Tag Archives: beginner chapter books

2017-2018 OTTER Award Nominees!

The OTTER Award – Our Time To Enjoy Reading – is sponsored by the Washington Library Association: School Libraries Division.  A newer book award established in 2015, the committee is pleased to announce the 2017-2018 nominated titles.

  • The Bad Guys: Episode 1 by Aaron Blabey (Scholastic Inc.)
  • Lola Levine Is Not Mean! by Monica Brown, illustrated by Angela Dominguez (Little, Brown)
  • The Great Pet Escape (Pets on the Loose) by Victoria Jamieson (Macmillan/Henry Holt)
  • The Infamous Ratsos by Kara LaReau, illustrated by Matt Myers (Candlewick)
  • I am Jane Goodall by Brad Meltzer, illustrated by Christopher Eliopoulos (Penguin/Dial)
  • All Paws On Deck (Haggis and Tank Unleashed) by Jessica Young, illustrated by James Burks (Scholastic Inc.)

The goal of the OTTER Award is to highlight titles that encourage children to continue reading as they transition from picture books to longer chapter books.  Our motto is “books kids like, not books adults think kids should like”, and student feedback is taken into consideration when selecting the nominees.  A maximum of six titles are selected each year.  Nominated books should include developmentally-appropriate content, vocabulary, layout, and appeal.  Voting occurs in late April, and children should read at least two of the titles on the list. The winning title is announced in May.  For more information, please visit www.wla.org/the-otter-award.

Official press release: OTTER-press-release-2018

Charlie and Mouse by Laurel Snyder

Does anyone else start reading a book by flipping to the author info page at the back to learn about a new writer?  Because I do.  Finding a way to connect with the author – from things we like to do to places we live – is part of my reader identity. This may be why I struggle to engage in ebooks…but that’s another post.

Charlie & Mouse by Laurel Snyder, illustrated by Emily Hughes

In Charlie & Mouse, the author page didn’t disappoint. Laurel Snyder lives in my childhood hometown of Atlanta, GA (though I’d love to ask her, “where in Atlanta?”, as GA folk usually live in a suburb – for me, Marietta). Even better, Emily Hughes is down the road from my new home in London on the shores of Brighton. These blurbs hooked me. Even better was the story they created together.

Siblings Charlie and Mouse star in four short, illustrated chapters showcasing an ideal life as a kid.  From waking up Mom in the early morning to conjuring up a plan to earn money to interacting with neighbors, these brothers are exactly what young readers need: a breath of reality in an overstimulating world. Snyder makes some lovely, forward-thinking choices in characterization: Mouse chooses to wear a pink tutu, their couple next door are Mr. Eric & Mr. Michael, and the boys themselves are mixed-race. These choices, though, are noticed almost as an afterthought, as the story’s engaging plot line and characterization are strong.  Add in the full-color illustrations from Emily Hughes and this story is a winner for sharing as a read-aloud or independent reading. The boys truly shine with the addition of their grandfather in the sequel, Charlie & Mouse & Grumpy. Two worthy additions to the newly-expanding transitional reader market, this is a must-purchase for all libraries.  Share with ages 4-10.

Charlie & Mouse releases April 11, 2017.  Charlie & Mouse & Grumpy releases October 3, 2017.

Two of the previewed titles at 2017 London Book Fair at the Chronicle/Abrams booth.

Cheers, y’all! 🙂 arika

WA’s newest book award: The OTTER Award

There has never been a better time to be an emerging reader in Washington.  Why?

Because the OTTER AwardOur Time To Enjoy Reading – is here, officially recognized as a WLMA state book award by the Washington Library Association!

This award is designed for children ages 6-9 who are transitioning from picture books to longer chapter books. The words “Our Time” are important: they value the time of the child. As my daughter once said, she wanted “books kids like, not books adults think kids should like”. The annual OTTER nominees strive to meet that request.

OTTER nominees also aim to aid parents and teachers whose children need access to new, quality, kid-friendly reading material.  There are a handful of books commonly recommended to for children ages 6-9…but this award anticipates expanding young reading horizons and building bridges to longer, more complex chapter books.

The 2015-2016 school year an OTTER pilot project was undertaken, with colleague Monica Hodges running a version in Mt Vernon while my colleagues and I ran a similar pilot in Bellevue.

2015-2016 BSD OTTER Pilot Nominees

2015-2016 Mt Vernon OTTER Pilot Nominees

WLMA found our pilots successful, and we are now thrilled (along with 3 new committee members from across the state) to work toward April 23, when we will meet and announce the 2016-2017 OTTER Nominees.

Our selection criteria:

  • copyright year 2014-2015 (the 2 years prior to the upcoming school years)
  • 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

We are diligent in finding new books to both read and obtain student response, with over 20 titles on our reading list. Please COMMENT with any beginner chapter books (similar to the ones above) that would fit the criteria for the OTTER Award. 

Thanks for your thoughtful consideration. It is truly an honor and dream to bring this much-needed book award to life!


Best of 2015 – Chapter Books

Dozens and dozens of books were read, but just fourteen made my Best of 2015 Chapter Books list. Spanning a diverse range of settings, characters, themes and subjects, each book is exceptional in its own way.

Best read-alike for fans of Charlotte’s Web: Appleblossom the Possom by Holly Goldberg Sloane

Best for kids who dream of rocking the stage…once they escape the shadow of their parents and “friends”: Blackbird Fly by Erin Entrada Kelly

Best combination of illustrations and text in a humorous story: Dory and the Real True Friend by Abby Hanlon

Best trio of stories combined into one unforgettable tale: Echo by Pam Munoz Ryan

Best for celebrating and embracing differences: FIsh in a Tree by Lynda Mullaly Hunt

Best free-verse poetry that happens to be both historical and diverse: Full Cicada Moon by Marilyn Hilton

Best to share with any student who has a cell phone and Instagram account: Goodbye, Stranger by Rebecca Stead

Best characterization of what being a best friend truly means: The Honest Truth by Dan Gemeinhart

Best fantastical, Dahl-esque read-alike: Milo Speck, Accidental Agent by Linda Urban

Best creepy-not-scary story since CoralineThe Nest by Kenneth Oppel

Best action-meets-historical-fiction set at the Berlin Wall: A Night Divided by Jennifer E Nielsen

Best secret identity book with princesses AND monsters for girls and boys: The Princess in Black: the perfect princess party by Shannon Hale and Dean Hale

Best prank-filled book to make kids and parents laugh together: The Terrible Two by Jory John and Mac Barnett

Best terrible mother in kidlit ever Matilda‘s mother has met her match): The War that Saved My Life by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley

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.