Sunday, January 27, 2013

The Year of Kira-Kira

It was January 2005. As always, I was very excited about the announcement of the Caldecott and Newbery Awards. There was no social media and we had not started blogging....yet.  Mary Lee and I had our own little conversations and predictions and we were pretty much never completely right.

But, on the day that Kira-Kira was announced as the winner of the Newbery Award, I was totally annoyed. Not only had I not read the book but I'd never even HEARD of it. I could not figure out what the committee had been thinking... I had spent my whole year reading great children's literature and making predictions about what might win. I understood that my pick probably wouldn't win, but to have a book win that I'd never heard of was quite heartbreaking.

As a dutiful 5th grade teacher, I bought a copy of the book (hard to find since no one seemed to have it on their radar) and read it in a sitting or two. I read it quickly so I could bring it into my classroom.  It was okay.  I enjoyed it okay. I didn't love it and I certainly did not think it deserved to win the Newbery.

The next Monday, I brought it into class. I did a semi-pathetic book talk and said to my class,  "This is the book that won this  year's Newbery.  I read it this weekend. It was good. I didn't think it was great but it was good. I am not sure why it won the Newbery, but it did.   If you want to read it, here it is." (maybe not that pathetic, but close!). Well, one of my avid readers, Katie, jumped on it.  She said she wanted to read it and off she went.

About 3 days later, Katie requested a conference with me. She came to the table with my copy of Kira-Kira filled with sticky notes. She said, "Mrs. Sibberson, I think you need to read this book again. You said you didn't think it was that great but I started marking these amazing lines in the text and look at how many there are!  I think you must have really missed a lot of this book because it DEFINITELY deserved to win the Newbery."

I have since reread Kira Kira (as did many other students in that 5th grade class) and it is one brilliant book. It is a book that has stayed with me for years and years and years. I am now a huge fan of the author and am dismayed with myself for not being open to the book during my first read. Instead of being annoyed at it winning, I should have been thrilled at the chance to discover a new book that I had not known about before the award announcement.  And I have Katie to thank for helping me see what I could not see on my own.

So, every year at this time, especially on this day, I thank Katie for everything she taught me that day.  She taught me about books and awards and about being a reader.  It is on the eve of the ALA announcements, when I am wishing, wishing, wishing for my favorite books to win awards, that I try to remember to be open-minded and to celebrate the winner--no matter what happens.  I remember that I may have missed lots in a book that others could see so clearly. I remember that there are so many good books and I love the journey of discovering them far more than I love award day.  And I remember that no matter which book wins, this is another great opportunity to have amazing conversations with fellow readers.

Thank you, Katie and Happy Newbery Eve, Everybody!

(And to help you understand tomorrow's decision a bit better, don't miss Monica Edinger's post at Nerdy Book Club, Top Ten Things You May Not Know About the Newbery Award.


  1. How terrific to have Katie there to set you straight, and how wonderful that she felt comfortable doing it. A lesson for all of us.

  2. What a wonderful post. Thank you so much for sharing. And to tell you the truth, I never even finished Kira Kira. It just didn't resonate with me. Your post gave me pause to think maybe I should give it another shot.

  3. Anonymous4:02 PM

    Great post.

    I know I'm guilty of starting some books determined not to love them for a variety of reasons. It works the other way too, of course--the ones that sound like they're right in my happy zone, the ones I can't wait to read, often miss the mark. I do not love all Newbery Award winners, but I really can't wait to hear who more day.
    And I love the Katies of this world.

  4. Great reminder! I think a lot of people are going to be disappointed/surprised tomorrow and maybe this will help. I love when seeing a book through someone else's eyes helps me fall in love with it.

  5. What a wonderful post! And a good reminder to pull out kira-kira for a second reading.

  6. I LOVE that Katie! How terrific that she helped you love this book.

  7. Bravo to you and Katie - for Katie to have the courage to read the book and to you to admit you were wrong. To you both for having such an open room that she felt so safe and respected as a reader. Thanks so much for that lovely story - it really touched me.

  8. Like the other commenters, I commend both you and Katie. I think that yes, Kira Kira probably deserves a re-read on my part. But I really didn't enjoy it the first time I read it, like you, right after it won. I think there was a period there in the early 00s where the Newbery winners didn't suit my tastes. (Criss Cross probably deserves a reread, too. It didn't do much for me, either.) Then I found renewed faith in the committee with their last few choices...Graveyard Book, When You Reach Me, Moon Over Manifest. Giving an award to just one book is always a many contenders, right? You can't make everyone happy all of the time. There's an incredible amount of value in the discussions that debates that come about as a result, however. When people are talking about children's literature, that's always a good thing.

    Thanks again for the work you and Mary Ann do on this blog!

    --Ben (@engaginged)

  9. Katie teaches us all a great lesson.

    BTW: I LOVED Kira-Kira and so did my fifth graders. When I moved down to fourth I was so sad to let it go from my curriculum because I feared it would be too much for my students to handle. It remains one of my favorite novels of all time.

  10. This is a great post!


Comment moderation is turned on.