Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Behind the Books: Reflecting on the Sibert

One of the reasons the ALA Youth Media Awards are so exciting is because there are almost always some surprises. This year was no different.

I went into the awards pretty darn confident that Some Writer! by Melissa Sweet would win the Sibert, and I was really hoping that at least one of these three favorites would receive an honor:

Giant Squid by Candace Fleming

Animals by the Numbers by Steve Jenkins

Coyote Moon by Maria Gianferrari

When Giant Squid received an honor, I was delighted. I wasn’t surprised that Sachiko by Caren Stelson also received an honor. Although it wasn’t one of my personal favorites, it was on Alyson Beecher’s list, and she’s usually right.

But the other two honor titles were big surprises to me. I consider Uprooted by Albert Marrin a YA title, and though I thought We Will Not Be Silent by Russell Freedman was well done, it didn’t rise to the top for me. What can I say? My heart is always with the science books.

Still, in the moments before they announced the winner, I remained confident about Some Writer! But then came perhaps the biggest surprise of all—March: Book Three by John Lewis and Andrew Aydin won its fourth award of the day.

There’s no doubt that it’s an important book, especially now. But to me it’s 100 percent YA. Also, I'm not so sure it's nonfiction. While it is clearly based on John Lewis's life, there's no indication that every single fact and bit of dialog has been verified. I'd call it historical fiction, but obviously, the Sibert committee sees things differently.

I wonder if the same book has ever won the Sibert and the YALSA Excellence in Nonfiction Award before. Not that I can recall. I also wonder if the same book has ever won the Printz and the YALSA Excellence in Nonfiction Award. One thing’s for sure, the cover of March: Book Three will soon feature a whole lotta shiny stickers.

One last note, although I’m not surprised that science books didn’t fare well at the Youth Media Awards (It seems like they never do.), I want to assure you that there are plenty of wonderful STEM books being published for kids. You can find many of them on the Best of 2016 Nonfiction Lists featured here.


  1. Melissa, I would love to point out to your readers that SOME WRITER! won NCTE's 2017 Orbis Pictus Award for Outstanding Nonfiction for Children (K-8). ANIMALS BY THE NUMBER and GIANT SQUID were Honor Books.

    From my perspective, graphic novels can do anything they want, but graphic nonfiction has to be true to the other expectations of nonfiction, from verifiable facts to no invented information/dialogue. For an example of graphic nonfiction that cites the few lines of dialogue to specific sources, I point your readers to Don Brown's DROWNED CITY, the 2016 Orbis Pictus Award winner. The MARCH trilogy is powerful and important, and should be required reading for everyone in America. But I agree with the designation of historical fiction, because of the dialogue.

    For the full list of Orbis Pictus awards from 1990-2017:

  2. Yes, Drowned City is a good comparison. I saw Mr. Brown do a presentation on that book and he discussed how every single bit of dialog was authentic. They came from interviews with people who experienced the tragedy.

    Thanks for mentioning the Orbis Pictus list. It's one of the lists included in the Best Nonfiction of 2017 link above.

  3. Thank you so much for the shout out for Coyote Moon, Melissa!! You have been so supportive, and I really appreciate that.

    The Orbus Pictus definitely seems friendlier to STEM-oriented books in the honor & recommended categories than the Sibert. However, I just reviewed the winners, and there has only been 1 STEM winner since its inception, Quest for the Tree Kangaroo by Sy Montgomery in 2007.

    Perhaps there should be a separate awards category for STEM books? I love nonfiction in general, but I am partial to science and nature books, and would love to see them get more recognition too.

    Thanks for all you do, Melissa, to showcase science-y books :)

    1. Hi Maria,
      The Bank Street College of Education does offer the Cook Prize for Best STEM Picture Book, so these titles aren't forgotten altogether. But the ALA awards seem to get the most attention, which means schools and libraries are more likely to purchase them and they are more likely to end up in the hands of enthusiastic young readers.

  4. And I too was shocked that Some Writer didn't receive any major recognition, either as a Sibert or Newbery honor.

  5. Melissa--I just discovered that Coyote Moon was selected as a 2017 ALA Notable Children's Book!! I am thrilled beyond belief!!

    Some Writer was also listed, as were some of your other STEM favorites, Animals By the #s, Ada Twist, Ada Lovelace, and another I loved, The Tragic Tale of the Great Auk.

    Here's the list:

  6. In 2013, Steve Sheinkin's BOMB won both the Sibert Medal and the YALSA Excellence in Nonfiction Award. MOONBIRD by Phillip Hoose and TITANIC: VOICES FROM THE DISASTER by Deborah Hopkinson were also finalists for both awards in that year.

    I know that the awards do have an overlap in that the Sibert is for ages birth to 14 and the YALSA NF Award is for ages 12-18. I sometimes find this frustrating (as an editor who focuses on nonfiction), because some years it seems like picture books go nearly unrecognized--and there really are so many excellent picture books being published every year.