Choosing the Best in Kids' Nonfiction, 2010


I am happy to help out again with the annual Cybils awards, which honor children's books. As the organizer for the Middle Grade/YA Nonfiction category, I'll introduce the two panels that will help select the best older kids' nonfiction of the year. I'm including the panelists' Twitter feeds, marked with an @, too; follow them and keep up with book news and conversation.

Panelists (Round I Judges):

Karen Ball, Mrs. B's Favorites

Sarah Mulhern Gross, The Reading Zone @thereadingzone

David Judge, Adventures at Wilder Farm

Jessica Leader, Jessica Leader @JessicaLeader

Susan Thomsen, Chicken Spaghetti @C_Spaghetti

Judges (Round II):

Edi Campbell, Crazy Quilts @crazyquilts

René Colato Laínez, René Colato Laínez, La Bloga @renecolato

David Gutowski, Largehearted Boy @largeheartedboy

Colleen Mondor, Chasing Ray, Bookslut @chasingray

Sandhya Nankani, Literary Safari, Sepia Mutiny @litsafari

The panelists in many other categories are being announced over the next week, too. See the Cybils blog for details.

Call for the 2010 Cybils Children's Literature Award Judges

The 2010 Children's and Young Adult Bloggers' Literary Awards (the Cybils) need you! Here is the call for judges from administrator and co-founder Anne Levy.


Yes, it's that time of year, when we ask kidlit bloggers around the world to stop what they're doing and join us. It's going to be another crazy contest year, so we're again reminding everyone:

  1. judging is loads of fun work. For which we pay you tons nothing. 
  2. you should skip skim read every word of this post here
  3. you'll also find an explanation of the secret handshake rules there too.
  4. The deadline to sign up is September 15th.


Hey, it's me, Susan, again. This is what you do: email us at cybils09 (at) gmail (dot) com with the specifics mentioned in Step #2. Please read the post linked in Step #2 to find out all the details. That post explains it all way better than I can!

I am looking forward to the awards this year, and am once again coordinating the Middle Grade and Young Adult Nonfiction judging. So many good books!

Children's and Young Adult Bloggers' Literary Awards: The Cybils '09 Finalists!

That's right. The finalists for the 2009 Cybils awards were announced this morning. Congratulations too all the authors, illustrators, editors, designers, and everyone else involved in creating the books!

Nonfiction for Older (Kid) Readers

The Middle Grade/Young Adult Nonfiction category of the Cybils awards is so hot that it's smokin'. 2009 has been a very good year for children's nonfiction. Two of the five finalists for the National Book Award in Young People's Literature were nonfiction titles: Claudette Colvin: Twice Toward Justice and Charles and Emma. As you've heard, Claudette Colvin won. Those books and other strong candidates are vying for a Cybils award. Who will make the Cybils' final-five short list? I don't know!

Here are some links to reviews written by the Cybils' Middle Grade/Young Adult Nonfiction panelist-bloggers and others. If you know of other reviews in this category, tell me in the comments section, and I'll add to the list because look at all this awesome talk about nonfiction books for kids!

Chasing Lincoln's Killer. Jill Tullo at The Well-Read Child writes, "Chasing Lincoln's Killer is what great nonfiction should be. It reads like a heart-pounding story with enough detail to give you an intimate picture of Booth, but it doesn't overwhelm you with facts and details that make a lot of nonfiction difficult to navigate."

Nelson Mandela: Long Walk To Freedom. Jennie Rothschild at Biblio File says, "There's not a great sense [in this book] of why Mandela is the hero he is..."

Claudette Colvin: Twice Toward Justice. Alicia Blowers at The LibrariYAn writes, "The compelling narrative (including Claudette's own words), extensive notes and suggestions for further reading make this a book perfect for the inquisitive middle or high schooler or for class research." 

The Great and Only Barnum. Middle-grade fiction judge David Elzey at The Excelsior File says, "...a breezy read, well-documented with a strong narrative thread, and actually fun. Makes me wish there were more biographies like this when I was a kid."...¶ Plus, there's a review written by a fourth grader at Educating Alice. That student writes, "... [A] very amazing book by Candace Fleming." 

Three Cups of Tea (Young Readers Edition). Erin Walker at Erin Explores YA says, "...the writing itself is not particularly engaging, though fortunately the clunky text does not diminish Mortenson’s story or his message."

Marching for Freedom. At Emily Reads, Emily Mitchell, who writes all her reviews haiku-style, says,"I can't find anything / negative to say about / this book. Can you?" Emily is a judge in the nonfiction picture book category.  

Episodes. As the category organizer for older-reader nonfiction, I couldn't resist jumping in with some commentary about this memoir: "[Blaze Ginsberg] has organized his high-school and early college years as if they were episodes of a long-running TV program listed at the Internet Movie Database, including a cast, guest stars, summary, and soundtrack." 

Charles and Emma. Middle-grade fiction panelist Abby Johnson, a.k.a. Abby (the) Librarian, says, "Got kids coming in looking for narrative nonfiction? Hand them this book pronto. I'd also hand it to fans of Pride and Prejudice or other such classic lit. It's readable enough to be recreational, but it's factual and will work for research reports, too."

For Liberty: The Story of the Boston Massacre. Middle grade/young adult nonfiction judge Colleen Mondor writes at Chasing Ray, "Every time I read Timothy Decker I am reminded of how casually many authors approach historic subjects for children. Decker however respects his audience as much as his subject and thus is one of the best in this genre." 

Cars on Mars. Former Cybils judge and category organizer Elizabeth Bird at A Fuse #8 Production says, "Picture this: robots with extraordinary life spans exploring a planet 303,000,000 miles away. It's not science fiction, it's fact."

After Gandhi: One Hundred Years of Nonviolent Resistance. Blogging at A Wrung Sponge, fiction picture book judge Andromeda Jazmon says, "I found reading this book to be delightful, encouraging and inspiring," though she notes "that the... graphics are not particularly appealing to youth accustomed to full color, lively graphics."  

Almost Astronauts. Angela at Bookish Blather, who attended the recent Cybils discussion in NYC (okay, I'm stretching the connection here, but I like her review), writes, "[Tanya Lee] Stone has packed a lot of history into a compact book, giving great descriptions of not only the physical astronaut trials the Mercury 13 women went through, but also the social and political trials they faced in daring to want to pilot a space shuttle."

Years of Dust. At the Washington Post, Abby McGanney Nolan, who has nothing to do with the Cybils at all, writes, "...Albert Marrin's sweeping study of the dirty '30s may give readers the uncomfortable sensation of dust in their throats. Fortunately, the book also contains clear explanations of what led to the complicated tragedy known as the Dust Bowl."

Want to learn about more nonfiction for children? Check the Nonfiction Monday roundup at the blog Practically Paradise later today.

It's Cybils Time in NYC. Join us!

The New York Public Library's Children's Literary Café presents a panel discussion on the Cybils: the Children's and Young Adult Bloggers' Literary Awards.

Who: Children's book bloggers Pam Coughlan (MotherReader), Anne Boles Levy (one of the Cybils founders), Elizabeth Burns (A Chair, A Fireplace & A Tea Cozy), and me. Moderated by Elizabeth Bird (A Fuse #8 Production), of the New York Public Library.

When: Saturday, November 7th, at 2

Where: New York Public Library, Fifth Avenue at 42nd Street, in the Children's Center, Room 84 

Our discussion promises to include "the state of children's literature online today, including ethics, publisher/blogger relations, transparency, influence (or lack thereof) over published titles, and what it means to represent an online community of children’s literary enthusiasts." 

The New York Public Library notes, "The Children’s Literary Café is a monthly gathering of adults who are fans of children’s literature. Professionals, librarians, authors, illustrators, publishers, booksellers, teachers, and anyone else interested in the field are welcome to attend our meetings. The Literary Café provides free Advanced Readers galleys, a rotating series of talks with professionals in the field, and great conversation. This program is for adults only."

2009 Cybils: The Children's and Young Adult Bloggers' Literary Awards

The Cybils website is open and taking nominations for the best children's books of 2009. The public is invited to nominate titles. Come one, come all! But do it soon; nominations close on October 15th.

Volunteer panelist/bloggers in many different categories (Easy Readers, Young Adult Fiction, etc.) will read the nominated books and pare down each long list into a group of five (or so).

Those short lists will be announced on January 1, 2010. Then a second posse of volunteer panelist/bloggers will read those books and choose the winner in each category. In mid-February the winners will be announced.

Easy Reading: Houndsley and Catina and the Quiet Time

HounsleyimageDB.cgi  A small gem of a book that celebrates winter, friendship, and being in the moment. In James Howe's beginning reader, two chums—a dog and a cat—are practicing at Houndsley's house for an upcoming concert when a snowstorm begins. Catina is antsy.

"It is too quiet," she said.

"Oh," said Houndsley. "But that is why this is my favorite time of year. In the quiet time, everything stops. I think we may be snowed in."

Houndsley's example helps Catina learn to enjoy the change of pace as they bake cookies, play music, and read. (Young readers will glean many ways to avoid cabin fever on a day when they're confined.) The animal pals generously include a third friend, Bert the goose, in their cozy good time. Marie-Louise Gay's watercolor/pencil/collage illustrations depict the action with gentle humor and a soul-warming palette of wintertime colors; even the endpapers are lovely.

Not too long at three chapters and 48 pages, Houndsley and Catina and the Quiet Time, the third in the Houndsley & Catina series, makes a good choice for first and second graders as well as the read-aloud crowd. All classroom libraries in the snowy states ought to have a copy! The book is a finalist in the Easy Reader category of the Children's and Young Adult Bloggers' Literary Awards (the Cybils).

Easy Reading: Mr. Putter & Tabby Run the Race

TabbyimageDB.cgi If you and yours are new to easy reading, you need to know about Mr. Putter and Tabby. They're the unlikely stars of an excellent series by the prolific author Cynthia Rylant. I say "unlikely" because Mr. Putter is an elderly man and Tabby an elderly cat. But Mr. Putter has the heart and soul of a ten-year-old boy, and Tabby is the loyal friend everyone would want. Arthur Howard's illustrations are priceless, showing the goings-on in bright, cheerful watercolor, gouache, and pencil pictures. Tabby is never far from Mr. Putter; their affection for each other is clear. (Mr. Putter looks enough like Mr. Wilson from the "Dennis the Menace" comics to be his gentler brother.)

In Mr. Putter & Tabby Run the Race, Mr. Putter and his neighbor Mrs. Teaberry enter a senior marathon. Second prize is a train set, and Mr. Putter wants it. He must prepare by working out.

He decided he would touch his toes

thirty times every day to make up for the

thirty years he'd forgotten to run.

The first time Mr. Putter tried to touch his toes,

he could not reach them.

He touched his knees


Unless they're personal trainers, grown-ups reading along will recognize themselves. Considering appeal to younger readers, though, I found the book's focus on the senior marathon and Mr. Putter & Mrs. Teaberry (instead of Tabby) a bit of a stretch, even for this series. It comes up short of the best, like Mr. Putter & Tabby Feed the Fish. Reliving his youth, Mr. Putter buys a couple of goldfish, and Tabby becomes obsessed, to the point of feline looniness, with them. The relationship between the pet and pet owner is front and center as they work out their differences.

That said, a new Mr. Putter & Tabby is always a must-read. My advice? Start with a couple of others in the series—such as the one mentioned above, Mr. Putter & Tabby Pour the Tea (the first), Mr. Putter & Tabby Pick the Pears, and Mr. Putter & Tabby Fly the Plane—and work your way forward. By then, readers won't want to miss seeing what the duo and their friends are up to.

The publisher, Harcourt, states that the Mr. Putter & Tabby series is for 6 to 9 year olds. Preschoolers will like the books as read-alouds, too. Mr. Putter & Tabby Run the Race is a nominee in the Cybils' Easy Reader category.