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Sunday Reflections: Why I Like Being a Cybils Judge and You Should Consider It


Today a box of books has shown up at my doorstep and I have another group of books I have to read sometime before December 20th(ish). All in all, between the beginning of October and the end of December I will have read over 130 YA speculative fiction titles. This is Cybils time.

Cybils-Blog-Header-2017The Cybils are an online Children’s and Young Adult awards list put together by bloggers of all sorts; librarians, teachers and readers. To become a judge you submit an application after the call for judges goes out and you hope that you get selected. The judging process is divided into two parts. The first round is a group of panelists who read all of the nominated titles and make a shortlist. That shortlist is sent to another group of judges who then select the title that they feel best represents the best of the best of that category for the year. Titles are nominated during the early part of October by the public. Yes, that means you.

I have been honored for the past few years to participate as a first round judge, primarily in the YA speculative fiction category, though once also in the YA contemporary fiction category. It’s one of my most favorite times of the year. Here’s what I love about being involved in the Cybils.

1. It forces me into an intense period of reading

Granted, I’m a reader. I love to read. But there is something magical that happens when you take an intense deep dive into a particular category. And because I am on a deadline, I can’t let myself make excuses not to read. So it doesn’t matter how much I want to binge watch the new season of a show on Netflix or go shopping and spend money I don’t have, I have to stay focused and on deadline. I’m participating in an activity that I’ve made an important commitment to and honoring that commitment is paramount, so I better manage my time and my reading. Participating in the Cybils helps me develop some discipline and organization around my reading.

2. Finding Out About Books I’ve Never Heard Of

My job is very much about YA literature, both in my library and on this blog. I make lists and check them twice. I attend professional conferences to learn about upcoming titles. I read professional review journals, online blogs and more. But no matter how deep into the world of YA literature I go, and I feel like I go pretty deeply, titles are always nominated that I have never heard of. I am fascinated every year to look at the final list of nominated titles to see what’s nominated (and what’s not). I am always forced to read books that I may have missed (or skipped) and find treasures that were until that moment unknown to me. The joy of discovery is always found on the nominated titles list.

3. Behind the Scenes Book Discussions

As we read books, there are behind the scenes discussions that happen and I value. I think each group may handle their discussions differently, but the speculative fiction category has always used a tool called Basecamp (similar to Slack) that allows you to have threaded discussions. Especially towards the ends, these discussions can get very specific and passionate. And because the panel that is put together is diverse, I get insights into books quite different than my own. For example, one year there was a book that I was passionately defending to be on the shortlist until another participant raised some issues about problematic content. I hadn’t noticed the content and didn’t feel quite the same way about it, but with discussion came to understand another point of view and that was valuable to me. It changed how I read books from that moment on.

In these discussions you are also forced to be able to really defend the titles you are championing. We talk about things like world building, character development, stereotypes and tropes, etc. Because of these conversations, you learn to read more critically and to discuss titles with more complexity and awareness. My understanding of and ability to evaluate YA literature grows each year that I participate, and I’ve been a Teen Services Librarian for 24 years now.

4. I am Forced to Make a Shortlist

I have never been very good at “best ofs”. If you asked me to name a favorite book, movie or song, I will give you ten. I like a lot of things about a lot of things. But participating in the Cybils forces me to narrow down my reading and create a shortlist which is then discussed with others who have created their own shortlists. There is value in having to sit down and really examine a body of work and say, “this is what I think is the best of the best and here are the reasons why.” It’s an exercise in discipline, which has value.

5. I Grow as a Reader and a Teen Services Librarian Each Year I Participate

I want to be both the best person and the best teen services librarian I can be. I feel like that is an important personal goal, and participating in the Cybils helps me to achieve that goal. Reading helps me achieve it. The discipline required to participate as a Cybils judge helps me to achieve it. And the deep dive into YA literature helps me to achieve it. Being forced to discuss – and listen – to other points of view about the books I read also helps me to achieve it. There is, for me, no negative part of being involved in the Cybils. I mean, my kids sometimes want me to cook them dinner more during the month of December, but I hate to cook so that is also a win for me!

Here’s the dates you need to know:

  • August 21: Call for judges
  • Sept. 11: Deadline for judging application
  • Sept. 18: Judges announced.
  • Oct. 1: Nominations open
  • Oct. 15: Nominations close
  • October 16-25: Publisher submissions
  • Oct. 1-Dec. 29: Round 1 reading period
  • December 1: Round 1 review copy deadline
  • Dec. 29: Short lists due from judges
  • Jan. 1: Finalists announced
  • Jan. 2-Feb. 12: Round 2 reading period
  • Feb. 12: Winners list due from judges
  • Feb. 14: Winners announced

If you are not familiar with the Cybils, you can find out more here. Check out this year’s list of nominated titles and keep coming back to learn more about what the judges think. You WILL learn about titles you probably haven’t heard of yet, no matter how much you read.

While you’re waiting for the 2017 Cybils to be announced, check out School Library Journal’s Best of 2017 Lists here

The 2014 Cybils Shortlist Finalists are Announced! And a thank you.

This year I was very excited (and honored!) to be a first round panelist for the 2014 Cybils in the YA Speculative Fiction category. There were a little over 200 books nominated and we were tasked with getting that list down to 7 worthy candidates. As you can imagine, there is a lot of great discussion that happens here, which is why I love being a part of the Cybils.

Even though I read prolifically, I always find a variety of new authors and titles via the Cybils. If you haven’t already, do look through the lists of nominations in all the categories because there are a lot of good books there. This year for the first year ever I was the panelist with the most number of pages read, in part because I got really lucky and had read a bunch of the nominated titled previously in the year. I got lucky on that one!

Now, the shortlist will move to another group of judges who will pick 1 title out of these 7 to give the honor to, which I think will be a very challenging task.

To see the full list of YA Speculative Fiction nominees, visit the Cybils page here

I want to give a special shout out to Sheila Ruth who organizes the Cybils and led our panel on YA speculative fiction. She was tasked with the responsibility of keeping it all organized, contacting publishers, and reminding us all to keep our books read database updated. She also kept reminding us to read with quality, teen appeal and diversity in mind, which I think really helped us come up with such a stellar list. Thank you so much to Sheila and all the other first round panelist for the gift of great discussion and the value of your wisdom and insight. You guys brought up things in the books I hadn’t necessarily thought of and helped me think critically about a lot of new and interesting issues.

Cybils Mini Reviews: Plague Edition featuring Reboot by Amy Tintera and A Matter of Days by Amber Kizer

The month of December finds me busily trying to read over 200 YA Speculative Fiction books for the 2013 Cybils (which are awesome).  I had read a lot of the nominated books, but not all.  So now I am happily playing catch up.  Today I present mini reviews on two books that have a plague theme: A Matter of Days by Amber Kizer and Reboot by Amy Tintera.  As you know, I love a good epidemic: see Epidemics list 1 and list 2.

First up: Reboot by Amy Tintera
Tagline: 5 years ago, I died. 178 minutes later, I woke up.

First of all, this is technically a zombie novel.  Why did you not tell me this people?  You know I love a good zombie novel.  A plague causes people to die and then they wake up later “different”.  Not traditional zombie, because they can talk and think, but with varying degrees of emotion.  The longer you are dead, the less emotion you seem to have.  Reboots are a threat to the population, so they are rounded up by the government (it’s always the government) where they are “employed” as soldiers sent out to track down other reboots and criminals.  So you have your dystopian element happening here.

Wren 178 is so named because it took her 178 minutes to reboot after death.  She is considered a machine, the go to reboot for dangerous assignments.  Lower numbers have more emotions, and 178 is the highest number there is in the reboot dorm.  But soon everything she thought she knew about herself, about the reboots, and about the world in which she lives is tested when she meets and agrees to train Callum 22 and she is given a secret assignment that goes terribly wrong.

I liked and highly recommend this book.  I thought it was an interesting twist on the zombie novel and can be used as a springboard discussion starter on human rights, understanding those that are different from us, and the role of government in society.   This book can really spark a lot of science and ethics discussions.  There is a lot of good stuff in there in terms of character arcs and emotional growth, action for those wanting a little action, and a little romance for those who want that as well.  Pair this with Blackout by Robison Wells and The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins for a great discussion about government.

Second up: A Matter of Days by Amber Kizer
Tagline: Will you be a survivor or a statistic?

On the 56th day of the Blustar Pandemic, Nadia’s mother dies and her and her younger brother, Rabbit, set out to cross the country on their own to find their grandfather and uncle as instructed in a letter.   What ensues is basically the road trip from hell: Nadia is barely 16 and can’t technically drive and she is suddenly tasked with getting her little brother safely through the elements in a barren world populated by the few that survive, and they are often less than helpful.  At several intervals they meet various groups that try to rob them, imprison them, and more.  And they save a few people along the way.

There really isn’t anything new or cutting edge here, but A Matter of Days is a good survival story for those interested in that genre (raises hand).  I really liked the relationship between Nadia and Rabbit and they way they both grew under the very real pressures they now faced, and how they sometimes fell apart.  I also liked that they picked up a teenage boy, Zach, and there was no dreamy staring into his eyes or insta-love because the needs of immediate survival and that initial distrust was there.  Thank you Amber Kizer for that.

The Mr. also picked up and read this book and he liked it.  In particular, he liked the sparse storytelling style which stressed the urgency of their situation (and I agree) and he just liked the voice of the characters.  It’s very readable, great I think for reluctant readers, and I think teens will come away from it satisfied.

I love those claustrophobic feeling books where there are only a few characters on the page and you just have to be fully invested in their story.  See also: Ashfall by Mike Mullin, These Broken Stars by Amie Kaufman and Meagan Spooner, and In Honor by Jessi Kirby.

Cybils Book Review: The Archived by Victoria Schwab

I am reviewing this book as part of the Cybils 2013

Let’s get right to the point: I LOVED this book.  It was a unique concept, delivered beautifully.  And it plucked every I miss Buffy heart-string I own, which is a lot.

“Imagine a place where the dead rest on shelves like books.

Each body has a stroy to tell, a life seen in pictures that only Librarians can read.  The dead are called Histories, and the vast ream in which they rest is the Archive.” – Book Jacket Copy

Mackenzie Bishop has always wanted to be a Keeper, like her beloved Da.  So when he passes on, he chooses her as his successor.  Her job is dangerous, to track down lost Histories in the Narrows (the space between the Archive and our world) before they make it across.  Losing Da was hard enough, but when her younger brother is plucked too young from this world, Mac’s family can’t cope.  Hoping a change of scenery will help them forget, Mac’s family moves into a hotel.  A hotel with secrets and memories and Histories that want out into the real world.

The Archived is a beautiful exploration of what it means to be both living and dead, and how we can sometimes be in both places at once.  It is a haunting, melancholy read that drips with grief and ripples with the promise of magic.  It is a gentle reminder that even though it is hard, we must find a way to let go and move on because holding on can break the things around – and inside – of you: family, friendships, and yes – even your spirit or your mind.

Mac is a magnificently complex character; lost, aching, hiding secrets, striving to be strong and fierce.  Her grief was real and palpable, her temptation to take her brother’s History from the archive understandable, and her fierceness in the face of all of what she was going through heartbreaking and at times inspiring.

There are flashback scenes that help us understand the role of the Keeper and paint a rich portrait of a truly moving relationship between a young girl and her grandfather.  I always give bonus points for strong, healthy multi-generational relationships. 

There is action, suspense, mystery, a little bit of romance potential . . . definitely recommended.  And, obviously, it takes its rightful place among my ongoing YA Lit for Buffy Fans list 1 and list 2.

The Cybils and Thanksgiving 2013

So for the second year, I am honored to be a YA Speculative Fiction judge in the Cybils. So this is what my dining room table looks like as I check out books, read, make notes, and read, then discuss, and then read some more. It is the most awesome thing. Ever. I am in bliss.

I love the reading and discussing part. Lots of great books were nominated this year. And we have been reading furiously. Great times.

The only issue is that I have been informed that I have to clean off the table for Thanksgiving dinner later today. Can’t we have a picnic on the floor?

Happy Thanksgiving!

Book Review: Pirate Cinema by Cory Doctorow

I’d thought he was angry, and he was, a bit, but when I looked into those eyes, I saw that what I had mistaken for anger was really terror.  He was even more scared that I was.  Scared that without the net, his job was gone.  Scared that without the net, Mum couldn’t sign on every week and get her benefits.  Without the net, my sister Cora wouldn’t be able to do her schoolwork.

“Trent,” he said, his chest heaving.  “Trent, what have you done?”  There were tears in his eyes.
I tried to find the words.  We all do it, I wanted to say.  You do it, I wanted to say.  I had to do it, I wanted to say.  But what came out, when I opened my mouth, was nothing.  Dad’s hands tightened on my arms and for a moment, I was sure he was going to beat the hell out of me, really beat me, like you saw some of the other dads do on the estate.  But then he let go of me and turned round and stormed out of the flat.  Mum stood in the door to my room, sagging hard against the door frame, eyes rimmed with red, mouth pulled down in sorrow and pain.  I opened my mouth again, but again, no words came out.
I was sixteen.  I didn’t have the words to explain why I’d downloaded and kept downloading.  Why making the film that was in my head was such an all-consuming obsession.  I’d read stories of the great directors — Hitchcock, Lucas, Smith — and how they worked their arses off, ruined their health, ruined their family lives, just to get that film out of their head and onto the screen.  In my mind, I was one of them, someone who had to get this bloody film out of my skull, like, I was filled with holy fire and would burn me up if I didn’t send it somewhere.
That had all seemed proper noble and exciting and heroic right up to the point that the fake copper turned up at the flat and took away my family’s Internet and ruined our lives.  After that, it seemed like a stupid, childish, selfish whim.  

Pirate Cinema is set in a futuristic science fiction dystopia that’s coming closer and closer to reality with each passing day, where pirating content off the Internet can get you in serious trouble.  The government is controlled by the large media corporations who keep pushing for tighter and tighter control of their “content” at the expense of creativity, art, and freedom.  Trent, a sixteen year old who HAS to get the movies out of his head, splices together pieces of films of his favorite actor to make mash-ups, and after two warnings gets his family’s Internet cut off for a year.  His dad loses his job, his mother with MS is in danger of losing her medications and benefits, and his brilliant sister will flunk school, because of him. Wracked with guilt, Trent takes off for London, and falls in with a band of his own kind:  artists and techno geeks who are determined to free the Internet for everyone’s use.

The language of the book can definitely take some readers a bit to get used to as it has English slang, but there is more than a passing nod to Oliver Twist in the characters Trent runs into during his first days in London, which is a blast.  There are a lot of current issues and discussion topics to be taken away from the book that would make it ideal for classroom and book club discussions.  I would definitely recommend it for higher level YA readers- I know that some teens would have problems with the language and technical aspects, while others would fall right in and be absorbed immediately.

SPOILERS BE HERE!  You have been warned 🙂

I really loved this book, and got into it completely.  It’s definitely a science fiction dystopia (heavy on the science, not the fantasy) but one that scarily you can see we’re on the road to; that is a hallmark of Doctorow’s books.  If you don’t believe me, check out Makers- 3D printers, anyone?  With the restrictions on library Internet filters, CIPA, the fallout from Napster, the current debates about whether you own ebooks you purchase, and other legislation that is constantly going through revisions and resurrections, I can certainly see a future like the one described in Pirate Cinema.  

Trent and his gang are gripping and realistic, fleshed out with quirks and personalities of their own that I personally want to know more about, and I love the throwbacks to Oliver Twist that are present.  There are twists and highs and lows with Jem and Aziz and the others that pull you from Trent’s story into theirs, but they complement and fill out Trent’s world so that you get a complete picture of what’s going on.  There’s a GLBT relationship (and talks about the abuse that happened to one of the lovers beforehand), the teens end up in jail at one point, and they are squatting and breaking rules and avoiding the law all over the place.

One thing that is of definite interest is that Trent is a little aimless until 26 comes along.  He’s content to float, and try and make more of his movies, but it’s not until 26 that he moves into the political arena.  The love interest between Trent and 26 (yes, her adopted name is 26) pulls Trent into politics and into a way to change things around, and the ending is realistic enough that you know that it’s not all peaches and roses. 
I can only hope that there is actually another book after Pirate Cinema, continuing Trent’s story, that the 1 on the spine is a hint of things to come.  Maybe this is wishful thinking on my part…or maybe not.

The Final Word:

Definitely good for your techie teens, and your higher reader teens- I have teens that I think would love it being that they are into the entire mash-up tech movement, but I don’t know that they would be able to read it for the level of language in it.  It’s definitely a higher Lexile level than some teens might be ready for, which is something to consider when recommending it, even if their interests run parallel with the book.

Karen’s Note: Pirate Cinema is nominated for a 2012 Cybils Award in the Teen Science Fiction/Fantasy category.  I read it this weekend and agree with Christie, it is a good book.  It feels so current day and relevant.  Recommended. 4 out of 5 stars.

Pirate Cinema by Cory Doctorow, published by Tor Teen.  ISBN: 978-0-7653-2908-0

My Cybils 2012 Wishlist (and what I’ve reviewed so far)

This year, I am excited (and honored) to be a first round panelist (judge) for the Science Fiction and Fantasy panel of the 2012 Cybils.  The Cybils are the Children’s and Young Adult Bloggers’ Literary Awards.

They are taking public nominations for awards through October 15th.  You can nominate a title published between last year’s awards (late October 2011) and this year’s (October 1, 2012) by filling out a simple form.

I was pretty excited to see that I had read and reviewed a few of the books nominated already:
Adaptation by Malinda Lo
BZRK by Michael Grant
Every Day by David Levithan
Every Other Day by Jenny Lynn Barnes
The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater
The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater
Seraphina by Rachel Harman
Shadow and Bone by Leigh Bardugo
Shatter Me by Tahereh Mafi
Starters by Lissa Price
This is Not a Test by Courtney Summers
Tiger Lily by Jodi Lynn Anderson
Unwholly by Neal Shusterman
Velveteen by Daniel Marks
The Way We Fall by Megan Crewe
You can find the complete list of Young Adult nominations here
And you can read all of the TLT book reviews here

My Wish List

I am surprised, however, to see that some of my favorite titles haven’t been nominated yet – including Timepiece by Myra McEntire and Ashes/Shadows by Ilsa J. Bick.  I also really enjoyed Fracture by Megan Miranda earlier this year and hope it will receive a nomination. Also missing? Kill Me Softly by Sarah Cross, an interesting world where people are living twisted version of the fairy tales, and Masque of the Red Death by Bethany Griffin, a post apocalyptic tale where people live in fear every day of the plague. I imagine any moment now Alice in Zombieland by Gena Showalter will appear on the list. And, speaking of zombies, there is a good chance that Rot & Ruin book 3: Flesh and Bone by Jonathan Maberry will probably be nomianted soon; I am surprised it hasn’t yet given the popularity of both zombies and this series. And finally, I think that Magisterium by Jeff Hirsch will definitely be nominated sometime soon – this book steps into the worlds of both Science Fiction AND Fantasy.  Edited to add: I also think that Through to You by Emily Hainsworth is worthy of a nomination and I hope that one pops up.  It was a very emotional read.

I was excited because I was going to nominate Human.4 (or its sequel The Future We Left Behind) by Mike Lancaster in the Middle Grade category, but it looks like it misses the publication cut off date.  It also looks like Crewel by Gennifer Albin will miss it this year as well.

Well, I guess I better get reading.