The 2021 Cybils Winners!

As we wrap up another year, we sit back and marvel at how many people are willing to step up and participate, to help out, to find and read all the books, and to make decisions that pick books we feel are excellent, and yet kid-friendly. We are grateful for everyone’s support and help and are glad we have come to the end of another successful year. 

And so, on that note, enjoy this year’s winners!

Board Books

Big Bear, Little Bear
Schneider, Marine
Cameron Kids
Nominated by: Sam Richardson

With its subtle humor, Big Bear, Little Bear, could easily become a favorite in any toddler’s collection.The simple predictable text creates a comforting pattern, but toddlers will also enjoy exploring the similarities and differences throughout the bears’ day. Classic style illustrations with a muted color palette contain just the right number of details. A sweet, cozy ending wraps everything up, giving this the potential to be a well-loved treasure.

Fiction Picture Books

Wang, Andrea, illustrated by Chin, Jason
Neal Porter Books
Nominated by: Darshana Khiani

Watercress is a beautiful lyrical story that incorporates a universal childhood desire to fit in while at the same time honoring cultural and family memories and traditions. The committee felt that children of all ages could take something away from the story- whether just the beauty in sharing a meal with family, being embarrassed, or on a deeper level, wanting to fit in. The illustrations help carry the meaning to an even deeper level and enrich the story. This picture book is stunning, creative, and emotionally touching.

Easy Reader

See the Dog: Three Stories About a Cat
LaRochelle, David, illustrated by Wohnoutka, Mike
Candlewick Press
Nominated by: Deb Nance at Readerbuzz

In this follow-up to See the Cat: Three Stories About a Dog, the dog is sick and has asked the cat to take his place in the book. Cat has his own idea of what he thinks dogs do, which will make readers laugh out loud. Three chapters equal a trio of fun adventure stories that will leave readers wanting more. The simple repetitive text, fun illustrations, and speech bubbles are a winning combination, relying on one another to tell the whole story. The sharp humor is spot on for the targeted audience. Early readers are sure to return to it time and time again. Congratulations to this winning author/illustrator team!

Early Chapter Books

Sydney and Taylor Explore the Whole Wide World
Davies, Jacqueline, illustrated by Hocking, Deborah
Clarion Books
Nominated by: Katie Michols

Taylor, a hedgehog, decides it would be exciting to explore the Whole Wide World. His friend Sydney, a skunk, agrees to go along to make Taylor happy. These two unlikely explorers leave their burrow to travel to places far from home, but when they have to hunt for food and battle dangerous predators, they both agree the best part of their great adventure was returning home. Sydney and Taylor Explore the Whole Wide World is an especially sweet story of friendship and optimism packed with humor and adventure. This early chapter book is filled with delightful illustrations that enhance the narrative while using higher level vocabulary to engage readers. A first in a series, the judges agreed that readers will be asking to read more of Taylor and Sydney.

Elementary Non-Fiction

Bartali’s Bicycle: The True Story of Gino Bartali, Italy’s Secret Hero
Hoyt, Megan, illustrated by Bruno, Iacopo
Quill Tree Books
Nominated by: Julie Rowan-Zoch

Almost every child has experienced the thrill of riding a bike, feeling speed and exhilaration turn into freedom. Gino Bartali used his skill as a cyclist as a quiet part of the resistance movement during World War II. In Bartali’s Bicycle: The True Story of Gino Bartali, Italy’s Secret Hero, we are amazed and inspired by Bartali’s dedication and humility. Author Megan Hoyt’s prose leaps off the page and propels the book forward. Iacopo Bruno’s sepia-toned illustrations are coupled with extraordinary typography and book design to fine effect. Extensive sources and a timeline offer the opportunity to keep the learning moving.

Elementary/Middle Grade Graphic Novels

Measuring Up
LaMotte, Lily, illustrated by Xu, Ann
Nominated by: Julie Williams

In this strong relationship-driven story, which is much more than a story of food, the main character shows her love of family, culture, and connection through cooking. Through a reality show, issues of immigration, family, friendship, and competition are dealt with in a way that young readers can relate to and understand. The artwork and story are uplifting and the book will have wide appeal for readers in elementary and middle grades.

Elementary/Middle Grade Speculative Fiction

Cece Rios and the Desert of Souls
Rivera, Kaela
Nominated by: MPFB

Cece Rios and the Desert of Souls is a stunning story of a brave and determined girl desperate to save her older sister, captured by the powerful dark criatura El Sombrerón. Though she must enter into the world of the dark magic of the brujas, sending the criaturas under her control to fight in the bruja’s arena, she never loses her kind heart and empathy. This is what helps her win through her challenges, while making her a character to love. The book, with a strong and captivating cultural background was inspired by stories the author’s abuelo told her growing up. With its vivid Southwest setting, inclusion of Mexican folklore, the fascinating magic of the criaturas, and beautiful themes of family, love, friendship, sacrifice and the importance of kindness, this is a story that will instantly capture the reader’s heart, and stay there.

Middle Grade Fiction

Korman, Gordon
Nominated by: Julie Williams

Linked by Gordon Korman tackles timely issues such as racism, identity, and redemption head-on. When the insular town of Chokecherry, CO, is rocked by a swastika painted within the halls of its middle school, administrators respond with education about the Holocaust. While each of the multiple narrators is perplexed by the single act, they are further stunned when more appear and elect to combat the emblem of hatred with a paper chain 6 million links long. Fully aware that they may never reach their goal, the students band together in a show of heartwarming solidarity. Against this backdrop, several narrators, including a popular social media personality, weigh in on how their lives unfold as the school year progresses. The passion for the paperchain possesses each in their own way, from the lone Jewish girl who is suddenly the center of attention to the most popular boy who is wrongly credited with the paperchain idea. As each character develops and their lives intertwine, readers cannot help but become a part of the small-town life that springs into existence in their minds’ eyes. Linked is a most compelling read, evoking strong emotions, and leading readers to consider the redemptive power of a second chance. When considering this title for our final pick, we not only looked at the story content, and the writer’s power over the written word, but what might draw the ideal audience of today… and for that we needed a true dose of “today”. The hate crimes are nothing our world is new to; in truth, they could be taken from any newspaper across the country. The social media star and his influence on the public at large is something today’s youth experience on a daily basis. The idols of today aren’t necessarily from our combined pasts, but our present… and realizing the sway they have, for better or worse, is something of a revelation to some, but to them, it’s the norm. Learning what can be done with those “powers” is another important step towards unmasking the bullying and hate crimes that occur “anonymously” online. Learning that what they do, say, and TYPE…has a wider influence than they can imagine, are all just as important as growing from the mistakes in our histories.

Middle Grade Non-Fiction

Mightier Than the Sword: Rebels, Reformers, and Revolutionaries Who Changed the World Through Writing
Melander, Rochelle, illustrated by Ontiveros, Melina
Beaming Books
Nominated by: Sandy Brehl

Throughout history, activists, thinkers, and ordinary people have picked up their pens and changed the world.  Mightier Than the Sword: Rebels, Reformers, and Revolutionaries Who Changed the World Through Writing by Rochelle Melander invites readers to engage in the world of words. Using thought-provoking quotations, cameos, and short biographies drawn from individuals of diverse backgrounds and life experiences, this brightly illustrated book has dual use as a reference book and inspiration. The writing activities and prompts (Write to Know, Write Now, and Write to Create) included after each biography are clear and engaging. The section at the end of the book (Write to Change, Write to Write, Write to Revise, and Writers Read) offers writers a place to begin to move seamlessly from consumers of information to creators.


Everywhere Blue
Fritz, Joanne Rossmassler
Holiday House
Nominated by: Chad Lucas

Everywhere Blue by Joanne Rossmassler Fritz, a lovely, lyrical novel in verse, begins with Maddie’s favorite kind of day, “a symphony of sameness.” Unfortunately, that day quickly changes when she learns that her brother, away at college, has gone missing, a mystery that nearly tears her family apart. Fritz offers a sensitive and age-appropriate treatment of difficult themes in a way that is accessible for middle grade readers. She weaves together musical references, explores mental health, and highlights environmental issues, all in the context of complicated family dynamics. The blues of music, nature, and mood interact as that shift in “sameness” forces Maddie and the rest of her family to see themselves through different eyes and to begin to make changes. Beautiful poetry provides a constant undercurrent of music, through both the happy and the sad parts. As a detective who is starting an investigation about Strum talks with Maddie, he asks about the dog, Gizmo, thinking he is hers. “He’s Strum’s dog,” I say, my voice wavering, a tremolo. “But he sleeps in my room now.” In another musical thread, Maddie’s struggle and triumph with the oboe shows her growth of self-confidence, touching on all the ways she is growing up. Maddie’s voice is genuine and clear, and amidst her confusion, angst and suffering, her earnest and loving essence shines through. In addition, Everywhere Blue does a beautiful job blending themes of family dysfunction, a neurodivergent protagonist, and Earth’s environmental/climate crisis. The earth is not in harmony, and neither is Maddie’s world, but readers will love her faith that her missing brother is somewhere out there. Seeing her work things out even when there isn’t a lot of support will be inspiring for middle grade readers who might also be feeling alone in the world. Maddie’s voice telling us her view of things will find readers who think “That’s me (us)” as they consider their own personal friendships and family relationships– both the good and the bad in all shades of blue.

High School Non-Fiction

Punching Bag
Ogle, Rex
Norton Young Readers
Nominated by: Jenna

Punching Bag is a powerful yet troubling memoir of physical and mental abuse by Rex Ogle. Rex was raised and abused by his emotionally troubled mother and his alcoholic stepfather and each short chapter details an episode when Rex is abused or reflects on earlier instances of abuse. Through it all, Rex tries to make sense of what is happening to him: Why does it keep happening? Is it his fault? What can he do to make it stop? Determined to stop the familial pattern of abuse, he resists violence and being abusive himself. Clearly, Punching Bag is not a book for everyone at all times and is often difficult to read, but young readers who are themselves abuse victims will find in Rex Ogle’s voice someone who understands their pain. Other readers will find their capacity for empathy expanded as they respond viscerally to Rex’s ordeal. The book ultimately provides ways to be hopeful in the face of overwhelming torment.

Young Adult Fiction

The Girls I’ve Been
Sharpe, Tess
G.P. Putnam’s Sons Books for Young Readers
Nominated by: Sondra Eklund

It’s an awkward situation for Nora when she goes to the bank to deposit the previous night’s fund-raiser proceeds with her girlfriend and former boyfriend. As they wait in line for a bank teller, two guys launch a robbery and take everyone hostage. Little do the robbers know, one of their hostages is more than they bargained for. Nora’s mother was a con artist, so Nora knows exactly how to read, trick, and exploit others. Although she hoped that life was behind her, she is more than willing to use her skills against her captors. Author Tess Sharpe meticulously crafts a fast-paced plot that unfolds with twists and turns as it explores deeper issues involving identity, relationships, and trauma. Nora is an appealing, intriguing protagonist, and the secondary characters also evolve in surprising ways. The writing is brisk and descriptive, even funny at times, despite the heavier subjects. The Girls I’ve Been is a perfect balance for teen readers: fun, wild, different, emotional, and relatable in many ways.

Young Adult Graphic Novels

Cheer Up: Love and Pompoms
Frasier, Crystal, illustrated by Wise, Val, Jupiter, Oscar O. (Letterer)
Oni Press
Nominated by: Laura Gardner

We thought this graphic novel was going to be a stereotypical book about cheerleading: small, white girls with loads of drama. But it is so much more! It’s about a trans girl finding her way and defying expectations. It’s about changing expectations and listening to others in order to be a good friend and ally. It’s about friendship and family. But, perhaps best of all: queerness in all its glory is celebrated. The illustrations are fun, bright, and happy, bringing a sense of joy to the story. It’s a book we couldn’t help cheering about!

Young Adult Speculative Fiction

Rogerson, Margaret
Margaret K. McElderry
Nominated by: Jenna

Vespertine is a swift-moving novel with intriguing worldbuilding that revolves around different levels of spirits with a variety of powers and the people known as vessels who are possessed by those spirits. There is a fascinating dance of power between the interplay of people living with the Sight and the spirits themselves. The judges loved Artemisia as a main character, an antiheroine with a nontypical way of interacting with the world and with the complex sort of childhood trauma that impacts the rest of her life. Faced with one hard decision after another in which she could have chosen violence and retribution, Artemisia instead chooses mercy and empathy while still being badass when it’s required. Her relationship with the revenant is a highlight of the narrative—the push and pull of control and capability echoes the internal contradictions we all face in tough morally challenging situations.