And the winner is…

“April is the cruelest month” ~ TS Eliot

I happen to think Eliot is wrong. March is the cruelest month. It’s a long month. There are no holidays to celebrate. Nothing bright and cheery to break the monotony of the days. To add insult to injury, there’s daylight savings time. Just when I’m able to drive to school in bright sun, the time springs ahead, and I’m suddenly leaving for school with headlights blazing through the darkness. Moreover, the temperature is fickle. One day it’s 80 degrees, and the next? Snowing. I detest March.

And so I guess I shouldn’t be surprised to look at my blog calendar to see no blog posts for this month. If you look at my book tally for this month, I’ve fallen off significantly from January and February. As March winds down, I’m looking forward to the earth’s rebirth. And I’m looking forward to some reading rebirth.

My students are busily reading. The Knife of Never Letting Go was the Schmidt’s Pick for March, and the entire Chaos Walking trilogy flew off the shelf, and quite honestly, I’m not sure who has it. I just know there are a whole lot of students anxious to know what’s going to happen to Todd and Viola. One young man begged me for a fourth book in the series. I smiled. However, that’s completely up to Patrick Ness. Instead we quietly (so as not to give away the ending) discussed our feelings about the ending while waiting for the morning announcements to begin. He was still a bit despondent about the series being over but perked up a bit when I pointed him in the direction of The Maze Runner. However, I know how he feels. When I finished Chaos Walking, I felt like I had to say goodbye to Todd and Violet. I wasn’t ready to jump into my next book just yet. And so with March cruelty, I’m still searching for my April Pick.

My students have read over 2500 books since we started keeping track in mid-September. To say I’m proud of them is an understatement. And the amount of books read got me thinking. My seventh graders just completed a persuasive essay assignment, which required them, among other things, to research the Newbery Award. My young scholars, I can say, are experts on the Newbery Award, and as a result, they were able to judge whether Mildred Taylor’s 1977 Newbery Award winner, Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry, should have won the award or not. As they were writing their opinion, providing reasons for their opinion, and choosing support from the novel, they realized something very important (and I thought rather mature). They didn’t like the book, but they felt the book deserved the award. And so I questioned them: “How can that be?” I asked. The students looked at me unsure how to answer. And I pushed further, “You didn’t like the book. If you didn’t like the book, why does it deserve the award?” And the students smiled at me, suddenly understanding how to answer my question. They very insightfully told me that the award wasn’t about popularity; it was about a set of criteria. And when they compared the book to the criteria, it deserved the award. And I stood beaming at them because they’ve grown so much as readers and writers this year – and it’s only March.

These discussions with my students became bright spots in gloomy March days. When I first developed my persuasive essay topic, I consulted with my librarian, who is an invaluable resource in my teaching. And it was her idea to extend the project to look at other book awards. And so today, the day the essays were due, I pitched the next part of this project. The final phase will end in June with what I hope will be a big celebration. Today, I asked what other book awards the students were familiar with. Some of the mentioned the Caldecott. Most stared blankly, hoping for an answer. A student timidly said, “New York Times Bestseller.” And thus began a discussion of best seller vs. award winner. And what I learned was that my students don’t know much about any awards other than the Newbery and Caldecott.

Next week, we’ll be headed to the library and computer lab to start researching book awards. By the time we finish our research (since I think research should have a purpose beyond term paper), the students will be able to apply and synthesize the knowledge gathered while researching, and we’ll be creating our own book award.

After the pitch, students excitedly started talking about a name, a medal, a book nomination process, and the voting. Their excitement was contagious. As I sat and listened to them talk, I thought of another layer to the process. Social media has helped me connect with my favorite authors. I know that a lot of YA writers are easily and willingly accessible to their fans (including my childhood/teen favorite Judy Blume). So I told the students that depending on the book chosen, we would send the author an email to let him/her know that he/she is the recipient of our book award. At the thought of this, their excitement was palpable. “Will the author respond or someone who works for the author?” one young cynic wanted to know. I told him I didn’t know. It depends on the author. Kids started to share what the announcement would look like. And as I glanced out the window, I think I saw the March doldrums being escorted away by students’ excitement.

Of course, I’ll keep you, gentle reader, posted on the book awards in the weeks to come.

Until next time… See YA!

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3 Responses to And the winner is…

  1. mardie says:

    I love the idea for your persuasive essay assignment. I’m just wondering if your students had to read all of the books that were nominated for the award. I’d love to do something similar as I’m just heading into our persuasive writing unit.

    • ya_reader says:

      We read Roll of Thunder as a whole class, and I wanted to make the persuasive writing unit relevant instead of test prep. So I asked the question, Does Roll of Thunder deserve the Newbery Award? My librarian put together a wiki for the assignment, which is pure brilliance! Then I asked the kids to research the award and interpret the criteria the committee uses to rank books. The kids also learned about the nomination process and honor books through their research. The final piece of phase one was to judge Roll of Thunder against the criteria.

      Now we’re onto phase two, finding out about other awards and developing our own.

      Once we get to phase three, nominations. I want the kids to read as many of the books the students nominate for their own award in order to make an informed vote. Of course, I don’t know how many books they will decide to nominate. One young man suggested that everyone in the class be required to nominate one book. So there’s 20+ books right there. I plan on giving them about 2 months to read their nominations, and then we’ll get to the voting process. I can’t wait to see how this turns out.

      Initially, I wanted them to read multiple Newbery books to make the decision, but after many conversations with my librarian, we decided that keeping this essay simple – focusing only on Roll of Thunder – would be best for the kids. As I conferenced with them throughout the process, I realized that it was good decision. They did a beautiful job with the persuasive essay – even drawing on information from the pre-reading webquest.

      • mardie says:

        Brilliant! I love this. It provides a relevant context for writing a persuasive piece. It encourages reading (I LOVE IT) and making informed judgements on the basis of predetermined criteria.
        Thank you, ya, for blogging about this.

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