Friday, January 1, 2010

My Take On The Cybils

I had another post planned to be my first post of the year but I am going to start with the Cybils finialists. At Susan's personal blog, she broke out Mama Lockdown for her take on the Cybils. You know its serious when you see Mama Lockdown because she don't play.

Here is part of what Susan said

I'm starting off the new year with a rant about an issue you're probably sick of hearing by now. Well, I'm sick of making it so somebody tell me why this continues to happen: 931 books read and of all the finalists by or about African Americans, the finalists are about slaves or civil rights.

I too have a problem with this. Though I believe there aren't enough books being published with Black characters that aren't historical fiction. For me the problem isn't with what didn't get chosen but what isn't being published to get nominated. One of the reason why I loved Debbie Rigaud's new YA novel Perfect Shot (my review) was because it was a light, fun, entertaining and well written contemporary romantic comedy featuring Black characters.

I am surprised and disappointed that Marcelo in the Real World by Francisco Stork wasn't a finalist in the YA fiction category. (it wasn't my pick) But its one of the best books YA or otherwise that I've read this year. I haven't read all of the YA finalist but (IMO) two of them can't touch the goodness that is Marcelo in the Real World. (not even close)

In the MG fiction category I wasn't too happy to see Chains by Laurie Halse Anderson make the finals. Its an historical fiction novel featuring a female African American protagonist. The writing in Chains is good. I just never connected or fully believed in the main character Isabel. There are other books that got nominated in the category that I believe would have made better choices. Even if I liked Isabel I would still feel the same way. Two MG books that nominated that stand out as better choices The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate by Jacqueline Kelly and Petronella Saves Nearly Everyone: The Entomological Tales of Augustus T. Percival by Dene Low ( I didn't nominate either one)

I know the panelist had many many books to read and discuss. In the end the finalist come down to a group decision, which I am not questioning but I happen to disagree with in these situations enough to post about it. Also I know its easier to say something after the fact. I am kicking myself right now for not trying to become one of the panelists, when the call was put out. I believe any blogger who is questioning any of the finalist and didn't step up when the call was made for panelists and judges should be kicking themselves as well.

Overall I am very exicted and happy that the Cybils awards exist. The people who run the Cybils make everyone feel welcome. If I had a question it was answered quickly. They also take the time to link to reviews ( by panelist) of nominated books. The site is very easy to browse. If you are ever looking for a good children's book check out some of the nominated books for

I was happy to see so many novels featuring people of color get nomniated. When a book is nominated it's really is a win (unlike the Oscars) since the panelists are all bloggers who love children's literature. A book may not have made the finals but it could've found its way to blogger who believes in the book as much as the person who nominated it.

One of my nods is a finalist. WHAT ! The Prince of Fenway Park by Julianna Baggott in the MG fantasy category. The MC is biracial (Black &White), I've said it many times before and I'll say it again. I love me some The Prince of Fenway Park.

Finally, I want to say thank you to all the bloggers who work so hard (For Free) on the Cybils. While still maintaining their personal blogs ( For Free) They don't have to do it but they do. The people who work on the Cybils are giving more than they are receiving and for that I say. Thanks again.


susan said...

"For me the problem isn't with what didn't get chosen but what isn't being published to get nominated."

I hope this doesn't get lost on anyone following the discussion. Zetta was even more candid. She said we need to call out the publishing industry because they decide what our choices are and I agree. We need decision makers to offer us more. The work is being written. Publish it already.

Lyn Miller-Lachmann said...

I hope you do join the committee next year, to call attention to authors of color, who were underrepresented among the finalists (as well as pointing out books by well-known authors that are inaccurate and inauthentic). Without this kind of recognition, publishers will be even more reluctant to take a chance on someone considered out of the mainstream. It's a cycle.

I was fortunate to have had my YA novel nominated despite the fact that it wasn't published by a mainstream juvenile publisher. But books by small presses, which are often more open to writers of color (such as Just Us Books, Pinata Books, and Children's Book Press) tend not to get these nominations in the first place either.

I remember when the Pura Belpre Awards were first established, and the winners and honor books were almost all small-press-published. Many of those winning authors were able to move to larger houses, which also opened their doors to other Latino authors.

Colleen said...

I thought "Petronella" had a snowball's chance in hell as much as I loved it. (Too quirky, funny, different) but I'm at a total loss as to the absence of "Calpurnia". That book is amazing and why it isn't in the finals I'll never understand.

Andromeda Jazmon said...

Yes by all means I hope you can join in as a panelist next year! But I really think your blogging about the books all year round makes a huge difference. The books are nominated by everyone, but if folks haven't read blog reviews about the great POC books all year long they aren't likely to remember them to nominate them... More chatter about "Hey this would be a great Cybils book!" during the rest of the year makes a difference. Or even lists in the sidebar of one's blog... "Books to Nominate in October for a Cybil" or something. In my experience it's hard to remember what great books one has read during the year when there are only 15 days to nominate them in the middle of a busy fall month. Just an idea (which I haven't done myself, but which is on my to-do list)

Zetta said...

You know I loved Marcelo! But thanks for venting and giving me a few more titles to pick up; I often overlook the MG novels...

susan said...

Good suggestion Andromeda. I'm going to keep a running list and post before October nominations.

Vasilly said...

I love Andromeda's suggestion about placing a widget throughout the year on books to nominate in October. I recently read Chameleon by Charles R. Smith Jr and wished I had read it in time to nominate it for Cybils. The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate was a great book and should have made it to the finals. This post is giving me a lot of books to pick and read. Thanks for a great post.

Tarie said...

I'm excited to read The Prince of Fenway Park as a Cybils judge. :o) Thanks for nominating it, Doret!

Jeannine said...

I just finished Marcelo in the Real World and thought it was mesmerizing. You are so right, it has gotten to the point when I discover a book is about slavery I scream. Our kids are just like all other kids. They want to read about love, mystery, technology okay and even vampires. My point is, they want to read about current teen stuff. Great post. Glad I stumbled upon it.

Doret said...

Thanks for the comments everyone.

Andromeda - I love the sidebar idea.

Vasilly - I feel the same way about Chameleon. Its a great coming of age story.

Tarie - I hope you enjoy Prince of Fenway Park.

I was also happy to see Grace Lin's Where the Mountain Meets the Moon in the MG Fantasy finals. Its a beautiful tale

Jeaninne - So glad to hear you've read Marcelo in the Real World.

I just don't understand how that or Evolution of Calpurnia Tate didn't make the finals in their catergories. I am baffled.

Wendy said...

I'm betting that Calpurnia Tate lost out on that mysterious "kid appeal" qualification--I know it appeals to some kids, but perhaps the panelists thought other books appealed more. I was honestly shocked by the omission of When You Reach Me, though.

I've really been inspired today by your post and Doret's and the comments on both, to make a real change in my reading.

campbele said...

What a great post.
I too, was disappointed in the final selections and could have accepted the lack of books representing people of color IF the finalists really seemed like better books.
You out read us all. Yes, you need to join the committee!

Trisha said...

I think Wendy is right about Calpurnia, and that the same applies to Marcello. I've seen too many bloggers/reviewers say they liked it but that it'll appeal more to adults than teens.

I wasn't a panelist this past year, and it turns out I've only read one of the finalists in YA Fiction so far and one in MG Fiction (Cracked Up to Be, which was excellent, and All the Broken Pieces, ditto), so I can't say whether or not the other six finalists merit being named to the shortlists or not. I will say, however, that in my experience, I think you're right that "the problem isn't with what didn't get chosen but what isn't being published to get nominated."

Putting aside the merits of individual books for the moment and focusing on the math, in 2007, 123 eligible books were nominated for YA fiction. There's only room for about seven books on a shortlist, which meant each book had a .8% chance of making the shortlist. The number of nominated titles has increased each year, so I don't even know what the odds of being shortlisted are anymore. And when there are so many more books not featuring people of color being published, and therefore Cybils-eligible, and ultimately nominated... well, I'm not exactly surprised by how the shortlists look.

Doret said...

I thought Evolution of Calpurnia Tate had a lot of kid appeal.

Its an historical fiction novel that has a Contemparary (IMO) feel it.

And Wendy - I tottally forgot about When You Reach Me.

Even if you take Marcelo in the Real World out of the YA fiction picture for finalist - There are still a lot of stronger YA books that got nominated than at least two of the finalist.

Neesha Meminger said...

Thanks for this post, Doret. I left a longer comment on Susan's post, but I wanted to jump in and say that I absolutely *love* the idea of a sidebar, or running widget, that lists "nominate-able" books by PoC! Fantastic!

Color Online said...

We need a button. Who's going to make it?

Doret said...

Swag is not my thing Susan. I will leave that to you and Ari.

I'll just display it proudly when the time comes.

Christine said...

Yes, yes and yes, Jeannine! Ditto. Our kids are just like any other kids and are SICK of having the same content areas shoved down their throat.

They aren't voluntarily trading those books, they cringe when they're assigned as reading material. They want love, laughter, vampires, ghosts, adventures, science - etc.

They want to stop being invisible.

But they're not ever going to get that if we don't push back at a publishing climate that doesn't acquire those stories or when they do, assigns no marketing support for the books.

I applaud smaller presses - they need more support from us because they don't have the marketing dollars to compete with larger publishers for shelf space, ad space or general visibility.

I wonder what would happen if a POC got the same push as Hoose? And how is it he can tell a story commonly known in the AA committee, but when authors of color pitch those stories they are turned away?

I agree with Zetta and Susan. Maybe it's time for POC to take back ownership of this issue, do it ourselves, and start calling out the publishers who are making these choices for our kids. Our consumer dollars can be a mighty influence.

Olugbemisola (Mrs. Pilkington) said...

Great post, Doret. (And I have got to read Prince of Fenway Park). And Christine's comment about taking ownership and calling for accountability is dead on. These suggestions -- the widget, the 'reminder'posts before nominations, etc. are fantastic.