Cybils, Stand-outs, and My Reading Year

2012 was an exciting reading year for me.

It started off in January when I got to attend the Invitational William Morris Seminar in Dallas at the ALA Midwinter Meeting.

At the seminar, we learned from experienced members of ALSC’s book evaluation committees. They trained us how to look at books from an award committee’s perspective.

Of course, that experience made me want nothing more than to be part of a book evaluation committee. In March, I decided to join Capitol Choices, a DC-area group of children’s book lovers who choose a hundred outstanding children’s books each year. They meet monthly, and I learned so much from being part of this group — and was made aware of so many outstanding books published this year.

But the culmination of all this was getting to be on the Cybils Panel for Middle Grade Science Fiction and Fantasy. I can’t begin to express how much I enjoyed this. Yes, it did take all my free time for the past three months. Yes, it was worth it. And today all the shortlists are announced!

Our list was hammered out with a whole lot of give and take. This is not the list I would have chosen on my own, but I think that makes it all the stronger, and gives it more broad appeal.

Glancing at the other shortlists, the thing that tickled me most was that the Easy Readers panel chose both Penny and Her Song and Penny and Her Doll. Yes!

And I encourage librarians and parents to use the Cybils shortlists as lists. In our panel, we strove for a certain amount of variety. In the first place, many different types of books are represented. But then each list gives you a nice variety of the best books published last year in that particular category. And the winners? Those will be announced on Valentine’s Day.

But what list would I have chosen myself? I’m glad you asked!

Because on January 1st, I also announce my 2012 Sonderbooks Stand-outs!

You’ll see there’s a lot of overlap between the Cybils shortlist and my own Children’s Fiction: Science Fiction and Fantasy list and also my Teen Fiction list. (Titles that appeal to tweens are hard to place. If they have teen protagonists, I tend to put them in Teen Fiction, but some of those were placed in our Middle Grade group.) Of course this should come as no surprise.

But my Sonderbooks Stand-outs are carefully chosen with no criteria at all. I don’t consider literary merit or artistic value or child appeal. I simply remember back over the year and tell about which ones brought me the most enjoyment. These are my favorites, the books I loved most out of all the books I read this year. All this practice on award committees was fun, but I do find it refreshing to list the books I enjoyed without having to defend my choices. I loved these, okay?

My son asked what my very favorite book of the year was, and I have to go with Code Name Verity, my Teen Fiction #1 book.

You may think these are an awful lot of stand-outs. To put it in perspective, let me give you my stats for the year, as far as I was able to count them. These are the books I read in 2012:

Adult Fiction: 19 (A lot less this year, since I was reading so many new children’s and teen books)
Teen Fiction: 38
Children’s Fiction: 78 (Yes, this was all about the Cybils. Capitol Choices, too, though.)
Adult Nonfiction: 48
Children’s Nonfiction: 37
Picture Books: 45 (At least that’s the number I thought worth noting.)
Rereads (All genres): 15

Grand Total: 280 books. Not bad….

And my plans for next year? Last year, I presented my crazy elaborate reading plans, and then joining Capitol Choices rather threw them off. But I am not daunted! I love the system I worked out, which keeps me reading a variety of books. Here is my slightly modified plan for 2013:

First, I will alternate between books for Capitol Choices and other books.

When I’m reading the non-Capitol Choices book, I’ll go through these six types of books in order:
1. Reread a book
2. A book I own
3. A new library book
4. An award winner (like something from a Cybils shortlist)
5. A prepublication Advance Reader Copy
6. An older library book

Mind you, this doesn’t count nonfiction or picture books.

Of course, if I get on a Cybils committee again, I’ll just read Cybils books from October through December. (Whee!)

What can I say? I’m a list-maker and I love organizing my reading this way. I’ve already finished my first book in 2013, a Capitol Choices nominee, Jepp, Who Defied the Stars, by Katherine Marsh, and next I plan to reread The Girl of Fire and Thorns, by Rae Carson, in order to get ready to read the sequel…. Onward!

Cybils Round One Fun

Tonight my plan was to post Sonderling Sunday on Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone looking at the translations in German — and French!

But instead, I took a longer Sunday afternoon nap than planned. And then my sister called. To say the traditional “Tomorrow we can say tomorrow is Christmas!” Yay! And then our Cybils Round One chat went way longer than I thought it would.

So next week I will plan to do an unusual tri-lingual Sonderling Sunday.

But meanwhile: The Cybils: What fun!

I’m on the Cybils Round One panel for Middle Grade Science Fiction and Fantasy. So I’ve been reading like crazy. And still feel like a slow reader compared to the others. We had at least two people read every title nominated — at least read enough to know if they needed to read on, anyway. And we all read any title that anyone shortlisted. Or at least we will have come very close to that by the time we finalize the list.

Round One is fun because you get to read widely, and you’re going for a list, so you don’t feel too bad if one you don’t like ends up on the shortlist. If people you trust loved it, it’s probably got a lot of merit. We found our group doesn’t have a whole lot of consensus — and we haven’t made a final list yet, but discussing these books is a lot of fun. It’s always a fun challenge to be able to come up why you like or dislike a book.

The Cybils strives for a combination of literary merit and kid appeal, so besides coming up with what we like or dislike, we also tried to figure out where that was from good or bad writing and which things would matter to kids.

This is much more than my reviews. In my reviews, I admit I like to focus on recommending books and telling what’s to like about them. It’s kind of fun to tear apart books I don’t like — in the privacy of a committee where most people will never ever see it. I hope I won’t like it so much that I do that sort of thing more widely! But there is some value in figuring out precisely where a book fell short. And was it a flaw? Or simply a personal preference?

I warned them in advance, and it proved to be true: My demon is internal logic. If a fantasy book has problems with the internal logic, it really really bugs me. There were a couple books that, to me, really dropped the ball at the end. I didn’t believe the characters would act that way, or I didn’t believe the magic would work that way. And there was one that I thought was lacking in explanation of the fantasy all the way along.

But it’s nice that I’m just one person on the panel. So my personal preferences and idiosyncracies won’t dominate the list, just influence it. I think we have a nice variety of viewpoints and preferences in our panel.

We now have settled on only one book that will definitely be on our shortlist. (Not that any of us think it’s the best — just that there was one book we all agreed on.) We have several to keep for now to discuss later, and we have several more that we sent to a corner with cookies to possibly come back if the list needs rounding out. We’ll be reading and rereading and discussing again later this week.

And we will announce our shortlist to the world on January 1st! Stay tuned!

And don’t forget to tune in next week to look at Harry Potter #1 in British, German, and French!

Get in your Cybils Nominations!

It’s time for Cybils nominations!

The Cybils are children’s book awards given by Kidlit Bloggers. They have a wonderful breadth of categories, and anyone can nominate one item in each category. Nominations are open until October 15. This year’s awards go to anything published in the last year, October 16, 2011 to October 15, 2012.

I confess that I wasn’t ready with my list this morning, so this year I think I’ll wait a little while and then see if anything’s missing from the books I want to be considered. If you want to nominate your very favorites, it helps to get up early! But if any of my favorites slip through the cracks, I’ll give a try to nominating them before October 15.

And I need to start reading like crazy! This year I’m a Round One Panelist in the category of Middle Grade Science Fiction and Fantasy. I’m so looking forward to being forced to read my favorite kind of books. We’ll see if I can handle it!

The Cybils! The Cybils! The Cybils!

Woo-hoo! I’m so excited! This year I get to be a panelist in choosing the Cybils Finalists for Middle Grade Science Fiction and Fantasy!

Anybody remember my Crazy Reading Plan for 2012? Yeah, this will completely and totally mess it up. But then, participating in Capitol Choices (a DC-area group that chooses 100 top children’s books of the year) had already done that. I am planning to have FUN madly reading middle grade fantasy and science fiction for the rest of the year!

Just for fun, I’ll list my stats from before the Cybils reading, January 1 to September 17, 2012. It’s been fun to keep track this year, anyway.

Books I reread: 8
My books read: 8
New Library Books: 11
Award Winners: 7
PrePub ARCs: 8
Older Library Books: 8
Books Read for Capitol Choices (some picture books included): 27
Exceptions: 10 (reasons like meeting the author & the Heavy Medal shortlist)
Nonfiction: 24
Books of Short Stories: 1
Short Chapter Books: 9
Children’s Nonfiction (not included above): 12
Picture Books worth noting: 19
Audiobooks: 12

Total: 164

The only bad thing about this list? There are soooooo many more I’d like to read! But anyway, being a Cybils Panelist will force me to focus. I’m planning to read some books before the Capitol Choices meeting this Friday, and then dive into Middle Grade SF&F!

Read on!