2022 Cybils Winners

Board Books

Look Twice: An Interactive Board Book Full of Surprises!
by Giuliano Ferri 
Nominated by: Cindy Mitchell

This book is clever, eye-catching, and fun. Highly engaging illustrations create an anticipation of predicting what will be next and the fun of discovering how animals, and ultimately a child, were hidden. Definitely one that kids will love reading over and over again.

Easy Readers

Reina Ramos Works It Out (I Can Read Level 2)
by Emma Otheguy, illustrated by Andrés Landazábal
Nominated by: Charlotte

Young readers will find many riches in this fun, engaging easy reader. Reina is a charming character who brings readers into her classroom and her home. The story has excellent pacing and integrates problem-solving in a class project with family time and introductions to a few key figures in Latino history. The back matter with Spanish and illustrations of famous people from different Latin cultures is simple to understand and adds a nice touch. This is a creative, refreshing story of family, friendship, and history that is sure to spark an interest in the lives and professions of these famous people.

Early Chapter Books

Crimson Twill: Witch in the City
by Kallie George,  illustrated by Birgitta Sif
Candlewick Press
Nominated by: Christopher Helton

Crimson Twill: Witch in the Citysparkles with exactly the magic a newly independent reader is looking for: a funny, lively, well-paced story featuring a heroine with relatable struggles and hopes. Crimson is a young witch with a unique fashion sense and not your average witchling dreams—for starters, she'd rather have a puppy than a cat. Above all, she longs for friends. As she grapples with a series of entertaining, unpredictable dilemmas, her creative and kindhearted solutions help make those dreams come true. This enchanting tale charms readers with delightful wordplay, thoughtful representation, and a lot of heart.

Fiction Picture Books

Knight Owl
by Christopher Denise,
Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Nominated by: Melissa Fox

Beautiful illustrations combine with clever wordplay and humor as the main character, an adorable owl, struggles to become a knight. While it has a stunning fairy tale setting with a castle, knights, and a hungry dragon, ingenuity and heart flip a number of tropes on their heads and create a wonderful story of friendship. It’s perfect as a bedtime or overall read-aloud favorite.

Elementary Non-Fiction

Good Eating: The Short Life of Krill
by Matt Lilley, Illustrated by Dan Tavis
Tilbury House
Publisher/ Author Submission

When a nonfiction picture book leaves its readers going 'Wow! That was so cool! I never knew that!' it ensures that the book is a winner in its own right! And Good Eating does that; it left all of us judges completely sated with the knowledge that this book is educating, engaging, and entertaining. We had absolutely no idea about how interesting the krill is until we read this book that is stuffed with information and fun facts about it (just like the krill stuffing itself with food!) Author Matt Lilley informs us about this little-known ‘keystone species' of the ocean using a cool and effective second-person point of view that helps us identify with and root for our krill friend, one among a “krillion!” We join an anonymous narrator, who guides our friend, from when it is just an egg through various swim-eat-grow-molt cycles, till 'phew', we sigh in relief that our friend has not ended up as food, at least not within the pages of this book! Dan Tavis’s illustrator's adorable and vibrant illustrations are the perfect accompaniment for both the entertainment and educative elements of the book. Good Eating’s balance of humor, science, and even a bit of the macabre makes it a funny, adventurous, and great nonfiction treat for all its readers (young and old). 

Elementary/Middle Grade Speculative Fiction

The Mirrorwood
by Deva Fagan
Atheneum Books for Young Readers
Nominated by: Sheila Ruth

The Mirrorwood is an engrossing and creative riff on Sleeping Beauty, in which Fable, a girl with no face of her own, travels into a strange world that she must save from a demon prince. It’s a seemingly impossible quest, full of twists and turns, new characters to meet and learn to care about, and hard choices to be made. Fable wins through because of the strength and kindness of her character, learning that even though the faces she presents to the world are borrowed from others, she is still her true self, able to make her own choices with the understanding that “good” and “bad” aren’t black and white. The writing is beautiful, the characters are nuanced and three-dimensional, defying the standard archetypes they suggest when we first meet them, the pages turn quickly, and as an added bonus, Fable’s lovely cat, which whom she can speak, comes along on the journey with her!

Elementary/Middle Grade Graphic Novels

Invisible: A Graphic Novel
by Christina Diaz Gonzalez, illustrated by Gabriela Epstein
Nominated by: cheriee weichel

Invisible is a culturally authentic tale that takes us into the lives of five Latine students. They meet while doing community service in the school cafeteria together. While on duty, their work to support an unhoused mother and her child ends up getting them in trouble. As each of them tells their part of what happened, readers get to know them as individuals with unique backgrounds and challenges. The book addresses issues of socioeconomic status, family expectations, racism, housing, dyslexia, and immigration. The theme of anti-stereotyping is layered throughout this novel. As readers come to understand that you never really know someone else’s story, it is sure to remind them to look beyond the surface of the people around them. On top of this, the artwork and structure of the book are exceptional and it is fun to read. We love that the text is bilingual and that the characters speak in both Spanish and English.

Middle Grade Fiction

by Amina Luqman-Dawson
Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Nominated by: LibraryMiranda

Amina Luqman-Dawson’s riveting debut novel FREEWATER is a historical fiction saga with action and adventure elements that do not disappoint. The story begins as twelve-year-old Homer and his younger sister Ada run away from their enslavement at Southerland Plantation, fending for themselves in the nearby swamp until they meet a mysterious man who takes them to the secret community of Freewater.

Based on the real-life secret communities of escaped slaves in the Great Dismal Swamp, FREEWATER offers a varied cast of exceptionally well-drawn characters. Each provides their own point of view in chapters named after them, while Homer remains the narrator and central character throughout. The reader discovers the strengths of each character and how they work together, even with their secret flaws. Short chapters advance the story in a tense and highly satisfying way, making the book very hard to put down and culminating in a final plot sequence that truly delivers. Luqman-Dawson’s debut is a masterfully written and fascinating peek into a little-known part of our nation’s history, promising a resolution that reveals universal truths. This is a story we feel will appeal to middle grade readers of all ages, and one that every child should read.

Middle Grade Non-Fiction

Choosing Brave: How Mamie Till-Mobley and Emmett Till Sparked the Civil Rights Movement
by Angela Joy, illustrated by Janelle Washington
Roaring Brook Press
Nominated by: Becky L.

When we think about injustices, like the horrific murder of Emmett Till in 1955, it can be tempting to focus more on the crime and less on the lives affected by it. In Choosing Brave: How Mamie Till-Mobley and Emmett Till Sparked the Civil Rights Movement, Angela Joy, and Janelle Washington concisely and thoroughly explain to young readers what happened to Emmett Till, yet they also show the time before his death, when his mother Mamie was a young girl persevering through a hostile world and difficult home life. And they show the time after his death, when Mamie spoke out and fought for change, and chose to open her son’s casket at his funeral so people could see what he suffered. The judges appreciated that the story is accessible and complex, allowing it to appeal to a broad age range beyond young readers. We also appreciated that Angela Joy’s verse seamlessly carries readers through the story, with the refrain of “choosing brave” summing up the story’s core message, while Janelle Washington’s paper-cut illustrations stop readers in their tracks and remind them to reflect. This book connects Emmett Till’s death to racism and injustice today, providing a timely reminder of what we can never forget: the victims of these crimes are more than just victims, and we must join the people who love them in ensuring that these crimes never happen again.

Poetry Collections

The 1619 Project: Born on the Water
by Nikole Hannah-Jones and Renée Watson, illustrated by Nikkolas Smith
Nominated by: Jenna

In Born on the Water, a journalist and a poet blend verse, history, and genealogy to tell a story that is at the heart of our American identity, and yet has been rarely rendered for young readers. In response to a school project about family roots, a young Black girl struggles to identify the country her people came from, so Grandma “gathers the whole family, says…let me tell you our beginning.” The long-form poems use repetition and cadence common in oral traditions to uncover the experience of Black Americans, from homelands in Central West Africa, where “Their hands,” "Their hearts,” “Their minds had a knowing,” through the forced ocean crossing where “These many people / became one people, / a new people” born on the water, to the shores of Virginia, where the “The people worked / and worked,” “planted prayers into the heavens, / praying, praying, praying / for freedom.” These poems use representative events, images, and motifs to carry the epic story--“Ours is no immigration story”--of the millions of Black people who kept living despite that “They were brokenhearted, beaten and bruised,” who built a legacy of joy, excellence, and resistance. Gorgeous illustrations further illuminate this powerful and moving work. Born on the Water stands at the core of who we are and should take its place in every 3rd-8th grade classroom in our nation.

Novels in Verse

by Diana Farid, illustrated by Kris Goto
Cameron Kids
Nominated by: Melissa

Wave is everything a verse novel for young readers should be. The story of first-generation Persian-American Ava, caught between her family’s expectations and her own love for surfing, singing, and her friends, is engrossing in its own right. The ancient poet Rumi features prominently within Wave. This is perfect for the narrative as Rumi is both Persian and a poet. His poems are effectively woven in and mentioned by Ava throughout the book. Prejudice, divorce, parental pressure, and grief are balanced beautifully by the brightness of poetry, mixtapes and music, and most of all beloved friends and the joy of riding the waves. "I fall with the song / into the hollow / of the wave, / as it covers me with its curl. / We ride the barrel toward the light." Having this story told in poems full of beautiful language, careful formatting, and clear voice makes it even better. Poetry and life blend together to make a strong, moving whole that speaks to the universal theme of growing up while still being a story of one unique, captivating heroine.

High School Non-Fiction

The Woman All Spies Fear: Code Breaker Elizebeth Smith Friedman and Her Hidden Life
by Amy Butler Greenfield
Random House Studio
Nominated by: Reshama

The story of Elizebeth Smith Friedman’s life, love, and journey into the world of ciphers holds readers spellbound. The narrative reads like a novel and illuminates one woman’s long-overlooked contributions as a code breaker during two world wars. Detailed and well-researched, the text provides a comprehensive look at the time in history as well as Smith Friedman’s particular role. Readers are rewarded throughout the book with fun “Code Break” sections, which explain various codes and ciphers. This invitation to try code-breaking and code creation helps make this book an interactive, multi-layered reading experience that reminds readers to look beyond the surface of history to find hidden truths. We couldn’t put this book down!

Young Adult Graphic Novels

Messy Roots: A Graphic Memoir of a Wuhanese American
by Laura Gao
Balzer + Bray
Nominated by: Deborah K

Laura Guo writes about living her life, navigating her sense of identity, her emerging sexual orientation, and being seen as Other. Laura was born in Wuhan, but left as a small child. Once the Covid pandemic spread throughout the world, that Otherness increased. She faced even more racism and hate as details and misinformation spread about Wuhan and the pandemic. We loved the illustrations, the use of different colored text to portray different languages, and the use of color to show changes in location and mood.

Young Adult Fiction

The Summer of Bitter and Sweet
by Jen Ferguson
Nominated by: Gary Anderson

The Summer of Bitter and Sweet is the strong young adult novel debut from Jen Ferguson, a biracial (Michif/Métis and white) author with ties to the Indigenous peoples of Canada. Like the author, the main character Lou is biracial. Lou is spending her last summer before college working at her family’s quirky ice cream shack where the ice cream flavors are influenced by the Indigenous family’s familiarity with local plants and agricultural practices.  Harrowing revelations about Lou’s background are as carefully threaded through the novel as the intricate images in her mother’s beadwork in a plot that focuses on the violence so commonly perpetrated against Indigenous women in both Canada and America.  The Summer of Bitter and Sweet is one of the first releases from Heartdrum, a new imprint from HarperCollins Publishers dedicated to stories by Indigenous authors centered on young, heroic Natives.  The Summer of Bitter and Sweet is a book to recommend to young readers who like complex characters, elements of suspense, cultural depth, romance that avoids tropes, and ice cream.

Young Adult Speculative Fiction

From Dust, a Flame
by Rebecca Podos
Balzer + Bray
Nominated by: Mistrunner

When Hannah wakes up on her seventeenth birthday with a pair of snake eyes, her quest to solve the curse leads her and her brother Gabe to long-estranged family, sitting shiva for a grandmother they never knew. Hannah soon unearths family secrets that divided them, and these missing pieces will help her solve more than just her own curse. Rebecca Podos masterfully weaves the past into the present as she gives life to stories and creatures from Jewish mythology. The characters in this book are vivid in color and strong in mind, tackling generational trauma, the complex relationship between mother and daughter, and the importance of confronting your past.  From Dust, A Flame is a stunning contribution to YA Speculative Fiction with outstanding plotting, queer representation, and a unique storyline steeped in Jewish folklore