Libraries in Allegheny County introduce thousands of children to new and quality literature each year through the Picture Book Children’s Choice Awards and the Children’s Choice Awards provided by the Allegheny County Library Association. Both programs also help libraries build and sustain partnerships with their local school districts.
The Picture Book Children’s Choice Awards, created by the Youth Services Advisory Committee, reaches students in kindergarten-second grade, many of whom have never interacted with a public library. Librarians engage students through outreach visits at the local elementary school, introducing them to a set of new books every year. Titles for this year include Jabari Jumps; If Your Monster Won’t Go to Bed; The Legend of Rock, Paper, Scissors; The Library Book; and After the Fall (How Humpty Dumpty Got Back Up Again). The program also teaches students about voting and civic responsibility when the students vote on their favorite title at the end of the school year.
ACLA provides participating libraries with a set of the books being introduced, stickers, bookmarks, a picture book about voting, activity sheets (for the librarian to reference) and take-home sheets. In return, libraries are required to make a least five outreach/in-reach visits (one per book) during the school year, utilizing the materials provided by ACLA. During an outreach visit, depending on the allotted amount of time from the school/teacher, the librarian reads the book and may conduct an activity. While each library may put their own local spin on the program, they all share a common goal of getting kids excited about reading.
Last year, 39 libraries participated with visits to nearly 70 schools in Allegheny County. Throughout the course of the school year and five to six visits, these libraries read to almost 25,000 students. The program continues to grow each year with more libraries and schools.
The Children’s Choice Awards, which is a collaboration between ACLA and the Allegheny Intermediate Unit, reaches students in third-sixth grade. The basic concept is the same as the Picture Book Children’s Choice Awards but with older students. It also continues library outreach efforts after students have aged out of the Picture Book Children’s Choice Awards. This year, students are reading Check Out the Library Weenies; Bob; Rebound; Saving Winslow; The Cardboard Kingdom; Ghost Boys; Sweep: The Story of a Girl and Her Monster; and Ivy Aberdeen’s Letter to the World.
Libraries and schools work with the students by facilitating discussion, connecting with the curriculum and encouraging them to vote on their favorite (votes are collected on the ACLA website). School districts attend a culminating event as a field trip, hosted at Soldiers & Sailors Memorial Hall. The event includes a keynote address, author Q & A, scavenger hunt led by the museum and a battle of the books. This year’s keynote author is David Auxier, author of The Night Gardener and Sweep: The Story of a Girl and Her Monster. At the end of the event, the keynote author announces the winning book.
Last year, organizers repeated the event twice to accommodate more schools. More than 40 schools and more than 500 students attended last year. Many of these schools participate every year and the Children’s Choice Awards is an integral part of their reading or library curriculum.
These programs would not be possible without generous funding from Allegheny County and the PNC Charitable Trust.