« Meet Jennifer | Main | Who do you think you are? »

January 31, 2007


Loree Burns

Hi Anne,

I was a panelist in the MG/YA Nonfiction Category and am excited to see which of the five books we chose as finalists gets the top award!

How is it that there will be five runners up? Did you mean FOUR? Isn't each short list only five books long? If one is a winner, that leaves ... four books as honor books.

Just curious,
Loree Burns


Doh! (slaps forehead). Aren't you glad this isn't a math contest? Will fix asap.


Thanks, Anne :)


OK. I was on the SF&F Nominations panel. I was disappointed with two of the books that we shortlisted. I didn't really enjoy "Pucker". It was OK, but it really didn't stick in my head as did some of the other books we had to read...

I was also very disappointed with "The Last Dragon" - I actually couldn't finish it because I found the writing simply didn't flow for me. (I suspect that may have been a translation issue.) Everyone else seemed to really like it though - and "Pucker" - so they went onto the shortlist...

On the other hand, I really liked "Ptolemy's Gate" (an awesome finale to the Bartimaeus trilogy), "Silver City" (a terrific middle-of-the-trilogy book) and "Beka Ccooper, Terrier" (a promising beginning to a new fantasy series featuring a very strong heroine).

Which one do I want to win ? I can't pick one of those three so please don't make me !


Thanks for jumping in, Michele. I'm curious, did you find yourself yielding to more forceful arguments, or were you simply outvoted? I'm interested in the process of how the long lists got winnowed down in different categories and if some panelists felt themselves caving to some degree.

There's no substitute for everyone being in one room to make your case and have some give and take. When judging is done via email or Yahoo group, it's bound to lose something. I wonder if the first thing to go is a sense of balance for those who cannot argue as forcefully in writing as they might in person.

There may be no antidote, I don't know. It may be a matter of posting some new guidelines, or even having a moderator in each Yahoo group. Either of those presents their own problem too -- how heavy a hand should a moderator have, for example?

I'd love to hear from more panelists how they felt the process worked for them. Or is this all just what we should expect when we lock five passionate people in a Yahoo group and tell them they can't leave until they compromise?


I really liked the way we did things on the MG committee (thanks, Betsy!). We read and read, but started with a "top 5 list". The top 5 yielded one book--not telling which--that we all placed as #1 or #2. So, our shortlist already had one title. But this process also told us something else. We all needed to read the top books on everyone else's list and divide up the rest of the books so that at least 2-3 of us read each one.

After we did this, several of us weighed in on a particular title and said we'd like it on the top 5. This book, keep in mind, was only on one top 5 list before. Then we had 2 books. Then we read and discussed, read and discussed, mostly deciding why this or that book was or was not a contenter.

Then we did lists again, towards the end of this process, and yielded a 3rd title.

Finally in the final days of the process we again made lists, while discussing of course as well, of our top 5 titles OTHER THAN the three we had selected already for the shortlist. By this process we came to an agreement of 4 titles vying for the final 2 spots. Then we discussed and discussed and voted again. 1 title became #4 pretty easily after discussion, but #5 came to a single tie-breaking vote.

This was okay, because we all loved those final 3 titles. We easily could have had a shortlist of 8 books. Those 8 books were clear standouts this year.


Oh, and let me add, that we read each and every book at least 2xs and kept a database where we registered our opinions.

Oh, and make that "contender" instead of "contenter."


Thanks, Kelly. That's very illuminating.


I really loved being on the Graphic Novel panel and discussing each book with the other panelists. Each fellow panelist was very knowledgeable and brought fresh insight to each book. I'm pretty amazed at how it all came together and am quite happy with our shortlist. There were some fabulous graphic novels we read and I have a new appreciation for the genre as a result. I'm very excited to see which of our five is the winner for both age ranges.


Excellent. Thanks, Gina!


What we did on the YA committee sounds pretty similar to what the MG committee did. We started out just reading as much as we possibly could, using a spreadsheet (on Google Spreadsheets) to track who had read each book.

Eventually, realizing that there was no way we could all read every title (Though I'm still so impressed that Tadmack actually did!), we made a list of the ones that didn't have the required two readers -- and checked those off as we read them.

At one point, we each made a list of our personal top ten (which had some definite overlap -- so we had a list of about 30 titles), but in the discussion after that, we realized that a top 5 from each of us would be more useful.

So, we went back, each made a top 5 list -- and ended up with a list of 12 books. So, we all got online at the same time (using AIM/Meebo to chat) and did a live chat to narrow down that list of 12 to only 5. (And, like the MG committee, there was one title we were all in complete agreement about -- though of course, I won't say which one)

We each had our own favorites that didn't make the shortlist (mine was An Abundance of Katherines) -- but in the end, we finally agreed.

I do think it would have helped to be able to have a slightly longer shortlist (though I'm not sure what the judging committee would have to say about that.) I'm not sure any of us expected to have 80 nominations, and there were some really wonderful books that we had to leave out.

Some of us on the committee also discussed whether historical fiction should have its own category. It felt a little unfair to judge some of the historical novels against the contemporary ones, if only because contemporary novels tend to have more kid/teen appeal.

Anyway... just my two cents... I'll be excited to see who the winners are!

Sherry Early

Kelly, inquiring minds want to know, and I can't see any harm in telling: what were the other three of the eight standouts?

I'm on the committee to pick a winner, and I agree that all five of the books you all picked were great books. It's going to be difficult to pick The Best One. However, I read several of the nominees, and I must say that I liked several of them as well as or beter than the ones you picked. Hence, my curiosity about the three that didn't quite make the shrotlist.

Anne Heathen

For the fiction picture book category, we used a fairly similar process as some of the other groups. We used a Google Spreadsheet to keep track of all the titles (we had a lot to keep track of!) and we did several rounds of our individual top contenders. We found a few titles at the top of everyone's lists and then hashed out the rest. When it came down to vying for the last few titles on the short-list, we each sent emails to each other with passionate arguments in favor of the titles we loved. Everyone on the committee was (in my eyes) extremely courteous, flexible, and willing to listen to everyone else. I've been on a few award committees in the past, and I've never experienced such nice-ness during the final process. Doing this via email probably helped that (I think it's easier for some folks to say "you're wrong!" in person).

These are my impressions--anyone else from the fiction picture book committee care to add or correct? :)


Anne, you said it perfectly. I really enjoyed the process and thought it went very democratically. I felt we were appropriately Chip-and-Dale (as in chipmunks, not strippers) polite and respectful to one another. And, yes, we had so many titles that I feel our process for narrowing down to five went really well.


I guess I didn't need to explain the chipmunk thing. The strippers are spelled "Chippendales," huh? Ooh, it's getting hot in here, what with this talk of strippers.

Sheila Ruth

Our process on the F/SF committee was very similar to what Kelly described for the MG group. The difference was that there was NO book that was universally liked by all the nominating committee. Maybe it was because there was such a wide diversity of titles in our category, or maybe it was due to the very different personalities and tastes of the committee members, or maybe a little of both. After our first "top 5" vote, we had several books that won a majority of votes (I won't say which ones until after the winners are announced, so that I don't bias the judges), but even those didn't receive 100% of the votes, they won by a narrow majority. We placed those books on the shortlist, and then read each others picks, discussed some more, and voted some more. It was hard to choose books for the remaining slots, because we each had our favorites and no other books garnered a majority of votes.

One thing that I see the MG committee did differently, was in the final vote, when they had two slots open, they each voted for their top 5 picks for the 2 slots. When we had 2 slots open, we tried voting for our 2 picks for the 2 slots, and no book got a majority. Then we voted for our top *3* picks for the 2 slots, and we finally had two books with a majority of votes. It seems that when each person votes for more books than the available number of slots, it's easier to find common ground.

One issue that we wrestled with, and which is relevant to Michele's comments, was: is it fair to choose books that a majority of the committee thought belonged on the shortlist, but that one or two members disliked? Or is it better to choose books that didn't have a majority of votes for the top spots, but that no one actively disliked? Which constitutes a "better" book? I think that this is the kind of issue we'll have to discuss and clarify for next year.

Gail Gauthier

I think the scifi/fantasy committee's process was similar to the one described for the YA committee above. I feel badly that we didn't manage to read every book and think there should be a much, much longer reading period in the future. Within scifi/fantasy, it might be a good idea to break it into children's and YA in the future, with a separate committee dealing with each age group. That would certainly cut the number of books to be read by each committee.

Two other issues I think should be addressed:

1. Whether adult books should be considered. Personally, I think not. It is a kid/YA award, and if you say you will consider adult books then you are, essentially, saying you will consider every book published. It's just too overwhelming. If you want to have a specific category for adult books for kid/YA readers, that's something else.

2. There's no category for books written for chapter books for kids in the lower grades. The categories jump from picture books to middle grade books. You might want to add a category to cover that gap.


Okay, completely from an outsiders perspective here (I didn't do anything other than nominate some titles.)

I do think the categories all need to be split by age - the GN folks realized this early on and I think that Fantasy/SF would benefit also.

I also think you should add a mystery category as they don't really get recognized anywhere and are not as dramatic as the fiction books (usually) and tend to get ignored. And every kid loves a good mystery!

As to adult books for teens, maybe just open up a single separate category for it. Booklist did this and you might want to motor over to there Editor's Choice lists and see what they did. One of the books was Neil Gaiman's "Fragile Things".

Also, for the GN list be aware that other than comics or GN aimed at little kids (the "all ages" tag), all other GN are for adults. So you have to consider adult titles in that category anyway.

Finally, this is just me but I'm not so thrilled with the idea of short lists at all. I blogged about this a bit at Chasing Ray last night and Kelly weighed in on the comments - the short lists immediately reduce the number of titles that everyone else (other than the committees) is hearing about. We don't even notice anymore the great books that everyone nominated. So why not keep the short lists internal, among the committees? Why not keep the long lists out there until the very end and open up comments on the site to folks who nominated so they can write about why they loved a certain book - that kind of thing. (we could just email our post.)

I'm saying this not to complicate things but because the long lists are forgotten so quickly and the final fives are all touted and for those folks who don't like the final five, the process sours. But more importantly, I thought you wanted to spread the word on great YA/Kid books that might get forgotten otherwise.

Well - other than your short lists, they are all forgotten. And after the awards, everyone will be talking about just the winners. (And I know you might not mean to, but give it a few weeks and that's what always happens.)

Just an idea or two guys - please don't take any of it too harshly!

Jennifer, Snapshot

I may have more comments after the next couple of weeks, since we are still in process of judging the Middle Grade/YA Non-fiction books, but so far, so good. I think that the amount of time allowed for us to read/review and pick a winner was good.

I agree with Gail about a category for younger readers. In fact, I think that the 2nd - 5th grade crowd gets overlooked. The reading level for a 5th grader and a 7th grader aren't that different in most cases, but content is different. Perhaps a book written for a 3rd grader isn't as compelling as a book written for a twelve year old, but certainly, there are some good books out there that are being overlooked.

A book that is not a picture book, and yet not written to the more mature MG audience, really has no place within these categories. They could not compete in either the fiction or non-fiction categories in the MG category (even though they could be nominated).

Also, I think that the diversity of judges has been great--from professionals (librarians and teachers to authors) to bloggers with a passion for these books, with and without kids of their own, to sort of a fringe kidlit blogger mom like me.


I think Colleen might be onto something with the not publicizing the short-list thing - or maybe we could wait, and publicize both at the same time (like Newbery Medals and honors).

I do think it's important to keep two committees for each category, as it's a good check on our power, and it helps to have the books judged by a fresh set of panelists.

Also, maybe, just maybe we could have longer short-lists. I know in the YA category we could have easily had a top ten -- and most likely, next year will bring even more nominations!

And like the poster of the comment above, I also really liked the diversity of the panels. I'm a para-professional in a library (and probably applying to grad school to start an MLS next year) -- and I had only been blogging for a month or so when the cybils began -- so I was very excited to be included.

Gail Gauthier

Regarding Colleen's concern about short lists--Many of the panelists reviewed nominees at their blogs during the reading period, giving nominated books attention they would never get with any other award. I agree that once the reading period for nominations is over, it does appear to be all about the short lists. However, without the short lists I suspect the award would be all about the winners. (As will eventually be the case, as Colleen also mentioned.) With short lists in every category, that's quite a large number of books getting some attention. I don't know of any other award that promotes that many titles. At least for the time being.

Clarification: I said above that I felt badly that we didn't manage to read every book. Every book nominated in our category was read by at least two people. I meant that I felt badly that everyone on the panel was unable to read every single book.


I agree with the above comments--I'm so very glad that you don't have to be "certified" to be on a committee, just a bookworm/kidlit lover! I'm so very grateful to have been included in the SF/F nominating committee.

Little Willow

Yay for the honorees - runners-up - finalists - whatever you chose to call them. (Special) Recognition - something.

Loree Burns

I served on the MG/YA Non-fiction nominating committee. Personally, I struggled a bit with the broad definition of this category. We had a diverse list, both age-wise (MG vs YA) and content-wise (biography vs memoir vs informational book vs how-to book). We were comparing apples to oranges and pineapples to papayas... and had to come up with a list of top five star fruit!


I was on the Fiction Picture book committee. I agree with Anne and Jules about the process. It was amazing. I realized after it was all over that my views about the top 5 had really changed after our conversation. Everyone really did listen to others' opinions and were not so set on their personal top 5 to have that as the agenda. Everyone was open to new thoughts about the books. Even though my personal top 5 were not all on the short list, I was thrilled with every book on the top 5. I think all of us were. We really talked and listened until we came to a point that we had list that we all liked. It was a great experience--working with great people, reading great books, and learning from others. What more could we want!


Thanks, all of you! I'm glad I posted this now instead of waiting until the contest is over. I think a lot of you needed a forum to air your views, whether glowing or critical. I can see how much Cybils' success matters to everyone who's commented.

I'm going to work on a longer post for Friday that answers some of the issues addressed here, particularly points raised by Sheila, Colleen and Gail.

That doesn't mean I'll have answers, though ... just an attempt at clarification and maybe a few questions of my own.

Cybils will continue to evolve, and this conversation will be ongoing. While next year's contest will likely look much different, this one isn't over and there may still be ways to address problems such as the lack of attention to worthy titles.

Please keep the comments coming. More later.

Thanks again,


Thanks for the opportunity to comment, Anne. I served on the MG/YA Nonfiction Nominating Committee. The fabulous Loree Burns created a Yahoo spreadsheet for us to note which books we'd received, read, and reviewed (though I confess I kept messing up the shorthand). We all kept our own shortlists, and then at the end of the reviewing process, shared those shortlists with others. Loree then created another table with all of the personally-shortlisted books, so we could see which books had received multiple votes. That process gave us two titles right away, with another four or five that we debated about until we reached consensus.

The one frustration seemed to be access to the books themselves. Not everyone was able to get her hands on all of the books -- not even all of the shortlisted books -- so it was difficult for us to reach a real consensus, since some judges were relying on others' assessments of the books rather than their own judgment. None of our shortlisted books was particularly unknown (only one was from a teeny oddball publisher), so whether the problem stemmed from poor ILL systems or slow publishers, I don't know. But I did feel a bit squishy trying to strongarm fellow judges into supporting a book they'd never seen.

In the end, I was happy with our list. Not all of my personal shortlist made it, but I felt the process worked pretty well.

Jen Webb

I have to disagree about the short lists. I like them! Full disclosure: I'm a judge in the GN category, although that doesn't really have anything to do with this comment. :)

Because anyone cannominate, including authors/artists and people who don't necessarily understand young readers or the purpose and scope of this award, irrelevant things do get nominated. I think it's important to make it clear that the list of nominees is not actually a "recommended" list, nor is it meant to represent the absolute best of the year from any objective standpoint.


I served on the fiction picture book nominating committee.
And I like the shortlists. We certainly wouldn't recommend all 111 fiction picture nominees, but we were pleased as a committee with the shortlist we came up with. The Cybils are bringing attention to a lot of books...five books in eight categories (plus a subcategory in GN). Of course many great books could not make the shortlists, but I feel that they have received a lot of attention. Since all of the panelists and judges are bloggers, many of us have blogged about our favorites that didn't make the shortlist.


I served as a judge in the NF picture book category. I think the process itself was amazingly smooth, as each of us shared an opinion about a book and discussed it. What I was surprised about is the shortlist itself. I expected to have five books that were all exceptional, requiring a tough decision on the part of the judges. What I found is that there was one standout from the beginning, that the other four books just didn't hold a candle to (some, in fact, that I really didn't care for at all). The other judges concurred about the standout, and we quickly made a decision. I was a bit disappointed to find that some of the best books in this category were (IMO) kind of mediocre. But the CYBILS process itself? Excellent!


Hmm. The nonfiction picture book list is a group of five strong books, in my opinion. None was mediocre--far from it.

I served on the nominating committee in this category.

Whether or not we personally like or dislike a book--is that relevant to the judging process?


I'm still giggling and pondering--just how *would* the Chippendales review picture books?


By concentrating on the bare necessities?

Sheila Ruth

Reading these comments, I'm amazed at how similar the experience was on across the nominating committees. Of course, we all were working from the same set of guidelines, but those guidelines were intentionally set loose to allow the committees some leeway. Given that, it's amazing that we all followed pretty much the same process, and all had the same experience of a couple of standouts with several books vying for the remaining slots.

Regarding the shortlists, I personally think that they are an important part of the process. As someone else pointed out, not all of the nominated books were worth recommending. Of course, like anything, that's a value judgment, and a different group of people might have a different opinion.

I have seen awards programs that attempt to honor most or all of the nominees, and to me, it devalues the award. To paraphrase Dash in The Incredibles, if everyone is special, that's just another way of saying that no one is. Also, the blogging community has plenty of lists, and I hope that we will continue to post a variety of "best" lists, both individually and as a community meme. But in my mind an award has to be different; it has to honor those books that really stand out.

We could hold the shortlists until the announcement of the winners, but I think that releasing things in phases the way we did keeps the excitement level high.

I don't know if five is a good number of finalists. We could have easily had ten on our list, but on the other hand, forcing us to pare it down to five really made us consider the merits of the potential finalists much more than we would have if we had had a larger number to play with. I don't know, though, if our list is better or worse for the process. Perhaps instead of trying to force a certain number of shortlist titles, we could set a minimum and maximum and leave it up to the committees? Because in any given year, who's to say that there will be exactly five best books in each category? Maybe there are more, and maybe there are only a few that really stand out.

Sheila Ruth

Gosh, I really post long comments. Sorry about that!


No prob, Sheila. You make some great points.


Okay, so I'm getting that you guys really like your short lists. *grin*

I am not going to agree totally on the long list/short list thing (we all have our opinions!) and I think it's interesting that several folks have said not all the nominated books should be recommended...it's all a matter of personal choice in the end isn't it? (As evidenced by the brief discussion here on the Nonfic final 5).

I do like what Anne suggested about not sticking so hard to the 5 book short list though. Some years there could be 6 or 7 fantastic books in a category and what will happen is that a really great book will be left off just because you have to adhere to a list.

Why not allow the short lists to stretch up to ten books if possible? Don't require it - just allow it.

Also, on the chapter book category mentioned way way back (Gail I think) I would push for that also. I think "Toys Go Out" is a perfect example of a title that has been mentioned as a picture book in some places, MG in others and it's really neither - it's a chapter book. No one seems to know what to do with it is all. Why not give a spot for those? You guys might be addressing a category that no other group is.


Ok, this may not be as philosophical as the preceding comments, but I'd like to see the list of nominated titles (longlist) preserved somewhere on the site (is it here somewhere, have I missed it?). Yes, most of these titles are being covered on our individual blogs, but it would be nice to see that X fabulous book wasn't ignored per se, by the committee, rather, it wasn't nominated. Which means, simply, that the audience of book X didn't find us.

I say this even with the knowledge that, as a YA panelist, I KNOW that there were books that absolutely did NOT merit. Subjectivity can take you only so far. At the same time, there were far more great books than bad.

As for the actual process? The height of Democracy. And that's what I think is so cool.


Hey Jackie: You can access the long lists from the upper right sidebar, just below our logo, where it says "nominations." Click on a category.

Colleen: I was going to write a separate post to address your concerns, but the flu bug has other plans for me. So I'll attempt to address it here while I'm waiting for the Benadryl to kick in (at 2 a.m. Gah!)

I love the idea of letting the short lists go longer--up to 10 books is probably a good number.

But I agree that the parade pretty much ends for titles that don't make the short list. This was made worse by a dumb decision on my part to stop posting excerpts from book reviews every day.

This was a hugely popular feature that resulted in actual Amazon sales. I looked over the stats yesterday to be sure, and the big sellers were "Hattie Big Sky" (10 copies, woo-hoo!) the "Silver City" SF series, and the poetry collection "Jazz," just to name a few that were featured here.

Now, the cool part is that there was absolutely no drop off after Christmas. Sales are still booming (in relative terms; our commissions are in the low triple-digits, but still). The bad news is that hits to the Cybils site have plummeted.

I love the profiles of our judges, but nobody's reading them. We temporarily lost almost 40% of our daily eyeballs, down to 150 from about 250 a day, and most of the hits that remained were either from Google or people linking to the shortlists!

Why is this bad? Well, if this is a contest about great, often-overlooked books, as you rightly suggest, then it makes sense to keep people coming back for more. It generates enthusiasm for the contest, a few sales for authors, and provides a nexus for the kidlit community, which has come together in a remarkable fashion.

(I still plan to post the remaining 3 or 4 profiles, otherwise it wouldn't be fair to those who filled out questionnaires).

I think in the short term, we may try to revive the book feature in some form by asking individual panelists what title they would've loved to put on the short list that didn't make it.

As for additional categories and splitting existing ones by age (as Gail suggested, I think): I don't have any objections. We were wary of having too many categories this year because we didn't know whether we'd be able to line up enough panelists and judges. Who knew?

It's also been suggested we split the YA category into comedy and drama so that the class clowns and lovestruck teens don't get shoved aside in favor of all those against-the-odds orphans and brooding antiheroes.

So, in response to your comments, yes, there hasn't been enough to maintain interest in great titles that will be too quickly forgotten. Though, as others have been quick to point out, the conversations have carried over to individual blogs.

I don't know that I have a magic solution to fix this, and, yes, we do love our short lists. We can keep trying different means of keeping these titles before the blog-reading public, but ultimately, human nature being what it is, people will move on. The 2007 titles are already piling up on our shelves, Harry Potter is threatening to take over our summer, and Cybils will go into hybernation at some point after the last confetti is swept up (though we plan to have more posts where people can kvetch like this).

Thanks to everyone who has commented. It's gratifying that so many people feel they have a stake in Cybils' future.

And, heck, this ended up as long as a post anyway.

Off to bed.

Wendy Betts

Letting the nominating commitee choose to stretch the number of finalists sounds like an excellent idea.

I don't think I've seen this mentioned, but I'm judging in poetry and we discussed the fact that it would be hard to compare illustrated and non-illustrated books. As it happened, all the finalists were picture books, which makes our job much easier. But in the future it might be helpful to have two categories for poetry, picture book and unillustrated (or lightly illustrated.)


A last suggestion from me, but Anne you would be able to bump your visit numbers by running interviews with authors and illustrators next year. Do the same basic interview you had for the participating bloggers (or have the nominating committee draft some questions for the final five/ten that are more specific) and run them over several weeks. This was particularly be cool for illustrators as we rarely ever hear from them.

Every writer/illustrator with a blog would link to the interviews, I guarantee it. And that would give you guys more exposure.

Elaine Magliaro

There really wasn't a need to have two categories of poetry books because nearly every poetry book nominated was an illustrated book. I know I found it difficult to compare a book of original poems to an anthology of poetry compiled by an editor/selector. Just two of the nominated books were anthologies--so there didn't appear to be the need for a separate category for anthologies either.


Excellent idea, Colleen. Thanks very much!


I nominate "It's Just a Plant." Check out the web site: http://www.justaplant.com
A beautifull illustrated children's book about the uses of marijuana.


Hey, Teach, I hate to break it to you, but nominations closes in November. If it has a 2007 copyright, feel free to nominate when Cybils starts up again in September.

Thanks for stopping by, though.

The comments to this entry are closed.