Friday, March 9, 2012

Young Hoosier Book Award, Here I Come!

Tomorrow, I will trek up to Indy for the start of what I like to call Young Hoosier Book Award Season. Yup, I'm on the middle grade committee for the Young Hoosier Book Award (YHBA). YHBA is Indiana's state kids' choice book award program. There are three lists of 20 nominees set forth each year and announced in November at the Indiana Library Federation Annual Conference. There's a committee for each of the lists - picture books, intermediate books (think 3rd-5th grade) and middle grade books (think 6th-8th grade). ILF also has a high school book award - the Eliot Rosewater Indiana High School Book Award.

Last year was my first year on the YHBA committee and I didn't know exactly what to expect. Now that I'm returning for my second year (a term on the committee is generally two years), I have a better idea and I'm really excited to get started! Here's what we'll do.

We have a meeting in March where we get our list of field-and-committee-nominated books (yup, Indiana librarians, teachers, students, and parents - you can nominate books!). Our tireless YHBA committee chairs go through the field nominations to assess eligibility and give us a list of approximately 60 titles that we have to narrow down to 20. We also get many review copies provided by publishers. As a committee member, I really appreciate getting any review copies publishers are able to provide because it makes my job a lot easier!

Once we get our list, we start reading, reading, reading! For YHBA, we also create activity sheets for each of 20 finalists. The activity sheets include vocabulary words, discussion questions, and classroom activities that correlate to the Indiana state educational standards. It does add an extra layer of work to the committee reading, but once you get the hang of it, it gets easier.

We read all spring and summer and then have another meeting in September where we hash our the 20 books on the list. We choose 20 books and a couple of alternates, which are used if a publisher doesn't have enough copies of a book to satisfy demand. We spend a day hashing out the list and putting together the activity sheets. And then we sit back and wait to brag on our hard work until the list is announced in November. After that, it's out of our hands! Kids will read the books and vote on their favorites!

Serving on a state book award committee can be a really fun way to get involved in your state library association. I've gotten to know some great people through my YHBA work and it's super fun to talk books with people in my state who are just as passionate as I am about reading. I definitely learned some things from my experience on the committee last year...

1. Start reading right away! Some of the people on my committee (about half, I think) were school librarians or classroom teachers and it makes sense that they might not start reading in earnest until school is out for the summer. For a public librarian, the opposite is true! In July, I was really wishing that I had done more reading in March and April. You can bet that as soon as I get home from Saturday's meeting, I will be placing some holds at my library and getting started.

2. Leave some great books for last! I did the opposite last year and it was such a drag to slog through some of the books I was least interested in at the very end of the summer when I had been reading like a maniac for months. Of course some books will surprise you - books you weren't that interested in turn out to be pretty awesome. But if there are some books on the list by favorite authors, books that have gotten great reviews all over the place, books you've read before and loved... save a couple of these as a reward at the end. It'll be a great motivational tool for getting through some of the ones that you're not that into.

3. Take good notes! I made a YHBA notebook last year so I could keep all my notes in the same place. When I was creating my activity sheets, I jotted down vocabulary words, discussion questions, notes about possible classroom activities, etc. I also took notes about the books I wasn't assigned activity sheets for, just so I could remember what was great or what wasn't so strong. This notebook came in really handy at our selection meeting in September. Rather than vaguely saying "Hmm... I think I liked that one..." I could tell my committee members specifics about the strengths and weaknesses. It makes for a much stronger argument for the books I wanted on the list and the books I didn't think deserved to be on the list.

4. Communicate with your committee members! This was something that didn't happen as much as I would have liked last year. It's understandable - everyone is so super busy, I know. But I'm aiming to make this happen this year. I think it'll make the whole process easier and more fun if we're chatting throughout. We'll see how it goes...

5. Don't forget about audiobooks! Of course, I couldn't use audiobooks for the titles I need to create activity sheets for, but audiobooks are a great way to supplement print book reading. I especially liked audiobooks for rereads, books I needed a refresher for. I also liked audiobooks for books that I thought would be popular with kids, but which weren't really my genre or my cup of tea.

6. Read as MANY of the books as you possibly can. Everyone's going to be different about this aspect, of course, and sometimes things come up and you just can't get to every book. For myself, every time I thought about skipping a book or just giving up near the end and calling it good, I'd ask myself "If my committee members want this book on the list, am I comfortable putting it on there without having read it?" The answer was always NO! There were a few of the books that I didn't finish, but I read enough of them to know that they weren't strong enough for the list.

That's my game plan heading in to this year's YHBA Season. I'm excited to greet my committee members, new and familiar, and to get started reading some fabulous books!