Wednesday, January 29, 2020

Sibert Smackdown Wrap Up

2019 was an incredible year for children’s nonfiction. Maybe even the best yet. 

There were so many wonderful titles, including some that stretched our thinking about what nonfiction is and what it might be come in the future. 

The amazing abundance of riches made it so, so, SO difficult to select just 10 nonfiction picture books for the #SibertSmackdown. But here are the titles I ended up recommending:

On Monday morning, I was glued to my computer screen, watching the livestream of the ALA Youth Media Awards. I couldn’t wait to see which books actually won the Sibert (and all the other awards too). 

This year the Sibert committee chose some very odd titles, especially when it comes to picture books. While Hey, Water technically qualifies because it's informational fiction, Fry Bread is fiction pure and simple. I wish the committee had selected some of the wonderful nonfiction picture books published in 2019. Their choices are undoubtedly confusing to students who participated in Mock Sibert activities.

And there were a lot of them. Here are some inspiring photos of students around the country participating in the Sibert Smackdown to build excitement for the award. 

As always, schools could use my list of recommended titles or they could develop their own. This year, I was delighted with the variety. I was also impressed with all the creative ways teachers and students evaluated and celebrated the books. Here are some of the highlights.

Reading the books:

Discussing and debating:

Choosing a favorite:

Sharing books with the world:

Check out these Flipgrid videos created by fourth graders in Upstate New York. It’s so interesting to hear their thoughts about the books.

At this point, 2020 has just barely begun, but it already looks like it’s going to be another fact-tastic year for children’s nonfiction.

Happy Reading, Everyone!


  1. Yes I agree Fry Bread is fiction, that was my first reaction when I heard it won the Sibert Award.

    1. Lydia, me too! I had read Fry Bread to some of my classes to prepare for the school wide Mock Caldecott we do and I was questioning myself when they announced the Sibert winners. I was there at ALA and while sitting in the audience I thought this was an unusual pick.

  2. I am glad I'm not the only one with that thought! I love the book, but non-fiction? Every library in my system has it catalogued as fiction. The title states family story, and there's back matter, but... I remember when Jacqueline Woodson's Show Way was published. That's a family story as well, but because names were lost to history and not everything could be verified, she said that as well as her own memoir, Brown Girl Dreaming needed to be catalogued as fiction.


  3. I find Fry Bread to be full of personal and cultural history. Why do you consider it fiction? I believe that this is how the author's family makes fry bread and that it is a tradition carefully passed down - nothing fictive about it. Are we seeing something different in the text?

    1. Both the LOC and the publisher classify the book as fiction, which indicates to me that the author also thinks of it as fiction.

      To me, the narrator is made up and the characters in the art are made up, so it's a made up story based, in part, on the author's memories. Yes, there is a nugget of truth and yes the author did conduct research, but the same could be said for nearly all fiction.

      I guess it really comes down to how the committee defines "information book." The creators of this award were trying to honor nonfiction, which is rarely recognized by the Newbery and Sibert committees. They used the word "information" so that folktales would be excluded, but it seems like their intent has been lost over time. This year, nearly all the Sibert choices are outliers, which is disappointing to those of us who love nonfiction and are excited by all the wonderful nonfiction titles being published today.