For picking the best children’s book, who do you trust more — adult “experts” or the children themselves?
Now you’ll have a chance to compare, thanks to Berkeley elementary school students who’ve enthusiastically jumped at the chance to match their critical tastes against those of the select committee of judges who pick the nation’s most coveted award for children’s literature, the Newbery Medal.
In numbers that surprised teachers and librarians, 4th and 5th graders in Berkeley public schools voluntarily signed up this fall for their own version of the Newbery competition, called “Mock Newbery Book Clubs,” reading books and holding discussions outside of class time and regular assignments — with the aim of picking a winner.
Now after four months, they’ll be making their choice in the final discussions and voting next week, just a few days before the official Newbery Medal winner is announced on Jan. 23 at the annual American Library Association meeting in Atlanta.
The Berkeley program has been so successful that it was featured in a recent article in Publishers Weekly (sometimes called “the bible of the book business”). Berkeley’s program began at Emerson Elementary in the fall of 2013 and was introduced in all elementary schools this past fall.
“We just keep dropping our jaws over how many kids are interested,” BUSD Library Coordinator Becca Todd told Publishers Weekly. The program appeals to young readers in part because they select the books they want to focus on, Todd said.
Berkeley’s program focuses on inclusivity for students from all backgrounds and developing the skills of collaborative communication and civic engagement, in addition to cultivating a love of reading.
Teacher-librarian Mary Ann Scheuer, who started the original program at Emerson in collaboration with Armin Arethna of the Berkeley Public Library, said: “We are seeing 40–60 kids joining per school. The social aspect is really a big deal. Kids get excited about eating lunch in the library with their friends. Inclusivity is key. Students may come but have only read one book, but they see their friends are coming, and all of that is contributing to their development even if they struggle.”
The requirement for club members is to read five books, but many students are reading double that number, Todd said.