Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Participating in New York State's Charlotte Award

In the fall, many HVLA librarians and students had a blast predicting which book would win the Newbery medal. Part of the challenge for librarians was trying to figure out which books to put on the shortlist. I found this both engrossing and agonizing in equal parts! (Well, maybe not agonizing, but I did worry that we would completely overlook the winner and honor books). With the Charlotte Award, organized by the New York State Reading Association, this is not an issue, since a list of ten books is supplied for each age category. Charlotte fever is running high at A-S right now (pizza voting parties are next week) so I thought I would share a little about how and why we do it.

We offer the The Charlotte Award to boys in the 4th Grade and it has become an excellent stepping-stone to our Newbery Challenge program which we run for boys in Grades 5-7. The brilliant thing about the Charlotte Award is that the winner is chosen by children living in New York state, so when we have our celebration party we actually get to vote online.

NYSRA requires students to read at least six of the books in order to vote. I have to say I’m a little tougher on our boys since I ask them to read all ten books. This is because a number of the titles in the grades 3-5 age group are picture books. In addition, I introduce the award by reading one of the books aloud, enabling all of our boys get a star on the progress chart immediately.  

If I had to name a drawback to the Charlotte Award, I would say that although thought provoking, some more challenging titles would fit my student population better. That said, the fact that many of the books are quick, easy reads ensures very high participation. In addition, the selection is not always as up-to-date as it might be. For example, one of the books on the shortlist is El Deafo.
However the boys are enjoying nearly all of them, including books that they wouldn’t normally pick up.

One other thing to bear in mind is that the Charlotte Award only takes place every other year.This took me by surprise last year and I had to  scramble to find a replacement. Last year’s 4th grade proudly took part in South Dakota’s Prairie Pasque award! As out-of-state participants their votes didn’t actually count but the selection of books was great and with our usual system of incentives and quizzes in place, the program was just as popular.

I’m looking forward to our voting parties next week. The motivation that pizza provides cannot be overestimated and I think about three-quarters of the grade will be able to attend. Of course, we will be having that all-important conversation about which book merits the award and why, but we will also just be reveling in the fact that we have this shared reading experience. This morning I conducted a parent focus group to discuss the library. The reading challenge programs emerged as one of the things the parents appreciate the most. At the end of the day, building a community of readers is my central goal, and the Charlotte Award helps to get us there.

For more information about the Charlotte Award, check out their website.

Sarah Kresberg
Library Director, The Allen-Stevenson School

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