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Guest post by Shelley Baublits

When I was asked to do a guest blog, my first thought was “no thanks”!  I am a bit of a perfectionist and I always have to do a sufficient amount of fretting before I can get started on projects.  Well, I have worried for about a week, so here I go.  I thought I would write about what I know and try to stay positive in the midst of all the uproar over the Common Core Standards, educational funding, recent legislative actions, and all of the other sweeping changes to the educational system.

I am a 7-12 school librarian, and I work for a school district in a small, rural community.  Rebecca (Dust off the Bookshelf blogger) used to work as an English teacher at our school, and she and I worked together for several years and we had a true collaborative relationship.  Our shared goal was to get students excited about reading and provide them with challenging, authentic learning experiences.  My favorite part of being a school librarian is matching a student with “the perfect book,” especially struggling readers or non-readers.  The older students become, the harder it is to compete for their time.  However, I feel that reading is the most important activity and should be encouraged at all levels.

A research report last month from Common Sense Media titled Children, Teens, and Reading, concluded, “Adolescents aren’t reading much for fun, and their reading achievement hasn’t increased in more than two decades.”  The report states that reading rates (time spent reading) have dropped sharply, scores have stagnated for decades, and gaps in gender and ethnicity have not closed.  For most of us in education, this is not news.  However, for our junior high school students, The Kansas William Allen White Book Award program, regardless of school reading requirements, has always been met with enthusiastic participation.

Screen Shot 2014-06-04 at 1.14.29 PMEach year I look forward to my summer reading list.  Always at the top of my list: the master list (6th-8th grade) for the William Allen White Children’s Book Award. A committee selects an annual list of books, published the previous year.  Authors must agree to come to Emporia, Kansas, for the annual October awards ceremony, in order to be named to the reading list. The award is named after William Allen White (1868-1944), the publisher and editor of The Emporia Gazette and a true “character” of Kansas history.  The website also mentions that the White Award is the oldest statewide children’s choice book award in the United States.  For more information about William Allen White, I would suggest the biography, From Emporia:  The Story of William Allen White, by Kansas author Beverly Olson Buller.

Each year the size of the list varies, and this year’s list includes 10 books for grades 6-8.  I am half-way through the list, and already I am hard pressed to pick my favorite.  When students return to school in the fall, I will introduce the master list to them.  I always have the books on a special display and students have the opportunity to read the books throughout the school year.  In early April, students vote for their favorite book and we choose our school winner.  The results are sent off to the book award site, and the winner is announced at the end of the April.  Students must read at least 2 books on the master list to be eligible to vote.  We always look forward to seeing if our school picked the official winner!

This year’s list covers a wide variety of genres, including murder mysteries, fantasy, humor, real-life issues, historical fiction, biographies, and everyone’s favorite subject, dogs.  Although the books are for adolescents, I highly recommend them for any age.  And who knows, you may pick next year’s winner!

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