Saturday, September 4, 2021

Be a Judge!


THE  CYBILS ARE COMING! The Cybils are coming! It's almost time to nominate childrens books (from board books to young adult) for the Cybils! I hope we've all been keeping our best-of lists up to date, or at least throwing them onto to the Cybils Idea Boards...

But this year I'm going deep. I'm the High School Nonfiction Chair, so I get to help with all the judging! And honestly people, if I can do it, so can you. If you are someone who reads books for kids and then talks about them somewhere on the internet, whether on your blog (Hey, I'm old school!) or on Amazon or on Instagram or Goodreads or Twitter or wherever you find your bookish home, consider throwing your hat in to be a Cybils Judge

Perhaps you think that only librarians and teachers can be judges. And it is true that they often make amazing judges, because those are professions where people who love to read and think about books often end up. But if you have ever bought a book as a gift for a non-adult (and that includes if you ever bought a book for yourself before you left your teens) then you have performed the same work that Cybils judges do -- you found a book that you found valuable, and that you thought a kid would enjoy. 

As an early Cybils Judge put it in a quote I have stolen from the About the Cybils Awards Page "between the brussels sprouts of literary merit and the gummy bears of popularity contests, we are the organic chicken nuggets--both yummy and nutritious!" And while I quibble with the details (obviously they have never tried my brother-in-laws roasted brussel sprouts, or seen those gummy vitamins in Costco), the sentiment is clear. There are books that feel solid, that stay with you after you close the pages, that maybe you look forward to rereading, that fill you with the joy that makes reading such an addictive pleasure, or that give you a glimpse into another person's life and feelings so that you've become a richer, more complex person after you close the cover. That's the brussel sprouts. And there are books where your first instinct on finishing them is to find someone to share this with, so that you are chasing down your fifth grade son begging him to read this picture book, you are wondering if Halloween is too early to send Christmas presents to your teenage niblings, or you are celebrating the first day of spring by donating a book to an elementary teacher who had your kid ten years ago.

Hmm, no wonder there are so many librarians and teachers who love the Cybils -- this must be so much easier when you have more standard ways of gifting books to children. As a school volunteer, I'm actually discouraged from giving gifts to students. And yet, thanks to the Cybils, I am constantly searching for babies, preschoolers, elementary students, early teen and late teens to share books with. And sometimes just recommending titles doesn't seem strong enough -- I want to press the books into their hands!


One thing that the Cybils wants, both collectively and individually (did I mention I'm the High School Nonfiction Chair this year?) is more diversity. So, if you are hesitating about applying because you don't really feel like the sort of judge we are looking for, I beg you to discard that hesitation. We would love more young judges! Ones in college or high school! See, I forgot to even mention TikTok as a social media option up above, because I do not have YOUTH.  Bring yours!

We want more people with different perspectives -- more racial diversity, more gender diversity, more sexual identity diversity. I want a diverse group of judges for my Nonfiction panels, people from all over the country, people who identify as Black, as queer, as a first generation college graduate. I would love more Tribal members. I want recent immigrants, and trans people. We'll be reading books on all sorts of topics, and the wider our judging perspective is, the better we'll be at spotting books that really encapture a voice, and also at noting which books have a glaring omission that somehow didn't shine in the majority's eyes. 

The role of the first round judges is to read everything that anyone thought was Cybils worthy. We try to get multiple eyes on every single book. And it's a team effort -- the whole team doesn't read each book, but the judges will identify their strengths and the first reader might know who the second reader should be. As a round one judge, you balance your reading among being that first reader for as many books as you can while balancing picking up books suggested by other teammates. It's a lot of reading! (Last year it was a crazy lot of reading for nonfiction, so this year will seem a doddle, actually.) But it's also fascinating -- nonfiction covers so many topics, history/biography, natural history, ecology, fashion, education, sports, spies, and butterflies, to name some of the things that I now am ready to face Jeopardy with, thanks to a habit of reading the Cybils nonfiction finalist lists for the past decade or so...

So, if you have time to read, and access to libraries, and enjoy matching (young) people to books, CLICK HERE. 


Round 2 judges have fewer books to read, but also a very strict time scale. They get handed the finalist list fought over carefully selected by the Round 1 readers, and then read them to pick a single winner. So, more time for contemplation, but also a need for clear vision and decisiveness. 

Of course, that vision is best achieved using a panoptic viewpoint! We do have a solid core of librarians and teachers (although if you are a librarian or teacher who hasn't applied yet, we don't have YOU and we would love to have you), but it's great to have additional perspectives as well. So, high school students, 16 and up, this is a great experience that wouldn't look bad on an essay! College students, this is a great way to look up from your studies and expand a bit before the semester gets crazy (Round 2 judges run from Jan 1 through February 14). Authors, you can't judge a category you write for, but you can cross-train! Parents who find a big benefit of having children is that no one questions your interest in kidlit any more -- talk to us! Everyone who discusses books on the internet, your viewpoint is something unique and wonderful -- consider sharing it!

Obviously I'm biased towards nonfiction, but honestly, go with your passion. If you fell in love with picture books when your kids were small, and you just kept on reading them and posting what you loved on goodreads or instagram, throw your hat in the ring! If you love poetry and have been posting your favorites to TikTok (do people "post" on TikTok? Am I showing my age here? Actually, I doubt anyone under thirty reads my blog, so if you KNOW anyone who does this please pass along this message), you are perfect! If you think book people get it wrong so often and it's time some books that kids actually like get awards,  hello and welcome aboard! 

1 comment:

Lady In Read said...

So very cool and wonderful that you are chairing the High School Nonfiction awards this year, Beth!! Looking forward to seeing what gems this year's round brings (though I am a round one judge for YA fiction this year but will be keeping an eye on and reading the non-fiction ones too as much as I can)