Books, Brownies, and Beyond by Ramona Behnke
If it’s fall, then it’s time to think about Newbery possibilities. If you’re retired, then you may be in search of a place where you can share book love. And that’s exactly what I found myself doing last fall when I approached my former principals at Islander Middle School about creating an after school book club.
My initial request was to meet once weekly during December and January with the express purpose of discussing the Newbery possibilities chosen by King County Library System (KCLS) children’s librarians. This was an easy sell because I had participated in You Choose the Next Newbery (YCTNN) for several years as a classroom teacher. I modified my grant request to reflect that this year students would participate through an after school book club (instead of the classroom setting) and emphasized that books purchased would be donated to our school-wide literature circle collection.
We met weekly in December and January in small book groups to discuss the books utilizing the Newbery criteria. We also talked about other books we were reading, perused titles in the book bins, and enjoyed sweet treats. Carrie Bowman, teen librarian from KCLS, joined us and became co-sponsor of our book club. The titles continued to rotate among groups with the goal to read as many of the selected titles as possible by the end of January. We spent our final meetings in January evaluating each title through the lens of the Newbery criteria. We voted for the Newbery and posted our results on the school website.
Luckily, book club day fell on the day the Newbery award was announced. That afternoon we listened to the archived broadcast from the morning’s announcement at the Midwinter ALA meeting. We were excited that Crossover, one of our titles, won the 2015 Newbery Medal and that Brown Girl Dreaming, a favorite from our group, was named as an Honor title. Although our top choice, Ann Martin’s Rain Reign, did not garner any Newbery recognition, we were delighted when it received the 2015 Charlotte Huck Award for Outstanding Fiction for Children.
My loyal book club members did not want our gatherings to end, so the administration gave us the okay to continue meeting each week. Future meetings included reading Caldecott winners and honor books, taking pics of students with favorite books, ongoing book talks, bins of books to peruse every week, and of course, cookie bars to enjoy. Students took turns bringing treats, so in addition to our smorgasbord of books, there was always a sweet treat or two near the end of each meeting.
In March, we participated in the 2015 March Book Madness. My members were incensed that many of the Middle Grade titles they loved were eliminated during the first round of voting. We decided to continue our own voting and to post results in two colors: one for the national March Book Madness results and one for our book club results. I’m not sure that anyone else understood our bulletin board, but it made perfect sense to us.
April found us blissfully wandering through bins of poetry books, sticky notes in hand, to mark our favorite poems. We shared them with each other, copied them, and mounted them on colorful paper in preparation for Operation Poetry Blitz when we posted poems on every bulletin board in the school. Students joined Carrie Bowman in rolling favorite poems and tying them with ribbon to pass out during lunch on Poem in Your Pocket Day.
In May we selected new titles to read in small groups, wrote poetry, and enjoyed meeting outside in the Gator Garden. We finally decided on an official name for our club, Books, Brownies and Beyond!
We had our final meeting of the school year in June, and committed to meeting monthly in July and August at the public library. After all, we had just spent a glorious year sharing book love every week, and we couldn’t bear the thought of not meeting at all for two months.
September found the members of Books, Brownies, and Beyond once again sharing books and sweet treats. This year we’ve reached a new level of participation with eighteen students in attendance one week. And we actually had seven boys and seven girls at our most recent meeting!
It’s October. KCLS announced its slate of books for this year’s You Choose the Next Newbery. I wrote the grant. I ordered the books. I’ll pick them up soon from Island Books, deliver them to our school library for processing, and by the end of October, we’ll be reading and evaluating Newbery possibilities for 2016.
Titles selected by KCLS children’s librarians:
Circus Mirandus; Echo; Listen, Slowly; The Thing about Jellyfish; and The War that Saved My Life.
Three additional titles added by me for Books, Brownies, and Beyond::
Stella by Starlight, Goodbye Stranger, and The 7th Most Important Thing.
Let us know the titles you hope will win the 2016 Newbery Medal!
If it’s Tuesday, then it’s time for Books, Brownies, and Beyond. We drop our backpacks, we gather around tables, we share books and sweet treats. There’s a comfort that comes when we meet with fellow bibliophiles, a happiness that permeates our space as we settle in to share our zest for the written word.
Ramona Behnke (@RamonaBehnke) is entering her second year of retirement. She taught 6th grade Language Arts and Social Studies. She has been dubbed the “teacher who doesn’t know how to retire” by her teacher friends. She loves books, chocolate, family, blogging, friends, and sleep (though not necessarily in that order). She blogs at pleasuresfromthepage.blogspot.com and imssweetreads.blogspot.com.