Behind the Scenes: My Experience as a Cybils Judge

This winter, I was able to serve as a judge for the Cybils, an award for children’s and young adult authors and illustrators. Established by bloggers, the Cybils recognize work that combines literary merit with popular appeal.

I’d been following the Cybils for a few years, and knew that it was a well-respected award. I’m a book blogger, too, at Kid Book List, and when I saw the call for judges, I thought I’d give it a try. I hoped it would be a good opportunity to discover some great books and meet new people in the kid lit community.

It was both of those in spades. I was chosen to be a second-round judge in the Poetry category. Lucky me! I am a big fan of novels in verse and kid poetry anthologies.

Anyone can nominate books for consideration in any of the categories; the only requirements are that they have been published in the United States or Canada in the year under consideration. Each Cybils category has first round readers who go through all of the nominated books. They narrow the nominations to a group of five to seven finalists for the second-round readers, who then choose a winner.

That’s where the fun began for me. We had a fantastic and incredibly diverse set of finalists in the Poetry category, which made our task both exciting and difficult. Our finalists were:

BOOKED by Newbery Award winner Kwame Alexander, a middle grade novel in verse about a soccer-obsessed boy whose parents are separating;

FRESH DELICIOUS, written by Irene Latham and illustrated by Mique Moriuchi, an upbeat and colorful poetry anthology for the preschool and early elementary set, celebrating the joys of the farmer’s market;

GARVEY’S CHOICE by Nikki Grimes, a spare and lovely middle grade novel in verse told from the perspective of an overweight boy who struggles to win his athletic father’s approval;

GUESS WHO, HAIKU, written by Deanna Caswell and illustrated by Bob Shea, an adorable picture book in poem form centered on a barnyard;

THE LAST FIFTH GRADE OF EMERSON ELEMENTARY by Laura Shovan, a middle grade novel in verse told from a remarkable eighteen perspectives and in an array of poetic forms, about the last year of a school that will be torn down;

TO STAY ALIVE: MARY ANN GRAVES AND THE TRAGIC STORY OF THE DONNER PARTY by Skila Brown, a young adult historical in gorgeous and unflinching verse;

WHEN GREEN BECOMES TOMATOES: POEMS FOR ALL SEASONS, written by Julie Fogliano and illustrated by Julie Morstad, a beautiful anthology for early elementary readers that celebrates the garden through the seasons.

Once the finalists were in, we got to work. First we gathered the books from the library (or our bookshelves!), and a few that we couldn’t get in time were sent from the publisher. Our reading load was lighter than the first round’s, and I was able to get it done in the time we needed without too much trouble.

The great sweep of books in this category made it challenging to compare them, but after some email discussion, we decided that Laura Shovan’s THE LAST FIFTH GRADE OF EMERSON ELEMENTARY was “the most appealing in its diversity, its capturing of the emotional lives of children on the brink of adolescence, and its poetic acrobatics.” See here for our write-up about why we chose it, and to read about the winners in all of the categories.

You can find out more about the Cybils here. If you’re interested in nominating a book, the deadline is generally in October. And if you want to apply to be a judge, the application is due in September. Follow the Cybils account on Twitter to make sure not to miss any announcements.

I’m so glad I was able to participate in the Cybils process. I discovered some fantastic books, analyzed what makes for a successful book of poetry for children, and met other dedicated readers of poetry and novels in verse.

Katharine Manning is a middle grade writer who spends her lunch hours reading poetry. She blogs here and at From the Mixed-Up Files of Middle Grade Authors. You can also find her on her websiteTwitter, and Instagram

3 thoughts on “Behind the Scenes: My Experience as a Cybils Judge

  1. Hey Kate! Thanks for posting! I really enjoyed judging the Cybils this year too. I read lots of fiction and, honestly, don’t make enough room on my “to be read” list for non-fiction but was asked to judge the MG and YA non-fiction categories. There were so many great stories on the finalist lists! It definitely opened my eyes to some nonfiction books that I’ll be recommending!

    Rebecca

  2. This is a great reflection, Kate! I really enjoyed being a judge also. Collaborating with the other librarians and bloggers and getting the opportunity to read books that wouldn’t have made it onto my radar was informative and rewarding.

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