I get excited about the American Library Association announcement of book awards at the end of January. I love to read through blogs and websites to find out which books my favorite reading gurus are guessing to be front-runners, then collect and read them all, come up with my own list, and eagerly wait for the announcements to be made. Most years I have cheered with, and for, the winners. In other, rare years, I’ve been surprised or even a little disappointed with the choices.
Sharing this excitement with the class is a great way to kick off January, renew excitement for books, and build literacy skills in a fun way. I’ve tried several different sequences to teach this mini-unit and have found that since it is such a short time frame, simple is best. And since this does not happen during my reading workshop—rather it is an add-on—each year is different, depending on the time I can find in the day to put toward this mini-study. Although my rollout varies year to year, I usually follow a framework like this:
Comb through blogs and websites for books considered front-runners. These are some of my favorites:
Mr. Schu Reads: http://mrschureads.blogspot.com
A Year of Reading: http://readingyear.blogspot.com/
Nerdy Book Club: https://nerdybookclub.wordpress.com/
School Library Journal: http://www.slj.com/
I also compare lists with my colleagues who are also researching. Once I have my list of 10-20 books, I get them from the local library or bookstore, or pull them from our class library and have them ready for the study. I’m always crossing my fingers that I have the winner and honor recipients in my stack!
Introduce the Caldecott and Geisel awards by sharing the seals and some information about the awards. The American Library Association website has a list of many awards, descriptions, and past winners—you can get as technical and involved as you want! Some facts that I try to cover each year for the Caldecott:
The Caldecott, to the illustrator of the most distinguished picture book of the previous year, was first presented in 1937.
The horse on the medal is an illustration from one of Randolph Caldecott’s books. (This is a question that always comes up!)
There is one winner each year (gold medal on the book).
There are several honor books (silver medal on the book) each year. There is no limit on the number of honor books that can be chosen.
The Caldecott is awarded to American illustrators only. The award actually goes to the illustrator, not the author.
Here is some information on the Geisel Award:
The Geisel is named after Theodore Geisel (Dr. Suess!).
It is awarded to the author and illustrator of the most distinguished American book for beginning readers published in English in the United States during the preceding year.
This is a newer award, first presented in 2006.
I read aloud the previous year’s Caldecott winner. Past winners can be found on the American Library Association website.
I read as many Caldecott (and Geisel) winners from past years as I have time for, and we talk about why each one may have won. I connect this discussion to our writing illustration study earlier in the year and encourage students to think about how the pictures help tell the story.
Although I don’t always have time to read very many, I’m always impressed with students’ interest in the award. They quickly start noticing the seal on books throughout the room, in the school library, and at home. We often put these found books on display in a featured bin of past Caldecott winters.
Read Potential Nominees
Once we’ve built some background knowledge for the award, I read aloud books that I’ve gathered from the library and/or bookstore that might be winners. I usually read one a day, adding each book to our feature cart. We discuss which books might win and why. Some prompting questions that I might use are
“What do you notice about the illustrations in each book?”
“How do the illustrations help tell the story?” and
“What strategies and techniques does the illustrator use to add feeling to the story?”
I love this part of the process because students often notice so many more and different things than I do. Also, I’m sometimes surprised by what they love. The discussion can open my eyes to the charm of a book that I may not be crazy about personally.
I usually keep this process pretty simple, with tallies or sticky notes. Writing an opinion piece for this part of the process is also fun, either individually or through interactive writing (or both!).
Watch the Announcements
If possible, stream the announcements live or watch the taped version. The announcements ceremony is pretty straightforward but suprisingly fun to watch with students. Seeing them cheer, clap, and even jump up and down for favorite books is a highlight of my teaching life. After we watch the announcements, we talk about the winners: Are we surprised? Happy? Excited? Why do we think the winners won? And if the winner(s) weren’t in my stack, I get them from the library ASAP so we can read and discuss them. Then we mark the winning books and keep them on display for a bit longer.
It’s fun to watch students find joy in the book awards and become so aware of the quality of books and illustrations. Through this study they learn about much more than book awards. As they hear me and my colleagues discussing our opinions about books supported with text evidence, their discussion skills improve. It’s a great way to introduce opinion and the feelings and emotions that can come with having certain opinions. Writing opinion pieces around this study is great reinforcement. And finally, students’ new knowledge of book awards shows through in their writing. Not only do they notice awards seals everywhere, but they also draw them on their own writing pieces, and when I teach them to write an author blurb about themselves, they include award information in it: which award(s) they hope to earn someday!