Nerdy Book Club Turns Three by Donalyn Miller

The first Nerdy Book Club post appeared on December 1, 2011. Today marks our third anniversary. When Colby and I started the blog, we didn’t have grand ambitions. We wanted a place to celebrate the books our students loved and share ideas about engaging young people with reading. We weren’t sure anyone would read the blog outside of our circle of friends and Twitter followers, but that was OK.

On our anniversaries, I share Nerdy’s origin story, so that new readers can learn how it began and all of us can remember the power we have to build connections, find our voices, and stand up for our core beliefs. The creed of this blog is, “Every reader has value and a voice in our community.” We believe it for the young readers in our lives and we believe it for ourselves.

In the beginning, #nerdybookclub was a Twitter hashtag. Even among obsessed readers, there are a few folks who take reading and book love to the extreme. People began using the #nerdybookclub hashtag as a confessional—sharing their binge reading episodes; fascination with book marks, book ends, and book cases; and never-ending book recommendations. The hashtag is still in use—as sheepish punctuation for over-the-top reading moments and great book recommendations.

Although Colby Sharp and I first “met” during my annual summer #bookaday challenge in 2011, we didn’t meet face-to-face until the 2011 National Council of Teachers of English Convention in Chicago. During that conference, Colby and I expressed our dismay that so many of the books we loved to read and share with our students were overlooked during book award season. In particular, we thought Linda Urban’s Hound Dog True was a masterpiece that was largely ignored by major reviewers at the time.

Debating on Twitter, Katherine Sokolowski, our dear friend, sarcastically remarked, “We should start our own book awards. #nerdybookclub” For reasons that remain unexplained, Colby and I jumped on the idea. As teachers, writers, and parents, we didn’t really have time for one more thing. It’s probably good that we didn’t think about it too much or we would have changed our minds.

By the end of the day, we had created a Survey Monkey ballot for the first Nerdy Book Club Awards, the Nerdies, and started a blog to host award nominations and announcements.

While providing readers a few weeks to nominate books, Colby and I asked friends and colleagues to write essays about their reading lives for the blog. I urge you to go back and read these early posts—beautiful essays from readers, sharing their paths to lifelong reading and the teachers, librarians, relatives, and friends who passed the reading flame along to them. I find clarity in these reading lives posts, which we still run every Monday. They remind us all why lifelong reading matters and why we need to share our reading lives with children.

It became clear almost immediately that Nerdy Book Club was more than a blog. It was a home for readers. As I wrote in the first Reading Lives post on December 2nd, “Welcome to the Nerdy Book Club, I was waiting for you. I know that you were waiting for me, too.” It seemed a lot of people obsessed with children’s literature and matching kids with books were looking for a tribe. Nerdy offered that space for all of us.

Overwhelmed by the response to both the awards and our posts, Colby and I decided we needed help with the day-to-day management of the blog. We called Cindy Minnich, our tech-savvy archivist for #titletalk, and begged her to help us. It was the best decision we ever made. While Colby and I are the public face of Nerdy Book Club, we couldn’t run it without Cindy’s daily commitment to loading posts and curating our content.

After we tallied Nerdy Book Club Award ballots and announced the winners of the 2011 Nerdies, Colby, Cindy, and I were faced with a decision—keep the blog going all year or put it in hibernation until the awards each November. We asked our readers what they wanted, and you told us to keep the blog going.

Nerdy is truly a grassroots effort. We don’t sell advertising. Our logo and website headers were donated by author/illustrators Tom Angleberger and Deborah Freedman. The profits from our Nerdy Book Club swag store go to Reading Is Fundamental. Our posts come from contributors who sign up on the blog. Almost 500 people have written posts–from first year teachers to award-winning authors. Our youngest poster was six.

Today is our 1,107th post. We’ve never missed a day, although, Nerdy insiders know that if we run a poll it means something went wonky with a scheduled post. Thank goodness, Cindy is good at making up interesting poll questions. This summer, Katherine officially joined the Nerdy team to help schedule posters and answer correspondence.

You never know what tomorrow’s Nerdy Book Club post will bring. Our posts vary in their perspectives and responses to reading—from authors like N.D. Wilson  and Andrea Davis Pinkney revealing what inspires them, to veteran teachers like Gary Anderson confessing his love for Old Yeller, to Top Ten Fat Books by Library Sciences professor, Karin Perry.

You can depend on us to be single-minded in our focus. We only have one mission—celebrating children, their books, and the people who write for them. We know the power that reading has to inspire, educate, and entertain us for a lifetime. We want children to feel this power, too.

We are proud of Nerdy Book Club because it has become a reading family to us and to the many teachers, librarians, parents, children, authors, illustrators, publishers, and booksellers who read and write for the blog. Thank you for supporting Nerdy Book Club. We couldn’t do it without you. Colby promises that we will continue the blog as long as we are having fun. We are having a blast and we hope you are, too. May our nerdy flag continue flying for years to come.

**It’s time for the fourth annual Nerdy Book Club Awards, the Nerdies. Submit your nominations for 2014 Best Children’s and Young Adults’ Books. The ballot will close on December 20th at midnight Eastern Time. Our final list will appear in daily category posts beginning December 26th.

Donalyn Miller has taught fourth, fifth, and sixth grade English and Social Studies. She is the author of two books about encouraging students to read, The Book Whisperer (Jossey-Bass, 2009) and Reading in the Wild (Jossey-Bass, 2013). Donalyn co-hosts the monthly Twitter chat, #titletalk (with Nerdy co-founder, Colby Sharp) and the Best Practices Roots (#bproots) chat with Teri Lesesne. Donalyn launched the Twitter summer and holiday reading initiative, #bookaday. You can find her on Twitter at @donalynbooks or under a pile of books somewhere, happily reading.