Students cast votes for literary titles

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(Photo by MARY MALONE) Washington Elementary sixth-graders chose “Scar Island” by Dan Gemeinhart as this this year’s Newbery Award winner during a mock ceremony on Monday.

SANDPOINT — For the third year in a row, Washington Elementary sixth-graders picked the winning children's book to receive the Newbery Award.

OK, so it was a mock award ceremony on Monday, but who knows? Perhaps this year their chosen title will be the one.

"Most the time, a few of of the books that we read at least get an honorable mention," said Jeanne Warwick, sixth-grade teacher at Washington.

Warwick said the school has partnered with the East Bonner County Library District for the past three years. None of the books the students have predicted to win have actually received the Newbery Award yet, she said, but it opens the students up to a broader world of literature.

"It's exposing these kids to some great literature that's written for kids," said sixth-grade teacher Ann Dickinson.

Suzanne Davis, children's librarian, chose eight books for the kids to read: "Beyond the Bright Sea," by Lauren Wolk; "Hello, Universe," by Erin Entrada Kelly; "Lemons," by Melissa Savage; "Orphan Island," by Laurel Snyder; "See You in the Cosmos," by Jack Cheng; "Scar Island," by Dan Gemeinhart; "Me and Marvin Gardens," by A.S. King; and "Short," by Holly Goldberg Sloan.

Each of the 11 students who participated read at least four of the books since September. To start the process, Davis eliminated the least-read of the eight books, leaving "Scar Island," "Orphan Island," "Me and Marvin Gardens," "Lemons" and "Short." She then had the sixth-graders rate their top three books with numbers — five points to their favorite, three points to their second favorite, and one point for their third favorite.

With "Short" coming up short on points, she eliminated that title as well.

Of the remaining books, "Scar Island" came out on top at 41 points, followed by "Me and Marvin Gardens" at 23, "Orphan Island" with 19, and "Lemons" with 18 points.

Before discussing the four books, Davis explained to the students that the criteria they should look at when choosing a winner is the character, setting and language.

The discussion started with "Scar Island." For anyone considering reading any of these titles — Caution: spoilers ahead.

They talked about the main character, who couldn't save his sister, so he saved a group of boys on the island, a designated area for troubled boys, who became trapped after all of the adults suddenly perished.

"I do love this book, but it was a little strange how all the adults died from lightning," said sixth-grader Livia Owens. "And also the fact that there was just enough power for the refrigerator and the TV."

Sixth-grader Will Clark, who said he couldn't put the book down, said the setting helps amplify how the boy is feeling about what happened to his sister and how he feels responsible.

"Since the island is so isolated, it leads to his isolation from his family and his friends, because he feels guilty for something someone else did," Will said. "So I think that being there adds to the fact that he feels alone. Then at the end, since his last words were, 'I just want to go home,' it proves that he has overcome this and is now ready to forgive himself for what happened to his sister."

After discussing all four books for about five minutes each, Davis had them score the titles again to see if any of their views had changed.

In the end, "Scar Island" still won out with 34 points, with "Me and Marvin Gardens" remaining in second place. "Lemons," however, moved up from fourth place to third, ahead of "Orphan Island."

Dickinson said she is always amazed by the depth of the conversation among the students during the mock award ceremony. They often catch on to the deeper meaning of the books, she said.

"They are self-motivated to read these, and then when we have the discussion at the end, you see their love of literature grow," Dickinson said.

"I think the other thing is, when you read literature, you become more empathetic," added Davis. "You can't experience everything in the world, but if you have lived with a character experiencing it, then you are more empathetic."

Mary Malone can be reached by email at and follow her on Twitter @MaryDailyBee.

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