Books for transitional readers – the OTTER Award

A few years ago, while serving on the Sasquatch Committee, there were a handful books that the committee loved (like Lulu and the Brontosaurus) that didn’t make the final nominee list.  Why? They were geared to an audience younger than the grades 4-6 award criteria.

Pondering on this, I had a thought: there should be an award for chapter books geared toward children ages 6-9.

The idea went dormant…until last year, when my daughter was in 2nd grade and struggling to find just-right chapter books. Looking critically at my 2nd grade students and their reading choices, I realized they also were challenged to find a just-right chapter book that wasn’t part of a household-name series.  The chapter book shelves, full of all levels of fiction, were overwhelming to them.  And while the collection contained plenty of appropriate titles for 6-9 year olds, I had to find ways to share these outstanding titles to them…and to their parents and teachers.

For my students, I displayed and shelf-talked titles: hand-selling books is one of my favorite things.  There were many happy readers…but not enough.  Too many non-readers weren’t engaged.

For my teachers and parents, it was harder.  Advertising great beginning chapter books via newsletters and emails didn’t get results.  The big winner was face-to-face conversation: adults liked hearing personal recommendations, especially the “best books” – ones that won awards or were well-received by other students.

Last winter, still thinking about a beginner chapter book award for grades 1-3, I mentioned it in passing to a colleague across the state. Seeing a similar need in her district, she was on board for a pilot book award project. So were our fellow teacher-librarians.  Relaying the idea to my 2nd grader, she said “Are these books kids like or books adults think kids like?”  With that one sentence, I heard a challenge. If we (teachers, parents, librarians) are trying to get kids to read, then we should be sharing the titles that kids like…not the ones we think they should like. Their opinion matters.

She ultimately read some of the potential nominees, as did my 6 yo son and my students at school.  And after some discussion among librarians, we curated a list of nominees that kids liked and created a new book award for young readers in Washington State.

The OTTER AwardOur Time To Enjoy Reading – aims to be that award.  Designed for for children in 1st, 2nd, and 3rd grades, these titles are intended for transitional readers.  They have ample white space, larger font size, adequate line spacing, and/or illustrations.  Most importantly, they have been read and approved by young readers.  These are books kids like.

Note: this is a pilot project. It has not been approved by WLMA…yet. 🙂

12.18.15 update: the OTTER Award is now an official WA state award! Thank you, WLMA!

The 2015-2016 OTTER Award nominees:

Dog Days by Karen English (Carver Chroncies #1)

The Princess in Black by Shannon & Dean Hale (Princess in Black #1)

The Year of Billy Miller by Kevin Henkes

Tales of Bunjitsu Bunny by John Himmelman (Bunjitsu Bunny #1)

Ares and the Spear of Fear by Joan Holub and Suzanne Williams (Heroes in Training #7)

White Fur Flying by Patricia MacLachlan

Our selection criteria:

  • copyright year 2013-2014
  • reading level suitable for grades 1,2,3
  • multiple kid-friendly specs (including, but not limited to: white space, font size, line spacing, illustrations)
  • read and positively reviewed by a student (“books kids like, not books adults think kids like”)
  •  representation of genres/gender/diversity/series

Voting will take place by April 15. Award winners announced by May 1.  Nominees for 2016-2017 year TBA.

Now: to submit this award to WLMA.

7 thoughts on “Books for transitional readers – the OTTER Award

  1. Jean

    I see some of the books overlap with the Beverly Cleary Award which I’ve promoted for the last couple of years but has limited enthusiasm. Maybe the books kids will like and not what we think they’ll like is a key. I don’t have the funds to start this award this year, but if you have a new list for next year let me know and I’ll use it in lieu of the BCA.

  2. Sarah Logan

    I’m excited for this new award. Is the committee in need of members? If so, how do I get involved?

    1. ajdickens Post author

      Hi! Thanks for your interest in joining the OTTER Committee. We put out an all-call for members via the WLMA listserv in early 2016, and the committee is set for this next school year. However,there is always turnover. If you send an email to arikadickens at yahoo dot com, I’ll add you to the interested list. Also keep watch for any OTTER news on the WLMA listserv weekly email updates! Happy reading! –arika

  3. Joan Spence

    This is just what I have been looking for. My school is K-4. We have a high number of struggling K-2 readers. They get discouraged. We need more awareness of transitional books. I do have some money. I am going for these books at once!

    1. ajdickens Post author

      That’s great news! It’s GREAT to know that others are in the same position with struggling young readers. Know that this award isn’t limited by age or grade – we have students in 4th and 5th grades who will likely read the titles and vote next year. Let me know which titles your students love – and if they have others that should be considered for the award. Happy reading! –arika


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