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Crowning a ‘Mock Newbery’ champion

Wyoming — Fifth-grade student Jolett Lopez turned to a page in the book “A Work in Progress,” by Jarrett Lerner, that pictured nothing but a scribbly black cloud.

Jolett knew it represented the main character’s state of mind. “His whole brain feels bad,” she said.

Discussion with a group of students and teachers ensued about the story of a young boy who struggles with body image and self-esteem for years after someone called him fat. 

‘We just want to get these kids voraciously reading.’

— teacher Jacob Downing 

“Even if no one was saying anything at the time, he was thinking that they were thinking it or going to say it,” said sixth-grader Mallory Wiersma.

The students were focusing on the book’s theme by talking about what it means to be a work in progress, during Wyoming Intermediate School’s Mock Newbery Book Club. Led by sixth-grade teacher Jacob Downing and fifth-grade teacher Autumn Knapp, the club is all about reading and discussing some of the best young adult books of 2023, while making observations, connections and experiencing great stories and memorable characters, Downing said. 

Diving deep into the books will help them select their favorite — their Mock Newbery champion. In January, they will simulate the work of the actual committee that chooses the winner of the prestigious John Newbery Medal

While the real award is selected from thousands of books, Wyoming Intermediate students are considering seven books. Along with “A Work in Progress,” they include “The Skull,” “Hands,” “The Mona Lisa Vanishes,” “Grounded,” and “Big Tree.” 

Reading to Find Connection

During their hour-long, twice-monthly meetings, students touch on topics like empathy and culture and how books are “mirrors, windows and sliding glass doors.” They then rank their current read on a 1-10 scale.

“We are trying to figure out the best book in this tiny selection of books,” Mallory explained. 

Downing said that process involves going deep into different elements.

“We’ve been trying to focus on diverse books, rich texts that we can get into and find connections — that we can treat as windows and mirrors for ourselves. We just want to get these kids voraciously reading,” Downing said.

The books are all different genres, which is part of the goal of the club, Knapp said. There’s a fictional memoir, a book told from different perspectives, books heavy in illustration, fantasy and non-fiction. 

“They are exposed to a different variety and genres,” she said. “We are challenging them to read different books than they are used to.”

Read more from Wyoming: 
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Data specialist’s work leads to national award

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Erin Albanese
Erin Albanese
Erin Albanese is managing editor and reporter, covering Kentwood, Lowell and Wyoming. She was one of the original SNN staff writers, helping launch the site in 2013, and enjoys fulfilling the mission of sharing the stories of public education. She has worked as a journalist in the Grand Rapids area since 2000. A graduate of Central Michigan University, she has written for The Grand Rapids Press, Advance Newspapers, On-the-Town Magazine and Group Tour Media. Read Erin's full bio

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