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February 17, 2012

Poetry Friday--And the Winner Is...

This past Tuesday the winners of the 2011 Cybils: Children's and Young Adult Bloggers' Literary Awards were announced on the Cybils site.

Congratulations to all the winners!

I was extremely fortunate to be a judge of the 2011 award for poetry, Requiem: Poems of the Terezin Ghetto by Paul B. Janeczko. Working with four others, and our mediator, we read and reread the finalists, had lots of online discussion, and came to a well thought out conclusion--Requiem was a book worthy of the prize.

Considering that the six finalists ran the gamut from the humorous treatment of everyday items, such as a toothbrush, to the portrayal of the hatred and despair experienced during the holocaust, and, that the intended audiences ranged from kindergarten to teen, how did the committee decide upon a winner?

I'm glad you asked. We devised a system whereby we judged each book on its own according to certain criteria, these being "kid appeal," originality, musicality, technical skill, and total package.

Kid appeal is obvious. Does the book appeal to its intended audience, as opposed to its appeal being primarily to the adult gatekeepers--teachers, librarians, parents, critics?

Originality, too, is obvious.

Musicality? We decided to look at the language used by the poet. How did it sound to the ear? Was the word choice ordinary or unexpected? This can be rather subjective!

Technical skill had to do with things like line breaks, rhyme, form, and other mechanics of poetry.

Finally, we looked at the total package. Since these books are intended for children, they were illustrated. Did the illustrations add to or detract from the poetry? Were they appealing? Was there enough white space? Too much clutter? Problems with the design? Etc.

It's funny, but none of the criteria listed above had to do with how the poems made the reader feel, and yet, after all the finalists had been studied and judged, it was how the winner affected us that became the deciding factor. Here's how the committee described the winner:
"I am a watcher/sitting with those about to die." These are the words of Elisha Schorr/25565 as imagined by poet Paul Janeczko. In Requiem: Poems of the Terezin Ghetto, we all become watchers, viewing snapshots of the Holocaust, one after the other, each one deepening the grief and raising questions to which there are no answers.

We watch, but we also hear the story of Terezin, voice by voice, insistent and haunting, so that the effect by the end of the collection is almost choral. For each song of despair, there is a concordant and essential song of anger, tenderness or resignation; like a recurring melodic theme, the voice of one child appears and fades and appears again. We hear the violin of one victim playing "as only the heartbroken can play."

Cybils committee members agreed early in the deliberations that this slim volume of poems was a strong contender for the prize, with words like "stunning" and "haunting" coming up repeatedly in our conversation. Ultimately, the voices Janeczko created could not be forgotten.
I could share one of the poems from Requiem, but I'd rather you take a look at the book as a whole. Its illustrations taken from the sketches of the artists who lived in the ghetto, the choice of font, the choice of titles, the layout and design, and the poems themselves--titled with the names of the narrators (and in some cases, their "numbers"), interspersed with snippets of poems set in italics--make for a well-conceived, total package. And I doubt you will be left unmoved...

Myra will be hosting the Poetry Friday Round-Up at Gathering Books. Stop by!


  1. I just checked our community library, we have a copy of Requiem! I hope to read this soon. :)

  2. I can't imagine what a difficult job that must have been. I look forward to reading Requiem.

  3. What an honor to have been chosen for the panel, and what a task! I had blogged about this volume http://tmsteach.blogspot.com/search?q=terezin a while back - so powerful. This award was well deserved!

  4. It is a lovely addition to Holocaust literature. When I've studied this in class, it was good to have many kinds of stories to share with students, and I can see this as one more poignant way that the stories are captured. Thank you for also sharing the process by which the committee chose-interesting.

  5. I'm so anxious to see this book. I know how difficult it is to pick a winner. Thanks to you and the other Final Round Judges as well as the First Round Panelists for all your time and hard work.

  6. Thanks for this post! I followed along with the Cybils this year, mainly in the picture book fiction and non-ficiton categories. One of the most interesting things for me was to think about what makes a book "award-worthy" vs. just being a book I like. I love hearing about your experience as a judge.

  7. Thanks everyone. I think it is important to know how a group goes about its work. Every one is different. And every person within the group views the same piece of work in an entirely different manner. That's what makes life so interesting!

  8. Thanks for bringing our process out into public. It was an honor to work with you!

  9. Thanks Mary Lee, it was great working with you, too, and all the rest of judges. Wasn't that an interesting exercise!

  10. As a first round panelist, I loved hearing how the second round panel worked together to arrive at this excellent choice. Thank you for sharing your process with us. Judging is scary! Happy PF weekend! a.

  11. I'm adding this one to my wish list. Thank you for explaining how you evaluated the books.

  12. It was so nice to get a glimpse of the process for judging this category. Thanks for letting us in!