We couldn't be more excited about our first Teacher Feature, 4th Grade Teacher, Denise Vetromile!
If you didn't know already, Denise has started a Newbery Book Club for 4th Graders here at Aspen Elementary School. With the help of a grant from the Aspen Thrift, she has rolled out an impressive method for getting "good" books in the hands of kids (and teachers!) Learn all about it below and if you see Denise, go give her a high five. This is something to celebrate.
Tell us about the Newbery Book Club. What is it and how does it work?
The Mock Newbery Book Club is open to any 4th grader that would like to participate. We meet in my classroom during lunch and recess every Friday from mid-September until late January when the “real” Newbery awards are announced. Students choose from a selection of 12-15 titles, bring their lunches to my classroom, sit with their friends and discuss books. We celebrate their accomplishments with a plastic charm. This year you will be seeing students and teachers wearing lanyards to display their charms. (Ask about the books they’ve read, okay?) Since they are potentially reading different titles, adults start their discussions with broad ideas: theme, character traits, genre, etc. We vote twice (once to narrow the field in December and again before the official announcement), awarding an AES Newbery Award to the winner. We have had a winner and two runner-ups each year. Each year (two so far) we have had 45-50 students participating!
What gave you the idea to start this club?
When attending CCIRA in 2015, I heard a Denver librarian share her experiences with her club. I got really excited about the idea, wrote a grant to get money from the Thrift Shop to buy books, and enlisted the help of three colleagues (Jeff, Lisa May, and Julie Wille) to help me read and vet books over the summer. We started our first book club that fall (2015).
What do you hope children and teachers can gain from this?
I believe that the key to creating lifelong readers is providing choice and social interaction around reading. I think that this is part of the success of the Diary Of A Wimpy Kid series - everyone is reading it and talking about it! By providing different literature, freedom of choice, and an arena for talking to friends, we are moving students beyond Diary Of a Wimpy Kid.
In addition, I really believe that we, as teachers, need to be reading or have read the books that we are putting into children’s hands. This allows us to have rich discussions with students about the books that they are reading. As the book club has matured, the number of teachers helping to vet books has increased. As a bonus, at the conclusion of the book club, the titles are being placed into 4th grade classrooms for students to enjoy in coming years.
Can you explain a little the process behind how the books are chosen?
I have several resources that I use for finding potential titles. First, I belong to a Goodreads discussion thread specific to potential Newbery titles. I also have teachers that suggest titles. I then check out the descriptions on Amazon to see if a title seems age/content appropriate. If so, I order a copy. I end up ordering anywhere from 25-35 titles in order to select 12-15 for our book club. The titles are then made available to anyone who is interested in giving me feedback. (This past spring/summer I had 15-20 teacher readers!) It is so important that the books be “vetted” as age and content appropriate by teacher readers! I/we have read some fantastic literature that doesn’t pass the “Is this appropriate for 9-to-10 year old readers?” test.
Taking this feedback into consideration, I look at creating a selection of titles based on genre, a variety of reading levels, and a variety of topics. I am always on the lookout for titles that I think will appeal to our boy readers, knowing that girls will enjoy them, too. This year we will be offering a graphic novel for the first time (Fishgirl), life advice (The Playbook: 52 Rules to Aim, Shoot, and Score in This Game Called Life), science fiction (Last Day on Mars), dystopian fiction (The Last Panther), as well as several realistic fiction, historical fiction, and fantasy titles.
Do you have a favorite book you’ve read over the years as a result of the club?
Several! But if I had to choose one, it would be A Night Divided by Jennifer Nielson. It is historical fiction about a family divided when the Berlin Wall went up in 1961. The story takes place four years later (1965) and the protagonist, Gerta, is a 12-year-old girl in East Berlin. I was 12 in 1965 and the comparisons I made of our parallel lives touched me deeply. I did not have a very good understanding of this event until I had the opportunity to visit Berlin in 2013 and this book gave me another perspective of this period in our world’s history.
I know it sounds like a heavy topic (and it is!), but the story is engaging and totally appropriate for a 4th grade audience. Students love this title!
How can a student or teacher join?
Anyone is welcome! This year we will be starting on Friday, September 15th. We meet from 12:25-1:15. (Did I mention dessert? We serve popsicles and ice cream sandwiches!) Please join us, even if you just want to pop in to see what it’s all about!
Is there anything else you’d like to share?
This book club has far exceeded my personal hopes and dreams. I love hearing teachers and students discussing books with each other, not just during our book club meetings, but in the halls, before class, on the playground. Last year, there was a group of boys that didn’t want the book club to end, so they continued to meet with Mr. White on Fridays, expanding their reading choices to classics and this year’s potential Newbery titles! And, there was a group of girls that heard about the boys and did the same thing with Katie Fox. How cool is that?
I also really need to put in a plug for the Thrift Shop. They have been incredibly generous in their financial support of this project.