October still feels like the beginning of the school year, but it is approaching the end of the publishing year. So for me, it is time to take stock of the year’s best books, and begin the process of narrowing the list to the 6-8 titles we will use with our annual Mock Newbery book club of 4th through 6th graders.
Our Newbery club meets once per week, beginning in November culminating with a party following the announcement of the actual award (January28th this year) for a total of about eight to ten weekly meetings depending how the holidays land. Attendance is nice for discussing the books, but not required to participate. Our meetings are held before school, and some of our truly avid readers stay up way too late to get to school early!
Everyone participates by filling out a Newbery Club Score Card when they finish a book. They do this at meetings, or stop by the library at recess. We ask the kids to rate five elements with zero to four stars:
- Interest — was the book interesting, did it keep your interest?
- Characters — were the characters well developed? Did they feel real?
- Plot — how was the pacing? Think about the sequence of events — predictable or surprising?
- Setting — how effective was the author in immersing you in the book’s setting?
- Originality — does this book remind you of another book you know? Or is the story original?
We talk to the kids about the criteria the Newbery committee uses when they consider a book for the award, but we ask them to rate the books using the language and criteria they are familiar with. Not every kid reads every book, but most kids read more than half, and most will read something out of their comfort range.
So many books….How to choose?
Kids will find the popular books without our help — no Wimpy kids, Dork Diaries, James Patterson, 39 clues, or Erin Hunter types of books in the Newbery Club. Distinguished is important, but for us, to be included, a book must also be a really good read.
I’m lucky for a couple of reasons; because I have a colleague who also reads, and we regularly talk about the new books, and also because our school subscribes to many review magazines, so it’s pretty easy to narrow down what books are getting the starred reviews (but really — this is less reliable than you’d think!). Then the short listed books have to pass the librarian filter — We must have really liked the book first, then we consider our narrow age range, so many books we love just won’t work for this group. We are an inclusive club, so we also need a mix to appeal to a broad range of reader’s abilities and interests.
For the nuts and bolts of running the club, we like to have on hand 3-5 copies of each book. I have a special Newbery shelf, where club kids can come to get their next book between meetings. Our budget allows for a box of “Dunkin Munchkins” to circulate at each meeting, which for our kids seems to be an excellent incentive to get to school early. The kids vote for their top three the week before the award is announced (first choice gets 3 points, 2nd gets 2 points, 3rd gets 1 point). I tally and announce at the last (pizza for lunch party). I also make Mock Newbery award (winner and honor) stickers for the books.
The kids are always really excited about the announcement of our Newbery club winners. I also email the winning author (sometimes via their websites, sometimes through their publishers) who always enjoy hearing that their books have been chosen by a group of critical kids. They very often respond with kind words that I read aloud at the party.
(Our 2012 winner — The Apothecary, a terrific book, which got almost no “buzz”)
At this point our list is a work in progress, but we will probably take all (or most) of the following titles to our group this year:
- Three Times Lucky
- The One and Only Ivan
- Liar and Spy
- The False Prince
- The Great Unexpected
- The Starry River of Sky
- Lions of Little Rock
Here are some other great resources for choosing books if you haven’t kept up with the reading, and even if you have!
SLJ’s Heavy Medal Blog (Jonathan Hunt & Nina Lindsay) http://blog.schoollibraryjournal.com/heavymedal
SLJ’s Fuse 8 Blog (Elizabeth Bird)
Goodreads 2013 Newbery group
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