My #alayma Predictions!

When You Reach Me won the 2010 Newbery Medal.

At 11am EST/8am PST the ALA Youth Media Awards will begin. I will be hunkered down in my classroom with a few students (hopefully!), watching the awards as they unfold over our lunch. Every year I set a goal for myself- read the Newbery, and now the Printz, Award winner and honor books before they are announced. So here goes again… predictions for this year. These are in no particular order and I don’t pretend to know what will take home the gold as opposed to an honor. These are just the books I expect/hope to see honored later today!

The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate
Liar & Spy by Rebecca Stead
Wonder by R.J. Palacio
See You at Harry’s by Jo Knowles

Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein
Boy21 by Matthew Quick
The Storyteller by Antonia Michaelis
The Fault in Our Stars by John Green
Endangered by Eliot Schrefer


Can’t wait to see if I get any of them right! What are you predicting will take home a sticker?

Diamond Willow Read-aloud

On Friday, both classes finished reading Diamond Willow . They loved it! When we came to the twist about Willow’s past, they literally gasped out loud. Below are a few of their final thoughts on the book:


“More books should do the bold words thing.  It’s so cool!  They tell you what the character is thinking deep down.”

“It must have been really hard to write a whole book using the right diamond shapes and making sure you had all the words for the bold parts.”

“This was my favorite book that we read all year.”

“This was an awesome book!  


There was more, but I was trying to jot down their thoughts while they were all very excited and talking about the end of the story.  Needless to day, we are now extremely excited for the awards announcement on Monday!  We even moved our assembly schedule around so that we can all head down to the library and listen live.  My afternoon class can’t be there for the live announcement, so we have sworn the morning class to secrecy and will replay the recording for the afternoon class (trying to preserve some of the excitement)!  I will be sure to post our reactions on Monday!

Early Newbery Medal Predictions

It’s only October, but Susan over at Wizards Wireless inspired me with her own predictions.  The season isn’t over yet and I haven’t read all of the 2008 books on my TBR pile,but the following books are my personal picks for a Newbery this year.

  • The Underneath by Kathi Appelt-  If this book doesn’t begin 2009 with a shiny sticker on its cover, I will be shocked.  The Underneath is poetic, haunting, complicated, realistic, fantastic, simple, and some much more.  Appelt has woven a deep tale that isn’t afraid to let children know that there is evil in the world.  But she also reminds us of the love and beauty in the world.  While not a story for the younger spectrum of the award (despite the cute and cuddly cover), this is a phenomenal story for 5th graders and up.  I am reading it aloud to my 6th graders and they love it.
  • Tennyson by Lesley M.M. Blume-  I haven’t heard much about Tennyson since the beginning of the year.  But without a doubt, this is in my top five books of 2008.  As I said in my review, I am reminded of Natalie Babbitt’s amazing Tuck Everlasting, a classic in children’s literature.  I was drawn into the story just like the main characters are drawn to the Mississippi River, and Blume has an amazing poetic and lyrical storytelling style.  A few of my students read the book last year and proclaimed it “amazing!”, so it certainly has kid appeal.  It’s a dark horse, but I will be pulling for it come January!
  • The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins-  See, this is a tough one.  I am not sure if it should be eligible for the Printz or the Newbery.  It certainly covers from about 5th grade up.  What I am certain of is that I could not put this book down.  Neither could my students.  It’s action-packed and still thought-provoking.  Certain aspects of it reminded me of The Giver, which is a Newbery winner.  Printz or Newbery, I would love to see this one take home a medal.
  • Chains by Laurie Halse Anderson-  I might be cheating with this one, because I am still in the middle of it.  But so far, it’s an amazing book.  The quintessential middle-grade historical fiction novel, you don’t even realize it’s historical fiction.  While that may sound strange, I have learned that is the most important trait a historical fiction novel can have for my 6th graders.  They don’t want to read about “old stuff”, in their words.  But they will read a well-crafted story with realistic characters that just happens to take place in the past.  Chains drags you into the story and holds you hostage as you frantically turn the pages.  And Anderson’s painstaking attention to detail and historical accuracy only makes a great book even stronger.
  • Princess Ben by Catherine Murdock- I can foresee this one sweeping in and grabbing an Honor medal. It reminded me a bit of Shannon Hale’s Princess Academy. It’s a fun medieval fantasy with a spunky female main character. Don’t count this one out!


As of now, these are my picks.  Keep in mind I do have a lot of books still on my TBR pile, so this is subject to change as January approaches!  Oddly enough, I realize now that all of my picks have female protagonists, yet I would not classify any of them as “girl books”.  I know I read a lot of books with male protagonists….interesting that none of them seem to make it onto my list of distinguished books.  Anyone else notice a similar trend?

Newbery Controversy

Anita Silvey ignited a fireball of controversy recently when she asked if the Newbery Medal has lost its way.  It seems that she has been involved in numerous conversations lately that all ended up asking why the recent Newbery committees picked “those” books.  Apparently, “those” books are kid and teacher-unfriendly.  As a 6th grade teacher I felt the need to jump in.  

I begin each school year by telling my students that I read “a million books a year!”  I also tell them that I love to try and predict the Newbery award-winners each year.  This always results in looks of amazement.  My 6th graders are more than familiar with what a Newbery book is.  They can recognize the medal on the book cover.  Most have read a handful of winners through the years.  What would shock many of you is that very few of my students have ever chosen a book based on the fact that it won the Newbery.  You know why?  Because they are acutely aware that the award is chosen by adults and given to adult authors.  Without ever being explicitly taught the requirements for the Newbery, they know that the award is for great writing and not popularity.

And that’s the problem.  Adults seem to look at the Newbery as a stamp of approval, a signal that a particular book is the book to give to kids.  Parents and teacher see that medal stamped on a book cover and choose the book blindly over others, because it is an award-winner.  Are many Newbery books extremely kid friendly?  Of course!  Are many of them exquisite examples of writing but not necessarily kid-friendly (for the majority of kids)?  ABSOLUTELY.  And as a teacher, I do not expect Newbery winners to be the be-all-end-all of books published in a given year.  Unfortunately, too many teachers and parents do expect this.  Ironically, it’s the kids who do not expect the same.  There is no perfect book for all kids.  But there is great writing, and it should be honored.

Right now, I am reading Kathi Appelt’s The Underneath to my two classes.  The Underneath is one of my personal favorites for a Newbery this year.  As soon as I finished reading it this summer I knew that I wanted to share it with my class.  The writing is incredible, the story is magical, and the characters are drawn to perfection.  However, I also knew that this was not a book many of my kids would choose on their own.  If we are completely honest with ourselves, kids and adults rarely choose to read the best writing.  Just look at the most popular books in the bookstore or library- you will see chick lit, detective mysteries, romances, and humor.  Will many of those books take home literary awards?  Of course not.  Does this mean no one should read them?  Heck no!  

So what did I decide to do?  I am reading The Underneath aloud to my students.  This allows me to think-aloud and scaffold as we read.  We discuss, we make predictions and inferences as a class.  When I stopped reading today, they groaned.  Not because they disliked the book.  Oh no.  They groaned because they wanted to continue.  They love the book.  But a few of my students pointed out they would not necessarily have chosen to read it on their own.  When I questioned them about this, they said the story is great but it has a lot of description (what most kids refer to great writing as).  They need the scaffolding that a class read aloud provides.  And you know what?  I am fine with that.  Great writing sometimes is above students’ current reading levels and that is fine!  We need to give kids more credit.  They can and do appreciate great writing just like adults.  It’s just that sometimes they need a little help, as their higher level thinking skills are not fully developed.  But they have the ability, and great writing and great books will develop those capabilities!

The Newbery is an important award. However, adults need to come to the realization that children have already reached.  The Newbery Medal is not an award given to the coolest or most popular book of the year.  Instead, it is given to the greatest book written in a single year, compared only to other books published in that same year.  Parents and teachers need to get out there and read, read, read, and read some more.  We can not rely on a single list provided by a small pool of people to make our reading choices, to make our curriculum choices.  A librarian quoted in Silvey’s piece says the following regarding recent Newbery winners:

 “I think I know books, but because of the subject matter, these wouldn’t be the ones I’d naturally choose to introduce to my kids”.

Newbery books are not a catch-all for reader’s advisory!  Look at last year’s winner, Good Masters! Sweet Ladies! Voices from a Medieval Village.  I don’t know many students who would pick up a book of monologues in verse, set in a medieval village.  But Laura Amy Schlitz shattered boundaries with her book.  A book written FOR HER KIDS.  To be performed by her kids!  And I fully plan to use her book this year because it fits into our ancient civilizations curriculum perfectly.  

No Newbery committee will ever choose the one book that makes everyone happy.  I still can not fathom how Tuck Everlasting did not win the 1976 Newbery Medal.  But you know what?  The books that were chosen are also wonderful.  And Babbitt’s book, referred to as the greatest children’s novel ever written, has survived and done quite well for itself as a “loser”.  The Newbery Medal is important and worthy.  But it is not the be-all-end-all.  We must be involved in our kids’ reading.  We must allow ourselves to enjoy children’s literature for what it can do- help children enjoy reading!  We must also realize that children’s and YA books are real literature, with the same variety as adult books.  There are many other lists and awards that honor books for their kid-friendly appeal and their wonderful writing- the Cybils, the Quick Picks, etc.  But children’s literature also deserves an award that focuses solely on extraordinary writing.  And that is what the Newbery does, and it does a great job.