The end of March is approaching, and that means one thing: librarians all over the Pacific Northwest are gathering student ballots for various readers' choice awards and sending them in to the bewildering array of awarding organizations, while anxiously refreshing those groups' websites to see if next year's nominees are announced yet.
As a librarian at a Pre-K through 8th grade school, I'm a bit award-happy and promote a bunch of them. Students like having a say about which book wins, and some get very focused about reading as many of the nominees as possible. For myself, the need to promote the books spurs me to read titles I might otherwise pass up--Saffy's Angel (it had a boring cover) and Runt (I'm not big on animal stories) are two that I'm sure I never would've picked up if I hadn't needed to booktalk them for the Young Readers Choice Award. I loved both books, and now recommend them all the time.
One award I've promoted for the last several years is the Washington Children's Choice Picture Book Award for grades K-3. Twenty picture books vie for one award. I've been reading this years' nominees [link is a PDF file] to all the K-2 classes off and on since the beginning of the year--3rd graders at my school get to hear some of them, and read as many others as they can at checkout time and if they finish projects early. Voting will be coming up right after the book fair loads out.
I started out with mixed feelings about this award--so many books to get through! Wouldn't it just take over my curriculum? And what if I didn't like them?--but have grown fond of it over the years. One effect of promoting it is that it creates a sort of canon of picture books that all kids within a few years of each other know about. In many years there are cults that develop around particular books, and every once in a while I'll hear older kids reminiscing about a Children's Choice nominee of their distant youth.
The kids take their votes very seriously. And the winner almost always surprises me; last year it was Arrowhawk, the true story of a wild hawk who survived for several weeks with a poacher's arrow stuck in his leg before being rescued by raptor specialists. I would've thought the book was too intense and even gory to appeal to many younger kids, but they were fascinated and voted it in at my school and all over Washington State.
I have my suspicions about this year's winner, but as always, it's hard to tell. I won't handicap it until the votes are in, for fear of jinxing it. And I can't wait to see what next years' nominees will be.
*Coming up tomorrow: Readers' Choice awards for older kids