Seventh-graders choose their own award-winning books
If seventh-graders at Thayer J. Hill Middle School in Naperville had their way, the Newbery Medal winner this year would not have gone to Tale of Despereaux by Kate DiCamillo.
Instead, they picked Gregor the Overlander by Suzanne Collins as the best book for 8- to 14-year-olds. Tale of Despereaux tied with two other books for third place.
Making the choice took a lot of reading and a lot of discussion. But the Hill students were not alone. Hill was one of 15 elementary and middle schools in six suburbs that ran a mock Newbery contest this year. Which means the program, now in its fourth year and sponsored by Anderson's Bookshop, is inspiring hundreds of readers.
The other Newbery, established in 1922 by the American Library Association, is a medal given by a committee of children's librarians to an American author who has made "the most distinguished contribution" to children's literature.
That award is announced in mid-January. In the mock Newbery, the kids read, discuss and vote on books September through January, coming up with their winners before they hear the Newbery Medal winner's name.
In March, kids finish the program with an Academy Award-type ceremony, an evening "black-tie optional" affair, according to the invitations. Categories may include "best female protagonist," "most realistic character" and "best fantasy."
"More kids than ever want to participate," says Rita Kramen, a reading specialist at Hill who oversees the program. "You wouldn't think kids who aren't great readers would want to be in the company of kids who read a lot of books."
But they do. This year about 50 of the school's 300 seventh-graders chose to participate, an equal number of boys and girls, says Kramen. The kids read at least four books from a list of the 25 best. Then they discussed them during school hours, deciding whether to include this title, eliminate that one or or ask for more kids to read a book for additional opinions.
With all the work, when the real Newbery award went to Tale of Despereaux, Carol Li, 12, says she was "really surprised. It was a really fast read. I didn't think it would win."
Tim Riser, 12, who read all 25 books on the list, agrees. "I didn't really like the book. I didn't like that book at all."
Wajiha Azhar, 13, says she liked Tales of Despereaux but didn't vote for it. She didn't think it could win based on what the other kids were saying. She voted for A Mango-Shaped Space by Wendy Mass-the first runner-up on the school's list.
Anderson's Bookshop, which has stores in Downers Grove and Naperville, uses its contacts with publishers, authors, educators and reviewers to make a list of the 25 best books, which the kids use for their top picks. The list is available on the store's Web site, www.andersonsbookshop.com.