Tag Archives: OTTER Award

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

Top 10 Fiction of 2016

The chapter books, as they’re often called, are the first thing you see when walking in our library. Shelves line the walls. Series sit off to one side. Sasquatch and OTTER Award titles are shown face-out on mobile carts and the circ desk. And we have multiple copies of state award nominees. These are our Top 10 Fiction from 2016.


10. Rump by Liesl Shurtliff

What kid doesn’t like a story called Rump? Or, for that matter, what adult? This was loved by many book groups this year. A 2016 Sasquatch nominee.


TIE 8. The Screaming Staircase by Jonathan Stroud

Slightly scary and spooky = solid hit. With many high level readers in our building, this was huge among 4th and 5th graders. A 2016 Sasquatch nominee.


TIE 8. The Popularity Papers #2 by Amy Ignatow

No Wimpy Kid on this list…because most of my students own them. Popularity Papers, though, is the perfect read for fans of the series.


7. The Terrible Two by Jory John and Mac Barnett

Fact: I hand this book out to every kid I can. It’s funny. Clever. A perfect 8-12 read. Plus, Mac Barnett is one heck of a guy.


6. Jinx by Sage Blackwood

Yet another 2016 Sasquatch nominee. One of the smartest fantasies of the last couple of years…and the students agreed.


5. The Prairie Thief by Melissa Wiley

Never would I have imagined this to be in the top 10…but tons of 3rd graders read and loved it.  Or it could be the gnome on the cover. Gnomes are cool. A 2016 Sasquatch nominee.


4. The Princess in Black by Shannon Hale

Behold, the mighty Princess in Black! She slays the top five with the first book in her series. (Also: tons of boys love PiB. LOVE THIS!) An OTTER Award nominee.


3. Jedi Academy by Jeffrey Brown

The winner of the 2016 Sasquatch Award for WA State, this Star Wars spoof was in the right place at the right time. New Force Awakens movie = new generation primed for Star Wars everything. And this book delivered.


2. One for the Murphys by Lynda Mullaly Hunt

“Page 32 will make you want to throw this book.”  That’s part of my booktalk, and a huge part of why so many students read up to page 32, then couldn’t put it down. A 2016 Sasquatch nominee.

tales-of-bunjitsu-bunny1.Tales of Bunjitsu Bunny by John Himmelman

This ninja-bunny slayed the year with over 100 circulations. The bold cover, short stories, and numerous illustrations made it a favorite of students from K to 5.  An OTTER Award nominee (and winner)!

Fore more Top 10 in 2016:

2016 Top 10 Nonfiction

2016 Top 10 Graphic Novels

2017 OTTER Award nominees

Otter Award Logo Color

The nominated titles for WA State’s first annual OTTER Award!

  • The Haunted Library by Dori Hillestad Butler
  • Jelly Bean: Shelter Pet Squad #1 by Cynthia Lord
  • Let’s Get Cracking! by Cyndi Marko
  • Rescue on the Oregon Trail by Kate Messner
  • Rise of the Earth Dragon by Tracey West
  • Hilo: Book 1 by Judd Winick

The OTTER Award is intended to support children as they transition into chapter books. As this happens at differing ages/grades, we have chosen not to limit its eligibility to specific elementary ages/grade levels.

Voting will happen in April. We expect nominees to be announced in late March/early April in the future. For more info, please visit the official OTTER website!

A huge THANK YOU to my OTTER Award co-chair Monica Hodges and the four committee members from across WA State. With flexibility and determination, we met via Google Hangouts to deliberate over the best books for all young readers.  Because this is the OTTER goal: to be a nominee, it must be a book KIDS like, not a book adults think kids like.  And if my children (grades 1&3) are any reflection of the students in WA State, our young readers will find something to love in this nominee list.

As you – and your children/students – read the nominees, let me/the committee know what you think. We love feedback!  🙂

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!


Fall 2015 Update: Teaching, Leading, Inspiring

With the first trimester completed, it’s a great time to recap what has been taught and accomplished in the school library. (Full disclosure: reflecting, while often done mentally, is MUCH harder to do in writing.) Here’s (most) of what happened in the first 14 weeks of my 2015-2016 school year:



  • Completed three author/illustrator studies, reading a wide selection of titles from Audrey Wood, Mo Willems, and Arthur Howard.
  • Learned about the jobs of authors and illustrators and how authors are represented on a book’s spine label.
  • Explored the E/Everybody and I Can Read sections of the library, locating titles by authors shared in class.
  • Understood the importance of caring for books when examining ruined, discarded titles.
  • Discovered books about wild animals in the 500 section of nonfiction and pets in the 600’s, which related to their classroom-based animal projects
  • Incorporated purposeful movement, as it is important that these students move every week. Recited rhymes to start each lesson – we call it Rhyme Time.  Used hands to act out where to find wild animal and pet books in the non-fiction section (5 = wild animal paw swipe; 6 = 3 pet whiskers on each side of the cheeks).
  • Modeled and introduced questioning strategies, beginning with “I Wonder” questions. Students are frequently asked to explain their thinking, using both the text and life experiences as references.  One example of this: when reading Mr Putter and Tabby Walk the Dog, Mr Putter is at a loss when faced with the naughty dog Zeke. Students are asked to give advice to Mr. Putter, based on what they know about dogs or what they think Zeke will respond to based on the story.

2nd Grade:

  • Celebrated Talk Like a Pirate Day, reading pirate stories and researching real-life pirates using WorldBook Kids database.
  • Discovered how students and schools across the world are similar/differentRead fiction stories Rain School and Waiting for the Biblioburro, then researched true facts using CultureGrams and YouTube (videos of news clips).
  • Explored OTTER Award nominees, including placing informal holds on any title of interest. The nominees were The Hit of the fall! With up to nine copies of each book, students are reading like crazy. The hold list is still long, but we’re making headway!
  • Began reading WCCPBA nominees. A nice compare/contrast was made between Mogie and Gaston – how are the dogs the same and how are they different? Using the text to find ways aside from their looks was key.
  • A special October 30th storytime featured Mac Barnett’s charming Leo: a ghost story. Listening the final version of a story they’d heard last year when Mac visited our school was a treat..as was seeing the NYTimes-honored illustrations of Christian Robinson!

4th Grade:

  • Connected Michael Hall’s Red to our school expectations…which were connected to expected behaviors in the library.
  • Reviewed and retaught how to use Destiny to make recommendations, write reviews, place holds, and make friends. A Code of Conduct was reviewed and signed by each student, expressing the integrity they’re expected to maintain when using school technology. Students practiced each skill, writing reviews for Red, making ME a friend, and logging on/off appropriately.
  • Explored Sasquatch nominees, and set reading goals. In reflecting on this, I’ve noticed many students choosing to not read the nominated titles. What to do, what to do…
  • Researched a self-selected topic related to NW Coastal Peoples (the fall SS unit). All students practiced taking notes, rewriting them into original paragraphs, citing their source, then sharing their research in unique Flipgrid videos.  This project took FIVE WEEKS…but the process was important. The videos will be peer-reviewed in the next two weeks!
  • Read and discovered traits of myths – NW myths in particular. Sharing Coyote in Love for this lesson allows for students to practice predicting and inferring.
  • Similar to the 2nd graders…a special October 30th storytime featuring Mac Barnett’s charming Leo: a ghost story. Listening the final version of a story they’d heard last year when Mac visited our school was a treat..as was seeing the NYTimes-honored illustrations of Christian Robinson! This served as a TREAT for all students who had completed the note-taking portion of the NW Coastal Peoples research.

Inspiring…in the library:

  • By popular demand, began and sustained a weekly Lunch & Listen storytime with 5th graders. Missing even one week – even due to a power outage – is no excuse for the story-starved students.
  • Selected 30 students (of the 60+ applicants) to participate in Global Reading Challenge, a reading event sponsored by the King County Library. The 4th and 5th graders are in teams of 6 and aim to read/remember as much as possible about six different books. At our meetings, students eat lunch, swap books, and answer teacher- and student-created questions about the titles. Along with a 5th grade teacher, we host the weekly meetings during lunch/recess in the library. I read and wrote questions about one title, and students are asked to do the same. We remember what we write 🙂
  • Volunteers! Met with the PTA library chairs – planned and hosted two hour-long parent volunteer training sessions, planned and organized the fall book fair. Student volunteers come in daily – they cover magazines, check in / out books during open recesses, and manage kindergarten library books and passes.
  • Book fair!! Hosted a 3 day fair (due to a power outage). Ordered all materials and restocks from Scholastic, distributed flyers to all students (with hours printed on address labels!), booktalked dozens of titles, hosted a hugely popular Family Night…and made over $4,000 for the library. YAY!
  • Utilized our new iPads. The 4th grade uses them when filming Flipgrid videos and accessing Destiny.

Leading – PD and goals:

  • Attended the SLJ Leadership Summit in Seattle. Best takeaway: http://www.bezosfamilyfoundation.org/students-rebuild
  • Attended and presented at the 2015 WLMA Conference in Yakima, WA. My session was Operation: Motivation! A year of enthusiasm in the elementary library. As nervous as I was that no one would stick around for the last session on the last day, colleagues from across the state stayed to listen. Truly honored. Best takeaway: http://www.slideshare.net/Donalynm/the-best-books-of-2015-so-far
  • Attended and presented at the 2015 AASL Conference in Columbus, OH. My session was Easy as 1,2,3:designing an essential library program for young students. Another huge honor. Reflecting on the experience, I know what to do to improve as both a presenter and a K/1 expert.  Learning what to spend more time on – and what to leave out – was a good growth experience. Best takeaway: http://national.aasl.org/58543aasl-1.2740177/t019-1.2740640/fri011-1.2740647/a042-1.2740654
    • Of note: gave similar presentation to district librarians in October.
  • Attended SLJ webinar on littlebits, a very cool Makerspace / coding platform. Super-cool that our art department already has a set ready for use.
  • Submitted proposal to WLMA to establish a new state book award – the OTTER Award – designed for transitioning readers. No word yet on what will happen, but I’m very optimistic!

SO! The first trimester has been busy. A bit of reflection and random thinking:

  • Read and teach traits of myths BEFORE Thanksgiving for 4th grade to better connect to classroom learning (ultimately, myths are part of their assessment).
  • Find more stories about students in school around the world for 2nd grade – only read and mapped stories from 2 continents in our mini-unit.
  • Make Halloween week a dividing line – have mini-units or studies finished at that time so that classes can enjoy a reading week.
  • GRC – email home families as soon as teams are formed (email is my least favorite). Give students questions to prep during Winter Break.
  • Virtual library training? Have a video they can watch at home?  Shelving tips?  Hmm…
  • HUGE success running a 3 day fair (versus a 5 day fair). Had more sales – especially books. Only 1 day with the Fun Zone was amazing.
    • Schedule K/1 classes in 2-20m chunks – browse/buy times.
  • Dot Day – to celebrate or not? Maybe alternate with Talk Like a Pirate Day?
  • Continue to have students responsible for checking in K books and pre-sorting library passes into YES/NO piles before check-out (yes = can check out/ no = can’t check out…much easier)
  • Lunch & Listen is the Best Thing Ever. Keeping it 5th grade has worked well.
  • Need more K-3 students in at recess. Reach out to teachers to let them know students can come in.
    • Maker days?

And…that is all. For now. 🙂

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.