Wednesday, February 15, 2023

The CYBILS winners: Poetry and Verse Novel ~by Christy Mihaly

The Cybils Awards for 2022 books were announced on Feb. 14, 2023.  

Congratulations to the winners -- and to the finalists, and all the nominees. So many good books were nominated.

The Cybils Awards seek to recognize the books (and their creators) that best combine awesome writing and kid appeal. The goal is to make kids love reading! As one of the founders of this award said, "Between the brussels sprouts of literary merit and the gummy bears of popularity contests, we are the organic chicken nuggets -- both yummy and nutritious!"

I was honored to be a Round 2 Judge for the Cybils in the Poetry and Verse Novels categories, and I can't wait to tell you about the winners. (I know, by the way, some readers would quibble with the relative yumminess of  brussels versus gummies, but ... on with the show!)  

And the winners are:

Verse Novel

Wave by Diana Farid

Wave is everything a verse novel for young readers should be. In this novel by Diana Farid, illustrated by Kris Goto, first-generation Iranian-American Ava is caught between her mother’s expectations and her own love for surfing, singing, and friends (including a best friend dying of cancer). Prejudice, divorce, parental pressure, and grief are balanced beautifully by the brightness of poetry, mixtapes and music, and most of all friendship's bonds and the joy of riding the waves. This is historical fiction, based on the author's experiences growing up in Southern California in the 1980s.

Poems carry the story with language like this:
I fall with the song
into the hollow 
of the wave, 
as it covers me with its curl. 
We ride the barrel toward the light.

In addition, the narrative also features the ancient Persian poet Rumi and his poems are effectively woven into the book. With such poetry, Farid creates a moving novel that speaks to the universal theme of growing up while still being a story of one unique, captivating heroine. 


The 1619 Project: Born on the Water 
by Nikole Hannah-Jones & Renee Watson

In this powerful poetry collection/picture book, Journalist Nikole Hannah-Jones of the 1619 project teams up with poet Renee Watson and illustrator Nikkolas Smith to tell a story that is at the heart of the American identity. When, in response to a school genealogy assignment, a young Black girl struggles to identify where her ancestors came from, her grandmother “gathers the whole family, says…let me tell you our beginning.” 

The poems Grandma recites use strong cadences and refrains to tell the story starting on African shores. She evokes the people in Central West Africa: “Their hands / Their hearts / Their minds had a knowing.” The poems follow the people's kidnapping and forced ocean crossing, on which

These many people 
became one people
a new people 

"born on the water." 

Once arrived in America, the people

planted prayers into the heavens
praying, praying, praying
for freedom. 

The poems use representative events, images, and motifs to carry the epic story -- “Ours is no immigration story” -- of the millions of Black people who kept on living despite being “brokenhearted, beaten and bruised,” and who built a legacy of joy, excellence, and resistance under inhuman conditions. Gorgeous illustrations enhance this moving work, conveying the violence of the story without being too graphic for the youngest audience.

If you haven't read these, I highly recommend them both.

And if you're looking for other great poetry and verse novels, below are the Cybils finalists in these categories. 

Happy reading!
Marshmallow Clouds, by Ted Kooser
& Connie Wanek, illustrated by Richard Jones

Poetry collections: 

Zoobilations, by Douglas Florian
My Name is Jason. Mine Too, 
by Jason Reynolds & Jason Griffin
(Re-release of their 2009 work)

At the Pond, by David Elliot, 
art by Amy Schimler-Safford

Novels in verse: 

African Town
by Irene Latham
and Charles Waters
by Katherine Applegate

Singing with Elephants
by Margarita Engle
The Hope of Elephants
by Amanda Rawson Hill


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