For each category, I present my top choice, and then the actual winner, with my opinion of both. I had four matches, three major disagreements, and four close calls. Also I think I disagree with The Committee on where nonfiction stops and picture books begin. But I'm glad I read them all, and huge kudos to the CYBILS team for all their hard work!
The Truth Commission by Susan Juby. A girl is treated badly by her sibling, who is an artist. This brought back memories of I'll Give You the Sun, which I disliked, but I ended up finding this story about arty teenagers much more rewarding. Yes, people do horrible things, but then decent people try to help, and most people try not to be horrible. Even in families.
Them -- My 6/7:
Every Last Word by Tamara Ireland Stone. Sam is a girl with OCD and a weekly therapist. She's also a member of the top mean girls at school, which makes her afraid. But somehow she never connects her fear of her friends to the damage she and the other kids do to anyone they can mock. But then the book starts and she's nice. I didn't buy the start, but if I forced myself to accept her as she did herself than it was an interesting read.
Young Adult Nonfiction
I Will Always Write Back: How One Letter Changed Two Lives by Martin Ganda. I was surprised by how caught up I got in this alternating memoir. Caitlin starts out as a boy obsessed, math-hating, giant hooped earring teenager who has never heard of Zimbabwe and would have trouble finding Africa on a map. Martin is a shy and studious student who dreams of education but doesn't expect to achieve it. Within a hundred pages I was rooting for both of them, and despite having read the back cover I was still worried as college scholarships went down to the wire. I'll pass this on to the boys for reading.
Them -- My 4/7:
Most Dangerous: Daniel Ellsberg and the Secret History of the Vietnam War by Steve Sheinkin. A clear biography of Daniel Ellsberg, with digressions into the people around him who influenced the events around the release of the Pentagon Papers that heralded Watergate and the resignation of Nixon. Ironically, the papers described in damning details the lies and coverups of Nixon's predecessors (Eisenhower, Kennedy and Johnson), but ended before his time. Sheinkin's narrative is simple yet gripping, keeping me interested and teaching me much I didn't know about this time and the court cases around it.
Young Adult Speculative FictionMe:
Shadowshaper by Daniel José Older. A girl discovers the magic in her family, magic that they've avoided explaining to her because of a recent decision that it's only for boys. So she has to dodge bad magicians and their minions while navigating her neighborhood and wondering who to trust. I liked it.
Them -- My 6/7:
The Walls Around Us by Nova Ren Suma. (My 6th place book). This is a ghost story that slowly weaves together its separate strands to build horror and redemption in the climax. The self-willed blindness of both narrators plays with ideas of guilt and innocence, and to what lengths vengeance is acceptable. But it also involves condemning fifteen year olds for choices they make under stress, which I suspect teens are comfortable with because they know they are practically grown up already, but I am not as I see them as fundamentally immature. So the ending bothers me.
National Geographic Book of Nature Poetry: More than 200 Poems With Photographs That Float, Zoom, and Bloom! by J. Patrick Lewis. I love these kinds of books -- anthologies of short, varied, mostly wonderful poems with a background of amazing photography. I think they had one before? I recognize some of the poems but find many more that are new, and marked a few to add to my poetry notebook. And the astonishingly vivid photographs reinforce the images and sounds of the poems.
Them -- My 3/7:
Flutter and Hum / Aleteo y Zumbido: Animal Poems / Poemas de Animales by Julie Paschkis. Again I think I'm confused about the difference between picture books and books of poetry (this happens to me a lot in this category). I felt this was a beautiful picture book, with illustrations and words working together to create a more powerful whole. The mirroring of the English/Spanish pages enhanced the experience, with subtle and powerful changes in the pictures yet (probably) equivalent words adorning the images. The poems themselves worked as part of the pictures, yet none of them stood out enough that I'd want to save them as poems. And since I have very little Spanish, I couldn't evaluate the Spanish versions at all. It looked like some poems worked better in Spanish -- the whale page showed a Spanish version that probably had a lot more sound resonance. I think I would have rated this book higher as a picture book than I did as a poetry book; how much of that is just my poor understanding of categories I don't know.
Middle Grade Fiction
Footer Davis Probably Is Crazy by Susan Vaught. I thought I was going to hate this one, and I was completely wrong. It's not a problem of the week; it's a story about a girl whose community saw something horrible, and she's dealing with it as her family goes through some problems because of her mother's mental illness. Footer worries that she's inheriting her mother's condition, that she's disappointing her father, that her teachers don't like her, and that her best friend is kinda cute. So solving the mystery of the missing kids is a welcome relief, until it circles back to her own problems. It's very real, and a great read.
Them -- 2/5:
The Blackthorn Key by Kevin Sands. This was a fast moving historical that had conspiracies, murders, kings, explosions, and alchemy, so it should be popular in the upper elementary/junior high crowd. I found the child harm rather difficult to take -- although (spoiler) Christopher doesn't die, he sees some rather horrific stuff that a younger more callous me would have easily taken in stride. There's also a good feel for the time period mixed in with all the action, as well as mentions of Puritans and King Charles and other historical landmarks that will come up in history classes a few years on.
Graphic Novels For Young Adults
Nimona by Noelle Stevenson. Wow, this one knocked my socks off. It eased me into a comfortable story of a villain getting a new sidekick, almost like Castle Hangnail but with a chaperone. Then the body count edged up, but instead of disengaging your emotions it instead made a sidestep to emotional realism. This book has dragons, knights, quests, and also thorny ethical issues and relationships, and a man learning to be a father and a friend. Wow.
Them: We matched!
Graphic Novels for Elementary and Middle Grades
Roller Girl by Victoria Jamieson. I've read this! Roller Girl is moving into Junior High, and growing in a different direction than some of her friends, leaving her awkward and unsure. Also, roller ball is really hard, and so is keeping secrets from your mom. The art worked well with the story, which drew me in.
Them: We matched!
Fiction Picture Books
In a Village by the Sea by Muon Van. This was an unexpected delight! I love circular stories, and the delicate, rich illustrations led us in through the rhythmic words from the village to the house to the painting to the boat to the village... And the final picture with the cricket brought it all together in a safe way. This would be a delightful bedtime read with a small child, and also interesting through the preschool and early elementary ages.
Them: My last place - 7/7:
Sidewalk Flowers by JonArno Lawson. I read this at the library while browsing picture books, as I do while waiting for the bus. The flash of color as the kid picked flowers was fun, but overall the book didn't really excite me. I gave it three stars and didn't write a review; I think I remember guessing that it wouldn't be much fun to read to my kids and that I thought the child was annoying. Seems I missed something the rest of the world appreciated!
Elementary and Middle Grades Speculative Fiction
Castle Hangnail by Ursula Vernon. It has a lot of heart and takes some unexpected turns. One of my go-to gifts for this age group. Sadly I read it over my blogging hiatus (before it was nominated!) but I remember that I found that it took what seemed like common tropes and infused them with real emotion and several surprising twists so that the book had heart and tension and great potential as a read-aloud.
Them -- my 4/7:
The Fog Diver by Joel Ross.This is an engaging story with an interesting protagonists, spunky orphans who all excel at their favorite things, and a kindly adult who has accumulated them before conveniently falling ill before the start so our kids can be independent. As an adult I found some of the coincidences amusing, but I think it would be a fun read for less cynical audiences. Fun word play adds to the enjoyment.
Elementary and Middle Grade Nonfiction:
Fatal Fever: Tracking Down Typhoid Mary by Gail Jarrow. This had a strong narrative, solid information, and a gripping subject; I thoroughly enjoyed it, although I did contemplate a drinking game where I'd lift my glass every time the word "feces" appeared. It would have made reviewing rather fuzzy. I liked the pictures, each carefully captioned, and I enjoyed the even handed discussion of Mary Mallon and her imprisonment, inviting although not ordering the reader to make a judgment on its fairness.
Them -- My 5/7:
I, Fly: The Buzz About Flies and How Awesome They Are by Bridget Heos, illustrated by Jennifer Plecas. This is a another picture book that doubles as nonfiction. The talking fly educates a class on fly anatomy, life cycles, and unsanitary behaviors before realizes the dangers inherent in being studied by humans. Obviously children are not supposed to believe in talking insects, but the book sets outs the facts about flies in a clear and unambiguous way. The line between fact and fiction is clear, so I'm happy to shelve and judge this as nonfiction. (See other picture books, such as Blizzard and Emmanuel's Dream, that don't have as clear a demarcation.)
Ling & Ting: Twice as Silly (Passport to Reading, Level 3: Ling & Ting) by Grace Lin. I'm not sure I really understand the boundaries of this category. This book has much more sophisticated sentence structures, although I suppose not hugely more so than the Mo story. It felt more like a short book rather than a picture book. And the sisters were delightful, charming, and silly. I'm still afraid I'm marking it higher because there was more meat there; the reading level of this one seems much higher than the Fox/Box story.
Them: We matched!
Early Chapter Books
Dory and the Real True Friend (Dory Fantasmagory) by Abby Hanlon. Great, from Dory's wild imagnination to Rosamund's royal background.
Them: We matched!
I have attempted to preserve links from the actual Cybils page and hope that many of them still point to the Amazon page that gives a kickback to the Cybils award.