There’s not much to say in the way of an intro this year: just our thanks to all the bloggers who judged, authors who wrote, and publishers who supported us again in this year’s endeavor. And on that note, here are this year’s winners, in alphabetical order by category:
Nominated by: Katy Kramp
In a 13th century French inn, travelers including a nun, troubadour, and brewer, exchange stories of their encounters with three miraculous children who are set to be brought before the king for treason. Jeanne is a peasant girl who has visions; William, a teenage monk with incredible strength; and Jacob, a Jewish boy who has healing powers. They are accompanied in their adventures by Gwenforte, Jeanne’s faithful greyhound, who has returned from the dead.
Using a style reminiscent of Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, and the oral story telling traditions of the past,The Inquisitor’s Tale is narrated by a full cast of characters, each of whom adds a new layer to the story, building to a satisfying conclusion. The variety of voices and accents makes the unfamiliar setting come to life for middle grade readers, who will also appreciate the slightly off-color humor, a dragon quest, and courage of the young heroes. Along the way, listeners get to know the three children and the multiple narrators, one of whom is the author, Adam Gidwitz.
Nominated by: Becky L.
Exploring city life has never been more exciting and beautiful than it is in Christopher Franceschelli and Peskimo’s latest board book collaboration Cityblock. Readers turn pages and lift flaps to hail taxis, visit gift shops, and eat pizza from the local pizzeria, all without ever leaving the comforts of home. The bright color palette of the durable die-cut pages, the diverse characters, and the assorted locations make for a colorful and accessible way of exploring every facet of an urban city life and a great primer for those looking to learn more about the metropolitan experience. Children will want to revisit this city over and over again, making Cityblock a standout winner of this year’s CYBILS awards for best board book.
Early Chapter Books
Nominated by: Amanda Snow
Mango and Bambang: The Not-a-Pig is a book that follows a little girl named Mango Allsorts and the adventures she has with Bambang, a tapir and most certainly not-a-pig. Mango is the sort of girl who is good at a lot of things. We meet her as she is returning from a karate lesson, waiting to cross the street. However, traffic has obstructed her route. Or, rather, a tapir laying in the middle of the street has created a bit of a traffic muddle. Summoning her knack for smoothing over muddles, Mango gently coaxes the nervous animal to safety and invites him home with her for a breakfast of banana pancakes. Polly Farber has invented a delightful main character.
Each of the four chapters in Mango and Bambang presents new experiences for this young girl on her own in a busy city with her shy pet tapir. We follow these two through a series of four mini-adventures, which involve swimming, hats, a rather prickly upstairs neighbor, and a clarinet concert. Mango finds she even has to encourage her friend to try foods and experiences different from his former life in the jungle.
Interwoven with humor which the judges particularly liked, this story is a timeless tale of adventure, connection, kindness, and loyalty. Farber expertly uses repetition to increase our interest as well as presenting challenging vocabulary for early readers.
Young readers will appreciate the tri-colored illustrations and the way words move in a playful manner across the page, while simultaneously enjoying the engaging dialog and plot. Readers may encounter some unfamiliar words, however that should not deter anyone from this dynamic duo.
The main character in the book reminded judges of other familiar characters such as Madeline, Olivia. and Clementine. In this story, we have found another adventurous child and her best friend to win our hearts.
This book is perfect for children ages six to nine. Polly Farber has written two to other books in the series, so we can enjoy more adventures with this compelling duo in the future.
Nominated by: LindsayHM
Following two tiny best friends as they have adventures in a very big world, Snail & Worm is a refreshingly hysterical take on an age-old theme. Snail is curious and action ready. Worm is encouraging and thoughtful. Together, these two make an excellent pair.
Readers navigate through three short stories about two friends. This format is nice for young readers who may need to take breaks while reading. It’s a very easy to read for emergent readers navigating text . Readers will feel a sense of accomplishment after reading.
Repetitive language and the short sentence structure makes the this book a good jumping-off point for more difficult works as children progress in their reading. Young readers also have the opportunity to practice fluency and intonation while reading as they navigate through different punctuation in the story.
The committee found Snail & Worm to be creative. The author uses humor throughout the book to engage an emergent audience. The silliness even had some judges laughing out loud. Snail and the Worm makes a fine addition to a collection of emergent books for young readers.
Nominated by: Lackywanna
This love song to the giant squid stands out in a sea of nonfiction ocean books. The oil paintings illustrating the book are as dark and mysterious as the creature they depict. There are close-up pictures that define details, putting the reader right into the deep water with the squid, while others offer fleeting glimpses of the elusive creature to pique readers’ interest.The poetic text gives ample, fascinating information about the giant squid in a short amount of space but also raises questions about the many things scientists don’t yet know about this mysterious creature. Fleming shows how scientists have had to piece together information about the giant squid based on bodies that have been found on shore or in fishing nets. Giant squid have only rarely been seen in the wild, which is surprising, given that they are as big as a bus! An afterword expands on the spare text, and an excellent list of resources at the end of the book provides additional research possibilities. This lovely work answers questions and leaves readers wanting more, opening the “dark unknown” that exists between the simple lines of prose and lovely artwork.
Elementary/Middle Grade Graphic Novels
Nominated by: Lwad
Lupe Impala, Elirio Malaria, and El Chavo Flapjack are back in an adventure that takes them to the underworld
of Mictlantecuhtli. When their beloved cat Genie goes missing from their auto shop, they go on a quest to find her—and her epic true identity, as it turns out. Their quest takes them on a tour through Latin pop culture, from el chupacabra and La Llorona to lucha libre wrestling. Bad puns delivered in two languages abound, and every panel (inked in ball point pen!) is bursting with visual detail that adds to the story. This unique art, by Raúl the Third, brings to mind diverse influences such as graffiti, tattoos, and thirties cartoons. The clean lines and busy scenes are a
perfect companion to a story that twists and turns while remaining approachable for elementary readers. Unlike the Lowriders themselves, Lowriders to the Center of the Earth is never bajito y suavecito (low and slow). The cultural and linguistic lessons are woven seamlessly into a fast-moving adventure that will entertain readers of all ages.
Elementary/Middle Grade Speculative Fiction
Nominated by: Sussu Leclerc
In Shadow Magic, three young teens become unlikely allies in a riveting fantasy with a delightfully Gothic twist. Thorn is sold as a slave to the executioner of Gehenna, famous for its dark magic that involves raising the dead. Lily becomes queen of Gehenna after her parents and brother are mysteriously killed. K’leef, prince of a kingdom of fire magic, is held hostage. Like K’leef, Lily is a pawn in a desperate effort to keep the magical kingdoms at peace, an effort that involves marrying her off to the obnoxious prince of light magic. But Lily is too strong a character to submit meekly to this plan, and the fragile peace is further threatened when she is targeted by an unknown assassin. The three teens must work together, finding and using their strengths and skills (both magical and mundane) in an effort to keep Lily alive, and her kingdom intact.
Mystery, magic, and friendship (including Thorn’s friendship with a giant bat), combine in a riveting story of epic adventure! The world-building is fascinating, the twists of the plot engrossing, and the darkness of shadow magic proves to be only as dark as those who wield it. Though the threads of this story are wrapped up nicely, readers will be anxious to continue exploring this world and its characters in the sequel.
Fiction Picture Books
Nominated by: Sondra Eklund
Once upon a time, a very hungry lion and some cute little animals gathered together in one room. What could possibly happen next? In Lucy Ruth Cummins’ brilliant The Hungry Lion, total hilarity ensues as the animals begin to disappear, leaving the reader to wonder why. Things between these pages are not always what they seem, and this story will keep you guessing right until the very end. The book’s unpredictability ensures that the story appeals to kids (and adults!) of all ages, and the humor is sure to get everybody laughing as the unseen narrator’s own confusion adds to the clever text. To top it off, the simple, pencil-and-color illustrations perfectly capture the emotion of some very surprised animals. The amusing artwork, coupled with witty prose, make The Hungry Lion a gem of a read aloud and this year’s winner of the CYBILS award for best fiction picture book. Just make sure to read it in a safe place — with no hungry animals lurking.
Nominated by: Deb Nance at Readerbuzz
There are readers who revisit E. B. White’s classic works every year, in a classroom or for their own satisfaction; there are young readers meeting Charlotte, Stuart, and their friends for the first time. Melissa Sweet’s stunning biography of E. B. White is a book that will reach the heart of every reader. Her incorporation of personal papers and photographs from E. B. White’s life into the mixed media artwork provide the reader so much to see, in so many details. Before you even get to the title page there is information to absorb. The masterful design includes White’s words, images from his stories, his letters, and photographs from his life, all coming together to create a book that allows the reader to feel as though she is walking through his life with him–the sights, the smells, the feelings — yet the rich detail is never distracting. Rather, the illustrations give the reader a place to pause and reflect, to consider the person who wrote some of our favourite childhood stories. The story of White’s life and writings flows well, making it an interesting read more than a straightforward biography. The narrative is not only informative, but evocative and shows how cherished White’s books are for many different readers. We even see drafts of White’s writing, allowing a young writer a glimpse into the process of creation. Sweet uses rich vocabulary, yet the text will still be accessible to young readers. The impressive end matter includes an afterword, timeline, detailed notes, bibliography, and other works. Sweet has truly created a book to study, reread, and treasure.
Middle Grade Fiction
Nominated by: Abby Johnson
Ghost is a true joy to read, share, and celebrate the powerful messages. You’ll remember many of the passages long after reading. Ghost’s spot-on unique voice and amusing insights are surprising and always in character. This budding track star has a lot of societal strikes against him: poor, African-American male, a victim of violence, child of a single-parent household, and his father is in jail. It would be easy for him to give up and join a gang, but instead he discovers the power of teamwork and consequences for his poor choices. Ghost is an engaging and fully realized character and many kids will find something to relate to.
The supporting characters are also multi-dimensional, each with a story of their own. This begins with Coach. The benefits of hard work and practice are something Ghost would never realize without him. He is a strong figure who has something to offer his team and a willingness to stick with these kids.
The storytelling is endearing and diversity takes center stage. Author Jason Reynolds deserves a victory lap. We’ll sit back and anxiously await the next book in this track and field series.
Middle Grade Non-Fiction
Nominated by: Amanda Snow
“What happened to me must never happen to you.” – Sachiko Yasui
In summer 1945, when their chicken lays just one egg, only the youngest child will eat; in these days of war, all of Japan is hungry, and 6 year old Sachiko’s family in Nagasaki is no exception. When the air-raid siren wails, run for cave; when it stops, it is safe – but not on August 9th, when an atomic bomb hits their city.
Facts are the framework of this well-known historic event, but Sachiko’s personal story, as relayed by author Caren Stelson, is its bruised yet beating heart and soul. The author’s extensive research supplements her many visits with Sachiko Yasui in Nagasaki over a number of years, as the young girl’s heart-wrenching memories and determination to live fill these pages with both truth and hope as she grows up.
Surviving the blast when her playmates perished, being bullied and shunned as a bomb victim, losing friends and family members to radiation-caused burns and cancers, nearly losing her own voice to thyroid cancer as a young woman – after that terrible bright blast, nothing was right for Sachiko.
For many years, she kept all these memories to herself, but Sachiko became inspired by the nonviolent philosophies of Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr. Deciding as an adult to speak out for peace, she quotes Helen Keller, who visited Nagasaki when Sachiko was young: “All the world is suffering. It is also full of the overcoming.”
This book’s many historic pictures and photos from Sachiko’s family album bring the people and places to life. Historic notes, glossary of Japanese words used in the story, endnote about the author interviewing Sachiko, sources list, bibliography, and thorough index make Sachiko: A Nagasaki Bomb Survivor’s Story a great source for research on this key event of World War II and its aftermath.
Nominated by: Adrienne Gillespie
When this school year ends,
I will have spent
one thousand days
in this building.
I want a thousand more
so I’ll never have to say
goodbye to friends.
From “First Day” by Rachel Chieko Stein
Eighteen narrators, from diverse backgrounds and experiences, tell the story of their final year at elementary school before moving up to middle school. Their final year also corresponds to the last year of Emerson Elementary itself. The school is scheduled to be demolished to build a supermarket in their food insecure neighborhood.
The fifth grade has been asked by their teacher, Ms. Hill, to write poems for a time capsule to be incorporated into the new building project. The poems in various forms reveal the distinctly personal stories of each student and the classroom dynamics. As the year unfolds, students find their voices by organizing and protesting the demolition of their beloved school.
Of all the candidates for this year’s award for poetry, the committee found The Last Fifth Grade of Emerson Elementary to be the most appealing in its diversity, its capturing of the emotional lives of children on the brink of adolescence, and its poetic acrobatics. Laura Shovan’s writing is masterful. Readers will find themselves reflected in the experiences of the fifth graders. A thumbnail illustration of each character accompanies the poem helping the reader further identify the character. An introduction to poetry and poetic forms at the end completes the package.
Young Adult Fiction
Nominated by: Compass Book Ratings
This harrowing historical novel follows the lives of three young refugees seeking freedom and safety in East Prussia as World War II nears its end: Lithuanian Joana, a nurse burdened by guilt; pregnant, Polish Emilia; and Prussian Florian, a German army deserter carrying a valuable secret. A bumbling, delusional young Nazi soldier, Alfred, also narrates from aboard the doomed ship Wilhelm Gustloff—the eventual destination of the three protagonists and their small band of traveling companions. The ship, packed far beyond capacity with thousands of desperate refugees, is struck by Soviet torpedoes in the icy Baltic Sea. Joana, Emilia, Florian and the others must draw from their nearly tapped-out resilience as they try to survive the greatest maritime disaster in history.
Meticulously researched and brilliantly written, this stunning and devastating story will captivate readers. Sepetys shines a light into the everyday life of the citizens of Nazi Germany and the occupied areas, with many parallels to the modern-day refugee crisis. Each character has secrets that unfold gradually and converge with others in unexpected ways, showing the varied effects of war on the average person. The narrative voices are distinct, well-drawn, and, with the exception of Alfred (a vile coward who fulfills a necessary role), sympathetic. Even secondary characters, such as the Shoe Poet and the young orphan boy, are vivid and compelling. Tightly paced and filled with constant peril and action, the story moves quickly, with the rotating viewpoints and short chapters aiding in the momentum. Though the setting is one of overwhelming tragedy, the growing connections between the courageous travelers render the narrative less bleak. This powerful, haunting, and immensely readable novel has wide appeal. Readers will not soon forget Sepetys’s vivid characters or the story of the Wilhelm Gustloff.
Young Adult Graphic Novels
Nominated by: Becky L.
March Volume 3 concludes the story of Congressman John Lewis’s early career as a crusader for human rights, covering the battle for voting rights and the all the events culminating in the March on Selma. The March trilogy has won many awards to date, and it’s clear why: the subject matter is timely and important, its execution is literary while also remaining accessible enough for a wide audience, and it brings history alive in a way that will appeal to a variety of readers. It also doesn’t shy away from the horrors of violence that black Americans suffered during the civil rights movement. The story touches on key figures such as Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X as well as the roles of many lesser-known heroes of the civil rights era. The drawing style adds drama and a sense of action, making this much more than a static depiction of historical events. Above all, March reminds readers that despite all the progress that has been made, there’s still a lot of work to be done—and history can help inform and inspire us in our current era of protest.
Young Adult Non-Fiction
Nominated by: Patricia Tilton
As a privileged child in Pyongyang, Sungju Lee grew up admiring his country’s magnificent leader, Kim Il-Sung. He planned to join the military to protect his beloved country against the evil Americans always threatening North Korea’s peaceful way of life. But soon after their leader’s death, Sungju’s parents mysteriously take the young man “on vacation” to an impoverished factory town far from the capital city.
Readers will realize long before Sungju that this “vacation” is actually a forced relocation after his father is removed from the military. Food and clothing are in short supply, Father reluctantly leaves to find more, Mother doesn’t return from visiting relatives, and suddenly Sungju finds himself living on the street and running a gang of homeless kids. While the fall from privileged childhood to teen thief isn’t a new tale in itself, we know so little about life in North Korea that this memoir packs a punch. The constant stream of lies told to the populace is astounding, and the young men are faced with harrowing violence and depredation even before their families are split apart. This story would seem unbelievable if we didn’t know that North Korea is a real place.
Despite the unfamiliar setting and extreme circumstances, teen readers will relate to Sungju’s day-to-day dilemmas and decisions. Sungju was far more educated than any kid in the factory city, but street smarts, violence, and gangs became necessary in his desperate scramble to stay alive. Friendship and family play a huge part in his life and his survival, and mystery underpins this story as both of his parents go missing. Readers will continually wonder how Sungju escaped to write this harrowing true story for us.
Like a dystopian tale set in the still-dark nation of North Korea just yesterday, Every Falling Star is a compelling story deserving of a wide audience.
Young Adult Speculative Fiction
Nominated by: Maria Gianferrari
In 2575, a battle breaks out between two megacorporations over a small planet, home to the recently broken up Kady and Ezra. The two separately evacuate onto different ships, but they can’t quite let go of each other, and that leads them to communicate via secret chat rooms. Kady discovers that Ezra might be the one person who can help her find the truth about the battle…and the mysterious incidents possibly caused by AI, the computer that runs the ship. Told in a series of mixed documents, such as web chats, descriptions of video recordings, emails, and more, Illuminae discusses the cost of truth, questions what it means to be human, and offers a gasp-inducing adventure.
Illuminae effortlessly guides readers into a tale of sci-fi space ships, allowing the world-building to gradually settle around the reader. In particular, the formatting lets the reader see key components of the setting like the space ship models, the galaxy around them, and more. The quick changing of documents (with helpful notes attached to them) are perfect for holding teens’ attention and keeping them engaged.
While the formatting is excellent, the characterization and plot give Illuminae a great edge. The traditional hero role and the damsel in distress figure are switched. Kady is focused and determined and not above breaking the rules to save Ezra. Ezra, though not passive, gives readers the most emotional hits as he desperately misses Kady and didn’t want to break up in the first place. Together, the two create an unforgettable team of strength, ferocity, and love.
While the plot line centers around Kady and Ezra, the documents allow for smaller pieces, or just pieces that don’t directly involve them, to deepen and intensify the plot. The twists are powerful and wounding, with more than enough surprise to shock. Kaufman and Kristoff lay the groundwork so smoothly, focusing more on developing the seriousness (and often cruelty) of the situation, rather than distracting with many red herrings. The ending wraps up nicely with one last surprise to lead into the sequel.
Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff prove a dynamic writing duo in Illuminae. An engaging format makes this a solid pick for teens, and the journey of Kady and Ezra spin an exciting and emotional story.