Saturday, February 13, 2016

My first time as a #Cybils judge: Part I-The Experience

I should really state that this is Guinevere's(that's me!) experience as a judge for the Cybils.

Libertad and I both had the pleasure of hosting as judge, in two separate catergories, Libby in Middle Grade Contemporary, myself in Middle Grade Speculative Fiction respectively.

Was it difficult getting books to review and judge? I already review books all the time, so I assumed it would be easy. It totally wasn't! But for more reasons than one.

I've loved and participated in the blogger conference KidLitCon two years in a row. I've been to other cons, but I don't think I have more fun than when I'm at that con. I already know regulars like Charlotte from Charlotte's Library, as well as Sheila from Wands and Worlds.

I don't always know every face. But once I open up, I always enjoy it.

Libby and I were asked to apply as judges, and we jumped at the chance to. Unfortunately, since someone nominated our first YA release in the YA Speculative Fiction category, I couldn't judge in a category I was in. 

We've ventured into NA and Adult Romance over the past few weeks, but we're still very much invested in YA. It's where most people know us. And now that we've written and are about to release an Afro-Latinx character in NA, we're deciding to stop hiding behind the fear of people not connecting with Afro-Latinx as Black main characters, and will definitely release a few YA depicting Afro-Latin@s.

Needless to say, we're still YA all the way.

But I've ventured into Middle Grade more with the topic of inclusivity in books. To be clear, Middle Grade(MG) is typically intended for ages 10-14. There is a very fine line between MG and YA, as there is with YA and NA.

I've noticed tone is often the answer when the ages blur into more than one category. 

So I was still excited about becoming a judge in the Middle Grade Speculative Fiction category. I was picked as a round two judge, which required a lot of patient. 

And then with the new year we started...

And then I felt a little hopeless.

 There were a ton of amazing books that made it to the final round. I read them, saw why they'd made it this far, I couldn't argue with their quality.

I was just surprised. Very few books with children who weren't white made it to my round. I guess I shouldn't have been. More books depicting white children, by white authors get published more. It's not common for a ton of books with children of color, or Native ancestry to make it very far. 

I saw how major book awards(like ALA) were criticizing books by authors of color being the majority over the books meant for "all children".  Books depicting Black pain, or children of color in the worst of situations tend to go further from my own personal research on matters like this.

I didn't know how to feel about the books I had to judge. I didn't know how to be honest that, while I recognized why most of them made it this far, why I didn't connect to more than two. There were articles on top of articles depicting that major book awards for children/MG/YA books were sacrificing "quality" for "diversity". I read the comments(oh lawd). I'm only human. I couldn't help but feel less of a person based on the back and forth on why books by authors of color or Native folk are only allowed to have "one" with no fight, alongside the bagillion white books every year that get picked with no argument.

I was afraid I was sacrificing "diversity" for "quality". These books were handpicked. Chosen, out of dozens, maybe even one hundred books. It must be me. There must've been something wrong with me. These books are worthy. But I couldn't help that I didn't quite connect to much of them.

I asked cousins who the ages these books were intended for. Some read them, some merely looked at the covers and said(I'm paraphrasing here) "They're good books, but they're not really for us." I wondered, did they just mean them, as preteens? Or did they mean children and readers who weren't white. My cousins have short attention spans, so I never followed up.

My sister and I have been blogging about diversity ever since we started blogging. It's not to say I will not read books without inclusivity in them. But I can't say I'll connect to them either. It isn't to say I connect to all books that include inclusivity either.

But the fear of being honest. I don't think people know how hard it is to challenge the status quo. To be on the outside, when you're already there, just to get pushed further back if you say the wrong thing, do the wrong thing, challenge the wrong thing.

 Even now, the idea of admitting books that are intended as universal books because their main characters are white and don't have to mention inconveniences like race is really hard. I don't want people to throw me a pity party for feeling different, because I already am. I don't have strong outlets that highlight my own identity as a Black person who is Latinx. I feel like I'm finally embracing inclusivity the way I should have always been, but it's a journey I'm not sure will ever end.

I would wholeheartedly be a judge for the Cybils, or any other place that honors the greatness in children's, MG, YA books, because I want to be there. It's not easy being there. But if I'm not there, who is going to represent me?

(It's going to take me a second to type up my reviews, but that'll take place in Part II-Reviews)


  1. Hey, Guinevere, thanks so much for posting this honest and open assessment. I'm sorry that you had a rough time, and I'm sorry that not many diverse books made it through to the second round. I don't know many of the books that were nominated in the Elementary/Middle-Grade Speculative Fiction category this year to know how many diverse books there were to choose from, and how the quality of them compared to the others. I know that choosing the finalists is a difficult thing - trying to get 7 people with different interests and values and worldviews to agree on 5-7 books is really, really hard. I know that we want to continue to try to do better each year, and to find and award those books that will appeal to children of color and other children who don't see themselves in very many books.

    I'm disappointed to hear that you didn't feel comfortable speaking out, although I can totally understand how difficult it is to challenge the status quo. I can only say for myself, that when I suggested you apply to be a judge, I suggested it because I felt that both of you had valuable perspective and insight that I think would bring a lot to the Cybils. I hope that now you have a year behind you and know more what to expect and know some of the people involved, you'll both consider applying again next year and feel more comfortable speaking out to help make a difference, and to continue to push us towards greater diversity. If you think you can handle the high number of books that need to be read in Round 1, you might want to consider applying for Round 1 next year, where you can have a say in what books make it through to the second round.

  2. Quote:
    "It's not easy being there. But if I'm not there, who is going to represent me?"
    Love the quote Guin. And you made yourself very clear. Hang on, I'm sure it will make a difference in the long run!

  3. I needed to hear this perspective! Thank you Guinevere!

  4. p.s. I judged Round 2 Graphic Novels this year. All the main characters in the finalists of the Middle Grade section are white. But one of the books, Secret Coders, has a cool black kid in it, and another one, Dragons Beware, has an awesome black man who is a protector. That's about it for People of Color though! The YA graphic novel finalists had a lot more POC in them.

  5. I'm here for every ya convo and will always say that books taste better if they feature a diverse pov. However, you are super awesome and that's why you were asked to judge. I was a YA spec fic judge and the one book that was all POC all the way didn't merit a win and that was difficult. But look how sexy you are and that's all that matters. Plus we keep the conversation going.

  6. Thank you for sharing! This was my second year as a round one judge, and it's hard to sum up in this short space. I felt badly about the diversity of this list, too - we did look at more diverse titles, and couldn't agree on them, for plot or character development reasons, not the diversity. It is really frustrating, especially when diversity isn't one of the official criteria.


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