Five reasons why you might want to apply to be a Cybils judge in elementary/middle grade speculative fiction!

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The call for this years Cybils Awards panelists has gone out, and anyone who reviews or talks about kids and ya books on line (blog, you tube, Goodreads, etc.) is welcome to apply to be part of the fun and excitement!

The Cybils Awards includes many different categories of books (ranging from picture books to YA fiction), and each category has it’s own set of panelists. The first round panelists narrow all the nominated books down to a shortlist of 5-7 books, and then a second group had to pick the final winner. Anyone in the world can nominate a book in each category; some categories end up with lots of books and some with fewer (elementary/middle grade speculative fiction is around 110-130, on the higher end).

So in essence, the first round involves lots and lots of reading, and lots of emails exchanged with co-panelists chatting in a friendly and companionable way about what we like, what we don’t like, what we find amusing, what we find irritating, and how hard it will be to narrow it down to seven books. In the second round, with only seven books, there’s less banter and more intense thought about the relative merits of the books. The two criteria we use in judging are good writing and lots of appeal for the target audience (diversity is not a explicit criteria, but does factor in to the target audience appeal).

I’m the category chair for elementary/middle grade speculative fiction (roughly books for 8-12 year olds), and if you are reading my blog, this might well be the group of books that you enjoy the most too! I am always so happy to welcome new folks into the judging, and so to encourage you who haven’t done it before, I offer–

Five reasons why you might want to apply to be a Cybils judge in elementary/middle grade speculative fiction!

1. The books are really really good this year. (I say this every year, and every year it is true, but this year they are perhaps even really, really, really good).

2. It makes fall a lot more fun when you are a first round panelist. I love the excitement of the nomination period, the fun of marking books read in the spreadsheet, the wild placing of library holds  and the arrival of review copies (mostly digital these days, but some still physical). I love having a forum in which I can honestly share with no holding back what I really think about books; it is very companionable.

3. You will find new authors to love, and you will become extremely knowledgeable about the middle grade spec. fic. books of the past year.

4. You will make new friends and quite possibly be inspired to review more.

5. As the category organizer, assembling the panels is part of my job, so this reason why you should apply is somewhat selfish. I want lots and lots of people to apply so that I can have new participants along with reliable veterans, and so that the panels can have lots of different view points represented. I take up one of the seven available slots in the first round because I’m the Lead Reader, but that still leaves six, and five more for the second round….

If you still have doubts, let me reassure you that it is less work than you might think!

There will probably be around 120 books nominated in EMG Spec Fic. This might seem like a lot of books to read, but remember, you’ll probably have read a fair number of them already (if you haven’t, you must not like MG spec fic, so you wouldn’t be applying). Also each book only Has to be read by 2 panelists, and since I plan to read all the books, that takes pressure off of others. And also if it is clear to you before finishing a book that you could not support it being shortlisted, you don’t have to finish it but can still mark it as read.

Though the nominating period ends October 15, you can start reading just as soon as you get the invitation email from me in mid September, giving you three and half months for reading (the shortlists must be assembled by the end of December). On the other hand, if you are having a baby, starting a new job, planning on spending the month of December snowbound with no internet access, or moving house this fall, the second round might be a better fit for you!

Things that I look for when gathering panelists:

Obviously, I really want people who know and love EMG Spec Fic; this is the most important thing to demonstrate when you apply! (Do not include a link to a review in which you say “I don’t really like middle grade fiction, but I liked this book” or some such, which really has happened a few times in the past). I want a mix of parents, educators, librarians, and authors. I want a range of viewpoints; I’d love diverse panelists. . And I want panelists who are able to think clearly and critically about what makes for a good mg spec fic book and who are willing to enjoy sharing their opinions.

So here’s the link to the application page on the Cybils website. Please apply! (you get to put three categories you’re interested in, ranked…you could put EMG spec fic for all three if you wanted.  Nb–picture books are the most popular first pick; graphic novels and High School non-fiction always would welcome more applicants.  EMG spec fic is somewhere in the middle….

If you are on the fence about applying, please feel free to email me at charlotteslibrary at gmail.com with any questions or concerns.

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