a dystopian future where remnants of humanity live on the highest mountaintops and in airships above a deadly fog of microscopic robots covering the planet. The nannites were created to clean up Earth’s pollution, but got out of control and the fog they created killed billions of humans. A boy named Chess is lowered into the fog each day by his crewmates on a salvage ship flying above the clouds to scavenge on the earth’s surface. He is the best fog diver there is—the fog mysteriously energizes him. The secrets behind his fog-diving ability put a target on his back and will impact the survival of his family, and the fate of humankind.
Samantha McAllister, a “normal” teen in almost every way, hides a secret from her closest friends: she lives with Purely-Obsessional OCD. For better and for worse, Tamara Ireland Stone asks us to step into the shoes of our leading lady, navigating through the murky waters of high school cliques, bullying, weekly therapy sessions, and a new passion that she has to keep secret from her friends. When Sam’s new friend, Caroline, introduces her to the clandestine meeting of Poet’s Corner, her life changes forever.
Every Last Word stands out because of its honest, moving portrayal of mental illness. But it also stands out because of Sam’s hard-earned character growth. After being a bully just to fit in with her toxic friends, becoming a member of Poet’s Corner allows her to right some past wrongs and learn that finding your unique voice is more important than blending in with your friends. Along the way, we experience the highs and lows of high school cliques, show how there are always ways to redeem yourself even if they aren’t easy, and feel the emotions of all involved from every angle. The poetry included helps break the ice on what can be a difficult topic, making it more accessible, while the “feels” you succumb to will make and break your heart. It’s not always pretty, but it’s real and fair, making it a story that Young Adult readers can connect with on many levels.
Nimona is the snarky, shape-shifting sidekick to a supervillain. Her unwilling employer, Lord Ballister Blackheart, plays his part promoting evil and clashing against the hero Sir Ambrosius Goldenloin. Pulling Blackheart along with her overenthusiasm for wrongdoing, Nimona forces everyone to look deeply into questions of good and evil. She reopens old wounds between villain and hero, and tears into her own enemies with a vengeance, regardless of the consequences. But she also foils a nefarious government plot and is a fierce protector. Who is good? Who is evil? And who decides, anyway? In NIMONA, the answers keep shifting, and the results are awesome. We loved the way Noelle Stevenson created complex, sympathetic characters who subvert traditional understandings of beauty, power, and morality. And NIMONA is riotously funny to boot!
Most Dangerous: Daniel Ellsberg and the Secret History of the Vietnam War
by Steve Sheinkin
Roaring Brook Press
Nominated by: Benji Martin
Using historical data and interviews, Sheinkin sets a vivid, you-are-there scene, allowing readers to see Daniel Ellsberg move from enthusiastic Department of Defense political analyst to anti-war activist as he realizes that the President would continue sending American soldiers into this unwinnable war. Although Ellsberg is the title character, Most Dangerous is much more than a biography. It covers nearly three decades of US defense and political history, giving readers a front-row seat into the complexity of national security and decision making.
Compelling, thought-provoking and timeless, Most Dangerous delivers readers not only an historical account of a time period in our history often confusing, but offers readers a critical eye towards the future as well.
Maybe, long ago, we used to be good. Maybe all little girls are good in the beginning.” – THE WALLS AROUND US, Nova Ren Suma
The concept of good came up frequently among the judges in the Cybils Speculative Fiction list, as the Round One crew offered up seven novels which were very good indeed, and left to the Finalist judges the struggle to elevate one above the shining host. Intriguingly, the concept of “good” and “good enough,” repeated within the narratives as well. Whether any of the protagonists in SLASHER GIRLS & MONSTER BOYS, edited by April Genevieve Tucholke, can be considered “good” is debatable unless you’re a fan of horror, as many of our judges are. Ultimate good is at issue in THE SIX by Mark Alpert, as characters sacrificed their bodies to become mechanized weapons.
And then, there was “good enough;” Hallie struggled to be good enough to be loved by her sister in AN INHERITANCE OF ASHES by Leah Bobet; In MORTAL HEART by Robin LaFevers, Annith longed to be good enough to leave the convent of St. Mortain to do real work. Sierra Santiago must fight monsters AND patriarchy to prove she’s good enough to own her own magical heritage in SHADOWSHAPER, by Daniel José Older. In the novel by Laura Ruby, Finn O’Sullivan has to fight the belief of the town of BONE GAP that he and his brother aren’t good enough for the people they love not to just leave. There were a lot of “good” reasons to choose any one of these books, because they all have skillful writing and teen appeal. But, eventually, we realized that few books could be more appealing than what some of us referred to as “the killer ballerina book.”
Ballerinas, normally the artistic apex of beauty and grace, were shown as something violent and unfamiliar, underscoring themes of innocence and its loss. Nova Ren Suma’s THE WALLS AROUND US provides an unhinged look into the competitive, obsessive world through the eyes of Amber and Violet, two girls with vastly different futures: one in a Juvenile Detention Center; the other on her way to a promising career at Julliard. A challenging narrative with definite speculative, creepy supernatural elements, the novel’s shadowy, edgy setting with its distinctive voices, together with the atmospheric beauty of the writing convinced even the dubious to embrace this psychological thriller. We cordially invite you to weigh the good in these selected books, do the same.