Tuesday, January 20, 2015

2015 Mock Newbery discussions at Emerson, part 1: Blossoming Universe of Violet Diamond + Brown Girl Dreaming

Our 4th and 5th graders are buzzing with excitement from our Mock Newbery discussion and voting. We have been reading and reading, sharing books and ideas, trying to figure out what makes a book truly distinguished. This past week, we've had two lunchtime book club meetings for our final discussions and voting. Just look at our turnout!
2015 Mock Newbery discussion at Emerson School
Over the next several days, I will try to share my students' thoughts on our books. Each student has tried to read at least five books from our nominated books (see here for more about our process), and all were working hard to compare very different books with each other. I want other librarians, parents and kids to be able to hear some of their comments.

There is no way that our small group could read all the books that the Newbery Committee will be discussing. I wanted a representative sample that fell within our 4th and 5th grader's range. This year, I also wanted to give the students more responsibility and voice in nominating books to consider.

I think I've inspired new admiration from our group about just what the Newbery Committee must do -- from the amount of reading to the hard, hard decisions. I will discuss each book, simply in alphabetical order. Here are the posts on our Mock Newbery:
Part 1 -- The Blossoming Universe of Violet Diamond + Brown Girl Dreaming
Part 2 -- The Crossover + Dash + The Fourteenth Goldfish
Part 3 -- The Great Greene Heist + Half a Chance + The Life of Zarf
Part 4 -- Magic in the Mix + Nest + The Night Gardener
Part 5 -- Nuts to You + The Red Pencil + Snicker of Magic
Part 6 -- The Swap + Witch's Boy + Zoo at the Edge of the World
Part 7 -- OUR WINNER!!!
Our book club actually start last spring, much like the Newbery Committee does, excitedly reading new releases. One of the first books that quickly grabbed readers and rose to the top was The Blossoming Universe of Violet Diamond.
The Blossoming Universe of Violet Diamond
by Brenda Woods
Nancy Paulsen / Penguin, 2014
Your local library
ages 9-12
Emerson's fourth and fifth graders were drawn to the way that Violet Diamond slowly builds a relationship with her grandmother, and how she discovered more about herself, her family and her identity in the process. Violet is biracial, like many of our students; but she never knew her African American father because he was killed in an automobile crash before she was born.
making notes for the Mock Newbery discussion
It was interesting that the students who really liked this book didn't speak up much about it. Perhaps it's because they read this in the beginning of the year. Or perhaps it's because it appealed to quieter readers. I just know that it stayed with my students, persisting to our final round of voting.

Brown Girl Dreaming was another book that probed identity, family and self-discovery -- but this book drew a much more vocal reaction from my students.
Brown Girl Dreaming
by Jacqueline Woodson
Nancy Paulsen / Penguin, 2014
2014 National Book Award winner
my full review
Your local library
ages 10-14
Woodson weaves together the story of her childhood, built from her family's memories as well as her own. She writes her memoir in verse, capturing the episodic, sensory-rich feeling of memories. As we talked about characters, Kaiyah spoke up, saying how well she got to know the characters in Brown Girl Dreaming from the dialog.
"In the first chapter, you can really understand what the dad was like and the mom, and the conflict between the two, because of how they wanted to name their daughter and how they talked." 
Other students agreed, saying how they got to know a wide range of characters, not just Jackie. Her brother and sister, her grandparents, her mother were all really well developed and distinct, showing you what different family members were thinking and feeling.

Moreover, my students commented how much they could connect to Jackie. Elani and Josselin said, "It's like we are actually in the book." Angel elaborated, explaining:
"Jacqueline Woodson described her own experiences so well that I knew how she felt, and I have experienced some of the same things, so I felt like she would understand how I feel."
Kaiyah and Angel also noted how well Brown Girl Dreaming captured the different settings, from rural South Carolina to urban New York City. Small interior images also stayed with our readers, like when Woodson's baby brother was eating paint chips from the wall.

I was impressed how articulate and passionate our Brown Girl Dreaming readers were. While this isn't necessarily a book for a wide audience within a classroom, it goes deep for the readers it touches, staying with them for a long time.

The review copies were kindly sent by the publisher Nancy Paulsen and Penguin Books for Young Readers, and we have purchased additional copies for our school library. If you make a purchase using the Amazon links on this site, a small portion goes to Great Kid Books. Thank you for your support.

©2015 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

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