Last Friday, Tanita Davis of Finding Wonderland did a great job in Cybils Countdown of explaining Cybils history. Among other things, she said of the big name children's book awards "...sometimes "literary" doesn't take into account "beloved." In 2006, the Cybils Children’s and Young Adult Bloggers’ Literary Awards were founded to address that particular issue."
Her post reminded me of something I saw at a professional listserv of academics and reviewers a few years after the Cybils were started. Someone had been following the nominations at the Cybils website and posted a message asking where were __________, _________, ___________ (that year's big name books that everyone was talking about)? Those titles needed to be part of any award consideration, he insisted. To which I responded, "That's not the point of the Cybils." (Or something like that. This was years ago, after all.)
The point of the Cybils, as Tanita says, is to "discover books that might not be famous or popular, but which have both literary merit and kid appeal." And then the Cybils brings them to the attention of readers.
The Cybils' Place In The Childlit World
In the childlit world, there's a big focus on awards, which are announced at the beginning of the year. (This year, just this past Monday.) It's not unusual for bloggers to start writing about next year's possible Newbery and Caldecott winners in March or April. We're in the middle of the Olympics, so I'm going to make an Olympics analogy. Get ready. Here it comes. Starting to focus on the "contenders" so early is like beginning to count medals on day three of the Olympics. It distracts from all the competition that is still going on. The book award talk narrows the literary conversation to a relative handful of children's books when there are thousands published every year.
This isn't terrific for writers who aren't being talked about, of course. But it's particularly bad for readers who don't get a chance to hear about books that might be more to their liking than those that the award predictors embrace. For instance, historically, humor books and science fiction haven't turned up regularly among Newbery winners. Regency novels, mysteries, sports stories...you don't see these a lot on award lists. Only recently have we started seeing books with diverse characters and situations at all, let alone on the podium. (Another Olympics reference.) But all those books are out there. I've read a couple of terrific Regency novels for YA over the last couple of years. And I've just started seeing alternative history. There are readers who want to know about these books. There are readers who might be reading more if they could find these types of works. But with childlit talk often being about award contenders, will the word get out?
And that's what the Cybils does differently. It broadens the literary conversation, because it isn't one award, it's multiple awards, hitting fiction for both younger and older readers, picture books, graphic novels, speculative fiction. And unlike other awards, all the books being considered are out in front of the public at the Cybils website for the two months leading in to the release of the short lists. And anyone with a lit blog can throw a title in the ring. You don't have to be a traditional childlit gatekeeper to be part of the process.
So, to wind up things, I'll say that the Cybils are an Olympic effort, broadening the scope of the books considered and awarded. That makes them particularly valuable to readers.