Wednesday, November 20, 2013

2014 Caudill List: Snap Judgements and a Strategy

I've complete both the Monarch and Bluestem lists, but now it's the biggie:  the 2014 Rebecca Caudill Young Readers Book Award List.  As if that title wasn't enough to scare you.  I've said enough times that the Caudill is an Illinois reader's choice award for grades 4-8, but it is also the oldest reader's choice award in Illinois.  While this award has a little more street cred, I feel like this award is the most heavy handed.  I've often said that it seems like the award committee sometimes just puts books on this list so students will have to read them.  This is a list that is heavy with historical fiction and what I like to call "social issue" books.  Not that these books are bad, because they sometimes surprise me, but these books don't stand a chance!  The Caudill is normally pretty easy to predict because it's the middle reader sweet spot and anything that the students are reading for fun is guaranteed to win (see Smile, 2013, The Lightning Thief, 2009, Harry Potter 1, 2001).  I'm not sure why you would put such a weak field against such strong contenders, but there you have it.  So this year, I am employing a slightly different strategy when it comes to the Caudill.

In year's past, I've read Caudills at random.  Usually whatever was on the shelf that I could get my hands on, but the books that I actually wanted to read were picked up first.  Then after I'd read all of the books that I would read by choice, I'd just go down the list and finish up.  This is a bad system because you are ending with the books that you didn't want to read in the first place.  Plus, by the end of these 20 books you are a little burned out on Meaningful Books (or social issue books).  No, this year I'm mixing it up. I'm going opposite.  I'm reading the social issue books first, the books I don't  care to read.  The books that make me question why I do this because I'm not a working librarian and I don't have to do this.  But I do it for the glory!  Or just to say I did, whatever.

But how do you choose the books that look totally meaningful and marginal?  (Note:  by meaningful books I mean books that are heavy-handed and beat you with a message-I can't stand that in children's literature.  Kids aren't stupid and they know when a message is not authentic, so stop talking down to them!)  Only having read two of the books, I decided to unscientifically rank all 20 books by Top of List, Middle of List, Bottom of List based on my own snap judgements.  This shows where they will end up when the voting is done.  I bet I have an 80% success rate.  I have four books at the top, books that I think students are reading anyway, or that will delight them.  I have nine middles.  These books could go either way, for instance Okay for Now is a solid book that 's funny but it's a hard sell.  I think those kids that read it will like it, but it's going to be hard to get an audience.  And then I have seven bottom of list books or books that are only there to teach a lesson.  On it are the two obligatory WWII books.  You can't have an award list for kids without at least two WWII books.  It's like a birthday party without a scary clown-can't be done.

So, I'll be starting with my bottom feeders and working my way up.  But my prediction for the winner, even though I've only read two books on this whole list is Wonder.  This book has taken everyone by storm, and even though it could be defined as a social issue novel, it's so much more.  There are quotes from music and great literature, there's growth on the part of several characters, and you get so many points of view.  It's a rich book with a slight agenda toward kindness, but really it's just a great book.  Wonder is my pick.

Have you read the Caudills this year?  What's your reading strategy?  Any guesses about the winner?  We'll find out in March.  That's a long time to wait, but a short time to make it through 20 middle grade books that I'm less than excited to read!

Happy Reading!

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