Today was the big announcement and by now you know that the winners of the 2010 Cybils Awards. For YA Fiction, the panel I dedicated three months of my life to, that winner was:
To say I’m thrilled this is the one that the round two judges chose would be an understatement. Split is not an easy book, but it’s one that holds a special place in my heart for many, many reasons I cannot express. It’s got wide appeal, both for males and females, and it is powerful. Jace is an unforgettable narrator and one who will reach readers on levels they might not expect. I hope anyone who hasn’t read it yet adds this to their list of books to be read soon, and as I’ve been told a few times, this one is also dynamite on audio.
It’s funny now, having been on both sides of the panel — last year as a second round judge and this year as a first round panelist — to think about the entire process and to think about book awards in general. I think I’ve come to appreciate them in a very different manner than I ever have before, and I have utmost respect for those who serve on ALA award committees. The amount of work that goes into reading through so many books and narrowing them down is tremendous, as you might remember.
If you look at the books that received nods from our Cybils panel and those that received recognition from the ALA awards (notably the Morris and the Printz), there’s very little overlap. This is, I think, precisely why the Cybils awards are SO important. Every panel that comes together for any award is going to bring together a mix of backgrounds, reading preferences and biases, and experience. On ALA, there’s an entire application process and specific things that those who select panelists look for. For the Cybils, there is a simple application, and the specifics that the organizers want for people on their panelists varies. But the goal on both is the same thing: to bring variety and to pull together people who have passion for discussing and advocating for books.
For librarians and book lovers, remember this — every panel is different. Every panel comes together with different goals and ideas of what’s good and what they think they like and want to see in the end. And guess what? A lot of those things change over the course of reading so many books. A lot of those things change when discussions begin. And in the end, what you thought were clear front runners don’t make the cut and those you never thought about in the beginning end up being in a finalist list.
The fact that the Cybils lists have so little overlap with the ALA awards proves this, too. Moreover, it shows that there are many books for many readers, and by paying attention to more than just one set of awards as standard for quality literature, you become a stronger reader, stronger recommender, and stronger librarian or teacher. This year’s Printz finalists, for example, don’t have a prison story with guy and reluctant reader appeal written all over it. This year’s Cybils finalists don’t include a book translated into English about a group of kids who try to build a heap of meaning for a kid who doesn’t believe life is worth living. This year’s Cybils short lists don’t feature a book about a girl learning to overcome some hefty mental issues in rural Montana, and this year’s Morris finalists don’t include a moving book about domestic abuse.
If you want a good slice of what the best books of the year were for 2010, don’t just read the books vetted by ALA or the National Book Award. Pick up the books vetted by the panelists of the Cybils, too. These books are noteworthy. They are worth your time. Sometimes they complement those selected on a larger level and other times, they fill in the gaps.
I am an adamant believer in this award and all it does not only for authors who often have their work read and recognized in a way they may not have through traditional review sources (where books are read and reviewed by 1 or 2 people who don’t discuss the merits with one another prior to reviewing it for a professional audience) but also readers who learn about new titles. Likewise, this award focuses heavily on audience appeal; that’s not to say that Printz or Morris books don’t, but the Cybils are more willing to take a risk on a book that isn’t as strong in a literary sense if it has strong appeal. For readers, those who advise readers, or those who select books for collections, pay attention here. For my money, these books are as good as starred reviews in your journal of choice. If you haven’t read these titles, you have a lot to look forward to now.