Presenting: The NBJH Book Award!

The front page of our NBJH Book Award brochure
The front page of our 2016-2017 NBJH Book Award brochure, featuring six of the 16 titles

I’m not going to lie: this was one of my proudest accomplishments at this job.

The Why

It started out with a list of sort of mediocre selections for our state book award, the Caudills. I love our state awards, but the Caudill has a tough job – it’s for students in grades 4-8. Yikes! There are not a whole lot of books that are appealing for 9-year-olds and 14-year-olds. So they’d recommend some books for the younger kids, some books for the older kids, but what about my completionists – the kids who were desperate to read every. single. book, even if they hated ’em?

This project started for those kids, but it grew to include just about everybody else. What I love so much about running an in-house book award program is the sense of ownership our students feel. The whole program is run by them, with some oversight from staff members. They pick the books, they promote the books, they celebrate at the end of the program. It provides great leadership opportunities for our committee members, and students who aren’t on the committee are more invested because the list was chosen by their peers. Plus, that list is perfectly tailored to our school, which is huge.

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Understanding the World through Literature

Grade level: 8th; would also work with older students

Duration: ~5-6 class sessions

Background: Look, I’m a librarian. I’m deeply invested in the idea that reading makes us better people, opens our eyes, expands our sense of empathy. Both nonfiction and fiction texts help us understand the world around us.

It was with that belief in mind that I worked with a social studies teacher and our gifted coordinator to develop this short, powerful unit. Our 8th grade social studies classes were studying dictatorships, and North Korea in particular, and this teacher was looking for another way for them to access the material.

In this project, students choose a work of dystopian fiction and think, write, and discuss the parallels they see between that work of fiction and a real-life dictatorship. Students are expected to find evidence for their claims by locating supporting nonfiction articles.

We gave students the option of selecting a work they’d already read – many of our kids gobble up dystopian novels – or something new. We included a list of short story options for students who didn’t already have a text in mind, since the timeframe was relatively short.

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The Great Greek Debates

Over the course of this weeklong project, students work in groups to learn about the different types of government in Ancient Greece. They conduct research and do a LOT of critical thinking, and they get to face the challenge – often for the first time! – of having to defend an idea they disagree with. Let’s be real: lots of grown-ups struggle with that. Continue reading “The Great Greek Debates”

That’s fake news!

Because sometimes it really is fake news, and our students need to know how to figure that out.

Grade level and duration: We did this with 6th grade ELA classes in a cool 80 minutes.


  • Students will be able to discern “sponsored content”, opinion pieces, and advertising/advertorials on legitimate news websites.
  • Students will able to determine the legitimacy of an unknown news website using a checklist.
  • Students will be able to use online tools to determine the accuracy of a news story or viral image.
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National Novel Writing Month happens every November, and it’s one of my favorite times of year. This year, for the first time, we opened up our NaNoWriMo club to 7th graders as well as 8th graders – our 7th graders used to do NaNoWriMo in their language arts classes, but due to curriculum changes that’s no longer happening. We still wanted to give them a chance! Continue reading “NaNoWriMo”

Representing History and Race in Picture Books

One of the eighth grade language arts teachers and I closely followed the stories and conversations about A Fine Dessert and A Birthday Cake for George Washington. Her students had already worked with case studies on controversial books, so this process wasn’t totally new to them; they’d also just finished reading To Kill a Mockingbird, so they were primed to discuss race and history. Their discussions were fascinating. Continue reading “Representing History and Race in Picture Books”

Investigating Historical Fiction with Primary Sources

Grade level: 6th, but you could easily modify this to work with younger or older students

Background: Students were working on a historical fiction genre study. They’d just finished Breaking Stalin’s Nose as a class read-aloud, and had just broken into book groups. For this project, they worked within those groups and focused on the book they were reading. Continue reading “Investigating Historical Fiction with Primary Sources”