Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Who Will Win the Newbery Medal? Kids in Berkeley build excitement & community around books

I'm so excited that kids in Berkeley have loved joining our Mock Newbery book clubs. We've started one in every elementary school in Berkeley, with 50 kids are joining at each school. That means we've got close to 500 kids reading the best books published this year, building community and spreading book buzz!

In their special issue leading up to the ALA Awards, Publishers Weekly (PDF version here) highlighted three mock Newbery programs across the US. They wrote about how this award, like the Grammys and Oscars, makes headlines and creates bestsellers -- and how our students are "in the thick of it," predicting and analyzing potential winners. I just love the way that Shannon Maughan captured the essence of our project.

Our project, like many others, was inspired by Heavy Medal and other mock Newbery book clubs that librarians hold with each other. We want to share this experience with our kids, and as teachers and librarians, we bring special attention to the impact this has on young readers. As I told Maughan,
“It’s exciting to talk about the best books of the year... We wanted to target all readers—especially readers of color—to let them know that their voices matter and their opinions about books matter. We wanted them to know that adults in their lives are listening to them. It’s not just ‘Which book did you like best?’ but we go deeper and explore bigger ideas in our discussions.”
Berkeley students record their ideas for their mock Newbery
It has been amazing to watch the response at each elementary in Berkeley. Kids love getting to choose to join a book club, getting to choose which of the nominated books to read. Parents are telling principals that their kids are reading more than ever. Librarians are noticing that these great books are circulating even more than popular mainstays like the Wimpy Kid. Even the principals across the district have formed their own book club, reading these books and sharing their thoughts with each other.

Maughan noticed four important elements that each mock Newbery project leader talked about:
  • Collaboration -- Every mock Newbery leader talked about partnerships within their schools and communities that help them launch these programs. Collaborators help figure out how to purchase enough books, help lead meetings, and help talk about which books to put on the final list.
  • Social Media -- Teachers and librarians across the country are using social media to talk about books, whether it's through Goodreads, the #nerdybookclub, Twitter talks or NerdCamps. This has been a huge support to me.
  • Inclusiveness -- Mock Newbery programs are especially powerful when they reach out to all students, especially those who are not yet confident readers. Spreading "book buzz" creates excitement for all readers, and this engagement is a huge piece of increasing students' reading abilities and enjoyment.
  • Early Planning -- All of us start the year promoting our mock Newbery book clubs. This helps build excitement, and it enables kids to read enough books so that they're familiar with the best of the year by the time the January Newbery announcements come out.
The excitement is already building in Berkeley. Some kids are passionate about one book, and are trying to persuade their friends that it's absolutely the best. Others are making connections between books in wonderful ways. Just look at the joy and excitement in this poster, where students shared their thoughts about The Girl Who Drank the Moon:
"Best book ever!! PS: I want to drink the moon too!"
I am so honored to share teaching ideas with my cross-country colleagues Cathy Potter and Jason Lewis, plus many many others who inspire us. I love the way Jason sums up the reaction of his kids last year to the announcement of the Newbery Award:
“When they announced books that the kids knew, the excitement was unbelievable. To see the expressions on their faces—it was perfect. It just makes everything you’re doing worthwhile.”
I want to honor and thank Berkeley's terrific district library coordinator, Becca Todd. We have had so much fun creating this project together. I am so grateful that Armin Arethna, Berkeley Public Library children's librarian, has been my teammate all through this project. And most of all, I want to honor and thank all of the librarians, literacy coaches, teachers and principals who have helped spread this book buzz throughout the kids of Berkeley.

©2017 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

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