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2013 Best Books for Teens submissions

After nearly four months of reading, I’ve made my way through all the books submitted for the 2013 Best Books for Teens Awards from the Canadian Children’s Book Centre. There were close to 30 entries and all of them fine young adult novels. Now that the reading is done, the hard part begins.  It’s decision time.

And when you get a group of book lovers, teachers and librarians together to pick a winner, things can get messy.

Many Judges, Many Winners

Okay, maybe not messy, but the discussions can definitely get lively. Last year, I had the honour of choosing the Best Books for Kids, for middle grade novels. It was the same process as this time around.

We were shipped a selection of books submitted to the CCBC by publishers. We had a few months to read the books. Then, we met at the Canadian Children’s Book Centre’s offices to pick a selection of the best, including a few that we thought stood out and were given “Starred Selection” status.  This year, because of schedules, we’re meeting virtually via Google Hangouts.

I’m really excited for this meeting because there are definitely a couple of titles that I am ready to champion to get on the list. While I can’t tell you which ones those are, I can say that it’s a lot of fun to sit down with fellow book fans and talk about the merits of particular titles. I also like that there isn’t a single “winner” for this award. Too often, a single prize contest shines all the light on one book while leaving other, just a worthy titles, languishing in the “Runner Up” category when those books are equally deserving winners themselves.

Better Judges for Best Books?

As a teacher as well as a writer, I’m always wondering how we can include young people into these book awards programs. The CCBC does an amazing job recognizing the achievements of Canadian children’s books through its many generous awards. However, I really like the way the OLA’s Tree Awards puts kids in the centre of the award-giving by making them the judges who pick the winners. For me, this really hits the mark as an inclusive and equitable way to give kids a voice in a medium that is specifically for them. That said, it would be also great to have the kids as part of the selection process to choose the Tree Nominees.

Update: Since posting this, the amazing Rachel Seigel, who organizes the CCBC Best Book judging (and runs Reading Timbits, a great book blog AND is the K-12 buyer at wholesaler S&B Books here in Canada) shared with me a great post she wrote over at Publishing Crawl, about putting kids in charge of choosing the book winners.

This part really jumped out at me:

One of my favourite aspects of awards such as these is that the lists are not specifically created with curriculum in mind, but to represent a variety of cultures, genres and authors, and with kids’ reading interests in mind. The winners reflect not the choices that adults would make, but the books that the kids have chosen, and they’re not necessarily the most popular or commercial books. Whether they realize it or not, kids are learning to think critically about what they are reading, improving their reading skills, and most importantly, enjoying reading- and what could be better than that?

I couldn’t agree more and it’s something that all teachers and teacher-librarians hope their students take away from their time reading books (and other texts) in school.

Since starting to judge the Best Books Awards, I’ve been thinking about ways that a Best Books Award, chosen by kids could be run in my school. Perhaps there already is something like this and I missed something in my exhaustive my 5 minute duckduckgo search on the subject. I guess the “Battle of the Books” competitions is close to what I’m thinking about. However, these tend to focus on picking a single “winner” as opposed to a recommended list of winning titles. Somewhere in there is a happy medium. I think I’ll add that to my list of  “Projects to Try Out in My School Library” in the coming months.

What about you? Have you run a Best Books style program in your class or library? I would love to hear how it worked or other suggestions you have to get kids involved in the book recommendation process.

Leave a comment below and share your wisdom!

As an award-winning children’s author, gamer-geek and elementary school teacher, I often have Tech Teaching ideas and project news to share with fellow educators. I deliver these resources and ideas to your inbox in my e-newsletter Reading Change.

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