Cybils is almost over. I am a panelist in the Graphic Novels division, and we decided on the finalists last night. Five young adult and five middle grade/elementary titles, chosen from the 83 eligible nominees. It was not an easy decision. (Let's not even talk about the fact the other panelists now know what an opinionated witch I am.)
"Graphic Novels" is a bit of a misnomer. We weren't limited to novels at all. We read nonfiction, including memoirs, biographies, and histories. We read anthologies of short stories and collected vignettes. The graphic novels ranged in genre from fantasy and science fiction to romantic comedy to war stories. There was definitely something for everyone nominated, but would there be something for everyone on the short list? And, well, one section covering elementary through middle grade is quite a lot. We wanted our list to have something to interest first graders and eighth graders.
To make our job even harder, the bookish community nominated an incredible selection of books. Some books were bright and bold, others were staggeringly beautiful. I want to tear out some pages and hang them on my wall, if only that wouldn't ruin the books. Many offered intriguing, unusual perspectives. They did things you could only do in comics, the art and text inseparable. Not all of the books were set in the US. Characters were Hispanic, Asian, white, black, disabled, gay, skinny, pudgy, tall, short. The books that stuck out like sore thumbs were the ones where everyone looked alike or there were no female characters. We needed a shortlist that represent the best of everything the long list had to offer. And believe me: the long list was not short on virtues.
Some of the books were easy to choose. Others were more difficult. Some books I loved aren't on the final list. But that's true of every single one of the Graphic Novels panelists. We had a wealth of strong contenders that battled to the finish. I was afraid blood might be drawn in the chatroom as we fought for our favorites.
And there were surprises! One book I thought was a shoo-in didn't make it. One book I found very affecting, but thought would be a hard sell, had several champions. I wasn't the only one who wanted it on the list!
I do not envy the judges. Our decision was difficult, but at least we had five slots in each category. They will be faced with the heavyweights and asked to be decided on one. (Two total.) They too will have to compare romantic comedy to memoir to history to myth. It's a battle of crisp, sweet apples against juicy, tangy oranges.
I highly recommend that when the Cybils end, you look beyond the winners. Check out the shortlists in your favorite divisions. I can guarantee for Graphic Novels that there are no lesser choices padding out an obvious winner. All ten books are special. And I'd even recommend checking out the nominees because there were many strong books that didn't make the cut. Everyone of us wanted more spots so that we could showcase every book that deserved it.
How do you make a shortlist? You decide on the best of the best of the best and sadly say goodbye to the best of the best.