Last week the four finalists for this year's Irma Black Award were announced and my students and I were thrilled. That's because it is 1st and 2nd graders who are the final judges for the award, which is given to an outstanding book for young children. This year's finalists are I Want My Hat Back, You Will Be My Friend, All the Way to America, and What Animals Really Like. Over the next six weeks, we will be reading and discussing each of these books, voting on their favorite, and on April 9 the winner will be named and given this year's award.
Beginning in 1972, Bank Street College of Education established the Irma Simonton Black Award for Excellence in Children's Literature in honor of Irma Black, who was an influential teacher, editor, and author of more than twenty children's books, as well as non-fiction books for adults. The award process begins with the children of Bank Street, where Irma Black spent part of her illustrious career. Students in the 4th and 5th grade are given 16 books to look through that have been determined by a group of librarians, teachers, and other committee members. These students eventually, narrow these 16 books down to 8, which are then given to the 3rd and 4th graders. These students then spend time reading and discussing the 8 semi-finalists, until the final four list is determined. At this point, registration is opened to schools all over the country and 1st and 2nd grade teachers and librarians can begin reading the books to their students. The fantastic Bank Street librarian and HVLA member, Lisa Von Drasek has an Irma Black Award Blog on School Library Journal's website, chronicling the whole process.
This is the first year that I am doing this with my students and I am extremely excited about it. The finalists were just announced on February 14, so we read our first book this week. Before this week, we began preparing by talking about other awards, who Irma Black was, looking at the semi-finalists, and reading last year's winner How Rocket Learned to Read. This week, I explained the process to them and thanks to Lisa's blog, got to show them great pictures of the kids at Bank Street, making it really come to life. We read our first book I Want My Hat Back and then gave them each a few minutes to write down some of their own thoughts about what they really liked about the book. Then we read it again and had a group discussion, sharing their thoughts on chart paper.
The kids are really excited about the process and taking it really seriously, with lots of thoughtful comments. It was wonderful to see how diverse their opinions were and how critically they were looking at the book. It's been a great way to encourage kids to explain the Why? behind their reasons for liking or not liking something in a book because in this case they feel like it really matters. I'm also looking forward to integrating math into this project because we are going to be collecting data and making bar graphs about the process to tie in with their classroom studies.
You can read in detail about the history of the award and the curriculum on Bank Street's website. You can participate by registering your school here.