Announcing the 2023 CYBILS Awards Winners

Before we say “congratulations,” we want to shout out a big thanks to everyone who helped make the 2023 CYBILS Awards another great year!


We can’t say enough about our judges … who can’t say enough about the great books you sent us for consideration. We were thrilled to have many books with positive representation that offer kids and teens the chance to see themselves and learn from others.

So thank you, readers – bookworms, bloggers, librarians, parents, teachers, YOU! – for giving our judges the opportunity to discover those books. And for making it so hard for our Round 1 judges to pick finalists.

And to our judges! Thank you for volunteering your time and being part of our awards process. Most importantly, thank you for helping us showcase “windows, mirrors, and sliding doors” books with your reviews and amplifying them across your social media.

It’s time. Drumroll, please ….


Whose Prints?
Kari Allen, illustrated by Kim Smith
Little Simon
Nominated by: Christopher Helton

Whose Prints? by  by Kari Allen is a delightful board book that invites young readers to guess which animal made each track in the snow. With die-cuts throughout, children can peek through before turning the page to reveal the hidden animals. The text is simple, yet the book invites children to examine and learn more about each animal’s behavior, habitat, and adaptations.

The illustrations by Kim Smith are charming and cozy, featuring a father and daughter on a walk together (representation we don’t often see). This book is a perfect choice for curious little explorers who love animals and nature. Whose Prints? is a fun and informative book that teaches children about animal tracks and how different animals move in the snow.


Vashti Harrison
Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Nominated by: TheBrookeList

Big by Vashti Harrison is a stunning picture book that explores the meaning of being big in a world that often values small. The story follows a young girl who loves her body and who she is until she starts hearing hurtful words from others. Over time, she learns to cope with her feelings and reclaim her self-love.

With simple yet powerful text and gorgeous illustrations, this book is a heartfelt celebration of diversity, acceptance, and empowerment. Big is a perfect read for anyone who has ever felt too big or too small, and a reminder that we are all beautiful just the way we are.


Worm and Caterpillar Are Friends: Ready-to-Read Graphics Level 1
Kaz Windness, illustrated by Kaz Windness
Simon Spotlight
Nominated by: Kate Talbot

Worm and Caterpillar help beginning readers explore the question of whether people need to be alike to be friends. Clear instructions introduce readers to the graphic novel format. The captivating illustrations, strong character development, and fast-paced plot keep readers engaged, while its message of acceptance and friendship adds depth. The story offers a rich synthesis of humor, animal life cycle concepts, and a powerful lesson in embracing differences.


Henry, Like Always: Book 1
Jenn Bailey, illustrated by Mika Song
Chronicle Books
Nominated by: Sondra Eklund

Henry is a young boy grappling with unexpected changes in his school routine. As the class prepares for a parade, themes of patience, understanding, and friendship are seamlessly woven into the narrative. Readers will cheer as Henry solves not only his own problem, but also his classmates. The author captures the challenges Henry faces as a child on the autism spectrum. With its short, engaging chapters and expressive illustrations, the text is perfect for children transitioning to chapter books, while the story offers a valuable portrait of resilience and independence.


A First Time for Everything
Dan Santat
First Second Books
Nominated by: Maria Marshall

A First Time for Everything is a charming anthology of Dan’s firsts on a middle school trip to Europe. Still scarred by the last time he stood apart from a crowd, Dan has low expectations for his three-week summer trip all over Europe, but this changes as he finds himself opening up to new places, experiences, and friends. He discovers that it’s much easier to love his own skin when he’s miles away from middle school. It’s a coming-of-age story that’s awkward, funny, and nothing short of beautiful. The committee fell in love with the story’s core and knows you will too; go find adventure, even if it scares you, especially if it scares you.


The Grace of Wild Things
Heather Fawcett
Balzer + Bray
Nominated by: marsenault13

Orphaned Grace blames her uncontrollable magic for her failure to find a family who will keep her, so she takes things into her own hands and finds a witch to apprentice too. The witch hates children, and even tries to eat her, but Grace will not be deterred, and as she learns magic, finds her first best friend, and even starts to thaw the cold heart of witch, she is ready to take on the even more impossible challenge that awaits her. Grace’s story explores ideas of family and home, of good and right, of becoming yourself despite expectations, of selflessness, and of perseverance. Even though Grace’s curiosity and positivity drive the witch crazy, they develop a fondness and love for each other you can feel radiating from the page.

Her story of finding both family and magic is full of emotions that tug the reader’s heart, lots of humor, and plenty of vividly described dangers, spells, magical mistakes, twists and turns keep the pages turning quickly. The expressive, colorful language and rich vocabulary of the story, one in which words have power, is a delight. Readers will develop empathy for Grace with her likable personality, and how she stays true to herself, come what may. The author builds Grace’s family from the ground up, and as she receives help from a diverse group of characters, most become something more, something special. The twist at the end, though heartbreaking, felt right for the story, and that ability to keep the reader deeply invested in the moment made this book that much more powerful.


In Limbo
Deb JJ Lee
First Second Books
Nominated by: Kristen

In Limbo is an impressive graphic memoir sharing Deb’s high school experience as a Korean American struggling with cultural conflicts, high expectations and language barriers with family members, evolving friendships, and mental illnesses. She wants to live a normal life without feeling alone, but there are misunderstandings in her relationships with her mom and her friends, leading to difficulties and distance between them. Eventually, Deb attempts suicide and the way people treat her leaves her feeling even more alone and invisible than before. Fortunately, she receives support from her therapist and her father. After taking a trip to Korea to visit her grandmother and having several conversations with her dad, she moves forward in life with the hope of understanding herself and her mom.

In Limbo uses a muted, monochromatic color scheme to convey the mood and leaves room for the complexity of the story. The detailed drawings and inclusion of Korean language make this graphic novel an authentic example of Korean cultural representation. Through Deb’s story, we learn we don’t need to worry about making changes and mistakes in life. We are too hard on ourselves sometimes, but we all have the right to self-forgiveness.


Simon Sort of Says
Erin Bow
Disney Hyperion–Rick Riordan presents
Nominated by: Susan (Bloggin’ ’bout Books)

Simon O’Keeffe, 12, can hardly bring himself to speak about the traumatic event that brought him national notoriety. The sole survivor of a school shooting that took place before the novel starts, Simon hopes to start life over in the National Quiet Zone, a place with limited access to technology where no one knows his story. He’d like to stay under the radar and just be a normal kid. But life in his quirky new town of Grin and Bear It, Nebraska, is anything but normal. There’s the Jesus squirrel, a funeral home attack peacock, escaped emus, a runaway dead body, and a straight-talking new best friend looking to rope Simon into faking messages from aliens with a forbidden microwave.

With skill and sensitivity, Bow slowly reveals little clues along the way that help soften the terrible reveal of the full extent of what happened when Simon was in fifth grade. It takes incredible finesse, craft, empathy, and curiosity to be able to tell Simon’s story as compassionately and successfully as Bow does. Bow manages to balance the tragedy at the center of the story with humor, mystery, and compassion. With standout characters, setting, and plot, as well as stellar writing, a standout narrative voice, and memorable, often laugh-out-loud scenes, this outstanding look at surviving and moving forward in the face of unspeakable horrors has wide appeal. This superior middle-grade book shows readers a hopeful way forward while dealing with a life-changing past.


Jumper: A Day in the Life of a Backyard Jumping Spider
Jessica Lanan
Roaring Brook Press
Nominated by: Drew

Through dynamic illustrations, expressive text, and invitations for the reader to participate, Jessica Lanan disseminates sophisticated scientific information in a highly engaging and memorable way. The title page first sets the stage welcoming each reader to the community garden, which is alive with excitement and activity. Then, the story begins with a narrative that shows off what the Jumping Spider can do – becoming fertile soil for the reader’s curiosity to germinate and sprout. The bright illustrations jump between the perspective of a few children playing in the garden to the highly attuned sensory experiences of a Jumping Spider that is moving, hunting, and hiding from predators. This is followed by a few pages with more focused learning on exactly how the Jumping Spider’s fascinating features work.

While these facts are initially presented in scientific jargon, they are also framed in terms younger elementary children will understand. This helps appeal to a wide audience and builds vocabulary. Overall, this nonfiction picture book stands out for the way the narrative and illustrations go beyond surface level information and become a transportative learning experience. Jump right in and discover what makes these little garden creatures and this book so special!


The Mona Lisa Vanishes: A Legendary Painter, a Shocking Heist, and the Birth of a Global Celebrity
Nicholas Day, illustrated by Brett Helquist
Random House Studio
Nominated by: KtStar

The Mona Lisa Vanishes by Nicholas Day and illustrated by Brett Helquist is one of those middle grade information books that even adults will have a hard time putting down. First it is a mystery about the heist of the Mona Lisa, now the most famous piece of art in the world, then not so much. Who doesn’t enjoy a good whodunit story? Secondly it is a story about the artist himself, Leonarda Da Vinci, and how he came to paint this famous portrait.

The book seamlessly passes back and forth in time from the early 16th century to the early 20th century, when the painting was stolen from the Louvre museum in Paris. Lastly, Nicholas Day must have a great sense of humor because the story is told in such a humorous way. At points readers may even find themselves laughing out loud as even the heading titles and illustrations are funny. This is a perfect book for all middle-grade readers who like to learn new information while also being entertained by their reading choices.


Impossible Escape: A True Story of Survival and Heroism in Nazi Europe
Steve Sheinkin
Roaring Brook Press
Nominated by: Becky L.

From acclaimed author Steve Sheinkin comes an epic narrative of courage and resilience in the face of Nazi tyranny. In a masterful blend of suspense and historical detail, Sheinkin traces the harrowing journey of Rudi Vrba, a Slovakian Jew determined to escape the horrors of Auschwitz.

Having uncovered the brutal truth behind the camps’ atrocities, Rudi knows he must flee to reveal the atrocities to the world. Alongside his friend Alfred Wetzler, Rudi embarks on a perilous journey toward freedom, with each passing day meaning more lives lost to the Nazis’ systematic genocide. As Rudi and Alfred plot their escape, the story intertwines with the harrowing experiences of Gerta Sidonová, a schoolmate living in constant fear of discovery in Nazi-occupied Hungary. With the clock ticking, Rudi’s escape becomes not just an act of personal defiance but a beacon of hope for countless others facing persecution, including Gerta.

With a poignant message that resonates today, Impossible Escape is a testament to the enduring power of hope and the human spirit in the face of unimaginable darkness, and challenges readers to confront the past and uphold the legacy of resilience and resistance.


Animals in Pants
Suzy Levinson, illustrated by Kevin Howdeshell, and Kristen Howdeshell
Harry N Abrams
Nominated by: Becky L.

Animals in Pants is Suzy Levinson’s imaginative debut picture book. This tightly-themed poetry collection invites readers of all ages to imagine why various animals might wear pants and what kinds of pants would best fit their situations. Flamingos in capris, dachshunds in yoga pants, and a goat in overalls seem like silly fun, but snakes, giraffes, and spiders present special challenges, don’t they?

Levinson’s hilarious tongue-in-cheek (and often punny) poems rely heavily on rhyme, but it isn’t repetitive because the cadences vary from page to page. The short poems are enhanced by Kristen and Kevin Howdeshell’s adorable Eric Carle-style artwork showing animals expressing a variety of attitudes and emotions. Animals in Pants is a worthwhile choice for home and school bookshelves. (Pre-reading might include listing as many kinds of pants as possible.)

This appealing book is an excellent read-aloud that will delight parents and teachers with cultural references that the youngest readers might need help with, including Elvis, disco, Punxutawney, and “fashion police.” While the clever verse and appealing illustrations are the surface features of Animals in Pants, the content of this picture book actually provides critical thinking opportunities and models for student writing.


No Matter the Distance
Cindy Baldwin
Quill Tree Books
Nominated by: KtStar

With appealing verse and an authentic middle grade voice that shines, No Matter the Distance tells the story of Penny, a young girl with cystic fibrosis who discovers a dolphin in the creek behind her house. Penny’s special bond with the dolphin and the magical moments between them are sure to appeal to middle grade readers. Meanwhile, Penny grapples with a major health setback, a school poetry assignment about who she truly is, and letting go of both the dolphin and her best friend. Penny’s journey toward introspection and acceptance is truly powerful!


We Deserve Monuments
Jas Hammonds
Roaring Brook Press
Nominated by: Kristen


Avery’s senior year plan did not include leaving Washington, D.C. for small-town Georgia. Tensions immediately begin boiling as her family moves in with and attempts to take care of her terminally ill grandmother, Mama Letty, a prickly woman who “greets” Avery by likening her to a fish on a hook. From their unfriendly welcome, it’s clear there are old secrets driving a wedge between Mama Letty and Avery’s own mother. While Avery struggles to make sense of her new present, she finds two friends more than willing to help her dig up the past: Simone, her neighbor, and Jade, who comes from a rich family with a mystery of their own. But as they begin uncovering truths about both her family and the town, Avery must decide if it’s worth bringing these stories, and their pain, forward, or making them lie buried in the past.

Author Jas Hammonds, doesn’t shy away from illustrating big joy and big hurt all while exploring generational trauma, a town’s racist history, genuine friendship, and blossoming love all with an authentic voice. Ultimately, with fully relatable characters and realistic situations, We Deserve Monuments is a timely and moving debut novel.


Threads That Bind
Kika Hatzopoulou
Nominated by: MelissaB

Descended from the Fates of Greek mythology, teen detective Io uses her power to manipulate people’s life threads to solve mysteries. When wraiths start popping up in her city in the form of abducted women, Io must partner with the mob queen’s handsome enforcer to save her world without misusing her abilities or unraveling fragile relationships.

This fast-paced fantasy novel weaves together a great blend of romance, adventure, and mystery. Additionally, it tackles a variety of thorny themes, including navigating sibling emotional abuse with care and nuance. The judges appreciated the wide range of characters of different skin tones, origins, sexual orientations, and gender identities, who simply exist normally in this world.