Good morning, book lovers, and welcome to the apex of the seventh season of the Cybils--that is, announcement day for our latest list of favorite books of 2012. They're a perfect blend of kid appeal and literary awesomeness, as befits the criteria of the Cybils Awards. Librarians love 'em, kids can't get enough, and we're thrilled to announce the crop of winners.
If you're an author or an
illustrator and you spot your name on this list, don't forget we have shiny gold stickers now and a fancy logo for you.
For everyone else, get ready to update your "To Be Read" pile.
Greetings, fellow bookworms. Our sixth season culminates with a new list of our favorite books of 2011, the ones that kids couldn't put down and adults couldn't refuse. We don't want Mom frowning or the Librarian to catch any flak, after all. One way to look at the Cybils is that instead of telling kids what we think they should be reading, we take a look at what they already are reading (or likely will read) -- and then pick out the best of them.
And that brings us to this year's winners. If you're an author or an illustrator and you spot your name on this list, don't forget we have shiny gold stickers now and a fancy logo for you.
For everyone else, get ready to update your "To Be Read" pile.
Once again, it's our pleasure to bring you our picks for the titles of 2010 that combined literary merit with kid appeal. That's the secret sauce that makes a child or teen want to pull it off the shelf (or download it onto their gizmo of choice) and not move/eat/sleep/breathe until the last page is turned.
After the jump you'll find the complete list of winners, along with the judges' reasonings. If you like our choices, please thank one of our judges by visiting their blogs. Links can be found on the sidebar if you scroll down a bit.
As Little Red Chicken interrupts her Papa's bedtime stories to create her own endings for classic fairy tales, children are immersed in the possibilities of their imaginations. Through an enthusiastic character, relatable situation and strikingly bold illustrations, children are transported to an evening bedtime ritual that becomes more than your average reading. Interrupting Chicken is a picture book that will have children and parents alike laughing all the way to the last page, making it a perfect bedtime and group reading story.
This is a frank biographer and an honest one; she uses no sandpaper on me. --Mark Twain on his daughter’s biography
Who better to write a biography of your life than your daughter? Kerley weaves the story written by 13-year-old Susy Clements with the tale of the biography itself, revealing, in a new way, the life of Twain. Children presented with this beautiful nonfiction picture book reveled in the point of view of another child, a portrait of the funny, serious, absent-minded, cat-loving, billiard-playing, philosophical papa -- the extraordinary Mark Twain. The illustrations include actual excerpts from Susy’s biography as small mini-books inserted within the book. They reflect the delightful spirit of Twain’s writings and capture the feel of the time period.
Exquisite use of limited language? Check. Laugh-out-loud humor? Check. Meets new readers on their level but doesn't condescend to them? Check. Intertextual connections? Yes, indeed. Mo manages to create a developmentally appropriate book about characters who are IN a book! He also pays homage to the classic Sesame Street There is a Monster At The End of This Book.
Zapato Power fills a large void in the early chapter book category. Freddie Ramos is a Hispanic character growing up in a single-parent family. He lives in an apartment building where his community acts as his extended family. Students reading Zapato Power find a character they can relate to. Plus he's got super-powered shoes that let him run really really fast. What's not to love?
The poems in this collection are called reversos because they're written as two different versions of the same story. In the case of Mirror Mirror, the stories are fairy tales. It was the determination of the poetry judges that the form - the style, the poems themselves - inspire creativity, as evidenced by the number of readers inspired to create their own (inevitably discovering that a true reverso is difficult to achieve indeed).
That one can tell a single story from two different points of view by reversing a poem is quite impressive. Every word in a reverso has to be chosen properly; the placement of the words affects the meaning of the poem, since placement dictates how it is read upwards as well as down. As one of our judges noted, "For some poems, the reverso form actually gave me aha! moments, causing me to look at a familiar story in a fresh way."
This exceptionally innovative graphic novel gives the reader the power to take the story in different directions by choosing which tube to follow at points where the story splits. It's like a choose-your-own-adventure story where you start by choosing an ice cream flavor and find yourself playing with a scientist's mad devices including the "killitron," which has "the power to kill every living human in the universe." There's a lot on the line in this book. You might find happiness or the END OF THE WORLD. The mad scientist's machines allow the reader to play with time travel, memory transfer between people and the multiple worlds theory of particle physics. It's a fun ride of a graphic novel. This isn't a book you read once. You read it over and over. One judge commented that reading Meanwhile was like watching the movie Groundhog Day where you repeat the story again and again trying for that perfect possibility. The judges agreed none of us had ever seen another graphic novel like this one.
Fantasy & Science Fiction
The Shadows The Books of Elsewhere, Vol. 1 by Jacqueline West Dial Nominated by: Sandra Stiles
Who wouldn't want to explore a house haunted by paintings that won't come off the walls and three colorful talking cats that slink in and out of attics as well as other dimensions? When Olive Dunwoody moves into a strange old house with her absent-minded mathematician parents, she falls headlong into the mysteries of the past and the dangers of the painted worlds. The judges especially liked the clear kid appeal created by The Shadows' humor, pacing and suspense, but they also admired the small-scale world-building and the metaphor-rich, well-crafted language in this fantasy novel from first-time author Jacqueline West. A book any teacher, librarian, or parent could easily sell to reluctant readers and skilled readers alike.
Ultra-nerd Dwight wears a small finger puppet and uses a funny voice. But oddly enough, his Origami Yoda doles out advice that seems much wiser that Dwight. "The big question: is Origami Yoda real?" Tommy has a lot riding on the question: he's desperate to know if he can trust Yoda's advice about a certain girl. So he and his friends set out in search of scientific evidence, gathering anecdotes from everyone who's ever consulted the paper oracle.
Angleberger deftly pens authentic voices, and depicts the humorous way middle schoolers become hooked on a weird idea, build on it, believe it and talk about it endlessly. This story is, in essence, about kids trying to figure out how to be social. We love the creative premise, the clever dialogue and the surprising way it unfolds. But in the end, it's the humor and the heart of this book that make it so great.
"As a reader, you can cheer for the doctors and celebrate their findings," one judge said about this well-researched and documented book by Suzanne Jurmain. Set in Cuba in the early twentieth century, The Secret of the Yellow Death tells the story of an ace team of U.S. Army doctors headed by Walter Reed. Along with Cuban physician Carlos Finlay and many brave volunteers, Reed worked to find the cause of yellow fever and methods to prevent its spread. "It's not easy to make science and medicine come alive for any audience, especially middle graders, and this text really worked," another judge remarked. The panel cited an interactive design and fine use of photographs, in addition to the suspenseful narrative.
Although the story unfolds in gritty black & white illustrations, Yummy is a heartbreaking colorful story told through the eyes of a young boy named Roger. Blending truth and fiction to the tragic true story of 11-year-old Robert "Yummy" Sandifer and his accidental killing of a neighborhood girl, Shavon Dean, the Chicago set tale grabs you by the throat and doesn't let go. Hoping to discover a reason for the senseless violence, Roger finds that there is no clear-cut answer. To many, Yummy was a monster created by his environment. To others, Robert Sandifer was a sweet boy who was misunderstood. Although you know the ending of the book from the beginning, Neri still packs a punch that leaves the reader thinking for days, once the book has been put down. Yummy is a historical story with a timeless sensibility that will take your breath away.
Fantasy & Science Fiction
Rot & Ruin by Jonathan Maberry Simon & Schuster Nominated by: Kristie Winks
Despite a few unearthly groans at the idea of another zombie book, we were all delighted by this action-packed, original interpretation of zombie mythology. Benny doesn’t remember life before the dead rose fourteen years ago, but he blames his brother Tom for their parents’ death. Too bad the rest of Mountainside worships Tom as a zombie-hunting hero. When Benny reluctantly apprentices himself to Tom, he learns that the family zombie-hunting business is not what he expected, and all is not as it seems beyond their town in the great Rot & Ruin.
We loved Benny’s growth as a person, though his deep hatred of Tom at the beginning seemed forced. We appreciated the casual racial diversity of the characters, and the way two strong female characters get their own chances to shine. That's right, this isn’t just a boy book! Both boys and girls will love the well-paced suspense and humor. There’s plenty of violence -- it is a zombie novel, after all -- but it has a cinematic feel that never gets too disgusting, and a strong sense of morality that adds depth to the story, only rarely feeling heavy-handed. We challenge you to put this book down before its heart-pounding conclusion (which leaves room for a sequel, of course). Rot & Ruin will leave everyone, zombies or not, hungry for more.
Split focuses on Jace's journey towards healing after years of abuse at the hands of his father. Forced to leave his mother and friends behind, Jace abruptly relocates half-way across the country in an attempt to reconnect with his estranged brother Christian; who, as a boy, escaped years earlier to save himself from similar circumstances. A realistic portrayal of abuse, Split is filled with complexities that force the reader to feel the full effects of uncertainty as Jace and Christian struggle to escape the emotional and physical threat that their father continues to hold over them. Tightly-written in the first person point of view, Avasthi's prose and straight-forward dialogue leaves no detail to the imagination. Fear, torment, hope, and loathing fill the pages of Split as you root for these young men to find their way to discovering how to be a family again.
I'm wrapping my brain around the idea that this is our fourth annual awards. Wasn't that blogging fad supposed to be over by now? Shhh ... don't tell that to our panelists and judges. They spend a good chunk of their year tap-tapping away on their keyboards, keeping the kidlit world humming with their takes on what makes for a great read.
Maybe new technology will overtake the cozy corner of the Internet known as the kidlitosphere. Perhaps there'll soon be some other way to transmit our enthusiasm for children's and young adult literature. In the meantime, we're still here, still reading, still passionately defending our faves and getting the word out.
And with that, I'll let you scroll down to see our picks for this year's awards.
What is it about kids' books that gets us? For me, it's about peals of giggles and excited pointing. It's about the dog-earred, juice-stained, crayon-enhanced pages held together by reams of scotch tape and hope.
Cybils is a comfort zone for the similarly obsessed, where no one has to apologize for preferring the manga version of Shakespeare, and it's always okay to just look at the pictures. Even those who don't have kids--or who don't work with them--can curl up with a trashy teen romance or a goofy science fiction spoof. It's all good.
We had our fun reading and judging, and now it's your turn. The winners below are a gift from our hearts to you and the kids you love, even if you're just indulging an inner child.
We'd be remiss if we didn't thank all those who made Cybils possible.
Our organizers are a brilliant, dedicated lot who put this together quickly and professionally. The public immediately took to nominating their favorite books, thanks also to the dozens of bloggers who spread the word.
More than 80 volunteers from every walk of life came forward to read and confer and read some more. Publishers made sure every panelist and judge received a review copy, despite our chaotic, hasty organization.
But two groups deserve special shout-outs. First, we gratefully acknowledge the authors and illustrators whose vision, hard work and passion have kept us all so enthralled. And then there are the kids who gather in our libraries or sit wide-eyed in our classrooms or cuddle in our laps, eager to enter whatever magic realm unfolds before them on the page.
To both of these groups we express our heartfelt admiration and affection. We hope these awards mean something to you, who mean so much to us.
--Anne and Kelly
Please keep reading for the complete list of winners. For the short lists published in January, look here.