I am fortunate to be continuing my participation with CYBILS this year again--this is my tenth cycle this year! I cannot believe it. I am currently in my second year serving as President, and with everything 2020, we had some tough decisions. We made the decision over the summer to reduce the number of categories by pausing or combining some to ease the amount of participants as well as to help publishers and participants needing access to books. It was a tough decision, but we felt it was the best decision we could make for the health of CYBILS.
This year along with this role, I am also serving as Nonfiction Chair. Nonfiction is one of the categories we decided to combine into one category. So as Chair, my amazing group of participants will be reviewing nonfiction books of all ages, with the goal of building three shortlists in Round 1 then Round 2 will take over with picking three overall winners: one each from elementary, middle grade, and high school.
This will be the first post in a series of reviews I will be posting to collate my thoughts on books as I look at them with the two key components in mind: literary quality and age appeal our two criteria of CYBILS. I will of course not be referencing whether I think the book should be considered for the shortlist for the age group (I am a Round 2 judge anyway) or if I would rate this high on my overall winner probability list.
By Kate Messener
CYBILS Category: Elementary Nonfiction
This is an engaging look at our nation's presidential past and how each president has started where our students' have: as regular people growing up much like our students are doing. Messener starts at the beginning with George Washington and walks us through four snapshots in our country's history and sees where each of our presidents were in their own lives during these timestamps. Some are children, growing up on their family's farm while others are in law school, or some are even adults earning a living. Interspersed between these snapshots is different presidential snapshots, highlighting one specific president in a two page spreads, giving a more detailed look into the lives of presidents of Andrew Jackson, Abraham Lincoln, unusual presidential pets, and Theodore Roosevelt.
Throughout the book, Rex's illustrations link the presidents together with a rope/link like image that traces us through the book, guiding the reader through to each president. For having to represent real men, Rex's illustrations capture the essence of these men (and at the back of the book Hilary Clinton's) portrayal authentically that children (and adults) will recognize these historically significant people. I also appreciate the diversity of the children represented in the front and back of the book and also the spread with the inclusion of slaves do not feature have them smiling in the background as Messener's text does not fail to mention our presidents enslaved people on their plantations.
Overall, this was a fascinating and brief look at forty five people who shaped the direction of our country. I the back matter information about what the Constitution says about who is eligible about becoming president, presidential birthplaces, recommended presidential reads as well as the author's bibliography as all of these are important to high quality nonfiction works.
The Secret Garden of George Washington Carver
By Gene Barretta
CYBILS Category: Elementary Nonfiction
This is a short biography about environmentalist and educator George Washington Carver. Carver was a Black boy right at the cusp of the slavery being outlawed in the United States, but still had to fight against segregation laws and a country that still did not value his life. What Carver grew up to appreciate was nature and sharing his knowledge with others. Barretta shares with us Carver's unquenchable thirst for knowledge and his understanding of nature, and it is brought to life by the gorgeous illustrations done by Frank Morrison.
This book covers snippets of information about him leaving home at twelve to pursue education, not being allowed to attend the first school he was accepted at because he was Black, earning his degree Iowa Agricultural College, then being hired by Booker T. Washington at the Tuskegee Institute and so forth. The garden is the main focus of the book, with the rest of Carver's life briefly mentioned in smaller vignettes afterward letting younger readers know how Carver did end up to speak in front of Congress (the book's opening).
I appreciate the timeline given in the back of the book so readers could see how everything mentioned ties together and they can see how long it took Carver to leave his secret garden to get his education to address Congress.