The 2017 Cybils Winners

There’s really not much to say, here at the announcement of the winners, except a HUGE Thank You (!) to all our volunteers: chairs, panelists, and judges. We could NOT have done it without you! 

Board Books

Changing Faces: Meet Happy Bear
by Nathan Thoms, illustrated by Carles Ballesteros
Harry N Abrams
Nominated by: Charlotte

Learning about facial expressions and moods is exciting and interactive in Nathan Thoms and Carles Ballesteros’s board book, Meet Happy Bear. Reacting to requests by an enticing little mouse, readers act silly, sing a song, and blow bubbles to help change Happy Bear’s moods. With the turn of a page, vertical panels shift and change Happy Bear’s grumpy, worried, angry, and sad faces back to smiles. The subtle colors and designs focus the reader’s attention on the mouse and Happy Bear. This is a sweet story that children will want to read over and over again, making Meet Happy Bear a standout winner of this year’s CYBILS award for best board book.

Fiction Picture Books

Big Cat, Little Cat
by Elisha Cooper
Roaring Brook Press
Nominated by: Adrienne Gillespie

Big Cat, Little Cat is so simple, yet so deep. With simple bold lines, the book explores the life of a white cat and a black cat. It takes the big emotions associated with new family members, relationships, aging, and death and makes them accessible for kids. The judges appreciated Cooper’s ability to work in enough small bits of humor, so the Big Cat, Little Cat takes the edge off the sadness and creates a beautifully, touching treatment of a tough subject that is universal. Everyone experiences change and loss of pets or loved ones. Kids will identify with the cats, enjoy their antics, and discover the lasting nature of love.

Easy Readers

King & Kayla and the Case of the Secret Code (King and Kayla)
by Dori Hillestad Butler
Nominated by: Jennifer W

Narrated by Kayla’s loveable golden retriever, King, readers are immediately involved in a mystery when Kayla and her friend Mason receive notes written in code. Kayla and Mason set off in search of the sender as they try to decipher the notes. King solves the mystery with his keen sense of smell but his attempts to communicate with Kayla are comically misinterpreted.

Written in five short chapters, budding readers will enjoy the humorous interplay between King and Kayla, the challenge of figuring out the code, and a satisfying conclusion. The full color illustrations feature a group of diverse characters and a loveable dog in an interactive story that is “just right” for girls and boys.

Early Chapter Books

Wedgie & Gizmo
by Suzanne Selfors
HarperCollins Childrens
Nominated by: Ms. Yingling

Wedgie and Gizmo is a delight from start to finish. It’s the perfect book. It is written for kids transitioning to chapter books, but it’s smart and clever enough to engage older readers as well. It would be a fun story to read aloud at home or at school for lots of shared laughs. The humor will appeal to kids who love funny books, but it can also hook in kids who aren’t sure they like any books. The blended family pieces of the story give it some weight for kids who want their books to have meaning and impact. But the antics of Wedgie and Gizmo keep the tone light. All of these factors and more made Wedgie and Gizmo our top pick for the Cybils Award for Early Chapter Books.

Elementary Non-Fiction

Hatching Chicks in Room 6
by Caroline Arnold
Nominated by: Claire Annette Noland

Simple yet fascinating, this book takes the reader inside a diverse kindergarten classroom as they watch chicks hatch from eggs and learn about the life cycle of chickens. The simple text makes this title accessible to younger readers, yet there is enough information inserted into the story to make sure they, as well as older readers, learn new information. The once common experience of having animals in the classroom is much rarer these days, and this book captures the thrill of hatching and raising the chicks all the while introducing new vocabulary related to the endeavor. The photography captures both the delight of the students as well as funny expressions on the chickens themselves. The lively and informative text and intriguing photographs make this a perfect choice for younger elementary kids.

Elementary/Middle Grade Graphic Novels

Where’s Halmoni?
by Julie Kim
Little Bigfoot
Nominated by: Anamaria (bookstogether)

A little Korean girl and her brother come home to find their Halmoni (grandmother) missing. While searching for her, they’re transported to a world of Korean folklore where animals speak and goblins love yummy treats. Julie Kim has created a visually stunning world that effortlessly infuses Korean text (Hangul) in rich, expressive art. The art is integral to the story, and the  characters are expressive, amusing, and fully developed. It’s a graphic novel that can appeal to both young and older readers, whether or not they have Korean connections. 

Elementary/Middle Grade Speculative Fiction

The Dragon with a Chocolate Heart
by Stephanie Burgis
Bloomsbury USA
Nominated by: Heidi G.

This year’s winner is a story of dragons, chocolate, finding one’s passion, and facing social prejudice. Aventurine is a young dragon whose family thinks she’s too young to leave their cave. Convinced that she’s perfectly fierce enough, she sneaks out on her own, hoping to find in the outside world both something to hunt and maybe even something to be her dragon-ish passion in life. When a human, who should have been easy prey, tricks her into drinking enchanted hot chocolate, she finds herself turned into a human girl! On the plus side, she’s found her passion—chocolate!  But in order to get more chocolate, she’ll have to go live with puny humans as a puny human herself.  Can a fierce dragon girl find a place among humans (when she gets angry, her first instinct is to eat them), and enough chocolate to keep her happy?  And what happens when her dragon family comes looking for her? Tensions build and tempers flare, and the suspense builds to a happily satisfying ending. Themes of finding your true self, and loyalty to family and friends combine with political intrigue and prejudice in a memorable and gripping story.
Middle Grade Fiction
by Alan Gratz
Nominated by: Wendy

Refugee by Alan Gratz is an important story for our times. The writing is tension-filled and although the young characters are fictional, the facts surrounding their terror are real. Set in different decades, each of the three stories detail the harrowing journey of a family as they attempt to escape an otherwise dangerous situation. Author Alan Gratz is artful in the way the separate plots interconnect and overlap. Circumstances are not glossed over or made any easier in fiction than they are for actual refugees of the past and present.

The story pointedly shows that the refugee crisis has been with us longer than most kids realize. It’s also a challenging book, but with short chapters and cliffhanger endings it’s one they will really want to read. This Cybils Middle-Grade Fiction winner is a moving experience. It won’t be a book you’ll soon forget.

Middle Grade Non-Fiction

Two Truths and a Lie: It’s Alive!
by Ammi-Joan Paquette
Walden Pond Press
Nominated by: Flowering Minds

The unique concept of this book will encourage readers to think for themselves, research, and question their sources to differentiate fact from fiction.The playful format is engaging and the idea of challenging readers to find the answers for themselves is both novel and admirable. In this age of “fake news,” it is more important than ever to provide kids with ways to practice their critical thinking skills. Divided into three parts (plants, animals, and humans), each section includes three stories: two are true and one is a lie.  The varied subject matter demonstrates to children that facts can be skewed in any area. The text can be used one-on-one or in a group where an extensive debate is possible in determining which story is untrue. The answers and an extensive bibliography make learning research and fact-checking skills simple and fun.


I’m Just No Good at Rhyming: And Other Nonsense for Mischievous Kids and Immature Grown-Ups
by Chris Harris
Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Nominated by: Jen N.

No one is immune to stress in this era of political rancor and natural disaster, including kids. Luckily, a stress-busting antidote is served up in the impeccably rhymed I’m Just No Good at Rhyming and Other Nonsense for Mischievous Kids and Immature Grown-Ups, written by Chris Harris and illustrated by Lane Smith. Hilarious, sweet, and thought-provoking, this collection bowled the judges over with its bouncing rhythms, dazzling word play, and rank foolishness. (And the judges weren’t the only ones–review copies kept disappearing into the bedrooms and backpacks of nearby middle-graders.)

I’m Just No Good at Rhyming is a literary tour de force that consistently delights. It’s A. A. Milne crossed with Shel Silverstein, seasoned with a dash of Oscar Wilde and a hint of Ellen Degeneres. It reads like a giant inside joke–a joke that anyone with a funny bone and a few minutes to read can get inside. (Except for 11 ½- year-olds. They have to come back when they are 12. Just read the jacket flap.)

There are stunning visual quips like The Duel, where the letters b and d face off (it doesn’t go well, resulting in p and q). There’s an ongoing feud between Harris and Smith, as seen in I Don’t Like My Illustrator and its lovely accompanying portrait of the author. It has groan-worthy puns, (The Old Woman Who Lived in Achoo) and plenty of the absurd (Just Because I’m a Turkey Sandwich and Some Chips Doesn’t Mean I Don’t Have Feelings Too, You Know!) Masterfully sprinkled throughout the silly, naughty, and nonsensical are poignant moments like I’m Shy on the Outside:

I’m the life of the party here under my skin.
So keep knocking—
Someday I might let you in.

I’m Just No Good at Rhyming will make poetry lovers of young and old, from any background and experience, even the poetry skeptics–it’s just subversive enough that kids will be passing it around the playground like contraband candy. Best of all, it will make them laugh. Giggle. Chortle. Guffaw. And couldn’t we all use a little more of that these

Junior High Non-Fiction

The Whydah: A Pirate Ship Feared, Wrecked, and Found
by Martin W. Sandler
Candlewick Press
Nominated by: Linda Baie

Whydah: a Pirate Ship Feared, Wrecked, and Found is a well-documented, action-packed story about the pirate ship the Whydah, the men who lived and worked on her, and the efforts to find her treasure. But this book is not merely the story of a specific pirate ship. It overturns stereotypes and will appeal even to those who do not believe they are “into” pirates. The men of the Whydah were not just thieves and slave runners, but men who felt they had no other way to make a living and truly cared about one another on their ships. It’s a great look at why people turned to pirating and helps the reader separate fact from fiction. Within each chapter are short sections that look at related topics like “living the pirate life” and “dressing like a pirate.” The Whydah sank off Massachusetts where it lay for almost 300 years and the final part of the book tells the story of the search for the treasures; the author doesn’t shy away from the controversy regarding the excavation and the treasure hunters. This non-fiction book is full of adventure and excitement.
Senior High Non-Fiction

Vincent and Theo: The Van Gogh Brothers
by Deborah Heiligman
Henry Holt
Nominated by: Becky L.

Vincent and Theo: the Van Gogh Brothers is a beautifully written book based on letters between the two brothers; it is narrative non-fiction that reads like fiction. It has an appealing layout with short chapters. This book is not just a book about a painter and his brother, but a book about mental illness and its impact on Vincent Van Gogh’s life, his art, and his relationships; it has themes of love, resilience, and influence. This book shows the importance of Theo in Vincent’s life and that without Theo, Vincent wouldn’t be the man and artist that he became. Although this book is over 450 pages, it will lure readers in and keep them turning its pages. 
Young Adult Graphic Novels

Spill Zone
by Scott Westerfeld
First Second Books
Nominated by: Anne@HeadFullofBooks

 No one knows what caused the Spill that destroyed the small city of Poughkeepsie, leaving only a handful of survivors including Addison Merrick’s little sister, Lexa. Despite the Spill Zone being quarantined and off-limits to civilians, Addison explores the Zone to support what family she has left through her photography, and find out what killed her parents and made her sister mute.

Spill Zone is a fun graphic novel that captivates the reader with its mystery, kick-ass female lead and vibrant art. Alex Puvilland’s art is loose, a little off-kilter and great with its colors when differentiating the psychedelic world of the Zone with the world outside of it. Along with Scott Westerfeld, the two creators have perfected pacing and will have teens wanting the sequel immediately. 

Young Adult Fiction

Piecing Me Together
by Renée Watson
Bloomsbury USA
Nominated by: Becky L.

In Watson’s sophomore YA novel, we meet Jade, a girl who’s determined to get out of her neighborhood in order to have a better future. She’s done everything she can toward that end, including enrolling in a mentorship program for “at-risk” girls. But that’s not really who Jade is, and being in the program only highlights for her what people see when they look at her: a Black girl on the bigger side from a poor neighborhood. Even her mentor, who’s also Black, doesn’t seem to get who she really is. And that just helps push Jade to show the world what she can do.

Not only is this a beautifully written and poetic book, but it’s infused with a quiet strength in the way Jade finds her power, her voice, and her identity in a world that doesn’t make it easy. It’s a book that speaks deeply to and about those who’ve been marginalized by society, and who best to surround yourself with if you truly want to lift yourself out. It’s a guide to success on your own terms, but it’s never pedantic and always authentic; Watson displays a particular skill with emotional resonance. It’s the kind of book you wish you could distribute to teens on their way in to high school, each and every year. 
Young Adult Speculative Fiction 

Scythe (Arc of a Scythe)
by Neal Shusterman
Simon & Schuster
Nominated by: Amy

Imagine a world where an unbiased database has eliminated war and poverty. Where death and disease no longer exist. But if no one dies, how long can earth support the population? That’s what the people of the far distant future must cope with in Scythe.

The solution they come up with is an organization with the highest ethical standards and the most humane values—Scythdom. The members of Scythdom are to make sure the world’s population is kept in balance, so that life on the planet will be possible for the masses.

And then…corruption.

Neal Shusterman creates an intelligent and terrifying world where good and evil inevitably clash. At the center are two teens who find love in the midst of murder. Suspenseful to the end, with fascinating characterization and insights into the complex nature of mankind, Scythe is an intense but hopeful reading experience.

While all the novels in the YA Spec Fic shortlist are well told and exciting, Scythe is spell-binding and grapples with the darkest themes in literature. The world is rich and complex. Scythe develops every facet, from the powerful leaders to the apprentices. The cast of characters is diverse, convincing and three dimensional, from the scythe who kills with wisdom to the one with blood lust.

All of the books we read push the boundaries of speculative fiction, which at its best explores the world and the human condition in ways mere realism cannot. The books  also delve into adolescence itself, as the young protagonists of each book have to explore their own identities and make hard decisions about who they want to be in their world.  Each of the short-listed books digs into both social issues and coming of age struggles. Scythe does both with such originality, fearlessness, and emotional impact that we are delighted to present it with this award.