2018 Cybils Winners!

As always, many many thanks to our round 2 judges and our category chairs as they read and discussed and worked to decide this year’s winners. Without further ado, here they are: 

Board Books

by Janik Coat
Harry N Abrams
Nominated by: ChristaS

This is an ingenious tactile and visual board book, that utilizes bold colors, simple shapes, and humor to make homophones and quirks of the English language accessible for young readers. This book was the winner because of its beguiling simplicity that appealed to a range of ages from toddlers to early elementary.

Easy Readers

Fox the Tiger (My First I Can Read)
by Corey R. Tabor
Balzer + Bray
Nominated by: Claire Annette Noland

Sometimes it’s fun to pretend to be someone else…Fox prowls like a tiger, Turtle turns into a race car, and Rabbit beeps and boops like a robot. But when the rain puts an end to pretend, Fox discovers he’s special just the way he is. A new title in the classic I Can Read series, Fox the Tiger is a sweet, clever read for fans of Elephant and Piggie. Familiar characters from Tabor’s picture books combine with fun vocabulary and simple sentences to encourage independent reading. At the same time, the story’s sophisticated themes of identity and multiple layers encourage re-reading for more advanced readers. 

Early Chapter Books

Jasmine Toguchi, Drummer Girl
by Debbi Michiko Florence
Farrar, Straus & Giroux
Nominated by: PragmaticMom

At first, Jasmine is thrilled to learn about the upcoming school talent show. But soon she begins to doubt the presentability of her talents on stage. With a flash of brilliance (and in perhaps one of the best conversations of the book), Jasmine’s mother recommends learning taiko—a Japanese drum—that she once played. With the help of a talented and compassionate instructor, Jasmine sets to work rehearsing her routine just days before the talent show. Will she be able to remember it all on the big day? Will she remember that kindness is more important than perfection? With interwoven cultural elements and memorable characters, this early chapter book adds a new volume to the series and stands well on its own. Jasmine Toguchi, Drummer Girl strikes the balance between strong characters, a solid plot, and valuable life lessons. 

Elementary/Middle Grade Graphic Novels

The Witch Boy
by Molly Knox Ostertag
Nominated by: Cecelia of Adventures of Cecelia Bedelia

The Witch Boy is a clever graphic novel that will appeal to many students. The illustrations are captivating and the story has family, friendship, support, and tension. The novel takes on important issues such as acceptance and understanding. It’s the story of Aster, a boy who wants to learn the art of magic, an art that is traditionally only girls’ work. Boys are supposed to be able to shapeshift, but so far, Aster can’t.

The authentic multicultural characters are different colors and ethnicities. Charlie, the one non-magic girl, has two dads and she has a wonderful connection with Aster. While there is a demon of sorts, it turns out that the people themselves, in their rigidness, are responsible for its creation.

The novel has beautiful artwork that is easy to follow. The use of white gutters depicts daytime and black is for night. The reader will become engaged and speed through the novel.

Elementary Non-Fiction

Joan Procter, Dragon Doctor
by Patricia Valdez; illustrated by Felicita Sala
Alfred A. Knopf Books for Young Readers
Publisher/ Author Submission

At a time when most women of her age and class were hosting tea parties and behaving demurely at home, Joan Procter was studying reptiles. She even had a crocodile for a pet! Felicita Sala’s child-friendly art and Patricia Valdez’s simple and engaging text chronicle Joan Procter’s life from girlhood to her untimely death at 34. Despite struggling with chronic ill-health, sexism from the scientists of the day, and general disinterest and fear of reptiles, Joan Procter made significant scientific contributions to the study of reptiles. She also designed exhibits at the London Zoo and encouraged the public to foster an interest in, and knowledge of, reptiles. Back matter includes a bibliography,  additional biographical information, two photos of a young Joan Procter, and a few paragraphs on Komodo Dragons, one of Joan’s favorite reptiles. Young readers will be inspired to pursue their own scientific interests, overcome barriers both societal and physical, and learn more about the strange, wonderful creatures that Joan Procter loved.

Elementary/Middle Grade Speculative Fiction

Nevermoor: The Trials of Morrigan Crow
by Jessica Townsend
Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Nominated by: Beth Mitchell

Morrigan has grown up believing she is cursed. Then, on her eleventh birthday, her luck changes when she’s whisked off to the magical city of Nevermoor, and invited to compete to be a member of the Wundrous society.   Readers will assume she makes it through the trials, but Morrigan’s low self-esteem means she herself is doubtful, and so it’s not just her external triumph that makes readers cheer for her.  Thought the good vs. evil plot might seem familiar, there are plent of unique twists.  The zany world of Nevermoor is wildly original, and the characters are vivid and three-dimensional. Fantasy-loving kids will be hooked by this memorable, magical story, and want the next book right away!

Fiction Picture Books

We Don’t Eat Our Classmates
by Ryan T. Higgins
Nominated by: Heidi G.

This is a hilarious, well-written book to help young readers explore the concept of how we begin to live in community and develop relationships with our peers. The youngest school children discover the empathy needed to treat each other kindly. This book was the winner because it’s a great message that uses humor to get the point across. The giggles that this book generates will bring kids back to it again and again to enjoy and learn from it multiple times.

Middle Grade Fiction

The Parker Inheritance
by Varian Johnson
Arthur A Levine
Nominated by: Katy Kramp

Set in the fictional town of Lambert, South Carolina (although based on the author’s hometown, Florence, SC), it’s the present-day story of Candice and her new friend Brandon as they research the past and a letter Candice found in her grandmother’s attic. They have a sweet friendship and make an unstoppable team. Candace not only wants to clear her beloved grandmother’s name for some wrong doings, but also discover if there really is a huge amount of money hidden somewhere in the town. To do so she and her friend will have to solve a puzzle. Readers will cheer for them to succeed.

Racism, gay acceptance, police violence against black youth, bullying, and sexism are many of the themes you’ll find. Each helps shape the plot and the characters’ actions, but they don’t completely take over the story. The Parker Inheritance weaves them into one glorious tale full of mystery and friendship all kids will enjoy.

The characters are vividly created—not just the two protagonists but all the support ones, and the author gives them their own complexity and nuance. The South Caroline setting, both past and present, is powerfully evoked and the Jim Crow era is strikingly brought to life, teaching black history in a relatable way. People see what they want to see and the story shows how pointless racism is both in the past and present.

Yes, the themes in The Parker Inheritance are ripe for discussion at home and in the classroom. Along with the intriguing and unpredictable mystery, it’s a thoroughly engaging novel with heart.

Middle Grade Non-Fiction

Death Eaters: Meet Nature’s Scavengers
by Kelly Milner Halls
Millbrook Press
Nominated by: Mrs. Shh

With a title that makes an immediate connection to the iconic Harry Potter series, Death Eaters is sure to grab middle grade readers, whether or not they enjoy the gross side of science. This is a fascinating and compassionate look at death, the cycle of life, and decomposition. Halls addresses the science of decomposition – what happens to skin, blood, and the body after death? – and then jumps right into a description of the various creatures involved in the breakdown of the body. Beginning with blowflies and other bugs and moving on to mammalian creatures (yes, humans are included) Halls covers a wide range of sometimes surprising links in the decomposition cycle. The author takes readers beyond the the grave to explore the effect of humans on the environment, specifically when they kill or alter the habits of vital creatures in the decomposition cycle. Halls concludes the book with a thoughtful memory from her youth and a reflection on the sometimes scary and gross, but always interesting processes of death. Source notes, glossary, bibliography, further reading, and photo acknowledgements are also included. While not the most savory of topics, this is an important subject both in science and life. Kids who are exploring science need to see the sometimes gross and scary side as well as the cute animals and exciting experiments and realize how seemingly small changes, like eliminating apparently useless creatures such as vultures, can have a huge impact on the world.

Junior High Non-Fiction

Boots on the Ground: America’s War in Vietnam
by Elizabeth Partridge
Viking Books for Young Readers
Nominated by: Anne@HeadFullofBooks

Boots on the Ground does more than just inform the reader about the U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War (though it does a good job at that level too). By focusing each chapter on a specific individual who served in some capacity–from medic to officer, from volunteer to draftee–the book puts the reader right into the thick of things. The author’s extensive research and interviews show in the wealth of detail about each person’s path to Vietnam, what they experienced there, and how it affected them. The stories are roughly chronological, and are interspersed with accounts of how presidents from JFK to Nixon handled their responsibilities and challenges. Most chapters feature photos of the subject just before the war and after they’d had “boots on the ground” for some time, and those images are as haunting as the text. Students who are interested in the topic can read it cover to cover, or sample the chapters that grab their attention.


Long Way Down
by Jason Reynolds
Atheneum/Caitlyn Dlouhy Books
Nominated by: Deb Nance at Readerbuzz

LONG WAY DOWN is a tour de force work of poetry. The entire novel in verse takes place on an elevator ride as a young man whose brother has been shot and killed descends to avenge his murder. Along the way, he is visited by the ghosts of those he has lost, the elevator filling with smoke as each enters to question, chide, taunt, and harangue him. This masterful narrative structure and the claustrophobic setting in that metal box filled with smoke, ghosts, and words create a gripping tension and kinetic energy that make LONG WAY DOWN nearly impossible to put down. Jason Reynolds’s spare, lyrical language and gorgeous, mesmerizing imagery stay with you and compel re-reading and discussion. This novel in verse makes maximum use of the format, using the poem placement, the background art, and the free verse poems themselves all working in harmony. Reynolds varies his approach to the poems to keep the tension high, repeating references, using anthropomorphism, and incorporating anagrams that startle, like a pause for a breath. His use of poetic language is vivid and powerful including:  “how do you hug what’s haunting you?”, “another piece of me, an extra vertebra, some more backbone”, “headlock that felt like a hug”, and “pushing the pistol under my pillow like a lost tooth.” The questions this book raises about the cycle of violence and the responses it evokes also make LONG WAY DOWN a natural for discussion with young readers themselves.  

Senior High Non-Fiction

The Faithful Spy: Dietrich Bonhoeffer and the Plot to Kill Hitler
by John Hendrix
Nominated by: Becky L.

The Faithful Spy is incredibly complete coverage of Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s life as well as the political climate of Germany during World War II. Not only is this information amazingly detailed (it’s hard to believe the author that he left out many things), but the style in which it was presented was innovative and attractive– hand-drawn style lettering on highly decorated pages rendered in red, black, and teal, that are an interesting and effective cross between vintage newspaper editorial cartoons and Mad Magazine drawings. This is a book that will appeal to young readers with a penchant for reading graphic novels and World War II aficionados alike. 

Young Adult Fiction

by Courtney Summers
Wednesday Books
Nominated by: Samantha

Raw, gritty, and relevant, Sadie by Courtney Summers begins by introducing podcaster West McCray, whose interviews and investigation for the podcast The Girls serve as one of the two narrative threads of the novel. Summers’ words to introduce the podcast within the novel also illuminate the strengths of Sadie itself—Sadie is about “what happens when a devastating crime reveals a deeply unsettling mystery. It’s a story about family, about sisters, and the untold lives lived in small-town America. It’s about the lengths we go to protect the ones we love . . . and the high price we pay when we can’t.”

Sadie Hunter herself provides the other narrative thread, weaving past and present to tell the chilling story of her own childhood and her quest to find some sort of justice for her sister. What emerges is an evocative, captivating thriller appealing to teenage fans of true-crime stories. Sadie succeeds because it feels so real. 

Young Adult Graphic Novels

Hey, Kiddo
by Jarrett J. Krosoczka
Nominated by: Julie Williams

The author’s story is poignant and a realistic portrayal of a teen dealing with a heroin addicted mother and absent father. It is  important for teens to hear that that there are all sorts of families out there.The author shows what it was like growing up around a loved one who is a drug addict. It shows the secrets, whispers, and guilt that family members carry around. Krosoczka depicts how art saved him and helped him cope with the pain he held inside. He includes actual illustrations from his childhood and teen years. There are also photos of him with his mother.

Krosoczka shows his love for the grandparents who raised him. They weren’t “perfect,” but they supported him and his dreams, like when they encouraged him to sign up for art classes. Krosoczka loved art and after his public school cut it out of the budget, having another means available to continue learning how to draw helped him in more ways than one.

The illustrations of Krosoczka attempting to get his mother to come home and notice him are heart wrenching and will resonate with many readers. This is the perfect book for a class discussion on how addiction shouldn’t be a hush subject. Only when discussions on sensitive subjects like addiction happen, will loved ones not blame themselves.

This coming of age memoir is good in its telling of the power of art, friendship, teacher support, and belief in one’s self. It ends with hope and awareness.

Young Adult Speculative Fiction

Tess of the Road
by Rachel Hartman
Random House Books for Young Readers
Nominated by: Caitlin

In Tess of the Road, author Rachel Hartman masterfully employs the classic fantasy quest format as a metaphor for Tess’s emotional journey towards healing and self-acceptance. The ‘road novel’ is a familiar trope, but Tess’s journey is full of unexpected bends in the road: difficult family relationships, guilt over past mistakes, trouble accepting help from others.
As an epic fantasy, it’s easy to expect stakes that are larger than life: good vs. evil, the fate of the universe. Where Tess is different is that she wrestles with struggles we all face daily–including how to push through other people’s ideas about you to get to the heart of who you really are. She’s a relatable main character, and readers will find themselves rooting for her to overcome her flaws.
This novel is action-packed, yet also richly layered. It has humor and suspense as well as depth and subtlety, as Tess sorts through complex issues that will resonate with readers and engage them in her quest for self-understanding and self-acceptance.