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The Underneath
Author: Kathi Appelt
Illustrator: David Small
Published May 6th, 2008 by Atheneum Books for Young Readers
Newbery Honor (2009), National Book Award Finalist (2009)

Summary: There is nothing lonelier than a cat who has been loved, at least for a while, and then abandoned on the side of the road.

A calico cat, about to have kittens, hears the lonely howl of a chained-up hound deep in the backwaters of the bayou. She dares to find him in the forest, and the hound dares to befriend this cat, this feline, this creature he is supposed to hate. They are an unlikely pair, about to become an unlikely family. Ranger urges the cat to hide underneath the porch, to raise her kittens there because Gar-Face, the man living inside the house, will surely use them as alligator bait should he find them. But they are safe in the Underneath…as long as they stay in the Underneath.

Kittens, however, are notoriously curious creatures. And one kitten’s one moment of curiosity sets off a chain of events that is astonishing, remarkable, and enormous in its meaning. For everyone who loves Sounder, Shiloh, and The Yearling, for everyone who loves the haunting beauty of writers such as Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings, Flannery O’Connor, and Carson McCullers, Kathi Appelt spins a harrowing yet keenly sweet tale about the power of love, and its opposite, hate; the fragility of happiness; and the importance of making good on your promises.

Author: Kathi Appelt is the New York Times best-selling author of more than forty books for children and young adults. Her first novel, The Underneath, was a National Book Award Finalist and a Newbery Honor Book. It also received the PEN USA Award. Her other novels include The True Blue Scouts of Sugar Man Swamp, a National Book Award finalist, and Maybe a Fox, one of the Bank Street Books Best Children’s Books of the Year. In addition to writing, Ms. Appelt is on the faculty in the Masters of Creative Writing for Children and Young Adults at Vermont College of Fine Arts. She lives in College Station, Texas. To learn more, and to find curriculum materials and activity pages, visit her website at

Review: Anyone who has read a Kathi Appelt book knows that she is amazing at two things: weaving a story together in a way that only she can & pulling at heart strings causing definite mood swings while reading. The Underneath is the epitome of her excellence, and I am sad it took me so long to get to this book. Once done, I was very excited to ask Kathi about this masterpiece, and my questions and her answers show more about what makes this book the award winner that it is.


Kellee: How do you work to weave different elements into your story such as mythology, the natural world, and contemporary stories? 

Kathi: It’s always interesting to me to learn what sets a story off. Some authors swear that they start with characters. And I would say that characters are definitely a good place to start. But when I reflect over my many years of writing, I feel like I mostly start with place. I ask, what is it about this place that lends itself to story? What is the history of it? The social and cultural importance of it? Who has lived here? Who was here a thousand years ago? What were they doing? How did they survive? What impact did natural forces play on this place? What is the flora and fauna? Are there ghosts? Are there particular features of it? So, it seems to me that place creates the basis for most of my stories.

In The Underneath, one of my story lines occurs a thousand years ago, which means that my mythological characters (who were interlopers), would have encountered members of the Caddo/Hasinai nation. Theirs was a sophisticated, highly organized society. But a couple of things happened. One was a massive earthquake that caused a devastating flood which wiped out an entire city, thousands of people. Another was the encroachment of European settlers who brought in disease and ultimately drove the Caddo/Hasinai out of their ancestral lands.

The Caddo were—and still are—known for their pottery, so it made sense to feature a significant jar in my story. That way, I could more clearly link the characters to each other across time periods. One thing leads to another. But in the end, it goes back to place.

Kellee: The Underneath has multiple stories that are interwoven and meet at the end. How do you plan writing a novel like this? 

Kathi: Extended narrative has always been difficult for me. I started my professional writing life as a poet and picture book author. As a result, it seemed like everything I wrote tended to finish at the bottom of page three. It was why writing a novel eluded me for such a long time. I always thought that a novel meant writing long chapters, strung together chronologically, and moving from point A to a final point Z. But it wasn’t in my nature to write like that. Long chapters weren’t the way I rolled. Finally, after many failed attempts, I figured out that if I was ever going to write a novel, I would have to go with my grain as opposed to going against my grain. So, I adapted to “writing by snapshot.” In other words, I write in small, significant scenes—I call them SSS’s. I can get a lot done that way without worrying about word counts or chapter lengths, or even transitions. Plus, they’re easy to manipulate. A small scene can be moved hither and yon until it finds the right place in the story.

I think that one of the reasons that writers fail is because they haven’t found their own natural way of working. Long narrative passages aren’t my strength. I’m not saying that I can’t write them, only that they’re not where my strengths lie.

So, finding the form that fits both our natural strengths and that suits the story, is one of the keys to unlocking a book . . . and a writer. Not all of us are meant to be poets. Not all of us are meant to be soaring prose practitioners. It could be that I’m a little ADD, and the short scenes suit me.

At any rate, making this discovery was how I finally finished a novel.

I also want to say in regard to planning, I do make very loose outlines when I embark upon a new project. Those outlines tend to flex as I move through the draft. But I always try to at least have a vague idea of how the story will end. Otherwise, I’ll just write myself right off the cliff. If I can see the destination, I can get there eventually.

Kellee: Personification allows the setting to become its own character in the story. How do you plan this and implement it well when you are writing? 

Kathi: I spend tons of time researching the plants and animals that populate the setting. And to me, a living organism, such as a tree, is just that—living. If you spend enough time around trees, it seems like they each have their own personalities, their own needs, and their own ideas. I’m just saying. So, unless something is inanimate—like a rock, say—I can usually find the heart of that living organism. That is always my goal.

Kellee: What about The Underneath do you think resonated with readers 10 years ago and still remains today? 

My true hope with The Underneath is that my young readers can see the value of making a good choice. In my story, both the hero Ranger and the antagonist Gar Face have similar experiences, similar fates if you will. They’ve both been badly treated, both been isolated, and yet only one of them turns towards love. Grandmother too, finally, at long last—after the longest time out in history—chooses love. I think that young readers are tuned in to this. I think they’re built for love. What I hope my story does is to give them the courage to make that choice.

Kellee: What feedback have you gotten from readers over the years about The Underneath? What stands out about what the book means to them? 

Gosh, it’s hard to say just one thing, but it seems to me that mostly what I hear over and over from them is how much they love the relationship between Ranger and the kittens. That small sweetness seems to be the key that opens the story up. To me, it’s proof that we don’t all have to be the same or look the same or smell the same or whatever to become best friends. And no matter how small we are, we can make a difference for those we love.

Book Trailer: 


Fifteen lucky winners will receive an autographed paperback copy of The Underneath. In addition, one Grand Prize winner will win a classroom set of 20 copies of the book PLUS a 30-40 minute Skype visit for her/his school, classroom, or library with award-winning author Kathi Appelt. Enter here!

Recommended For: 

Thank you, Kathi, for your thorough and beautiful answers to my interview questions, and thank you to Blue Slip Media for the giveaway and trailer!



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Last year was my first year taking part in a mock award when my lunch book club did the Mock Newbery. I loved the process and the conversations, but I really wanted to move to a less stressful book club and make the process more focused and to get more students involved, so I decided to do a mock award with my class; however, I knew that doing the Newbery well is a very long process, so I thought the Caldecott would be interesting to try with middle schoolers. And I was right!

When I decided to do a Mock Caldecott unit, I didn’t really know what I was doing, so I turned to my friends on Twitter who have done Mock Caldecott lessons before. I also turned to good-ole Google. With all of this help and a bit of hard work, I felt pretty good to start.

Choosing Books

To pick books, I completely trusted my PLN and myself, and I chose 20 books that blew them and/or me away. The books were:

A Boy, a Mouse, and a Spider by Barbara Herkert, Ill. by Lauren Castillo
After the Fall by Dan Santat
All the Way to Havana by Margarita Engle, Ill. by Mike Curato
Blue Sky, White Stars by Sarvinder Naberhaus, Ill. by Kadir Nelson
Claymates by Dev Petty, Ill. by Lauren Eldridge
Come with Me by Holly M. McGhee, Ill. by Pascal Lemaitre
Flashlight Night by Matt Forrest Esenwine, Ill. by Fred Koehler
Grand Canyon by Jason Chin
How to Be an Elephant by Katherine Roy
La La La by Kate DiCamillo, Ill. by Jaime Kim
Little Fox in the Forest by Stephanie Graegin
Muddy: The Story of Blues Legend Muddy Water by Michael Mahin, Ill. by Evan Turk
Red & Lulu by Matt Tavares
The Antlered Ship by Dashka Slater, Ill. by The Fan Brothers
The Book of Mistakes by Corinna Luyken
The Rooster Who Would Not be Quiet! by Carmen Agra Deedy, Ill. by Eugene Yelchin
The Wolf, The Duck, & The Mouse by Mac Barnett, Jon Klassen
When’s My Birthday? by Julie Fogliano, Ill. by Christian Robinson
Windows by Julia Denos, Ill. By E.B. Goodale
Wolf in the Snow by Matthew Cordell

Standards and Learning Goals

To justify a Caldecott Unit, I needed to tie it to middle school standards, and I chose to focus on the standards of citing textual evidence to support analysis and presenting claims and findings with relevant evidence. There were also five secondary standards that fit the unit.

LAFS.8.RL.1.1 2 Cite the textual evidence that most strongly supports an analysis of what the text says explicitly as well as inferences drawn from the text.
LAFS.8.SL.2.4 3 Present claims and findings, emphasizing salient points in a focused, coherent manner with relevant evidence, sound valid reasoning, and well-chosen details; use appropriate eye contact, adequate volume, and clear pronunciation.
LAFS.8.SL.1.1d Acknowledge new information expressed by others, and, when warranted, qualify or justify their own views in light of the evidence presented.
LAFS.8.RL.1.2 3 Determine a theme or central idea of a text and analyze its development over the course of the text, including its relationship to the characters, setting, and plot; provide an objective summary of the text.
LAFS.8.RL.1.3 3 Analyze how particular lines of dialogue or incidents in a story or drama propel the action, reveal aspects of a character, or provoke a decision.
LAFS.8.RL.2.5 3 Compare and contrast the structure of two or more texts and analyze how the differing structure of each text contributes to its meaning and style.
LAFS.8.RL.2.6 3 Analyze how differences in the points of view of the characters and the audience or reader (e.g., created through the use of dramatic irony) create such effects as suspense or humor.


After determining the standards, I created a scale to help plan my timeline. I knew I needed to start with the students understanding the Caldecott criteria and end with students presenting claims and evidence supporting their claim.

Level Target Evidence
4 I can do level 3 plus I have appropriate eye contact, volume, and clear pronunciation and can think on my feet during a discussion. Mock Caldecott discussion
3 I can present claims and findings with sound reasoning, relevance, and cite evidence from the text that supports my analysis. Choose which potential winners they believe will be honored and present this claim using evidence from the text.
2 I can cite evidence from a text that supports my analysis (using a set of criteria). Analyze past winners for criteria.

Analyze potential winners for criteria.

1 I understand the criteria I will be using to analyze a text. Caldecott criteria presentation

Example Beekle analysis

The next step, in my Google searching, I found a wonderful Slideshare by librarian Steven Engelfried from Portland, Oregon. Over about 40 minutes in two days we went through all of the criteria. We also talked about some art elements vocabulary that they would need to know and use during the unit (and I found Quizlets on Elements of Art and Art Mediums!)

I’ll be honest, I really didn’t know where to go from here… Luckily, there is an amazing teacher from Illinois named Jessica Lifshitz who teaches 5th grade and wrote such a brilliant post about the Mock Caldecott unit in her classroom, and I finally felt like I could proceed with this unit and do it well–all because of this post! I’ve emailed Jessica to thank her, but I also want to publicly do it here–thank you, Jessica!

The next step was sharing books that already won or were honored for the Caldecott. We started with Beekle by Dan Santat as a whole class. Then, my students, in partners, got to browse a huge pile of Caldecott books, and I asked them to answer for each book: “Why did this book win over the others? How did it meet the Caldecott criteria?” I also had them rotate partners to make sure they were hearing different opinions and voices. Here are some examples of student answers:

Du Iz Tak? I think this book was honored over other picture books in the year it was published because the story is fun and in a made-up language which made us think about what they were talking about and try to translate it to English. She uses lots of space and colors. Some pages there are no words which make the pictures necessary to understand it. The medium she uses are gouache and ink.
Journey This book was honored over the others because the illustrations had such good creativity and were very unique. There was no writing, so you had to rely on the pictures to tell the story. The bird found the girl after she set him free, and led him to a friend. The story has a very good meaning, and a good purpose. It had a variety of contrasting colors, and showed the most important stuff in bright colors. It had a very powerful visual experience. It showed the plot, setting, and characters in illustrations. Her world was bland in the beginning, but after she came into the new world, everything explodes with color.
King Bidgood’s in the Bathtub I think that this book was honored because all of the illustrations in the book are very detailed and tell the story without words. If you were to remove the words from the book you would still know what was going because all the pictures are very detailed and have a lot of different colors on every page.
Where the Wild Things Are I think this book was honored by how realistic the illustrations are and for how fun the story is. I love the leading lines the illustrator uses how there are no words over the illustrations giving the book plenty of white space. All the spreads have plenty of  happy colors which for me makes the book very appropriate for kids.
Swimmy The book was drawn with watercolors. The illustrator was very meticulous and detailed when he was painting the pictures. It actually felt like some objects had a texture  that you could feel. It was very entertaining. Younger children would be fascinated with the drawings and would love the story. This was a great book in all aspects.
Interrupting Chicken I think this book was honored because it included other famous stories but with a plot twist. They included little red riding hood and she was on her way to go to her grandma when she met a stranger and the chicken said don’t talk to strangers. Then the story ended so fast. The style of the chicken’s drawing of his own story was like a child’s actual drawing. It was very kiddy and I liked that the story was kind of based off of what the dad was trying to do to the chicken. He kept telling him stories but he never fell asleep. Now the chicken told him a story about his dad not falling asleep but in real life the dad fell asleep before the story ended. The illustrations look like they are painted and the colors are very warm to make the room seem cozy.

Now that they were experts on the criteria and saw example of winners/honors, it was time to jump into our Mock Caldecott titles. To evaluate these books, I had them look specifically at each part of the Caldecott Criteria, and they had to answer how the book fit or didn’t fit the criteria. I set up a pretty clear close reading process for them to follow:

  • First read: Just read the book and enjoy!
  • Second read: Focus on the illustrations. How do they meet Caldecott criteria? What does the author excel at? Use Post-Its to annotate your thoughts.
  • Third read: Focus on the narrative elements of the story. Use Post-Its to annotate your thoughts on how the illustrations enhanced the narrative.

Students started in pairs again then we scaffolded off to working independently. I also had them leave the Post-Its in the books, so the students were seeing thoughts across classes. Students were asked to get to at least ten of the mock books. We did this for over a week to allow them time to read as many as they can and also time to evaluate properly.

At the end of the unit and the Thursday and Friday before the ALA Youth Media Awards, it was time to start making predictions. First, I had them rank the books they read from favorite for the Caldecott to least favorite. Using these predictions, I gave books numerical scores and figured out average scores. I also had students get together in groups of three to five to pick their collaborative four favorite books and awarded bonus points. With all of these scores, I was able determine the winners for each class as well as for all of my classes.

The last thing my students did before finding out who had won was complete a written response answering:

  • What book do you feel best met the Caldecott criteria thus you feel should win?
  • What criteria did it most meet?
  • Share evidence supporting your claims.
    • Use RATE: Restate, Answer, Textual Evidence, Explain/Elaborate!

Some student responses:

  • I think that The Book Of Mistakes should win because it does appeal to kids because it is very colorful, with much space so they can focus on what is important. The rest of the book is white except for the illustrations, which I think is easier for the kids to understand what is important. Also, the illustrator used a lot of artistic medium, with paint, pen, and other things, she made very good illustrations that connected with the story. They really made a visual experience, because if you just had the story, you would not know what was going on at all, and so you had to depend on the pictures to tell the story. I think that this book should win the Mock Caldecott award because I think that it deserves it with beautiful illustrations that have a good meaning and theme, and I think that they really appeal to kids, and so therefore should win the Mock Caldecott Award. The illustrations were very nice, and they tell the characters, and other narrative elements. There was a lot of line, space, colors and other things that made the illustrations very unique among other illustrations by other illustrators. The colors did change depending on many things, and the color choices were very good. I think that The Book Of Mistakes should win the Mock Caldecott Award.
  • I think After the Fall would win the Caldecott. The reasoning in this is because with the amount of detail put into the text more specifically the illustrations. The illustrations in the book show a big part of the story. It shows the sequence of events with the illustrations now that the egg falls then he lives a sad life without being able to climb due to his fear. You can see the emotion and detail with everything he does not like being grey or showing sadness. Then, in the end, he made an invention to be able to fly again a mini plane even with him having bandages and being injured after the fall. He tests it out and then it gets stuck on where he fell he decides to go up and with the pictures you could see how stressed out he was. Then at the end, you can see the light and feathers cracking showing that he is becoming a bird. But that’s not the first reference throughout the book it shows birds on every page giving reference to the end of it. Then you see him fly away into the sky after he hatches. That is why After the Fall will win the Caldecott.
  • The book Little Fox In The Forest is going to win because of its unique illustrations. These illustrations such as when the Little girl lives in a colorless world and brings her colorless fox to show and tell. When the little girl is swinging on the swing she finds the orange fox stealing her colorless stuffed fox . Now the little girl and her best friend is chasing the fox and follows the fox in the forest. Then all the sudden you start to see little experts of color, and then there was a very colorful magical forest. This book was such a good using of artistic medium and a very good visual experience this book definitely deserves to be on top.
  • I think Wolf in the Snow should win the mock Caldecott because of the detail in the illustrations. It has a story in the illustrations which is about a wolf cub and a girl who help each other out. The detail in the wolves and every picture is great, for example, the wolves breath due to the cold environment they are in. This book really appeals to kids because of the illustrations they are showing like when the wolf stares at the girl holding the wolf cub, and it creates a questioning of what will happen next. This book does not need words at all because you can already see the story from the illustrations. This means there is a great visual experience in the book.
  • The book that I think will win the Caldecott is Flashlight Night by Fred Koehler the illustrator of this book. I think this book will win because it tells the story with the imaginations of kids and uses lots of colors and is told amazingly. I think this book appeals to kids because it shows how you imaginations can take you anywhere. The art to make this book was very detail from one illustration to the next. The illustrations work amazing with the story because depending on what the illustration was the story would match up perfectly with it. This are some of the reasons why I think that Flashlight Night should win the Mock Caldecott this year.

Our Winners

The ALA Youth Media Awards

On Monday, February 12th, my classes watch the ALA Youth Media Awards either live or recorded, and it was so much fun to watch their reactions when they saw books they read or their disappointment when their favorites didn’t win. We were so excited to see Grand Canyon and Wolf in the Snow honored with the Caldecott, and the students who put them high on their prediction felt so validated. There were three Caldecott honor books that we hadn’t had in our pile, so we have them coming from the public library, and I promised them that we’d have a conversation on why those titles may have won over the ones that we chose.

This unit was one of my favorite lessons ever, and I was so impressed with my students and the quality of books! Thank you to everyone who helped me make this possible, and I hope that if you are reading this and never done a Mock Caldecott award that you now feel like you could because if I can, you can 🙂 


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2017 Amelia Elizabeth Walden Book Award Winner & Finalists Announced

The Assembly on Literature for Adolescents (ALAN) of the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) is pleased and proud to announce the 2017 Amelia Elizabeth Walden Book Award for Young Adult Fiction winner and finalists. Established in 2008 to honor the wishes of young adult author Amelia Elizabeth Walden, the award allows for the sum of $5,000 to be presented annually to the author of a young adult title selected by the ALAN Amelia Elizabeth Walden Book Award Committee as demonstrating a positive approach to life, widespread teen appeal, and literary merit.

The 2017 Amelia Elizabeth Walden Award winner is:

The Serpent King by Jeff Zentner
(Crown Books for Young Readers / Random House Children’s Books)

The 2017 Amelia Elizabeth Walden Award finalists are:

Girl in Pieces by Kathleen Glasgow
(Delacorte Press / Random House Children’s Books)

Salt to the Sea by Ruta Sepetys
(Philomel/Penguin Young Readers)

The Smell of Other People’s Houses by Bonnie-Sue Hitchcock
(Wendy Lamb Books / Random House Children’s Books)

The Sun Is Also a Star by Nicola Yoon
(Delacorte Press / Random House Children’s Books)

The winning title and finalists will be honored at the 2017 ALAN Workshop on Monday, November 20th at 4:30pm in St. Louis, MO, and the authors will be invited to participate in a panel discussion.

The 2017 Amelia Elizabeth Walden Award Committee would like to thank: the Amelia Elizabeth Walden Award Foundation, the ALAN Executive Council, the ALAN Board of Directors, NCTE, and the many publishers who submitted titles for consideration.

The 2017 Amelia Elizabeth Walden Award Committee considered nearly 300 young adult titles throughout the process.  The committee was comprised of eleven members representing the university, K-12 school, and library communities.  They are:

Lisa Scherff, Committee Chair
ELA Teacher, Department Chair
Cypress Lake High School, Fort Myers, FL

Mark Letcher, Past Committee Chair
Assistant Professor of English Education
Lewis University, Romeoville, IL

Joellen Maples
Associate Professor, Graduate Literacy Program
St.  John Fisher College, Rochester, NY

Lisa Morris-Wilkey
Casa Grande Union High School, Casa Grande, AZ

Beth Scanlon
ELA Teacher, Literacy Coach
Cypress Creek High School, Orlando, FL

Jessica Lorentz Smith
Bend Senior High School, Bend, OR

Wendy Stephens
Library Media Specialist
Cullman High School, Cullman, AL

Beth Shaum
ELA Teacher/K-8 Librarian
St. Frances Cabrini Catholic School, Allen Park, MI

Sheila Benson
Associate Professor, English Education
University of Northern Iowa, Cedar Falls IA

Marie LeJeune
Professor of Literacy
Western Oregon University, Monmouth, OR

Kerry Neuberger
Composition I & II, Eng 9, Model Teacher
Garner-Hayfield-Ventura High School, Garner, IA

For more information on the award, please visit ALAN Online: The Official Site of the Assembly on Literature for Adolescents


**For more information about the Walden Award and our time spent on the committee, stop by “My Time on the Walden Committee,” a post by Kellee linking to all Walden Award posts**

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newbery medal

On Monday, we found out that The Girl Who Drank the Moon won the 2017 Newbery Medal and The Inquisitor’s Tale by Adam Gidwitz, Wolf Hollow by Lauren Wolk, and Freedom Over Me by Ashley Bryan earned Newbery Honors. Watching the Youth Media Awards live is always one of my favorite days of the year because it they always make me so happy for the books I’ve read and so excited for the ones I haven’t read yet (as well as a bit sad for the wonderful books that weren’t honored). This year, the ALA awards were even more fun to watch because I was able to enjoy it with my Mock Newbery Book Club.  Although none of our Mock Newbery predictions were honored by that committee, we were so excited to see so many books we read this year honored.

Starting a Mock Newbery Book Club this year came about because of a few reasons. First, I’ve been fascinated by the Newbery Award since I was a kid. I remember having to read Newbery winners/honors when I was in school, and I was always enthralled with the list. Being on the Walden Book Award Committee also helped me understand how book awards worked and made me want to share it with my students. Third, Michele Knott was willing to share what she has learned from her own Mock Newbery experiences to help me get started on the right foot. And finally, I had a group of kids that wanted to do it with me and were passionate. That is what really made all the difference.

To Get Started

Before officially starting the club in September, I scoured Newbery prediction blog posts, the Mock Newbery Goodreads group, the Mock Newbery prediction list, and starred reviews to come up with a list of books that I would share with the club. In the end, I chose 26 titles to split between the 3 months we’d be reading. Each month had a list of 7-9 titles for students to choose from, and they were asked to read 2 a month to equal 6 or more titles read before voting day.

2016-10-04 12.20.15

T0 help my students have access to the novels, I began a Donors Choose project which was fully funded (THANK YOU!). I ended up with 3 copies of each book to share with my club. (I’ve also since received a grant to continue the book club during the spring though we haven’t decided what we’re going to do yet.)

Our Process

My group of 7th graders (ranging from 10 to 20 students) met twice a week during their lunch time. Some students came every day instead of just twice, others only came once a week which was the minimum to be part of the voting. For the first 3 weeks of the month, we spent book club time reading or recommending books to each other. Book talk was all throughout the room–so much book love! The last week of the month, I set up discussions around each book for the students to look critically at each book while looking at the Newbery criteria. Students also had the opportunity to discuss the books they were reading at any time electronically through small groups that I set up on Edmodo. This was the process throughout October, November, and December/January. Then the last week before we voted, we sat in a circle and shared the book we were going to vote for as the winner and shared why.

20170119_123814 20170119_123542

By the end of our process, 12 7th graders and 2 6th graders who chose to read the books on their own were able to vote. To determine our winner and honors, I used a process similar to the Newbery committee. Students were allowed to vote (through a Google Form) for their top 4 books (the committee does 3). Their top vote received 4 points, second vote 3 points, etc.

Our Vote

Mock Newbery Winner & Honors

Ghost by Jason Reynolds (16 points) *Odyssey Honor
Maybe a Fox by Kathi Appelt and Alison McGhee (15 points)
Raymie Nightingale by Kate DiCamillo (12 points)
Save Me a Seat by Gina Varadarajan and Sarah Weeks (12 points)
The Wild Robot by Peter Brown (12 points)

Hour of the Bees by Lindsay Eager (10 points)
Booked by Kwame Alexander (8 points)
Pax by Sara Pennypacker (7 points)
Sophie Quire and the Last Storyguard by Jonathan Auxier (7 points)
Wolf Hollow by Lauren Wolk (6 points) *Newbery Honor
Key to Extraordinary by Natalie Lloyd (6 points)
All Rise for the Honorable Perry T. Cook by Leslie Connor (6 points)

Received votes totaling 5 or less points (in alphabetical order):
As Brave As You by Jason Reynolds *Schneider Award, Coretta Scott King Honor
Full of Beans by Jennifer Holm *Scott O’Dell (Announced 1/11)
Girl Who Drank the Moon by Kelly Barnhill *Newbery Medal
Inquisitor’s Tale by Adam Gidwitz *Newbery Honor
Ms. Bixby’s Last Day by John David Anderson
Samurai Rising by Pamela S. Turner *YALSA Honor for Excellence in Nonfiction for Young Adults
Seventh Wish by Kate Messner


I cannot wait to go through this process again next year, but I hope to make it even a better experience. Here are some takeaways I have:

  • I need to spend more time looking at the criteria and what it means with the students as well as possibly looking at past winners. It is really hard to get them past “I like it.”
  • I need to decide if I want to give less options next year to allow for more people to read each book. They had A LOT of options each month, so some books only had 1 student read them thus couldn’t win even if that one person gave it their #1 spot. (Perry T. Cook, Girl Who Drank the Moon, and Wolf Hollow suffered from this.)
  • I need to figure out how to ensure that all members come to the discussion days because it is really hard to discuss books if not everyone is there. How can I keep kids coming without making it feel like another class?
  • I need to figure out how to structure the discussions better. With each person reading two, I can’t have all books’ discussions going on at once because a person cannot be in two places at once. That is why I like electronic or written discussion, but I have to work on getting more use out of these mediums.

Our Viewing Party


Then, on Monday, January 23rd, at 8am ET, we all gathered in my classroom to view the ALA Youth Media Awards live. This was all of my students’ first time watching the awards, and  I loved going through the experience with them. Although they were so sad that their favorites weren’t honored, they were so ecstatic when a book they did know won something.

I cannot wait to do this again next year!

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2016 Amelia Elizabeth Walden Book Award Winner & Finalists Announced

The Assembly on Literature for Adolescents (ALAN) of the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) is pleased and proud to announce the 2016 Amelia Elizabeth Walden Book Award for Young Adult Fiction finalists and winning title.  Established in 2008 to honor the wishes of young adult author Amelia Elizabeth Walden, the award allows for the sum of $5,000 to be presented annually to the author of a young adult title selected by the ALAN Amelia Elizabeth Walden Book Award Committee as demonstrating a positive approach to life, widespread teen appeal, and literary merit.

The 2016 Amelia Elizabeth Walden Award Winner is:

All American Boys by Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely
(Atheneum Books for Young Readers / Caitlyn Dlouhy Books)

All American Boys

The 2016 Amelia Elizabeth Walden Award finalists are:

All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven
(Penguin Random House / Knopf Books for Young Readers)

all the bright places

Challenger Deep by Neal Shusterman
(HarperCollins / HarperTeen)

challenger deep

Out of Darkness by Ashley Hope Pérez
(Lerner / Carolrhoda Lab)


Wolf by Wolf by Ryan Graudin
(Little, Brown Books for Young Readers)

wolf by wolf

All Walden Award titles will be identified by an award sticker—gold for the winner and silver for the four finalists. The winning title and finalists will be honored at the 2016 ALAN Workshop on Monday, November 21st at 4:30pm in Atlanta, GA, and the authors will be invited to participate in a panel discussion.

The 2016 Amelia Elizabeth Walden Award Committee would like to thank: the Amelia Elizabeth Walden Award Foundation, the ALAN Executive Council, the ALAN Board of Directors, NCTE, and the many publishers who submitted titles for consideration.

The 2016 Amelia Elizabeth Walden Award Committee considered over 350 young adult titles throughout the process.  The committee was comprised of eleven members representing the university, K-12 school, and library communities.  They are:

Mark Letcher, Committee Chair
Assistant Professor of English Education
Lewis University, Romeoville, IL

Lois Stover, Past Committee Chair
Dean, School of Education and Human Services
Marymount University, Arlington, VA

Cathy Blackler
ELA Teacher
Santana Alternative High School, La Puente, CA

Nancy Johnson
Professor of Children’s/YA Literature and English/Language Arts Education
Western Washington University, Bellingham, WA

Sara Kajder
Assistant Professor of English Education
University of Georgia, Athens, GA

Joellen Maples
Associate Professor, Graduate Literacy Program
St.  John Fisher College, Rochester, NY

Lisa Morris-Wilkey
Casa Grande Union High School, Casa Grande, AZ

Beth Scanlon
ELA Teacher, Literacy Coach
Cypress Creek High School, Orlando, FL

Jessica Lorentz Smith
Bend Senior High School, Bend, OR

Wendy Stephens
Library Media Specialist
Cullman High School, Cullman, AL

Lisa Scherff Warren
ELA Teacher
Cypress Lake High School, Fort Myers, FL

For more information on the award, please visit ALAN Online: The Official Site of the Assembly on Literature for Adolescents

Congratulations to all of the authors, and thank you to the AEWA committee members for all of your hard work! As past chairs of the committee, we know the amount of love, time, and thought that has been put into this choice.

To learn more about the Walden Award, visit our cumulative list of posts about AEWA: My Time on the Walden Committee

Our review of All American Boys

Ricki’s review of All the Bright Places

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last stop on market street

So many of us were so happy to hear that Matt de la Peña won the Newbery Medal with Last Stop on Market Street though so many of us were quite surprised as well. Not surprised because the book didn’t deserve it, it did; surprised because it is a picture book winning the award for most distinguished piece of children’s literature. This means that the illustrations, which are phenomenal and also won a Caldecott Honors, could not be taken into consideration during the Newbery process. This left many people wondering how a picture book could beat out novels such as Echo by Pam Muñoz Ryan and The War That Saved My Life by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley, two of the three honors books.

I was fascinated by all the conversations, and then I read a post on Facebook by my friend, Beth Shaum, sharing an activity she did in her classroom. She decided to let her student be the judge of the book and read Last Stop on Market Street aloud to her students without showing them the illustrations. She then asked them how it met the criteria of the Newbery. I loved it and decided to do it in mine as well. I didn’t plan on blogging about it, but the conversations that came with the activity and reading of Last Stop on Market Street with my middle school students was something that needed to be shared.

In my class, I read the whole picture book twice. The first time straight through. Then the second time I allowed for questions and we discussed it a bit. It was so wonderful to see how much inference needed to be done when the illustrations were excluded from the reading. When CJ says he wanted something a pair of teens had, students couldn’t see the photos to determine what it was. They also noticed the diversity of the book without seeing the photos because they pointed out that there was a blind man on the bus.

Finally, I asked my students to answer two questions. First, I asked them to tell me what made Last Stop on Market Street distinguished, and why do you think it won the Newbery. Then, after reading the book for a third time and showing the illustrations as well they had to tell me what the theme of the book was. (We are actually in a theme unit, so the text fit in perfectly.) Here are some answers I received:

What made Last Stop on Market Street distinguished? Why do you think it won the Newbery?

“This book won the Newbery award because it had so many positive things to teach kids. It shows many different things to think about.”

“Because of the author’s ability to use imagery, teach a valuable life lesson in a way where a child can understand, and it’s way of including racially diverse characters like the world we live in today. This book creates a story for children that let’s them think.”

“I think it won because the book teach you many lessons about homeless people and the different types of diversity that is in the world, also the book teach you that some people don’t have a lot of things and it is important to be thankful, the kid in the book was complaining about doesn’t have a car but some people don’t even have food.”

“This book is different from all the other winners for this award, but it still won maybe because the amount of detail in the story even without looking at the illustration.”

“I think this book won the Newbery prize because this shows us that deep down inside that little town it shines bright like the sun,so i think that this book won because it teaches life lessons for kids.”

“I think this won because the story was very well written. The setting and people in the setting were described very well. Even without the pictures I could imagine what the scene looked like. The one scene that really stood out was when CJ, his grandma, and the blind man, all closed their eyes and enjoyed the sound of the music the man with the guitar was playing. The author described this scene very well.”

“It won the Newberry medal because there was so much description in the characters and how the character talked about the setting how there was a arch of a rainbow, about the streetlamps, the graffiti, and even about the description of the characters were so much in detail, like this person was blind, and that the dog guided him around.”

“I think the Last Stop On Market Street won the Newbery Medal because of the way of the wording showed freedom, power, and beauty. It showed clever wording and hints that implied little things that made the world better and beautiful. It talked about how the world was ruined to some and looked wrong, but when you understood it, the world was beautiful. What made the book distinguished was how so little words meant so much and made you think about how the world was breathtaking, and what made it so special.”

“This book is distinguished because the characters are described well because it showed what they were doing and saying. The book also described freedom well and it showed the theme better because it said that his Nana found beautiful everywhere and he looks around after wondering that and it seems that he is appreciating the beauty of all the things around him. I think that this book won the Newbery because it (1) shows diversity, (2) it has an amazing message, and (3) the book doesn’t take place in a fancy school or luxurious house but on an old bus yet it still makes CJ’s time there seem great because he is enjoying the world around him and the people around him.”

“I think that the book won the Newberry because the characters are diverse, for example, the blind man with his dog on the bus. C.J and his Nana are also interesting characters, because Nana sees the beauty in a lot of things that C.J doesn’t see yet.”

“This book won the Newbery prize because it is very true and it gives people hope.”

What is the theme of Last Stop on Market Street?

“The theme is that whenever you are sad you have to keep positive and look at the good side.”

” Broken things still have their uses.”

“Don’t be jealous and want everything be happy that you are living the life you have. You don’t have to be like all the other people and be jealous. Who cares where you live and what you do or what you have. Like when the boy said he wanted a car instead of riding the bus. He wanted to go straight home instead of going to the homeless shelter. All those things he wanted but he should have been happy for what he has.”

“I think the theme of the Last Stop On Market Street was to appreciate the little things in the world that make it special, rather than looking on the outside and wanting what you think makes the world better for you, not including others who may have less, but respect more than what you think the world is made of.”

“I think that the theme of the story is that people should appreciate what they have in life because beauty is everywhere no matter where you are or what you are doing.”

“I think that the theme of this book is that there is beauty in everything. I say this because C.J’s Nana said that the bus breathes fire, that a tree’s trunk is a straw, she also said that some people see the world with their ears.”

Thank you to my students for their beautiful and thoughtful responses.

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For the past 3 years, Alyson Beecher has hosted a Mock Sibert through her nonfiction picture book Wednesdays meme. Each year the mock award has grown: from just Kid Lit Frenzy and Unleashing Readers hosting to including There’s A Book for That and anyone who wanted to participate.

Kid Lit Frenzy: 2016 Mock Sibert 

There’s a Book for That: 2016 Mock Sibert

Kid Lit Frenzy: 2015 Mock Sibert 

Unleashing Readers: 2015 Mock Sibert

There’s a Book for That: 2015 Mock Sibert

Kid Lit Frenzy: 2014 Mock Sibert 

Unleashing Readers: 2014 Mock Sibert

This year, we want to expand the Mock Sibert discussion even further by moving it to a year long conversation, so I proposed to a small group of my PLN the idea of expanding the Mock Sibert to a Book Group on GoodReads.  There are currently ones for Mock Newbery, Mock Caldecott, and Mock Printz, and we felt it was time for a Mock Sibert group. By doing this, we get to discuss books all year long, and you can join in too!

Our plan for the group is for group members to start discussions about any nonfiction books that they feel are 2017 Sibert Award contenders. Then within those discussion boards, we will discuss the books we each “nominate.” At the end of December, we will vote for the books we feel need to be looked at again. We’ll then have a FINALISTS discussion board where we look closer at each of the books with an eye specifically towards the Sibert criteria. Following our discussions, we will vote for what we believe will be the finalists. We’ll then have a WINNER discussion board where we look again at the books we voted as finalists and discuss who we think will win. About a week before the 2017 ALA Media Awards, with enough time to blog about our winner and finalists if participants would like, we’ll vote for the winner.

Come join us on Goodreads at the Mock Sibert Book Club!

First, go to GROUPS at the top of the Goodreads home page.


You can search for the book club in the search bar at the top of the groups page.


Please make sure to answer our new member’s question, and we will approve you to jump into our conversation!

Hope you will come join us!

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