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Saturday, January 7, 2017

The Caldecott Challenge

Hello world!

It has been a little while! The school year hit me like a hurricane and I have not had the opportunity to keep up with regular updates here as I would like. One of my New Year's resolutions is to get back at it.

On that note, it is January, which is book award season, so let's talk Caldecott. The Caldecott Award is given out each year to the picture book that is deemed to have the best illustrations for that year. The illustrator has to be an American, and there are both gold (Award) and silver (Honor) designations. These are given out by the Association of Library Services to Children, which is a division of the American Library Association. It is a professional goal of mine to someday find myself on that committee (I'm coming for you Caldecotts!).

At my school, I introduce a reading challenge this time of year for my second graders dubbed the "Caldecott Challenge". If you google this phrase you will find a variety of related reading challenges, which makes sense... everyone changes things to meet their situation and student needs an etc. My students read 15 Caldecott medalists. For ten of the books, they can take an AR test or come and answer a few questions about the book out loud to me. For five of the books, they answer written questions. One question has an art component. While many draw pictures, I had a few lovely sculptures from clay last year, which I love displaying in the Media Center.

When I introduce the challenge, I make it very clear to my second graders that it is entirely optional. I want them to want to participate, not feel forced. For some kids that freedom really fuels their fire. Also, other kids at this age are just far more focused on reading chapter books. They take pride in reading bigger books, which is great too! I don't want to keep them from that, so by all means, read what you like.

The pros of the challenge are that the students who participate get to experience a variety of classic picture books and examine them with thoughtful questioning regarding the art, which they may not have considered before. Also, they feel accomplished moving towards a goal. For the students who complete the challenge, they receive a certificate and if they would like to, may speak on the morning news broadcast about their favorite book. This is a huge deal to them. They are famous!!!

The cons of the program are that many of the Caldecott books are not at second grade level and the students often need help getting through them, or can not take an AR test on them once completed. I allow the students to have a conversation with me about the book to demonstrate their comprehension, but that doesn't help them meet their AR goal. One other con is simply finding the time to talk to students about the books individually, or to log on and check to see if they took the AR tests. We make it work though (thanks to my all-star assistant who I would be lost without).

To kick off the challenge, I read aloud in class one of my personal favorites, Chris Van Allsburg's Jumanji . This book won the Caldecott Honor in 1982 for good reason. Chris Van Allsburg is such an amazing illustrator and I love everything he has created. While I won't go into detail about the book here, I will say that I love the small mysterious element he is able to work into all of his books. It keeps my students fully engaged throughout, which is no small feat since Jumanji is a rather long read aloud (I read it to 12 classes and could probably recite it at this point). While it is at a third grade reading level, I even read it to my kindergarteners... and they sat completely still staring at me the whole time (AMAZING!). To the little guys this book is actually kind of scary, of course if you read it right, even Jon Klassen's This is Not My Hat can be pretty spooky. Long story short, they loved it and a large number of them rushed to check out other Caldecott books I had put on display. Mission accomplished!