The Blaine County Journal News-Opinion - We've Got The County Covered

Meadowlark Students Participate in Treasure State Award Voting


March 18, 2020

Data from the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), often referred to as "the Nation's Report Card," prove that those who read the most, read the best. Without reading comprehension skills, the reader is limited in his or her ability to gather information and use it effectively.

For school age readers, however, the idea of reading for pleasure often gets derailed by various assigned readings for school subjects and the sometimes over-scheduled commitment to extracurricular activities. However, many parents, teachers, and librarians know that strong readers are those who can read, analyze, and interrogate a diverse range of texts. They recognize the value for independent, self-selected reading both in and out of the classroom.

To generate enthusiasm for reading and to celebrate books, Chinook School Librarian Kelsey Harry employs many strategies-one of which is to cultivate reading habits early. Whether that happens by organizing a week of reading-themed dress up days and activities or through the creation of reading nooks and literacy-rich environments, reading matters to Harry.

"Picture books are kind of my thing," Harry stated. "They're often funny or have a great message, and those features really resonate with kids, no matter how old they are. Not only are the stories themselves layered with meaning, but there's the added layer of pictures and artwork. The stories are also short enough that they can be read in one sitting, and kids especially love that. It gives them a sense of accomplishment."

Research suggests that reading aloud to children improves their reading, writing, speaking, and listening abilities. And perhaps best of all, the experience improves young people's attitudes about reading.

For these reasons, Harry reads aloud to her young patrons and involves them in additional activities that promote books. One of those is the Treasure State Award (TSA), the brain child of Carole Monlux, who claims the purpose of the award is to expose children to quality literature of various genres.

"Because the list of nominees always contains titles from various genres, it gets students thinking about why they like certain types of literature as well as allowing them the opportunity to participate in a voting experience at an early age," Monlux said.

Another perk of the award process, according to Monlux, is the enthusiasm for books that it creates: "Students become very attached to the books they vote for."

All preK-3 students in the State of Montana are eligible to vote for their favorite among the Treasure State Book Award Nominees. To participate in the voting, the students must have read, or had read to them, all five titles. The titles on this year's ballot are Izzy Gizmo by Pip Jones, Sergeant Reckless by Patricia McCormick, The Unexpected Love Story of Alfred Fiddleduckling by Timothy Basil Ering, Volcano Dreams: A Story of Yellowstone by Janet Fox, and Who Will Bell the Cat? by Patricia McKissack.

Monlux brought the idea for the TSA back to Montana after attending an International Reading Association (IRA) Conference in the early 1990s, where she learned that many states had awards that involved polling children.

The first voting for the TSA took place in 1991 and was promoted by the Montana Library Association, but the idea floundered until the Montana State Reading Council (MSRC) decided to sponsor it. The MSRC Board made the decision to purchase the five nominated titles for Class C and smaller schools in Montana for the 2007 voting cycle.

With this sponsorship, which continued for nine more years, the cost of the books was approximately $4,000 per year. So, with mailing and other related costs, the MSRC-now called the Montana State Literacy Association (MSLA)-spent over $40,000 on the TSA project. In 2018, because of budget issues, the MSLA discontinued the purchase of the books, although the organization remains affiliated with the award.

Not wanting to see this advocacy for literacy disappear, Monlux and her husband decided to purchase the books for 57 of Montana's Class C and smaller schools.

"The cost of the books per school has been approximately $90.00, so any school that has participated since 2007 has received approximately $900.00 in books for their school library," Monlux reported.

Meadowlark Elementary School, which has been receiving the books since the award's beginning, continues to participate. Because voting for the TSA is always due by April 1, Harry likes to wait until late February to begin the reading, ranking, and voting process. "That way the books, and then the winner, are still fresh in the students' minds," she said.

Although Harry reads the books to most of her elementary students during Story Time and invites them all to vote, only the K-3 results get sent in as the official count to Monlux, who serves as the MSLA Treasure State Award Chair.

Readers will likely recognize the titles and authors of several of the past winners, which include Coyote Steals the Blanket by Janet Stevens (1995), Shep by Sneed B. Collard (2008), and last year's winner Hattie and Hudson by Chris Van Dusen-a picture book featuring the young Hattie and her colossal friend Hudson who teach a monster-size lesson about prejudging others.

Harry conducts a similar project with the Caldecott Award. "I gather books that might potentially be nominees, and students perform a gallery walk with their ballots, selecting their favorites," Harry stated.

In Meadowlark School's mock-Caldecott election, students determined two top picks: Fly by Mark Teague and Why? by Laura Vaccaro Seeger. Although The Undefeated by Kwame Alexander and illustrated by Kadir Nelson won the 2020 Caldecott Medal, Harry created a display in the glass case at the library's entrance to memorialize the process.

Nelson's illustrations for The Undefeated vary in their composition. On some spreads, the focus is on a single expressive portrait, which stands out against a stark white background. Others feature collages of African American icons from various disciplines or refer to significant historical moments. The art functions in harmony with Alexander's verse to capture the Black American experience and to celebrate athletes, writers, musicians, activists, and heroes from that experience.

In addition to winning the Caldecott Medal, The Undefeated was named a 2020 Newbery Honor Book and received the 2020 Coretta Scott King Illustrator Award.


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