Wednesday, November 7, 2012

A Day in the Life of a Cybils Judge

What one trip to the library now looks like
We’re about halfway through Cybils season, so I thought I’d share a little bit what life is like on the inside.

First: I read. I read all the damn time. My average is a book a day, with two books on Saturday (and, if I’m really feeling like a superhero, Sunday). Although we’re allowed to stop after fifty pages if we don’t think the book meets the award’s levels, generally I end up reading the whole thing—stopping a book without finishing just gives me the willies.

Despite feeling like my eyeballs are going to go on strike, I’m loving reading all these books. Most of what I’ve read in YA has been science-fiction/fantasy, so it’s been great to read so much straightforward fiction. And it’s especially wonderful to pick something up and it just sings—beautifully written, powerful, smart, funny, honest. As a writer, it’s been a humbling and inspiring experience.

Some things that I’ve noticed that have surprised me: a lot of boy main characters, way more than I expected. I’ve always heard that boys are underrepresented in YA, but you wouldn’t think that looking at what I’ve read. There’s a slight advantage to the girls, but it’s almost split right down the middle boys vs. girls (several male-female dual narrators as well). Also, not a lot of historical fiction! The vast majority seems to be contemporary and set in the US, which, I admit, makes this former history major a little sad.  

It’s been wonderful discussing books with my fellow judges, too. Because we come from a range of backgrounds—librarians, teachers, writers—we all seem to be looking for different things in the books. For some of us, kid appeal is really important, for others, we’re focused on literary merit or readability.

And a lot of the books hit a range. Some are clearly beautifully written, but so slowly paced that they would have a hard time appealing to teen readers. Others are funny or real or speak to kids in their own language but have plot holes or believability issues. When trying to figure out a book’s merit, it’s been so helpful (and really freaking cool) to hear my fellow judges’ smart opinions (also: their pitches for TV shows. WHERE ARE OUR TV DEVELOPMENT CONTRACTS?!?).

But the biggest thing has been the reading. I read when I wake up. I read while waiting to hear back on emails. I read while exercising (thanks, Nook!). I read before bed. I’ve been to the library so many times they know me as “that girl who requests six books at a time and swept the ‘New YA Releases’ shelf into her backpack.” The most exciting thing to happen to me today was that I got an email saying that all my holds are ready for pick up! Cybils judging—the glamorous life.

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