By Sue Moore
“Getting kids involved in literature is a game changer,” said Todd Allgor, one of Schoolcraft’s second grade teachers. Learning to read is one of the most important lessons a child needs to learn from the earliest years. Without a good foundation in reading skills, it’s hard for a student to advance each year in grade level, according to reading experts. How to make reading fun and enjoyable can be the key to life-long learning, they say. Allgor seems to have found the way with a Mock Caldecott contest.
He has led his classroom of 22 students to choose class favorite picture books from a list of 22 books chosen by Allgor out of hundreds possible. He reads and researches reviews to narrow the book list to those he thinks might receive the prestigious Caldecott Medal, a national recognition of book illustrators for elementary student reading.
Allgor buys the 22 books with his own money for students to read.
In the first week and a half, Allgor reads all the picture books to the students. In the following week, students start meeting in groups and discussing their favorites. They vote to narrow the list to a top 10 then finally a top four. On Monday, January 27 they watched online to learn the actual winner of the real Caldecott award as it was announced.
The medal has been awarded annually since 1937 by the Association for Library Service to Children, a division of the American Library Association. The award goes to the artist of the most distinguished American picture book for children. Who better than a group of second graders to delve into the books to decide the winner, even if their choice didn’t actually receive the medal?
Schoolcraft’s three other second grade teachers in Schoolcraft have joined in with Allgor to take part in the Mock Caldecott recently: Hannah Adams, Danelle Niewoonder and Chase McPherson. Allgor has taught for 25 years and has included the Mock Caldecott competition for four years.
Schoolcraft students’ winner was “Another” by Christian Robinson. One of their Honor books was “Bear Came Along” by Richard T. Morris and illustrated by LeUyen Pham, which was a Caldecott finalist.
In “Another,” a little girl wakes up to see her cat going through a portal which opens up in her room late at night. She follows, only to discover that there is a secret world where everyone has an alternate version of themselves. There are no words and the illustrations do a great job of making the story very interesting, Allgor’s students said in choosing this book.
As it turns out, the winning book was not among the books Allgor had chosen. One story he did pick and the students chose as an honor book, “Bear Came Along”, was among the honor books chosen by the professionals. The students said it was fun, happy, and suspenseful. They liked how more and more colors and animals appear in the illustrations as they move through the story. They also liked the different expressions of the animal characters and how they showed emotions. They liked how the illustrations added so much more to the story than just the words, Allgor said.
The students were very excited about the real judging. During Allgor’s book discussions, the students said something he really liked. “’It’s OK if we didn’t pick the winner. It was fun reading and talking about all the cool books.’ As a teacher, that always feels good.”
The Caldecott winner was “The Undefeated,” illustrated by Kadir Nelson and written by Kwame Alexander.