Teacher Tuesday

May I just say how much fun I’m having “meeting” amazing teachers and librarians from all over the country? I’m very delighted today to introduce you to Laura Given, a librarian at Parkview Center School in Roseville, Minnesota, which she describes as a “first-ring suburb just north of St. Paul.” Her library serves students from kindergarten through eighth grade. I am in awe of Laura because she has taken her passion for children’s books to a whole new level of commitment. She noticed that her home state did not have a young readers’ choice picture book award. And Laura is a can-do kind of person. Start a new state award? No problem! You might want to pour an energy drink to sip while you find out what Laura’s been up to.

But first, a little peek into her past!

Seventh grade Laura eager to take on the world!

  • Favorite school lunch as a kid:  Hot Turkey with Mashed Potatoes and Gravy
  • Best friend in grade school:  Tena W. – She lived kitty-corner (or catty-corner) from me.
  • Times you were the new kid in school:  Only once in first grade. I went to a Montessori school for Kindergarten and switched to my neighborhood school in first grade.
  • Teacher who inspired you to stretch:  My 8th grade English teacher. She had a writing group that met on Friday’s before school in the library.
  • The one thing you always wished you could do in grade school but never achieved:  Climb the rope in gym class.

 Now let‘s get to the heart of this interview. Laura, you shared with me that you are trying to create a young readers picture book choice award in your state. 

You crazy girl! What on earth prompted you to take on such a huge project?
I’m not sure I understood what a huge undertaking it would be at first, but it has definitely been a fun process so far.

Tell us what you’ve done to get the ball rolling:

First of all, I asked around to see if I could join in on someone else’s lead. But there were no takers. That’s when I knew that if I wanted to see this become a reality, I would need to step up and lead myself.

After that realization, I did a lot of research. I wanted to find out what everyone else was doing. Cynthia Leitich Smith’s website was a huge help because part of her site is devoted to State Awards for Children’s and Young Adult Books. I used that as a spring board to find as many state student choice book awards as I could. I looked at their guidelines for selection, currency of nominated titles, number of nominated titles, requirements for student participation. I made a gigantic spreadsheet and took notes on the fabulous ideas that I wanted to somehow incorporate into the new MN award. 
You initiated a “pilot” project, featuring 15 picture books* for students to commonly read and vote on. How did you hit upon this step?

I was very excited and motivated to get started on this new Minnesota picture book award idea, but it became apparent that this was going to be a slow process. At one point I was discouraged and thought that an “official” award might not happen for a very long time. I had too much energy and excitement around the idea to wait that long. That’s how my pilot award 15 Books came along.

I took all the research and ideas I had up to that point and put it out there for anyone to join me. My colleague and good friend Anna Zbacnik (@a_to_z_library) of A to Z Library Lady joined in, and we had a lot of fun with the pilot.

Describe the steps you’ve taken to implement this project to date. Please be as detailed as possible, in case some other insane, I mean, incredible librarian wants to follow your lead. (just teasing!)

I contacted the board of Minnesota Youth Reading Awards (MYRA),
the organization that runs the Maud Hart Lovelace Award (the Minnesota student choice award for grades 3-8).

Then, as I mentioned earlier, I researched all the state awards I could and ended up starting my pilot award.

While I was finishing the first year of the the pilot award, MYRA decided the organization was ready to move forward with the idea of introducing a new award. 
What followed was a complicated process behind the scenes involving bylaws and Robert’s Rules of Order. Eventually I was voted onto the MYRA board as the chair of the new picture book award, and then the real fun began: reading lots of picture books and finding other picture book lovers to join me.

We now have a group of picture book lovers from around the state reading picture books to help determine what 10 books will be the first nominees to be announced April 25, 2013.

How did you come up with the name for the award?
We wanted the name to be “Minnesotan”, but we also wanted it to not sound too cheesy. So the Hotdish Award, and the Skeeter Award, as well as the Loon Award were all veto-ed. Minnesota’s State Motto is “L’Etoile du Nord”, which means “The Star of the North.”
I like thinking of the nominated books as the stars.

What are the next steps?
Star of the North readers are reading picture books and will be sending recommendations on to our selection committee in early 2013. The selection committee will look at the top titles and determine the final list of 10 nominees. Those nominees are kept in a locked vault until April 25, 2013, the date they’ll be announced to the public.
After the announcement, students have until March 2014 to read or have read to them 8 of the 10 nominees to be eligible to vote. Student votes are collected in March of 2014, and on April 25, 2014 the first Winner of the Star of the North award will be announced, along with 10 new nominated titles for 2014-15.
 (note from Kirby: this gives me chills! So thrilling!)
What are the criteria for this award?
The following limitations are set on the nominated titles:

  1. All titles are classified as Picture Books (they may be fiction or nonfiction).
  2. Titles’ copyrights are from previous 2 years (nominees announced in 2013 will have copyrights from 2012 or 2011).
  3. Titles are in print and available to order.
  4. List of nominees reflects variety in perspectives and genres.
  5. Consideration made for Minnesota connections and MN Authors or Illustrators.
  6. Caldecott Award winning titles will not be considered.
  7. Titles will be reviewed by at least one professional review source.  
  8. If a title is part of a series, it will only be considered if it is able to stand alone without relying on familiarity with the other titles in the series.
  9. Books based on movies or television shows are not eligible for nominations unless the book preceded the movie or television production.   
  10. Titles may not be a holiday book, a toy, a puzzle, a pop up book or formula fiction.
  11. Nominated authors and illustrators must be alive at the time of nomination and living in North America.
  12. The previous year’s WINNING author and illustrator are not eligible to have a nominated title for the following year.
  13. Only one title per author or illustrator is allowed in the list of nominees.
  14. Titles will be chosen with an audience of 5-8 year-olds in mind.
  15. Titles are quality, engaging picture books.

How did you arrive at these criteria?
It was a long process. Ultimately we wanted to make sure we were creating a list of books each year that libraries, schools, families and kids would embrace as a quality, engaging list.

I know why young readers choice awards are important to authors/illustrators – they’re an amazing affirmation of  our work by the very audience of readers we’re working for. But why are state young readers choice awards important to schools and libraries? And, perhaps most importantly, why are they important for kids?

Student choice awards help create a reading community. Participating in the reading and voting allows students to feel connected to other readers around them, as well as be a part of something larger than their class and their school.
Awards and recommended lists are great ways to find quality reading choices – we often teach this to students. There are not many awards where kids feel a part of the award process and have their opinion heard. State awards are a place where that can happen.

What has been the most surprising thing that’s happened to you since diving into this project?

With my pilot picture book award, students and I read the books out loud together. This created an amazing shared reading experience with my primary grades. The excitement and “book bonding” that happened was more powerful that I could have imagined.

I have also been blown away by the support and excitement from teachers, librarians, and book lovers around the state. It is an amazing feeling to be a part of this award from the very beginning.

How could your fellow Minnesotans lend a hand with the Star of the North Award?

Become a member of the Minnesota Youth Reading Awards. For the low price of $10 a year, you can support the award and help students be a part of the voting process.

Also if you love reading picture books, consider becoming a reader for the Star of the North. We would love your input and help.

What else would you like to say about the Star of the North Award and its inception?

One thing I am thrilled is part of the Star of the North Award is the idea that picture books are for everyone. Even though the nominated titles for the award are chosen with 5-8 year-olds in mind, students up through 8th grade are allowed and encouraged to read and vote.

Thank you, thank you, thank you, Laura, for sharing all this great information! You are an inspiration and I imagine that everyone who reads this interview will feel a little like an auntie when the first Star of the North awards are announced!

Follow Laura on Twitter, @LibLaura5, or check out her blog!

* Full disclosure: one of the books that I have co-written with Mary Nethery is on this list but I was unaware of that fact when I invited Laura to be interviewed. Scout’s Honor!