January is traditionally the big month for children’s literature, as the American Library Association awards the Caldecott and Newbery medals for children’s literature—highlighting the best picture and chapter books for young readers.
At Wildwood, June is the month to watch; that’s when we reveal the winner of The Wildwood Medal— our own children’s literature award chosen by Wildwood 5th graders.
This year’s nominees are:
- The Underdogs —Mike Lupica
- Wonder —R.J. Palacio
- Hatchet —Gary Paulsen
- Tuck Everlasting —Natalie Babbitt
- Remarkable —Lizzie K. Foley
Fifth graders interested in serving on the selection committee read each nominated book and take part in book group discussions with fellow students, as well as Wildwood faculty and staff. Once they complete this process, they’re on the committee and attend weekly meetings during lunch and big yard time in March and April to discuss each book and its merits with a small group of their peers.
The Wildwood medal is growing in recognition and makes it clear both on campus and throughout Southern California that at Wildwood, we value children’s literature and student voice very seriously.
“The committee discussions are really sophisticated,” says librarian Lorin Higashi. “The kids have a set of questions that they need to prepare to answer for each book.” These include: How did a character in the story solve a problem? What personality traits and Life Skills do you think allowed the character to reach this resolution? and Would you like to read something else by this author? Why or why not?
“The students need to support all of their answers with evidence from the text,” fellow librarian, Jennifer DuBois, adds—an effective preparation for the rigors of learning at the middle and upper campus.
Jennifer and Lorin know the history and meaning of the award, now in its 16th year.
“Wildwood students knew about the Caldecott and Newberry Medals—both chosen by adults,” Jennifer says. “But they wanted to know why there wasn’t an award for children’s literature chosen by kids.” The elementary librarians at the time, Jeanne Avery and Bobbie Goeden, helped kids brainstorm and organize a process to evaluate and choose a book that resonated most with Wildwood students—and the Wildwood Medal was born.
Since 1999, choosing the Wildwood Medal has been a rite of passage for the oldest students at our elementary campus— allowing their voices to be heard and for them to leave their mark as they move on to middle school.
Each year five books are nominated. Every 5th grader reads at least one of the titles in a book group with Language Arts teacher Sandi Crozier. Ultimately, over half of the 5th graders opt in every year to serve on the selection committee. Having deeply read each of the five nominated books, committee members take notes and thoughtfully analyzing each according to four criteria: Connection to the Life Skills, broad appeal, literary merit, and originality.
Ryder M., currently a 7th grader at Wildwood’s middle school reminisces on his experience as a Wildwood Medal committee member two years ago. “I remember first hearing about the Wildwood Medal when I was in 2nd grade,” Ryder says. By the time he got to 4th grade, Wildwood had instilled in him a strong passion for reading. “At that point there was never any doubt,” he says, “that I would be part of the committee that next year.”
The Wildwood Medal winner that year was Because of Mr. Terupt, by Rob Buyea. According to Ryder, the decision wasn’t easy. “The final meeting was intense,” he tells me. “All 35 of us were together and we had to reach consensus on the winner—it wasn’t easy. Because of Mr. Terupt was my top choice and I had to make a strong case to my classmates about why it should win.”
The Wildwood Medal committee chooses the winner in mid-spring and keeps its decision secret until the year’s final All School Meeting in June—no easy task. “The committee members themselves make the announcement,” Jennifer relates. “They’re extremely proud of their choice and the work, and they want to share them with the entire school.”
Ryder recalls the excitement and pride in his committee’s announcement two years ago: “I remember being on the stage and thinking—Wow! We did this. Our input really does matter.”
The Wildwood Prize process nurtures a love of reading, and critical analysis that grows with Wildwood students as they move to the middle and upper school campus.
Last year the Wildwood Medal went to Where The Mountain Meets The Moon by Grace Lin, which students cited for its synthesis of wondrous storytelling and Chinese folklore with breathtaking illustrations.
This year’s Wildwood Medal will be awarded on Friday, June 6.
~ By Steve Barrett, Director of Outreach, Teaching, and Learning