Wednesday, February 16, 2022

The Cybils Poetry Award ~ by Christy Mihaly


The Cybils Awards for 2021 books are out! These awards for children's and YA works recognize books with "highest literary merit and popular appeal." That's a tough standard, and it's hard to choose just one winner. 

I should know--I was a Round 2 judge this year in the Poetry category. We were tasked with reviewing a diverse field of finalists, and each of these books was truly wonderful in its own way.  I recommend them all!

Aaaand: The Cybils poetry winner is: Everywhere Blue by Joanne Rossmassler Fritz.

Congratulations, Joanne! This middle grade book is a a lovely and lyrical novel in verse. Maddie, the appealing and earnest protagonist, comes from a musical family and the story uses engaging poems to weave together music, mystery (Maddie's brother goes missing), family dynamics, and love for Earth. 

The judges were particularly impressed with the author's sensitive and age-appropriate treatment of difficult topics, including mental health and environmental crises. Beautiful poetry and interwoven musical references make this a truly outstanding work. 

And for more virtuoso poetic works, check out the other finalists: 

Me (Moth), by Amber McBride is a YA fantasy verse novel about grief and loss. It's also a ghost story and a powerful tale of healing, with haunting language and gorgeous imagery, full of myth and music and metaphor, and with a stunning twist. This masterpiece of storytelling was a finalist for the National Book Award for Young People's Literature. 
This book made me cry! Newbery Honor winner 
Red, White, and Whole, by Rajani LaRocca, is a middle grade verse novel that deals with growing up and grief. Reha lives in two worlds: Indian (her parents are immigrants) and not (as she works to fit in, in middle school). When her mother becomes ill, Reha realizes what's most important, and finds her courage. Beautiful use of metaphor and poetic language.

Snow Birds, by Kirsten Hall, illustrated by Jenni Desmond, is a collection of lively poems celebrating the birds that spend the winter in snowy climes. The art is superb, and the book conveys plenty of interesting information about winter birds. A sampling of verse: 

Black Rosy-Finch

Hop! Stop! Hop! Stop! SO MUCH SNOW!

    Check! Peck! Check! Peck! COME ON, LET'S GO!

        Peep! Cheep! Peep! Cheep! WE WANT MORE!

            Till back they bounce through the barn house door. 

In You Don't Have to Be Everything: Poems for Girls Becoming Themselves, Diana Whitney selected works by 68 poets including Amanda Gorman, Margaret Atwood, Naomi Shihab Nye, and Elizabeth Acevedo. The poems, exploring themes of loneliness and longing, seeking and sadness, shame and rage, speak to girls coming of age. Whitney says she wanted to collect voices she wished she'd heard when she was a teen. Here's an excerpt from a poem  by Elizabeth Spires, "Questions for Google": 

What does it mean and why does it matter?

How do I get from here to there? 

Where is the line that cannot be crossed? 

Why is the first time the best? 

Who will be coming and when will they get here? 

How long will it last before it is over? 

Who has the right and why do they have it? 

Who is the most important one?  

StarfishLisa Fipps has been garnering well-deserved praise (including a Printz Honor) for this powerful and beautifully written middle grade novel in verse. Ellie faces bullying (about her weight), and tries to live by the Fat Girl Rules. She finds friendship and acceptance, and through therapy finally feels ready to confront her badgering mother. Middle grade (and older) readers will respond enthusiastically to this much-needed title.

Call Me Athena, by Colby Cedar Smith, is an evocative YA historical novel in verse. It tells the story of a girl's coming of age in a Greek-French immigrant family in 1930s Detroit. Told in beautiful poetry with multiple voices and great historical details, this book impressed the judges with deep historical research and comprehensive back matter. 

If you haven't read these, don't wait -- get down to your library or bookstore and check them out. If you have -- what's your favorite? Are there other recent works of poetry you'd recommend? Please share in the comments. And thanks for supporting poetry for kids!


  1. Thank you so much, Christy, and all the judges! I'm still astonished that you picked my book, when all these other illustrious books are so beautifully written. I'm deeply honored. And I hope people will read all the books. They're all winners!

    1. We really loved your book, Joanne! Congratulations to you. And yes, everyone should read them all.

  2. What a great bunch of books. I've read a few, but see some I definitely need to look at. Thank you Christy - and all the other judges - for this service.

  3. Sue, They're all wonderful and it was a pleasure to read and re-read and discuss them. Happy reading to you!

  4. Some of these are on my TBR list. Ty, Christy, for judging and sharing.

    1. Thanks, Kathy, for spreading the word. And enjoy the books!

  5. Thank you, Christy! I've put these titles on my TBR list.

  6. Thanks so much! I can't wait to read them all.

  7. I want to read them all! Sounds fun to be a Cybils judge. Wish I had time!

    1. Hi Tina, Last year I was a round 1 panelist, and it took hours and hours and hours to read hundreds of nominated books. So it was a luxury to have time to read, re-read, consider and discuss the seven finalists!

  8. I just ordered You Don't have to be everything. I think my young teens need these messages.