Thinking about reading in a whole new way

Kindergarten students in Frannie Morrissey and Diana White’s classes are serving as judges in a mock Ezra Jack Keats (EJK) Book and Illustrator Award competition – one that, thanks to Lower School Librarian John Scott, has caught the attention of the award’s co-sponsors, the EJK Foundation and the de Grummond Children's Literature Collection at the University of Southern Mississippi.

Inspired by Morrissey’s goal of building her classroom library with “windows and mirrors” literature -- that is, books that allows students to see into others’ lives while simultaneously seeing themselves -- Scott, a former Newbery and Caldecott Award selection committee member, contacted the EJK award sponsors for suggestions on forming a mock selection committee for the Friends’ kindergarteners. To his delight and surprise the sponsors had never collaborated with students on such a project and happily offered him their criteria for selecting award-worthy books. The group even pledged to feature the Friends students’ project on their website and to share with them via Skype the winners of this year’s awards when they are announced at a press conference later this winter, according to Scott. 
The EJK award is given to new writers and illustrators of children’s literature that center on the “universal qualities of childhood, a strong supportive family, and the multicultural nature of our world.” In determining categories for ranking the books their teachers and Mr. Scott read aloud to them, the class identified “Childhood,” “Family,“ “Diversity,” “Words and pictures go together?”, ”Excites your brain?”, “Hits your heart?” and “Makes you want to learn?”

After reading Caribbean-born author Baptiste Paul’s beautifully illustrated book, The Field, to her students this week, Morrissey asked the class to “think deeply about the story” before opening their mock awards folders and ranking the book, using the pre-printed form and ink stamps their teachers provided to carefully place up to five stars in categories they felt the book strongly represented, and one star for those that were not represented. Critically reviewing literature is a challenging task, especially toward the end of a long day, and some students struggle; That’s where assistant teacher Deborah Land steps in, working one on one to review the categories with students as they reflect on the story and illustrations and rank them accordingly.

“The children are critiquing new literature, working independently. By the time we are finished we will have read about 20 books, one of which could be the 2019 Ezra Jack Keats Award book,” says Morrissey. “They are very excited.” They are not alone in their enthusiasm. The EJK Award sponsors have extended invitations for Morrissey, White and Scott to attend the official ceremony, which will take place at the Fay B. Kaigler Children’s Book Festival in Hattiesburg, MS, on April 4.
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