2020 Cybils Finalists

Easy Readers

Cat Has a Plan (Ready-to-Reads)
Gehl, Laura, illustrated by Blunt, Fred
Simon Spotlight
Nominated by: Cathy Ballou Mealey

Cat Has a Plan written by Laura Gehl and illustrated by Fred Blunt was chosen by our panelists for its witty humor and delightful illustrations. The short easy sentence structure and word repetition along with colorful retro illustrations paired nicely together delivering a hilarious clever story that children will enjoy.

Tiffany Sorensen, Provo Library Children's Book Reviews

King & Kayla and the Case of the Unhappy Neighbor
Butler, Dori Hillestad, illustrated by Meyers, Nancy
Nominated by: Melissa Fox

King & Kayla and the Case of the Unhappy Neighbor written by Dori Hillestad Butler and illustrated by Nancy Meyers is an enjoyable mystery featuring a likeable young detective and an appealing narrator. The diverse characters and the fact that it is part of a popular series made this book a top choice for the judges.

Claire Noland , A Field Trip Life – Books, Places, and Books that Take You Places

See the Cat: Three Stories About a Dog
LaRochelle, David, illustrated by Wohnoutka, Mike
Candlewick Press
Nominated by: Joella Bagshaw

See the Cat: Three Stories About a Dog written by David LaRochelle and illustrated by Mike Wohnoutka is hilariously adorable. The simple, just-right sentences are perfect for the early reader. Judges enthusiastically chose this book due to the humor and combination of text and speech bubbles. We think readers will laugh aloud at this brilliant book with its repetitive text and twist at the end.

Sheri Howard, Lobit Education Village Library

The Best Seat in First Grade
Kenah, Katharine, illustrated by Carter, Abby
Nominated by: Terry Doherty

The Best Seat in First Grade written by Katharine Kenah and illustrated by Abby Carter was enjoyed by the panelists for its surprise ending. The story contains more text than a typical easy reader, but its clever ending and inclusive storyline and illustrations make it an enjoyable read for more advanced early readers. The classroom setting is relatable for young readers, as well.

Katie Michols, Little House of Reading

Ty's Travels: All Aboard! (My First I Can Read)
Lyons, Kelly Starling, illustrated by Mata, Nina
Nominated by: Tasha

Ty's Travels: All Aboard! by Kelly Starling Lyons was selected by the judges for its fun, engaging diverse story that celebrates imagination and family! Readers will enjoy reading about Ty and his family while building skills and confidence in this well written and kid-friendly illustrated easy reader.

Katie Bruechert, GoodReads

What About Worms!? (Elephant & Piggie Like Reading!)
Higgins, Ryan T. and Willems, Mo
Nominated by: Bridget Wilson

A TIGER is afraid of WORMS! This silly story is sure to be a hit with kids. Colorful, detailed illustrations and suspenseful page-turns - readers will laugh out loud at this beginning reader book by Ryan T. Higgins.

Valerie Byrd Fort, Library Goddess

Yasmin the Gardener
Faruqi, Saadia, illustrated by Aly, Hatem
Picture Window Books
Nominated by: Darshana Khiani

Yasmin The Gardener written by Saadia Faruqi and illustrated by Hatem Aly was a favorite of all the judges. The author included multigenerational characters and a universal topic to introduce Yasmin’s culture. The inclusion of culture and or diversity introduced through the story was the top reason the judges selected this book.

Pam Jones-Nill, Pam Jones-Nill - Children's Author

Early Chapter Books

Mindy Kim and the Yummy Seaweed Business
Lee, Lyla, illustrated by Ho, Dung
Nominated by: Deb Nance at Readerbuzz

Mindy Kim and the Yummy Seaweed Business written by Lyla Lee and illustrated by Dung Ho was chosen by the panelists for its diversity and introduction to Korean culture and language. It's a great mesh of culture with a main character who is relatable and faces problems young readers can empathize with. An early chapter book with a good balance of illustrations to text appropriate for primary grade readers.

Tiffany Sorensen, Provo Library Children's Book Reviews

Monster and Boy
Barnaby, Hannah, illustrated by Syed, Anoosha
Henry Holt
Nominated by: Sondra Eklund

A relatable tale about a monster and his boy. Beautifully written - lends itself to be read aloud or read alone. Illustrations throughout are lovely.

Valerie Byrd Fort, Library Goddess

Our Friend Hedgehog: The Story of Us
Castillo, Lauren
Knopf Books for Young Readers
Nominated by: Katie B

Our Friend Hedgehog: The Story of Us written and illustrated by Lauren Castillo was a favorite among all the panelists for its classic feel and lovely illustrations. Each chapter introduces a new animal friend and how they came together. The panelists enjoyed the depth of characters, vocabulary, and sweet theme of friendship.

Katie Michols, Little House of Reading

Sofia Valdez and the Vanishing Vote (The Questioneers)
Beaty, Andrea, illustrated by Roberts, David
Nominated by: Charlotte

Sofia Valdez and the Vanishing Vote written by Andrea Beaty and Illustrated by David Roberts is a timely title in this election year, a fact that was not lost on any of the judges. The author has created a relatable way to introduce voting to kids. Most judges enjoyed how the author explained the responsibility of voting and participating in the voting process in an age-appropriate and easily understandable way. Excellent back matter rounds out the experience.

Pam Jones-Nill, Pam Jones-Nill - Children's Author

Stella Endicott and the Anything-Is-Possible Poem: Tales from Deckawoo Drive, Volume Five
DiCamillo, Kate, illustrated by Van Dusen, Chris
Candlewick Press
Nominated by: Patricia Tilton

Judges loved Stella Endicott and the Anything-is Possible Poem written by Kate Dicamillo and illustrated by Chris Van Dusen. This book will appeal to all readers and is a great next step for Mercy Watson fans. Chapter lengths and intelligent, appropriate vocabulary make this perfect for the category. The sweet, funny friendship story makes it perfect for kids.

Sheri Howard , Lobit Education Village Library

Elementary/Middle-Grade Speculative Fiction

A Wish in the Dark
Soontornvat, Christina
Candlewick Press
Nominated by: Deb Nance at Readerbuzz

In this mix of magic and Thai culture, with inspiration from Les Miserables, orphaned Pong escapes the prison where he was born with the help of his friend Somkit, who doesn’t make it out. Pong is now a fugitive from the government, marked as a criminal forever by his prison tattoo. The Governor who promised order and goodness has become a dictator, providing magical orbs of colored light only to those who faithfully follow his ever-increasing number of rules. Pong is a boy version of Jean Valjean as he finds himself condemned to be always on the run. Eventually he learns the lesson: “You can’t run away from darkness. It’s everywhere. The only way to see through it is to shine a light.” And that is just what he does. This exciting story with an unusual setting and a positive message about light that conquers darkness and change that is difficult and costly but always possible will win readers’ hearts!

Sherry Early, Semicolon

Curse of the Night Witch (Emblem Island)
Aster, Alex
Sourcebooks Young Readers
Nominated by: Katy Kramp

On Tor’s island, most kids bear the physical marks of their destiny. When Tor wishes his leadership emblem gone, he wakes to find a curse in its place, and his lifeline shortened to almost nothing. Two other kids quickly become contaminated by the curse. To save their lives, they must find the legendary Night Witch. Their only guide is the stories told about her, and the journey takes them through fearsome dangers from magical creatures and treacherous terrain. The stories of the Night Witch are rooted in tales told to the author by her Columbian grandmother, which makes the book even more appealing. Readers will love the wildly extravagant world-building, the solid friendships between the kids and their bravery. On top of that, there’s thought-provoking considerations of destiny, and a powerful and nuanced final confrontation.

Charlotte Taylor, Charlotte's Library

Eva Evergreen, Semi-Magical Witch (Eva Evergreen (1))
Abe, Julie
Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Nominated by: Kristen

Eva Evergreen has set off on her own to take on her first station as a witch in the town of Auteri to prove herself on her Novice quest. While she does her best, she only seems to have a small pinch of magic and often overdoes it without achieving the result she hoped for. When a magical storm heads towards the town, Eva must use ingenuity and find a way to protect her town and the friends she has made in it. A charming and serendipitous tale, Eva Evergreen, Semi-Magical Witch will capture your heart, make you laugh and have you cheering for her to accomplish her goal of becoming a Novice Witch. She proves that just a pinch of magic mixed with hard work and a little creativity can go a long way.

Kristen Harvey , The Book Monsters

In the Red
Swiedler, Christopher
Nominated by: Nicole @ Feed Your Fiction Addiction

Michael dreams of joining the Rescue Service, which protects the public from the many dangers of living on Mars. But those dreams are dashed when he suffers a panic attack during his first test on the surface and keeps having them whenever he dons a spacesuit. He and his best friend sneak out to the surface in an attempt to prove he can overcome his anxiety, but it goes very wrong when a solar flare strands them out in the middle of nowhere with limited resources. The dangers of Mars are very real, and Michael worries another panic attack might doom them. Both the physical and the emotional stakes of this story are incredibly high as Michael uses his scientific smarts to conquer the dangers of Mars' surface while struggling to understand and deal with his anxiety. It's a high-octane survival story packed with peril that keeps the reader frantically turning the pages!

Nicole Hewitt, Feed Your Fiction Addiction

Mulan: Before the Sword
Lin, Grace, illustrated by Lin, Grace
Disney Press
Nominated by: Heidi G.

When Mulan's sister is bitten by a deadly nine-legged spider, Mulan joins forces with a healer who turns out to be the immortal Jade Rabbit to gather the ingredients for a healing potion. Then the evil White Fox intervenes to stop Mulan and Rabbit, and a prophecy about a member of the Hua family saving the emperor turns out to be at the heart of it all. Enormous challenges face Mulan and Rabbit; will they be able to make the antidote in time or will the White Fox prevail? Though she doubts herself, Mulan faces many challenges without immortal help, allowing her strengths and courage to shine through. As she did in her Where the Mountain Meets the Moon series, Lin integrates Chinese folktales beautifully into the story, each placed carefully to move the story forward to its fitting conclusion, and the end result is a joyous fantasy full of heart.

Heidi Grange, Geo Librarian

Rival Magic
Fagan, Deva
Atheneum Books for Young Readers
Nominated by: Anne Nesbet

Antonia dreams of being a great wizard, even if her wizarding skills aren’t so great, and she gets her chance when Master Betrys takes her on as an apprentice. Then Moppe, the young new scullery maid, arrives with secrets and powerful budding wizard abilities of her own, earning her a place as another apprentice. When Master Betrys is arrested, these two wildly different, yet equally fierce and determined girls must put their jealousy and arrogance aside to find a magical relic that may help them save their teacher and home. Rival Magic takes readers on a fun adventure, rife with magic and mayhem, and full of unexpected twists, fantastical elements, and a lot of heart. The two smart, capable female leads will delight, the unique take on wizardry will captivate, and readers will walk away from Rival Magic inspired to follow their hearts and forge their own paths.

Aeicha Matteson, Word Spelunking

Marshall, Kate Alice
Viking Books for Young Readers
Nominated by: Jennifer Naughton

Eleanor has come to live with her aunt in an old, illogical mansion on the edge of the perfectly picturesque town of Eden Eld, a place her mother told her never, ever to go. She knows not to talk about the things she sees and hears that no one else can – but when she meets two kids at school who see them too, including a flame-eyed dog, a bone crow, and a cat of ashes, she finds out that they share more than just a birthday. All three are turning 13 on Halloween, and in this perfect town, this means they only have a few days to save themselves from the horrible bargain that's at the heart of the town's perfection, a bargain in which they are slated to die. The suspense mounts as, in true fairytale fashion, the kids have to figure out how to bend the rules in order to make it through to an ending that is both hard won and deliciously uncertain. It's perfect for those who like brave friends confronting old and twisted magic in the real world!

Katy Kramp, A Library Mama

Fiction Picture Books

Dozens of Doughnuts
Finison, Carrie, illustrated by Farley, Brianne
G.P. Putnam's Sons Books for Young Readers
Nominated by: Darshana Khiani

This delicious read-aloud pairs perfect rhyme with expressive illustrations to create the ideal recipe for heart and humor. LouAnn is generous with her doughnuts, but she gets "FED UP" with sharing when there aren't any left for her! This engaging story presents math in a fun way that will keep kids guessing and learning. Themes of sharing, caring, friendship, forgiveness, apology, and teamwork make this the kind of book that begs to be re-read. And who can resist doughnuts?

Kirsti Call, Picture Book Look

I Am Every Good Thing
Barnes, Derrick, illustrated by James, Gordon C.
Nancy Paulsen Books
Nominated by: kelstarly

The creative pair behind this amazing new picture book first proved their synergy in 2017 with Crown: An Ode to the Fresh Cut. They’ve returned with direct and exuberant text, illustrated with densely saturated color, bold lines, and empowering perspectives. Rhythmic and resolutely joyous proclamations of "I am ..." are undeniable for every child around the world, or they should be. In this case, though, in this country (USA), in our schools and neighborhoods and culture, such fully realized experiences of life are rarely revealed in picture books for Black children, most especially so for Black boys. Each page elicits smiles, generates memories, evokes connection, and warms the heart. A celebration of Black boys’ lives bursts from each spread with brilliance and agency. Their magnificence is undeniable to readers of every age, race, or experience.

Sandy Brehl, Unpacking the Power of Picture Books

Scott, Jordan, illustrated by Smith, Sydney
Neal Porter Books
Nominated by: Sandy Brehl

I Talk Like a River is a powerful, poetic read that successfully articulates what it feels like to struggle with speech fluency. Based on the author's own experiences, the carefully worded text and stunning illustrations work together to illuminate one boy's journey to self-acceptance. This is a title that will leave its reader with the desire to be a kinder, more patient, & empathetic person.

Emma Manolis, Instagram: Ever Emma

In A Jar
Marcero, Deborah, illustrated by Marcero, Deborah
G.P. Putnam's Sons Books for Young Readers
Nominated by: Emma Manolis

Llewellen collects things. In jars. Lots of things. Feathers. Stones. He meets Evelyn, and they collect things together. Things that are hard to hold. Things that they thought might not fit in a jar. But they did. And then Evelyn moves away. What will happen now to their connection of collecting things together?

Sometimes you see a book and you know it's just the book for you. This is a book that feels like it is just for me.

But here. I've collected it. In this jar. I'd love to share it with you, too.

Deb Nance, Readerbuzz

The Camping Trip
Mann, Jennifer K., illustrated by Mann, Jennifer K.
Candlewick Press
Nominated by: Deb Nance at Readerbuzz

Ernestine is thrilled when her aunt and cousin invite her on a camping trip. She packs everything she'll need for a successful trip into the great outdoors. But the woods and the wide-open land are a far cry from what Ernestine's familiar with in the city. The lake has things living in it, hiking is exhausting, and the night is so, so dark. When Ernestine begins to have her worries take over, her aunt and cousin lead her to a star-filled sky to soak in nature's beauty at night. It is in this moment that Ernestine begins connecting with the outdoors. This story is for all the nature lovers; present, or yet to come!

Nicole Levesque, Bluestocking Thinking

The Paper Kingdom
Rhee, Helena Ku, illustrated by Campion, Pascal
Random House Books for Young Readers
Nominated by: happiestinthewoods

Daniel's parents work at night and sometimes struggle to find him a babysitter. One night, they're forced to take him with them. They work as janitors, cleaning the larges messes left behind in a large office building. Daniel doesn't understand why everything is so messy. His parents make a game out of their work, creating a paper kingdom rules by dragons and kings. This imaginative story (based on the author's own family) shares the struggles of one family, while they work hard and teach their child to be considerate, compassionate, and kind.

Jennifer Rummel, YA Book Nerd

We Are Water Protectors
Lindstrom, Carole, illustrated by Goade, Michaela
Roaring Brook Press
Nominated by: Charlotte

This lyrical text presents the benefits of water in an informative and whimsical way. In it, the Granddaughter of Nokomis shares what she has learned from her Native American Grandmother and takes up the task of protecting it. She does this for her community, as well as all the creatures the water serves. The author also weaves a cautionary tale of the black snake into the story to make it even more appealing. The text is supported by beautiful, flowing, and colorful art that will engage and inspire the reader and make them want to soak in it as long as they might. Those who open the door to the world of this book will truly leave changed and will value water and Native American culture all the more.

Lynne Marie Pisano, My Word Playground Blog

Graphic Novels

Elementary/Middle Grade

Black Heroes of the Wild West
By James Otis Smith, Introduction by Kadir Nelson
TOON Graphics
Publisher/ Author Submission

Bold and action packed, this graphic novel features three short vignettes about important black heroes from the Old West. With broad appeal for young and old readers alike, Smith paints a different picture than we often see in the whitewashed versions of the Wild West found in many movies and tv shows. The three short comics are enriched further with fantastic back matter. Full of information that adds context to western United States history, it further explains why black heroes are often left out of the retellings of the western frontier. Black and white photographs throughout give a richness that helps bring this era fully to life.

Becky Herzog, Sloth Reads

Class Act
Craft, Jerry, illustrated by Craft, Jerry
Quill Tree Books
Nominated by: Lucy K

Since when is a sequel better than the original? Okay, we’re not talking Star Wars; we’re talking Jerry Craft’s companion graphic novel to his multiple-award-winning New Kid. Somehow he has managed to make Drew, Liam, and Jordan’s eighth-grade year at Riverdale Academy even more honest and endearing. Craft’s frequent visual idioms and pop cultural references don’t detract from the strength of his storytelling, and his frank handling of topics like class difference, consent, and colorism never feel didactic. Friendship, life choices, and coming of age make this another must-read.

Maggi Rohde, Books for Squids

Donut Feed the Squirrels (Norma and Belly)
Song, Mika
Random House Graphic
Nominated by: Terry Doherty

Mika Song’s Donut Feed the Squirrels is a sugar-sweet delight. Norma and Belly, two energetic-to-the-max squirrels, are on a mission: to try delicious donuts from the neighborhood food truck. Their adventures, illustrated in a loose watercolor style, are pun-filled fun with jokes, twists, and just the right amount of getting away with mischief for a satisfying ending. Donut Feed the Squirrels is perfect for early readers (ages 6+), with tons of kid appeal, action scenes, and lovingly rendered illustrations to go with!

Cecelia Larson, Adventures of Cecelia Bedelia

Go with the Flow
Schneemann, Karen and Williams, Lily
First Second Books
Nominated by: Jenna @ Falling Letters

This period-positive, coming-of-age story chronicles a year in the life of four best friends as they deal with all of the ups and downs that come with menstruation, from getting your period for the first time, to painful cramps, and fighting for period equity. It’s not often you find a story that talks about menstruation so openly and honestly and Go With the Flow handles the complex topic with detail and care. As the friends take it upon themselves to fight for period equity in their school, the comic empowers readers and gives them concrete examples of actions they can take themselves when they see injustice in the real world.

Christa Seeley, Women Write About Comics (group)

Leyh, Kat
First Second Books
Nominated by: Laura Gardner

Snap’s encounter with the town “witch” leads to unexpected discoveries both mystical and mundane in this funny, complex middle-grade story of magical realism. Bright, brash characters, touching family drama, and hilarious friendship moments are beautifully brought to light by Leyh’s characteristic energetic, jaunty art. Leyh seamlessly interweaves the stories of this diverse cast, and Snap is the pinnacle of a strong female heroine. Energetic, surprising, and moving, this is a winner.

Maggi Rohde, Books for Squids

The Runaway Princess
Troïanowski, Johan
Random House Graphic
Nominated by: Vidya Tiru

Princesses are often portrayed as rule following, quiet, content girls; but not Robin. This princess is ready for action and she is not afraid to go looking for it. Amazing adventures await her as she encounters swamps, wolves, kidnapping, and even pirates. With the help of YOU, the reader, she is able to navigate the wild world and return home to the castle like her parents insist. A vibrant and interactive book, The Runaway Princess will have you solving riddles, shaking pages, and looking for ways out of problems right along Robin. Such an engaging and fun middle grade read.

Aimee Smith, @keepabookout

When Stars Are Scattered
Jamieson, Victoria and Mohamed, Omar, illustrated by Jamieson, Victoria and Geddy, Iman
Dial Books
Nominated by: Sandy Brehl

Omar and his younger brother, Hassan, arrived at a Kenyan refugee camp when their village was attacked. The two boys were barely toddlers, and given into the care of a woman who’d lost her own family to violence. Seven years later, Omar dreams of finding their mother and getting out of the camp, but when the chance to attend school arises, he’s caught between the desire to learn and become either a teacher or work with refugees, or stay home and look after his special needs brother. When Stars Are Scattered is beautifully devastating in its look at life in a refugee camp. Newbery Medalist Victoria Jamieson collaborates with advocate and refugee Omar Mohamed to bring his story to young readers.

Rosemary Kiladitis, MomReadIt

Young Adult

Almost American Girl
Ha, Robin, illustrated by Ha, Robin
Balzer + Bray
Nominated by: Sandy Brehl

This is the story of a young girl transitioning from life in Korea to life in Alabama in America. Chuna gives herself the American name Robin as an effort to fit in. Still she struggles with the change and figuring out where she fits. 14-year-old Chuna, who thought she was just going on another mother-daughter trip, struggles with culture shock, bullying, and integrating into a new family. Yet, her mother is still her hero, and she recognizes the sacrifices she has made in order for both of them to survive.
It isn’t until her mother reminds her of her love of comics and drawing that Robin begins to thrive. This coming of age story of Chuna will tug at your heartstrings. Robin’s struggles feel all too real. However, readers will realize that these struggles are what will ultimately shape her. This is a marvellous Graphic memoir for ages 12+.

Josephine Sorrell, Goodreads

Dancing at the Pity Party
Feder, Tyler
Dial Books
Nominated by: Anne@HeadFullofBooks

A bittersweet and poignant memoir about her mother’s battle with cancer and death, Dancing at the Pity Party is a witty yet realistic look at living with grief. From dealing with a cancer diagnosis to navigating treatments to coping with death to life moving on after the loss of a loved one, readers will find solace and understanding in these pages. Tyler Feder somehow gracefully navigates the nightmare of loss with wit and humor in all the right places so that you laugh and cry along with her. It delivers a wonderful message of resilience in the face of grief.

Aimee Smith, @keepabookout

Hughes, Kiku
First Second Books
Nominated by: Aimee Smith

On vacation with her mother in San Francisco, Kiku finds herself displaced to the 1940’s Japanese Internment camps from World War ll. These displacements keep occurring until she is stuck in the past, living in a camp alongside her teenage grandmother. Kiku learns first hand what she was not taught in history class and that was too painful for her grandmother to speak of. She sees the lives of Japanese-Americans who were denied their civil liberties and suffered greatly, but also how they joined together to cultivate community and rise up in order to survive. Powerful parallels are drawn between past and present and Kiku can see the connection between injustices of the past and today and how they may affect our future. This book is a potent example of how ignoring the past and the lives lived by others does not change the way that past affects us in our lives today. By listening and learning from others’ experiences, we can make positive differences in the world around us and its future.

Aimee Smith, @keepabookout

Curato, Mike, illustrated by Curato, Mike
Henry Holt
Nominated by: Kelly Jensen

A raw and unfiltered story about the effects of bullying on someone discovering who they truly are. In the summer before high school, Aiden Navarro, a chubby, effeminate, biracial teen navigates his abusive home life, conservative upbringing, and his own sexuality at Boy Scout camp. The unrelenting bullying that he must face at the hands of those who are supposed to be his friends is jarring and sheds light on a reality that is all too true for many teens today. Curato’s use of black and white illustrations mixed with fiery reds, oranges, and yellows masterfully showcases the highs and lows of the story. Flamer is an important book that shows that we are never alone with our struggles.

Becky Herzog, Sloth Reads

Superman Smashes the Clan
Yang, Gene Luen, illustrated by Gurihiru
DC Zoom
Nominated by: Alex Baugh

Inspired by a 1940 radio serial, award-winning author, artist, and former National Ambassador for Children’s Literature Gene Luen Yang takes on white supremacy and hate, with a little help from Superman. It’s 1946, and the Lee family move to suburban Metropolis from Chinatown into the Metropolis suburbs. While younger brother Tommy and his father, Dr. Lee, are excited about the move, Roberta and her mom miss the familiarity of Chinatown. Shortly after the Lees move in, the Clan of the Fiery Cross begins a reign of terror in the neighborhood, burning a cross on the Lee’s property. The local police get involved, as do ace reporter Lois Lane… and Superman. Strong subplots contribute to the main storyline of a white supremacist gang attacking a family and a town: Superman’s growing awareness of his power and the fact that he, too, is “not from here”, but “passes” because he’s a white male; Roberta, Lois Lane, and Superman working together to uncover the Clan before tragedy strikes; generational racism at work, and a sinister plot afoot.

Rosemary Kiladitis, MomReadIt

That Can Be Arranged: A Muslim Love Story
Fahmy, Huda
Andrews McMeel Publishing
Nominated by: Beth Mitcham

Author and illustrator Huda Fahmy knows how to tell a story and make the reader laugh. In her book That Can Be Arranged: A Muslim Love Story, she details her own young adult and early adult years, with hilarious details, commentary, and, of course, a love story. This book offers an ebullient, brief, and yet substantive engagement with cultural and religious norms some YA readers will never have had access to, and others will see themselves in. That Can Be Arranged is really fun, engaging, and a worthy addition to a popular graphic novel subgenre: the illustrated memoir.

Cecelia Larson, Adventures of Cecelia Bedelia

You Brought Me The Ocean (You Brought Me The Ocean (2020))
Sanchez, Alex, illustrated by Maroh, Julie, Maroh, Julie (Artist)
DC Comics
Nominated by: ChristaS

In the middle of the desert, Jake Hyde dreams of the ocean. His overprotective mother and best friend, Maria don’t understand but he plans to one day leave the town behind and attend college on the coast. But then he falls for Kenny Liu, who encourages him to be bold and take chances, which ends up bringing a number of secrets to the surface, like who his father is and where the strange blue markings on his skin came from. In the larger DC comics universe Jake Hyde is known as Aqualad, but You Brought Me the Ocean, doesn’t spend a lot of time exploring that history, which gives this story a more accessible and universal feel. Instead of a standard superhero tale, this is a thoughtful and intimate story of one boy coming to terms with his sexuality and figuring out who he is and what his place is in the world.

Christa Seeley, Women Write About Comics (group)

Middle-Grade Fiction

Echo Mountain
Wolk, Lauren
Dutton Books for Young Readers
Nominated by: Deb Nance at Readerbuzz

The Great Depression impacts twelve-year old Ellie and her family. Losing everything forces them to move from town to the wilds of Echo Mountain. Her father, a tailor by trade, must now learn a new life and become a rugged “mountain man.” Her mother tries her best to make things work and hold the family together. Ellie explores the vast richness of her surroundings reveling in nature and finding joy by discovering this new world and its secrets, but when a terrible accident injures her father, Ellie takes unfair and silent blame from her family. She feels she must make it up to them, so she seeks out the help of a healer far up the mountain known only as “the hag.” Whispered about by the locals, the “hag” has become a mysterious (and feared) legend. Ellie believes her father’s only hope lies in a natural treatment the healer is sure to provide. In her quest to find the hag, Ellie finds her own inner strength.

Prose as beautifully resplendent as the mountain setting, Wolk delivers in this brilliant tale of resilience, determination and finding yourself. Echo Mountain is the rare coming of age story that will resonate with readers of all ages. Recommended for any classroom reading group or book club, and Echo Mountain would be a fine read for background history of The Great Depression.

P. Thompson McLeod, Young Adult Books--What We're Reading Now

Efren Divided
Cisneros, Ernesto
Quill Tree Books
Nominated by: GayAnna

Like many American seventh grade boys, Efrén Nava spends his days hanging with his best friend, wolfing down his mom's delicious cooking, dealing with annoying younger siblings, and obsessing over looking just right. Unlike most of his peers, Efrén lives in fear that his parents' illegal immigrant status will be discovered. When his worst fears come true and his mother is sent back to Mexico, Efrén has to keep things together at home while his father takes on extra work. Between wrangling his rambunctious siblings, trying to keep up with his schoolwork, and helping his BFF with a school election that is quickly going off the rails, Efrén is exhausted, terrified, and in need of the kind of help he's too scared to ask for. Can he keep it all together so no one finds out what's really going on in his life? Will his family ever be reunited? How will Efrén cope when his whole world is falling apart?

Susan Jensen, Bloggin' 'bout Books

Fighting Words
Bradley, Kimberly Brubaker
Dial Books
Nominated by: Joella Bagshaw

Ten-year-old Delicious “Della” Roberts (“I answer to Della, not Delicious, thank you.”) has experienced enough trauma to last a lifetime. Thankfully, Della has always had a fierce protector in her older sister Suki. But after their mother is sent to prison for a drug-related accident, leaving both girls with an abusive man, the pair are placed in foster care where they cope with the aftermath in diverging ways. Della’s deadpan humor and nascent hope shine through this difficult yet deeply necessary story about speaking up and fighting back.

Emma Kantor, Goodreads

From the Desk of Zoe Washington
Marks, Janae
Katherine Tegen Books
Nominated by: Susan (Bloggin' 'bout Books)

Zoe Washington has never met her father. So when she accidentally discovers a letter from her incarcerated father on her twelfth birthday, she decides to reply. As their correspondence continues, the racism and flaws of the justice system are uncovered, inspiring Zoe to begin an investigation of her own. This heartwarming novel, filled with hope, love, and resilience tackles important issues alongside the traditional complications of growing up.

Haley Shaffer, Teachers Who Read

King and the Dragonflies
Callender, Kacen
Scholastic Press
Nominated by: literacyedprof

Ever since Kingston James’ older brother Khalid suddenly passed away King and his family have been struggling with grief. King wishes he could talk to his best friend Sandy Sanders about the fact that King thinks Khalid turned into a dragonfly after his death and that King visits the bayou each day on his way home from school in hopes of connecting with his deceased brother. However, one of the last things that Khalid told King was that he needed to end his friendship with Sandy so that others wouldn’t think he was gay. When Sandy suddenly goes missing, King finds his emotions constantly turning as he tries to figure out who he is, what is most important to him, and what he wants to do for himself and those he loves who are still confronting tragedy and grief.

Joella Peterson Bagshaw, Provo Library Children's Book Reviews

Show Me a Sign
LeZotte, Ann Clare
Scholastic Press
Nominated by: Lyn Miller-Lachmann

Mary Lambert has lived a sheltered life in her 19th century Martha's Vineyard home. She, like many others in her community, are Deaf, which attracts the attention of a scientist who seeks to discover why so many of the island's residents are Deaf. Mary must navigate rising tensions between colonial settlers and the island's Wampanoag people, the death of her brother, and the scientist's cruel plans as she seeks to save herself.

Ness Shortley, Instagram

The Land of the Cranes
Salazar, Aida
Scholastic Press
Nominated by: NoNieqa Ramos

Betita Quinteron is a young Latinx girl in Los Angeles who loves to write and create picture poems. When her Papi is deported to Mexico, she and her pregnant mother try to visit, but miss a crucial highway exit and end up detained. Despite the difficult conditions and the despair over their family being separated, Betita and her mother find community with other asylum seekers. Betita uses her creativity to share the truth about the ICE detention centers with others and share the dream her family has to "fly free." This novel in verse is emotional, passionate, and timely, taking a complex problem and humanizing it.

Laura Gardner, Goodreads

Elementary Nonfiction

Dinosaur Lady: The Daring Discoveries of Mary Anning, the First Paleontologist

Sourcebooks eXplore
Nominated by: Alysa Stewart

This elementary biography featuring beautiful full page illustrations introduces young readers to the original paleontologist, a woman called Mary Anning. Through her love of science, history, and learning, Mary discovered the first dinosaur bones -- before the word for dinosaur even existed -- and changed the way scientists viewed fossils, animals, and even the age of the earth. Readers will also learn in this picture book that her scientific contributions are even more impressive considering that during her lifetime, women weren’t welcome in scientific fields, science classes, or even scientific discussions and Mary became a prehistoric fossil expert largely on her own, with handmade tools no less!

Rachael Fryman, Rachael Fryman

Honeybee: The Busy Life of Apis Mellifera
Fleming, Candace, illustrated by Rohmann, Eric
Neal Porter Books
Nominated by: Patricia Tilton

A book about the life cycle of the seemingly ubiquitous honeybee; but “book” is a rather tame word for this. For it is actually a stunning package of Eric Rohmann’s amazingly detailed and realistic illustrations (oil paintings) combined with Candace Fleming’s captivating and informative yet lyrical text. Honeybee mesmerizes and draws readers in as easily as honey attracts bees, with all the details in the close-up and larger than life artwork, with each stage of the honeybee’s life described succinctly -- yet packed with so much detail, and well, with just about everything in this amazing book including the not-to-miss backmatter (additional facts about the honeybee and resources to learn more). So take a journey into the beehive with little Miss Apis (named so in the book for her species, but not in the least anthropomorphic) through this informative, stunning, and accessible read.

It is definitely (th)bee book for you – no matter your age!!!

Vidya Tiru, Lady In Read Writes

No Voice Too Small: Fourteen Young Americans Making History
, illustrated by Bradley, Jeanette, Metcalf, Lindsay H. (Editor), Dawson, Keila V. (Editor), Bradley, Jeanette (Editor)
Nominated by: Rajani LaRocca

NO VOICE TOO SMALL: Fourteen Young Americans Making History is a poetic and educational anthology. A beautifully illustrated picture book, it tells the stories of a diverse group of fourteen young activists involved in a range of causes, from combatting discrimination to protecting clean water, from raising awareness about Down syndrome to advocating for LGBT rights. Brief profiles of each young person are matched with specially commissioned poems and suggestions for activism. Back matter describes the poetry forms used and provides profiles of the participating poets. This is a versatile and inspiring collaborative work.

Christy Mihaly, GROG

The Fighting Infantryman
Rob Sanders/Nabi H. Ali
little bee books
Publisher/ Author Submission

Written with compassion and intelligence, Rob Sanders picture book biography of transgender Civil War soldier Albert D.J. Cashier is a significant contribution to LGBTQ+ nonfiction children’s books. The story follows Cashier on his journey from Ireland, where he picked seashells and tended sheep as a child, onto a ship setting sail for America, into New York City, where he worked in a shoe factory, and finally to Illinois, where he labored as a farmhand and began using the name Albert D.J. Cashier. At nineteen years old, in 1862, still in Illinois, Cashier enlisted in the Union Army. After the war, Cashier appears to have lived a quiet life in Illinois, working odd jobs and receiving a small military pension. That is until he suffered an injury that required medical attention. Sanders details the indignities Cashier suffered at the hands of the medical establishment while encouragingly demonstrating how Cashier’s fellow soldiers came to his aid, ensuring he would be treated with respect. The Fighting Infantryman is a subtly told story that provides children access to LGBTQ+ history through the story of one man’s experience creating a life for himself in America.

Jennifer Miller, Raise Them Righteous

The Next President: The Unexpected Beginnings and Unwritten Future of America's Presidents (Presidents Book for Kids; History of United States Presidents When They Were Young)
Messner, Kate and Rex, Adam
Chronicle Books
Nominated by: Patricia Tilton

This book writes to each child alive today, no matter his or her background, that the office of United States president is open to them. It builds its case by choosing one moment in the lives of each of our 45 former presidents demonstrating their varied backgrounds, occupations, and societal ranks. The title page’s illustration shows five young children looking at a vacant statue platform in a gallery of presidential images with the number 55 on it. The question is: Who will be president in 65 years?
The first and last spread of Illustrations frame this book by showing a portrait gallery of US presidents (and perhaps presidential hopefuls since Hilary Clinton is included) being viewed by people which represent the true make-up of the United States. Between these pages, the author has deftly grouped the presidents in approximately four half-century groupings: 1789, 1841, 1897 and 1961. These four dates were the inaugurations of presidents: George Washington, William Henry Harrison, William McKinley and John F. Kennedy. At these dates, there were 9, 14, 9 and 10 future presidents alive. We see the younger future presidents doing what would have been their activities at that inauguration date: #8 Van Buren was 8 years old and helping with chores o his parent’s farm. #23 Abraham Lincoln was working on Mississippi River Boat. #31 Herbert Hoover was managing a goldmining operation in Australia.
The majority of the first-round judges were smitten by this book. The portrayals of the soon-to-be presidents as kids and young adults in casual every day activities did broaden and deepen our thinking about the what it takes to be a president. In the Slack conversations on this book, however, there was a criticism that the thrust of the book was flawed. This judge felt that a line-up of 44 white men presidents does not give much ground for hope for future non-white, non-male candidates.

Julie Neitz Wielga, Partners in Literacy

The Story of Civil War Hero Robert Smalls
Halfmann, Janet, illustrated by Smith, Duane
Lee & Low Books, Inc.
Nominated by: treble

The biography of this boat pilot tells a story of determination, courage, and cleverness. The Civil War gives the enslaved but skilled boatman the opportunity to use the prejudices of the Southern army officers against them, tricking his way to freedom along with his family, his crew, and his ship. The daring escape is the highlight, but the narrative includes his early life and also his work to have his expertise appreciated by the Northern Army, showing through clear text and illustrations both the individual story and the context of the history.

Beth Mitcham, Library Chicken

Winged Wonders: Solving the Monarch Migration Mystery
Pincus, Meeg, illustrated by Imamura, Yas
Sleeping Bear Press
Nominated by: LindsayHM

A beautifully illustrated picture book, Winged Wonders not only tells the story of how the annual migration of monarch butterflies was mapped, but also prompts us to think about hard questions. Who was the person to solve this age-old mystery? Unlike other nonfiction picture books about great discoveries and achievements, Winged Wonders gives credit to thousands of people for their collaboration. Even people whose names were not recorded are represented in these pages, and helped make the big discovery. The tight prose uses repetition and imagery to bring the story to life vividly. The colorful mixed media illustrations represent diverse people of all ages and abilities, and convey movement and wonder. Winged Wonders acknowledges people of the past and empowers people of the present to "join together to make a real difference."

Alysa Stewart, Everead

Middle-Grade Nonfiction

All Thirteen: The Incredible Rescue of the Thai Boys' Soccer Team by Christina Soontornvat
Soontornvat, Christina
Candlewick Press
Nominated by: Deb Nance at Readerbuzz

Even though the title gives away the ending of this nail-biting narrative nonfiction, this true story set in Thailand will keep you on the edge of your seat from the time the soccer team realizes they are trapped until the last boy makes it out of the cave! The author keeps readers captivated with the story while seamlessly weaving in scientific and cultural information about Thailand, the cave systems, cave-diving and international relations during a rescue mission. Grab two copies of this middle grade title because you will want to share this reading experience so you’ll have someone to discuss it with after you finish!

Rachael Fryman, Rachael Fryman

How We Got to the Moon: The People, Technology, and Daring Feats of Science Behind Humanity's Greatest Adventure
Rocco, John
Crown Books for Young Readers
Nominated by: Heidi G.

Strap on your seatbelts as you rocket out of the world while diving into this brilliantly informative and visually stunning journey of how we - humans - got to the moon. John Rocco effortlessly imparts information without making it text-book like - about the history of the race to outer space and to the moon, about rocket science itself, and of course, the technology and all the talents behind this amazing journey. The present-tense narrative provides a thrill that has readers turning the pages as Rocco introduces both well-known figures and many others who are nonetheless important cogs in the man-to-the-moon-journey-wheel, and all the efforts put towards this ultimate journey. Readers will be delighted to discover cool snippets of information, like the women nicknamed the Little Old Ladies who weaved sequences of one and zero cores by hand that made up the software to get the first men to the moon, while young readers will definitely love learning about the UTS (or the Urine Transfer System!).

The book easily engages and retains the attention and the emotions of the readers as it takes them on a trip from the beginning of the space-race between the then-USSR and the USA, to Armstrong’s historic first step on the moon and beyond. Rocco uses beautiful and detailed hand drawn illustrations with thoroughly researched details - both visuals and text perfectly tailored for the audience - to engross the reader from the beginning to the end; and then start all over again! The must-read backmatter includes an epilogue, a note about the research done for this book, information about other Apollo missions, and sources as well as recommendations for further reading.

Vidya Tiru, Lady In Read Writes

Normal: One Kid's Extraordinary Journey
Newman, Magdalena and Newman, Nathaniel, illustrated by Swaab, Neil
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Nominated by: Becky L.

One family’s memories dance across the page in this engaging memoir by mother and son duo Magdalena and Nathaniel Newman. Nathaniel was born with a genetic condition called Trecher Collins, which causes both visible and invisible health problems. Although his craniofacial disorder remains present throughout the book, this is a story about the love and nurturing that the Newman family shows each other. Readers who enjoyed R. J. Palacio’s Wonder will appreciate the Newmans' discussion of both the book and film adaptation. Normal is a wonderful and rewarding read with much to offer audiences.

Jennifer Miller, Raise Them Righteous

Plasticus Maritimus: An Invasive Species
Pego, Ana and Minhós Martins, Isabel, illustrated by Carvalho, Bernado P.
Greystone Kids
Publisher/ Author Submission

In PLASTICUS MARITIMUS: An Invasive Species, a marine scientist provides key information about marine plastic in an innovative and engaging way. Dubbing plastic "an invasive species," she formats the book as a field guide, laying out facts about where plastic comes from, how it gets into the ocean, and the harms it does there. Bright and personal illustrations and photographs illuminate the text. The author describes efforts by individuals and groups to reduce plastic waste, and includes practical tips for readers. There's a solid bibliography and list of additional sources.

Christy Mihaly, GROG

STEM in the Final Four
Marquardt, Meg
Abdo Publishing Group
Publisher/ Author Submission

The middle grade STEM in Sports series brings to light all of the science, technology, engineering and mathematics (and hard work!) that goes into our favorite sports! In this particular volume readers take a deep dive into the Final Four, and we see all the STEM elements that are interwoven into a basketball tournament. From sneakers, to installing the court flooring, to the physics of the movement of the ball, to those beloved brackets, readers, fans and players alike will have a new appreciation for all the moving parts and academics required to bring March Madness to life.

Rachael Fryman, Rachael Fryman

The Talk: Conversations about Race, Love & Truth
, Hudson, Wade (Editor), Willis Hudson, Cheryl (Editor)
Crown Books for Young Readers
Nominated by: Laura Gardner

The foreword of The Talk, Conversations about Race, Love and Truth begins with “There are many
reasons why parents and caregivers share “The Talk” with their children…. There are myriad versions of
the “The Talk” because there are myriad ways to be human.” It was edited by the wife and husband
team, Cheryl Willis Hudson and Wade Hudson, who founded Just Us Books, a publishing company for
Black Interest and multicultural books for children and young adults.
Here is a collection of seventeen discussions, in the form of letters, lists, poems, short stories and essays
lovingly written from the older generation to the younger. They are written and illustrated by a diverse
group of outstanding authors and illustrators and go beyond from their focus on race, identity and self-
esteem. Each discussion is three to five pages. Every one is visually inviting because the font and word
spacing is easy on the eyes. If the selection is not illustrated by the author, its illustrator has been
chosen carefully to enhance the expression of the content of the selection.
A number of us, first-round Cybils judges, wondered at first if middle grade students would pull this
book off the shelf. The outstanding quality of the selections, candid, lovingly rendered and deeply
insightful, convinced us, however, that kids would seek this book out.
Sources and notes from the authors and well as short biographies of the authors and artists are

Julie Neitz Wielga, Partners in Literacy

This Is Your Brain on Stereotypes: How Science Is Tackling Unconscious Bias
Lloyd Kyi, Tanya, illustrated by Shannon, Drew
Kids Can Press, Ltd
Nominated by: Sandy Brehl

Not only does this book ask us to question our stereotypes, but it teaches us how to do it, and why we have them in the first place. In five short chapters, each one packed with stories, sidebars and illustrations, the authors address us and educate us about the history of neuroscience, racism, sexism and stereotype. Eye-catching and highly readable, this book appealed to kids from the whole age range (and more!) and met our standards for excellence in nonfiction. The text reads like a conversation, uninterrupted by bolded vocabulary words, but new terms are defined within the text. The beefy index and colorful illustrations will help readers return to their favorite parts.

Alysa Stewart, Everead

High School Nonfiction

All Boys Aren't Blue: A Memoir-Manifesto
Johnson, George M.
Farrar, Straus & Giroux
Nominated by: Patricia Tilton

After reading Johnson’s memoir twice, I remain impressed with his willingness to share his life with readers who so rarely get to see representations of Black queerness encouragingly and lovingly portrayed. Johnson revisits difficult childhood memories, from having his teeth shattered by a bully to being sexually abused by a family member. He also recalls beautiful ones, from the steady love of his family in NJ to the empowering brotherhood of his fraternity at a HBCU in Virginia. Throughout the telling of his story, Johnson remains aware of its political significance. Growing up, the invisibility of Black queer lives in media affected him. For example, he shares that learning about sex from heteronormative pornography led to awkward, and painful, sexual encounters with men. Johnson’s memoir is mature, but accessible and necessary. I hope it finds its way into the hands of the young adult readers who need it most.

Jennifer Miller, Raise Them Righteous

Jane Against the World: Roe v. Wade and the Fight for Reproductive Rights
Blumenthal, Karen
Roaring Brook Press
Nominated by: Melanie Sumrow

JANE AGAINST THE WORLD: Roe v. Wade and the Fight for Reproductive Rights provides high school and older readers with a thoroughly researched and compellingly written history of reproductive rights from ancient to modern times. Tracing the treatment of women (and their reproductive function) over time, the book introduces key players on all sides of the debates and weaves in facts about biology, eugenics, and politics. It vividly describes the world before contraception was widely available or legal, and the steps eventually leading to the legalization of abortion in the United States. All this provides much-needed context and background for understanding the stakes and themes of today's debates about abortion and women's rights. Helpful back matter includes a glossary, timeline, annotated legal cases, and sources.

Christy Mihaly, GROG

Stamped: Racism, Antiracism, and You
Reynolds, Jason and Kendi, Ibram X.
Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Nominated by: Deb Nance at Readerbuzz

In 2016, author and historian at American University, Dr. Ibram X. Kendi’s, Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America was published in the adult market. It is 592 pages of dense writing persuasively chronicling American history through the lens of anti-Black racist ideas. Kendi wanted his book to be reinterpreted and rewritten for a young adult audience. He asked Jason Reynolds (the present National Ambassador of Young People’s Literature) to be the person to do that writing.
According to an interview with Jason Reynolds, he told Kendi “No” two different times. Reynolds said, “I know where I struggle. So, when Dr. Kendi asked me to do this, I said no because I have a lot of respect for him and his work. To take on something that I wasn’t quite certain I could manage or do justice to honestly felt irresponsible and disrespectful. I said no because I wasn’t a scholar. I wasn’t an academic. I wasn’t an exceptionally good student. I don’t know how to study. I don’t know how to research.” Kendi asked him again. Finally, Reynolds, said he would attempt it. For a long time, Reynolds went nowhere with the project. It was not until his editor told him to make the project his own that Reynolds was able to move forward.
Reynold’s “remix” of Stamped sources his own youthful ambivalence to school and speaks directly to his young adult readers. He is respectfully, irreverent. He writes “this is not a history book”. Yes, it is the recounting of white men whose thoughts and words molded America into being a racist country. Reynold’s writing jumps out at its readers in a conversational, even humorous tone. Teens (and adults) will need to question the school history they have been taught. True to himself and Dr. Kendi, Reynolds manages to tell a very non-textbook drama without anger. Throughout the book it gives each of us a clear choice about how to approach life. These choices are given clearly in its ending words: …” reader (do you) want to be a segregationist (a hater), an assimilationist (a coward), or an anti-racist (someone who truly loves)?’’
That this book is challenging American society and classrooms is clear. One only has to read teachers’ twitter feeds to see the number of parents who have objected to its use in classrooms.

Julie Neitz Wielga, Partners in Literacy

The Cat I Never Named: A True Story of Love, War, and Survival
Sabic-El-Rayess, Amra and Sullivan, Laura L.
Bloomsbury YA
Nominated by: Haley Shaffer

The Cat I Never Named is a book that packs a punch. A heartfelt, no-holds barred memoir of events during the Bosnian civil war where the author and her family have many close calls with the horrors of war as the Serbs began an ethnic cleansing. But it is more than an accounting of those horrors; it is a story of love, survival, of hope, of belief in peace, of humanity, and family. Amra and so many others like her are thrown into a whole new world almost overnight, into a world where they are persecuted because of their faith, and those who they knew as friends and neighbors abandon them completely.In the midst of all this was the titular cat who serves as a source of comfort and hope through the ensuing years of war. This book is both a heartrending individual memoir of a teenager struggling to be one in horrific times, and a honest accounting of the Bosnian genocide, of politics, and discrimination. Readers witness through Amra’s strong narrative just how dangerous hatred and discrimination based on race, religion, or enthinicity can be; and also learn how events like this bring out both the best and worst in humans. A very timely, inspirational, and gripping must-read nonfiction.

Vidya Tiru, Lady In Read Writes

The Radium Girls: Young Readers' Edition
Kate Moore
Sourcebooks eXplore
Publisher/ Author Submission

Moore brings history to life in this story about hundreds of young women who found financial freedom painting watch dials for a generous wage in the 1910s and 20s. Sadly, these young women were soon plagued with health issues that often led to death. It turns out they were painting with poison. The radium-based paint they used found its way into their bones with devastating consequences. Moore balances the politics and emotions of the situation brilliantly. This is a great book for readers interested in the history of corporate greed and labor activism.

Jennifer Miller, Raise Them Righteous

Throw Like a Girl, Cheer Like a Boy: The Evolution of Gender, Identity, and Race in Sports
Ryle, Robyn
Rowman & Littlefield Publishers
Nominated by: Ms. Yingling

Did you know that cheerleading was originally thought to be too macho for girls? This book delves into all the ways that our gender, sexuality, or race-based assumptions and expectations about people affect how we see their performance on the playing field, often ignoring what people are actually doing out there. Robyn Ryle uses clear sources and text to show how often the expectation comes first, and then the results are interpreted to fit what people wanted to see. Modern issues around transgender athletes, activist players, and homophobic announcers in different sports are all examined with a steady but light tone, showing how society and sports affect one another in ways we never think about.

Beth Mitcham, Library Chicken

Walk Toward the Rising Sun: From Child Soldier to Ambassador of Peace
Duany, Ger and Thomas, Garen
Make Me a World
Nominated by: Joella Bagshaw

From the very first page, this memoir of a young man growing up in Sudan is filled with suspense. Walk Toward the Rising Sun tells the story of Ger Duany first as he struggles to survive and protect his family in an environment of scarcity and civil war, and then as he struggles to survive and connect in a life of abundance. Descriptions of hardships are lightened by hopeful and humorous moments, and themes of brotherhood and connection bind the book together. Dialogue is written like a screenplay, which brings an immediacy to the work. The well organized, crystal clear writing allows the remarkable story to take center stage. Descriptions of violence are not graphic, and profanity is only used in direct quotes and only a handful of times, making this an excellent choice for classrooms

Alysa Stewart, Everead

Young Adult Fiction

Clap When You Land
Acevedo, Elizabeth
Quill Tree Books
Nominated by: Stephanie @ Love.Life.Read

When flight 587 crashes, two girls’ lives are changed forever. Clap When You Land explores what it means to be family and what it means to grieve a person you didn’t completely know. The poetry of this book allows Yahaira and Camino’s voices and emotions to shine through as they process and remember their past while looking toward a changed future. The story is not only told through dual perspective but takes place in New York City and The Dominican Republic, and both places come to life through the girls’ eyes.

Grace Barker, GraceGetsBooks

Dear Justyce
Stone, Nic
Crown Books for Young Readers
Nominated by: Vidya Tiru

Nic Stone’s Dear Justyce is a companion novel to her powerful Dear Martin. This is Quan’s story. After being involved in a police shooting, Quan spends much of Dear Justyce in jail. As he awaits trial, Quan begins to reflect on what happened to him and so many others: “We find the families we were desperate for and learn different ways of going about things. Ways that sometimes land us in places/positions we don’t really wanna be in.” In some ways, Dear Justyce is an even stronger novel than its predecessor. Readers do not need familiarity with Dear Martin to fully experience Dear Justyce. The plots do not depend on each other, and understanding the recurring characters is not dependent on the previous book. In fact, reading them in reverse order might lead readers to insights on Dear Martin that wouldn’t be possible if it’s read first. With Dear Justyce, Nic Stone further confirms her role as a leading creative force in today’s young adult literature.

Gary Anderson, What's Not Wrong?

Even If We Break
Marieke Nijkamp
Sourcebooks Fire
Publisher/ Author Submission

Five teens, including two transgender teens and a girl on the autism spectrum, are gathering in a remote high-tech cabin on a haunted mountain for one last role-playing adventure together. Each teen has some secrets as well as some resentments, but they think they can keep those hidden from each other a little longer. Every adventure begins with a murder – but in this case, the fantasy turns disturbingly real. Chapters from each character’s viewpoint before they disappear provide rich characterization and edge-of-your-seat suspense. Whoever is killing them one by one knows their secrets and their weaknesses. To make it down the mountain alive, they’ll need to work together. But how can they trust one another enough to do that?

Sondra Eklund, Sonderbooks

Méndez, Yamile Saied
Algonquin Young Readers
Nominated by: Jenna

Camila “Furia” Hannan is a seventeen-year old multi-ethnic, multi-racial Argentine. She has two loves: fútbol and Diego Ferrari, her childhood friend who is now an international soccer star. Can Camila follow her two dreams–a career in professional women’s soccer and a boy with his own promising future–especially considering that her controlling father doesn’t know about either ambition and wouldn’t approve if he did? Furia is the kind of book that will become some readers’ favorite book of all time as they cheer for Camila and wonder if and how she will choose between her two loves. Méndez appealingly writes every scene with just the right touches. The family scenes range from tender to violent. The romance is sweet and sincere. The soccer scenes are convincing in their authenticity because debut author Yamile Saied Méndez knows her fútbol very well. All of this will resonate with young readers who may be tempted to give up when faced with odds stacked against them. No spoilers here, but Camila does not give up, ever.

Gary Anderson, What's Not Wrong?

Punching the air
Zoboi, Ibi and Salaam, Yusef
Balzer + Bray
Nominated by: Darshana Khiani

Every time I think about this book, I let out a nonconscious heavy sigh. It's the kind of true story that immerses the reader so well that you can't help but become disheartened at the state of our judicial system here in the United States. Sixteen-year-old Amal goes to jail for a crime he didn't commit. His story, told in verse, makes it so much more human than any other way. It is in turns powerful, heart-wrenching, and angering. If only he had been somewhere else that day, he would be in art school. This novel is a must-read. Of course, it holds significance in 2020, but reading about this topic this way lends itself to being understood in the way that real art does. The audio version is excellent, and if I were studying this book with teens (and I will), I would require the book version as the prose placement is sublime. This story is one that you won't soon forget.

Jenn Naughton, The Bookish Society

The Edge of Anything
Carpenter, Nora Shalaway
Running Press Kids
Nominated by: Gary Anderson

When athlete Sage suddenly learns she has a heart defect and must never play sports again, no one understands what she’s going through – except a weird girl named Len who has strange rituals and is super careful about touching anything dirty. As the girls get to know one another, they each find someone who sees them. The secrets they’re able to hide from everyone else are at risk of discovery. Here’s a friendship story about two teens going through things bigger than they can handle on their own. The insightful and compassionate look at mental illness as illness and not something you can power through made this book stand out.

Sondra Eklund, Sonderbooks

You Should See Me in a Crown
Johnson, Leah
Scholastic Press
Nominated by: Kristen

Liz Lighty has her heart set on attending her dream college. Money stands in her way, and there is only one way for her to get it. Despite her anxiety, she will have to put herself out there as a black, queer girl at her mostly white upper-class small-town high school. Of course, there is one stereotypical mean girl, but mostly this story is one that doesn't fall back on the old tropes of YA. I liked Liz so much. You can't help but want her to succeed; she has so much against her, yet she is adorable and whip-smart.(Plus F/F Romance that is more matter of fact and less the focus of the entire plot) Not everyone in her small town is awful, but enough are that this YA contemporary novel is an ageless look into the high school experience. Content Warnings: Previous loss of a parent, Racism,Homophobia,Bullying

Jenn Naughton, The Bookish Society

Young Adult Speculative Fiction

Ness, Patrick
Quill Tree Books
Nominated by: Wendy

Fans of Patrick Ness will rejoice over this newest title—now he’s bringing us stories about DRAGONS! In this novel, he creates a realistic world set in Cold War America. Sarah Dewhurst and her father have been struggling to keep their small farm operating after the death of Sarah’s mother. In order to get the help they need without paying for (more expensive) human workers, Sarah’s father hires a blue dragon from the Russian Wastes to help prepare the fields for planting. Not only is the dragon problematic because of the tenuous peace between humans and dragons, he is a “Russian” blue dragon. Sarah and her father are poor enough to need a dragon’s help to keep their farm afloat, but that’s not their only challenge: Sarah’s mother was Black and her father is white, and in the Pacific Northwest of 1957, this creates a host of added difficulties for their family. To make matters even worse, this dragon brings word of an apocalyptic prophecy that involves Sarah and their farm. With the strong writing readers have come to expect from Ness, excellent character development, and an exciting multiverse twist, this is a must-read.

Jenna Ehler, West Des Moines Public Library

Cemetery Boys
Thomas, Aiden
Swoon Reads
Nominated by: vampirerevenant

When his family bans him from performing the ritual that would give him the supernatural abilities of a brujo, Latinx trans boy Yadriel stubbornly performs the ritual in secret, but things don’t go exactly as planned… He accidentally summons the wrong spirit, the recently-deceased Julian Diaz, high school bad boy who is more than he seems. This story is full of heart, and while it doesn’t shy away from heavier topics like transphobia and homophobia, it isn’t a story about queer pain at all. This novel is hopeful, witty, and bright, and in many ways reads like a warm hug and is something many young queer readers will find comfort in.

Sarah Yael, Sarah the Story Girl

Little Badger, Darcie, illustrated by Cai, Rovina
Levine Querido
Nominated by: Jenna @ Falling Letters

Elatsoe is the riveting tale of an asexual Lipan Apache girl with the unique ability to summon the ghosts of dead animals. When her cousin visits her in a dream, warning her that he has been killed and needs to be avenged, she must embark on a dangerous quest to solve his murder - but luckily she has her family and friends on her side to support her along the way! This urban fantasy novel is rich in worldbuilding, fascinating magic systems, and loveable characters, as well as creepy villains and plot twists sure to shock readers! Eerie yet endearing, this exciting novel is a must-read for any teen thirsting for adventure.

Sarah Yael, Sarah the Story Girl

Deonn, Tracy
Margaret K. McElderry
Nominated by: Dianthaa

When Bree goes to an early college program, she never expected to join a secret society that dates back to the round table. As she learns more about the society and her own past, she begins to uncover secrets that could change her life. Bree is the kind of main character you instantly fall in love with, in the way that you will follow her to the end of the earth or the end of this incredible book. Legendborn weaves a tale of the history of America and the Legends of Arthur that is both exciting and insightful. This book will appeal to fantasy lovers both new and old, and hopefully, more readers will see themselves in Bree and this story.

Grace Barker, Grace Gets Books

Red Hood
Arnold, Elana K.
Balzer + Bray
Nominated by: Tasha

Elana K. Arnold is an unapologetic feminist who pulls no punches and takes no prisoners. Her new book, Red Hood, is a brutal retelling of the Little Red Riding Hood fable but in her take on the story, Little Red saves herself. Bisou is a high school student who is attacked by a wolf in the woods the night of the homecoming dance. During the struggle, Bisou fights back and ends up killing the wolf. The next morning, a boy from her school is found dead in the woods in the same location as her fight with the wolf. As the story unfolds, you learn about Bisou’s family heritage and more about the wolves in those woods. This story follows a similar pattern as the author’s previous fractured fairy tale (Damsel), so expect a dark and very intense read. There are graphic depictions of sex and violence in this story, so it is not for every reader. However, before you shy away--our sisters and daughters and friends are learning about sex and violence in this world, sometimes in the worst possible way, and the author does us all a favor by calling that out clearly. Here is an excerpt from a blog post she wrote about Damsel and some of the comments she received about how her work might be considered “too much” for teen readers:
Teen girls don’t need us to protect them from the truths of our world. They need us to arm them. With our belief in their experiences. With our own stories, too. Women, most of you have a memory, perhaps several memories, of assault. I am sorry you carry these burdens.

Women, tell our girls your stories. Arm them with knowledge. And let’s stop pretending they don’t know what is happening around them and to them, every day.
It’s the least we can do.
For those of us who appreciate compelling storytelling with a kick-ass female protagonist who fights against toxic masculinity and violence against women, this is a five-star read.

Jenna Ehler, West Des Moines Public Library

Sia Martinez and the Moonlit Beginning of Everything
Gilliland, Raquel Vasquez
Simon Pulse
Nominated by: Deb Nance at Readerbuzz

Sia Martinez and the Moonlit Beginning of Everything has been compared to Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe meets Roswell. With its focus on the importance of family and friendships, its enveloping portrayal of adolescent growing pains, and its all-too real and heartbreaking depiction of Mexican American experiences of racism in America, Sia fits these comparisons and more. Raquel Vasquez Gilliland deeply understands her characters, and there is something about Sia's voice and Gilliland's writing that feels so real, so raw, so engrossing.

Rine Karr, Rine Karr

The Guinevere Deception (Camelot Rising Trilogy)
White, Kiersten
Delacorte Press Books for Young Readers
Nominated by: Deva Fagan

Guinevere is not who she seems in this refreshing take on the classic Arthurian legend. Sent to Camelot to marry King Arthur, Guinevere must learn how to navigate court life whilst protecting Arthur and coming into her own magic and courage. Guinevere is neither a helpless princess nor a simple plot device to further Arthur’s story in this retelling, and with the addition of a little gender-swapping—reminiscent of White’s epic The Conqueror's Saga—and LGBTQ+ characters, The Guinevere Deception is a delightful journey to a fantastical 5th to early 6th century Britain.

Rine Karr, Rine Karr