2015 CMBAs: The Picture Book Award

Can you believe it? We have reached the fourth and final genre award for this year’s Cardinal Mooney Book Awards. The last time the awards were given out, we only had three genres or forms we awarded, and that was once again the plan for the 2015 awards. But after discussion and voting, my students’ votes led to a tie among their final two genre/form choices. So instead of having a run-off, we decided: hey! Why not both? So we ended up with the four genre/form categories.

Now, picture books are something my high schoolers love. I think a bit of the love is because they’re reading picture books in a college prep high school. But I think most of the love is from the joy they get from the books. It’s like watching cartoons as an adult. You know they’re made for younger children, but somehow, you get more out of them as an adult. I mean, just look at Shrek. So my students greatly enjoy their picture books, as we use them to target specific literary devices, or just to read and enjoy.

Seven picture books were nominated for this award, and we have two honor books to go with our winner.

The first honor book:

The Book with No Pictures

The Book with No Pictures by B.J. Novak!

This one, of course, we had to discuss and figure out if it really counts as a “picture” book if it has no pictures. We decided yes. This book has also been read by our geometry teacher, at the request of my students. They just love it.

Our second honor book:

Sam & Dave Dig a Hole

Sam & Dave Dig a Hole by Mac Barnett and Jon Klassen!

This one led to quite the discussion, as we compared the first page to the last. And how can a dog, who never speaks, be that sarcastic? It’s practically a mentor text on how to use your eyes to convey meaning. And it just wouldn’t be my classroom awards without something from Jon Klassen.

And our 2015 Cardinal Mooney Picture Book Award winner:

Please, Mr. Panda

Please, Mr. Panda by Steve Antony!

After it did so well in the classroom awards, is anyone surprised? Steve Antony and his panda continue to sweep up at the CMBAs!

Be sure to come back tomorrow for the Wyzbery announcement!

Click here to return to the Cardinal Mooney Book Awards main page.


2015 CMBAs: The Dystopian/Post-Apocalyptic Award

Hello! I know this one is late, but it comes to you LIVE from ALA Midwinter in Chicago, where the Youth Media Awards will be announced on Monday morning. So, will you forgive the tardiness? You won’t? Well, whatever. You’re here, so I guess there’s some kindness in your heart.

This post is to announce the honorees and winner of the Dystopian/Post-Apocalyptic Award. My students discussed having this as a strictly dystopian award, but after some discussion, it was a near-unanimous decision to include post-apocalyptic with this group as well. Many students rejoiced at this, because they had some post-apocalyptic books from 2014 they really wanted to honor.

We’ll begin with the four [FOUR!] honor books:

Last Stand

Last Stand: Surviving America’s Collapse by William H. Weber

This book was talked about non-stop by one of my freshman in particular. He was thrilled to see his classmates agree with him and give this book an honor nod.

Second up:

The Rule of Three

The Rule of Three by Eric Walters!

I was fortunate to receive an ARC of the sequel to this book at NCTE in November. That caused the popularity of this title to rocket up amongst my students.


The Hunted

The Hunted by Charlie Higson!

This one was a surprise nominee, as we hadn’t discussed it in class. After it was nominated and talked about, though, it quickly moved up on my students’ TBR lists. This is the 6th in a series, so they’ll be reading it for a while.

The final honor book:


Four by Veronica Roth!

Because we know this is just Veronica Roth’s world and we’re all living in it.

And finally, the award winner for dystopian/post-apocalyptic:

The One

The One by Kiera Cass!

The finale to The Selection series, this one passed from hand-to-hand throughout the year.

Congratulations to all the authors! Your awards will be kept safe in our classroom, and you can pick them up at any time.

Click here to return to the Cardinal Mooney Book Awards main page.

CMBAs: The Fantasy Award

Hey hey! Welcome back to the Cardinal Mooney Book Awards. It’s day five, which means it’s time for the Fantasy Award.

Fantasy has many components. It can take place in the Misty Mountains of Middle-Earth, or it can be in London, England. It can involve magic and rules of being that are complex and unknown to this world; or it could be our world, but with talking animals. The language spoken could be Hyrulian, Elvish, or English. There’s so much to fantasy, that it’s hard to narrow it down to just one award.

And yet, that is just what we must do.

My students love as many different fantasy books as there are types of fantasy books. They nominated 7 different fantasy books all together, at least narrowing down the pool a bit. Three books made it through the gauntlet of voting, giving us two very worthy honor books, and one overall winner.

The first honor book:

Blue Lily, Lily Blue

Blue Lily, Lily Blue by Maggie Stiefvater!

The third book in the acclaimed Raven Cycle Quartet has been held in high esteem by all who have read it.

The second honor book:

The Young Elites

The Young Elites by Marie Lu!

The Seventh Hour Honor book returns for another well-deserved honor in this year’s CMBAs.

And now, the reason you’re all here tonight: the winner of the Cardinal Mooney Fantasy Award:

Please, Mr. Panda

Please, Mr. Panda by Steve Antony!

When I saw how my students had voted, I asked them to defend their choice for this book as fantasy. We’ve talked a lot this year about genre and form, and how they are different things. So graphic novels can be dystopian, or memoir, or fantasy. And picture books work the same way. But were we really going to give this book the fantasy prize? Well, they made their case, and made it well. Among my favorite: “When’s the last time you saw a talking animal in the real world, Mr. Wyzlic?”

Touché, kids.

Congratulations to all the authors! I will hold your awards in our classroom, and you can pick them up at any time.

Click here to return to the Cardinal Mooney Book Awards home page.

CMBAs: The Realistic Fiction Award

Welcome to day 4 of the Cardinal Mooney Book Awards. We’ve looked at what each of my classes has awarded by themselves. Now, we start to look at what all my students have decided to award and honor as a collective student body. Tonight, we look at and honor the wonderful realistic fiction books that were published in 2014.

This is the wheelhouse for many of my students, as this is, for many of them, the genre that has helped them fall in love with reading all over again. So when we talk about the best of 2014, there’s no doubt that they know what they’re talking about.

2014 saw a lot of great realistic fiction books published, as the young adult publishers begin to swing away from dystopian and towards a more realistic feel. One thing that has made a considerable upswing in this resurgence of realistic fiction is a little thing called magical realism. I explain this to my students as “realistic fiction with just a touch of magic.” A completely normal town that is exactly as it would be in the real world. . .except our narrator’s fish is actually the reincarnation of her grandmother. A society framed almost entirely on the current United States. . .except when people sneeze, their souls actually do escape. Some of these are a little more realistic fiction, and some are a little more fantasy.

Many of my students have gravitated towards magical realism, as it gives them just the right amount of escapism. As we look at realistic fiction tonight, you’ll notice a little bit of magical realism among the titles. They have just that right level of head in the clouds, feet on the ground philosophy that my students love.

So let’s begin, shall we?

We have three books that are marked as Realistic Fiction Honor books. These have received quite the buzz in my classroom, and have been known to re-awaken some of my dormant readers. Great titles, all of them.

The first honor book:

Glory O' Brien

Glory O’Brien’s History of the Future by A.S. King!

It’s just hard to resist a good story about a girl who drinks the mummified remains of a bat and starts to see visions of the future.

Next up:

I'll Give You the Sun

I’ll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson!

There’s a good reason that everyone is talking about this book in late January.

Our third and final Honor Book:

The Summer of Letting Go

The Summer of Letting Go by Gae Polisner!

We are reading The Pull of Gravity, also by Gae Polisner, as a class read-aloud. Many of my students love it. Even so, they agree that The Summer of Letting Go is 20 times better. It’s just. That. Good.

With those as our honor books, what could we possibly be saving as our award winner? It’d be tough to find a book better than those three. Yet there is a book that my students believe stands out even among this talented crowd.

The winner of the 2015 Cardinal Mooney Book Award for Realistic Fiction:

We Were Liars

We Were Liars by e. lockhart!

I like to put student quotes in these posts if I can. Let me give a quote from nearly all of my students, immediately after I tell them what this book is about:


And it lives up to that response.

Congratulations to all of the authors and their books! Thank you all for writing such amazing books! We are eternally grateful. Your awards will be kept for safe keeping in our classroom, and you are welcome to pick them up at any time.

Return to the 2015 Cardinal Mooney Book Awards home page.

CMBAs: Seventh Hour Award

Hello again!

We’ve seen the books my first hour students awarded. We’ve seen the book my second and fourth hour students awarded. Today, we have really the first normal-style post, in that my seventh hour has a honor book as well as an award-winner.

The seventh hour is quite a fun bunch. It’s another freshman class. It’s the end of the day, and they’re ready for an enjoyable English class. They like to read, and they like to talk about their reading. When it came time to vote, they discussed and debated for over 20 minutes. Considering I gave them only 5, I think you could safely say that they were making good claims one way or another.

And so, given the lively discussion, I’m not surprised that this is the first group to have a “runner-up” so to speak, and an award winner.

That said, being honored by this group is a pretty big deal. They have been voracious readers, and come from a variety of different viewpoints. Some students love to read realistic fiction, especially romance. Some love action-packed fantasy. Some love books that speak out against the evils of the world, but in subtle ways. Others prefer nonfiction tomes about the 19th century. So when they come together in defense of some books, you know that they’re going to be good choices.

First, the honor book:

The Young Elites

The Young Elites by Marie Lu!

My students in many of my classes have been passing this one back and forth between them. I don’t think it was on my shelves for more than 5 minutes at any given moment first semester. I am not at all surprised to see this honored by my seventh hour students.

So what could my students have been debating about for 20 minutes? What could have bested such a powerful fantasy novel from one of their favorite authors?

Please, Mr. Panda

Please, Mr. Panda by Steve Antony!

Once again, my high schoolers have shown that picture books are for them just as much as they are for any other age! According to one of my seventh hour students, “Please Mr. Panda is the funniest book of 2014.”

I don’t know what more needs to be said.

Congratulations to Marie Lu and Steve Antony!

Go back to the 2014 Cardinal Mooney Book Awards Main Page.

2015 CMBAs: The Second Hour and Fourth Hour Awards

Welcome back!

I hope you enjoyed yesterday’s announcement of the First Hour Award. Those freshmen had a great time reading and selecting those two books to award. And since we awarded two books yesterday, I decided we would announce two class awards today: the Second Hour Award (selected by 12 amazing sophomores) and the Fourth Hour Award (chosen by 16 well-read freshmen).

The second hour sophomores, like my first hour freshmen, read a little bit of everything. They like teen romance. They like dystopian. They like graphic novels. They like picture books. There’s really nothing they won’t try. They’re pretty great like that.

Of course, that made coming to terms as a class on a book a little more difficult. But there was one book that captivated them — ALL of them — from the first time they heard of it.

Then there’s my fourth hour, a group of 16 freshmen who love largely realistic fiction. They’ll branch out into some fantasy and nonfiction a bit, and there’s a group who really like their war novels. But it’s mainly realistic fiction for them. And yet, it was a book that doesn’t fit either of these categories that entranced all of them. There was never a doubt what they were going to choose as their class award. And the Instagram campaign that went with it assured its victory.

These books, for my second hour and my fourth hour, are in fact not plural, but one book. One short book, with probably not over 100 words. This one just snuck into the 2014 realm, as it was published the last week of December. But there was enough time for it to win my students’ hearts.

The Second Hour Award AND the Fourth Hour Award goes to:

Please, Mr. Panda

Please, Mr. Panda by Steve Antony!

Congratulations, Mr. Antony. I couldn’t believe how in love with this book my students are. You may think you wrote a gem for infants and toddlers learning their manners. . .but if my students have anything to say about it, you’ve written a book worthy of love from high schoolers as well. Your awards will be in our room for you to pick up at your convenience!

Go back to the 2014 CMBAs Main Page.

On Gifted Readers: My Personal Experience

Tonight’s #titletalk on Twitter really got some gears turning for me, and it looks like for many others as well. The conversation was lively, smart, and FAST, as it always is. Thanks to Colby Sharp and Donalyn Miller for putting that chat together and hosting it tonight.

The topic for tonight was on gifted and talented readers. Not just those students who are marked as gifted and talented across the board, but specifically those gifted in reading (gifted readers, or GR). This is actually a larger population than we might think, because those gifted in reading might not be gifted in mathematics.

In the conversation, several things came up, often in the forms of questions: how do we identify our GR? How do we teach them? How do we meet them where they are without just piling on more work?

This brought to mind my own experiences growing up. I was identified as a GR when I was in Kindergarten. I was in gifted and talented classes, and my elementary school experience was unlike what I hear from many of my peers. It was exploratory. We had choice at almost every turn. We had time to sit — wherever we wanted in the classroom — and read. Every day.

Once, we were instructed to write a note to our student teacher, whose last day was coming up. I forgot to write mine (for reasons we don’t need to get into here, but keeping track of homework was never one of my strengths), so I wrote it during recess. When the teacher asked when I had written it (I didn’t have it at the beginning of the day and then it magically showed up a few hours later), I told her during DEAR (Drop Everything And Read). My punishment was that I had to stay in from second recess and read, since I skipped that portion of the day’s work. [Looking back, I’m pretty sure the teacher knew I was lying, and that’s not unimportant] Clearly, this reading thing was important.

Besides that, I did not look at it as punishment. I got to read again! Haha! I mean, sure, I missed out on the football game that day, but I got to read more! I even to this day remember what I read: Freckle Juice by Judy Blume.

That doesn’t have a ton to do with tonight’s post, but I think it’s important. My school, which was dedicated to serving the gifted and talented population of my city, made choice and reading time a priority in the very core of the curricula.

Then I got to middle school, where I was in advanced language arts courses and they were more of the same: read, with choice, and we’ll do a lot of activities to help us explore these books and make meaning of them.

Then: high school. This is where the wheels fell off for me as a reader. I wasn’t taking the honors English courses, as I didn’t really want to and wasn’t pushed to do them. In the standard courses, there was very little differentiation going on, and no choice. You know what we did?

  • We read the same text as a class, whether it be a novel or a selection from the 15,000-pound textbook.
  • We spent about 50 times longer than necessary answering the questions at the end of the reading, half of which I felt I could have answered just by reading the title of the selection

That’s about all I remember of English instruction aside from my creative writing class. In fact, I remember spending most of my time writing notes in between the pages of the books, and talking to the person behind me. Seriously. I can tell you where Dave and I sat and I told him about my first girlfriend (in the back, towards the left of center). I can tell you what Christina was wearing when we were supposed to be discussing Frankenstein (an Aerosmith t-shirt). I can tell you what Nelson was planning for his presentation (interpretive song and dance). And I can tell you that I yawned through each class that the teacher was leading, did enough of the reading to pass, and then fell into a dislike for reading.

It seems this could have been easily avoided.

It would take maybe two things:

  • Choice
  • Not turning reading into something that is done to answer stupid questions

I’m trying to be objective as I think about this. But I look at it this way: I was labeled as gifted — something I had no control over — and I found the work given to me so banal that it turned me off from reading all together.

I know I’m not alone in this.

So what are we doing for our gifted readers to keep them interested and engaged? No, scratch that. What are we doing for ALL our readers to keep them interested and engaged? I know those comprehension questions can be beneficial to some, but what about something a little higher on Bloom’s taxonomy? Remember and understand should not be the thing we push on our students 90% of the time. I mean, 90% of the time, they’re already doing that. What are we doing so that all of our students are receiving an education that is going to push them a little beyond where they already are, to something that they will appreciate, and maybe even enjoy?

2015 CMBAs: The First Hour Award

I am ready to get the CMBAs off to a roaring start tonight. 2014 brought us an astounding amount of great books, and we only get to award a few. It’s like choosing the best blizzard flavor at DQ. They’re all good. How do we pick just one?


My first hour class is 10 wonderful freshmen. They are all over the map as readers, loving picture books, graphic novels, fantasy, realistic fiction, mystery. . .just about everything. They nominated 4 books for their class award, and when they voted among these 4, a curious thing happened.

2 books received 40% of the vote. A tie.

So we discussed. And we made pleas. And we talked about the finer points of each book. And we voted again.

One book received more votes.

. . .and so did the other.

Each received 50% of the vote. A tie.

So we discussed. And we decided that instead of going through this again, let’s just acknowledge what we all know: these are great books, and we should award both. So. For the first time in the history of these awards, we have a dual winner.

Without further ado, let me reveal to you the TWO winners of the Freshman First Hour Award:

El Deafo                       Tea with Grandpa

El Deafo by Cece Bell                     and                    Tea with Grandpa by Barney Saltzberg

El Deafo is a book that brought one of my students and her mom to tears, as the student’s mom lost her hearing in one ear when she was growing up. Hearing my student tell me of how she finally understood what her mom went through is not something I can even remember without getting misty-eyed.

Tea with Grandpa is a book one of my students has often talked about. When he first mentioned it, he couldn’t give away the ending, but just left us with, “it has a great life lesson.” I think we’ll hear more from him in book talks as the year goes on.

Neither Ms. Bell nor Mr. Saltzberg could be with us tonight. They are both welcome to stop by at any time to pick up their award! Congratulations!

Go back to the 2014 CMBAs Main Page.

Cardinal Mooney Book Awards

Hello! Welcome! Hi! We’re glad to have you here, where the next week will be dedicated to announcing the Cardinal Mooney Book Awards (formerly the St. Francis Middle School Book Awards, aka The Frannies). Many* have said this is “the best awards week all year,” and it’d be tough to disagree.

The awards have previously been given out in 2012 and 2013, awarding books published in 2011 and 2012, respectively. All categories, criteria, nominees, honorees, and winners are chosen by the students and by the students alone. Each student has read at least 4 books published in 2014, and many have read more, so these voters know what they’re talking about. I am honored to be announcing the awards, but please, do not confuse my support for the awards with them being mine. I am proud of my students and the choices they have made, but they deserve all the accolades for having chosen them. They have selected some good books this year, and I can’t wait to share them with you!

Except I will wait. Because DRAMA.

The awards will be announced each day from now until next week Sunday. This year, however, we have 9 categories. And 8 days. So on one of the magical days of this week, you will get two — THAT’S RIGHT, TWO! — awards announced. But you won’t know which day. So. Pay attention. PAY. ATTENTION.

The awards (will become active links upon posting):
First Hour Award (Freshmen)
Second Hour Award (Sophomores)
Fourth Hour Award (Freshmen)
Seventh Hour Award (Freshmen)
Dystopian/Post Apocalyptic Award
Realistic Fiction Award
Fantasy Award
Picture Book Award (these kids love their picture books!)
The Wyzbery (Best Book of the Year)
ALA Book and Media Awards**

The first awards will be announced tonight at 7 PM EST. Then, every day at 7 PM, more will be announced. You won’t want to miss these. There are a lot of good books to award!

We’ll see you tonight 🙂

EDITED TO ADD: Here is a list of all the award winners (ǂ denotes ALA Youth Media Award honoree/award winner)

First Hour (co-winners):
El Deafo by Cece Bell ǂ
Tea with Grandpa by Barney Saltzberg

Second Hour
Please, Mr. Panda by Steve Antony

Fourth Hour
Please, Mr. Panda by Steve Antony

Seventh Hour
The Young Elites by Marie Lu
Please, Mr. Panda by Steve Antony

Realistic Fiction
Glory O’Brien’s History of the Future by A.S. King
I’ll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson ǂ
The Summer of Letting Go by Gae Polisner
We Were Liars by e. lockhart

Blue Lily, Lily Blue by Maggie Stiefvater
The Young Elites by Marie Lu
Please, Mr. Panda by Steve Antony

Last Stand: Surviving America’s Collapse by William H. Weber
The Rule of Three by Eric Walters
The Hunted by Charlie Higson
Four by Veronica Roth
The One by Kiera Cass

Picture Book
The Book with No Pictures by B.J. Novak
Sam & Dave Dig a Hole by Mac Barnett and Jon Klassen ǂ
Please, Mr. Panda by Steve Antony

Wyzbery Award
We Were Liars by e. lockhart
Please, Mr. Panda by Steve Antony

*By many, I mean my wife, whom I just asked to repeat the words “the best awards week all year”
**While I encourage any and all associated with the ALA, I’m pretty sure the ALA wants nothing to do with the CMBAs

Two Snapshots from an Exam Period

I’ve found myself thinking a lot about relationships lately. I mean a lot. Specifically, the relationships we see in schools: student-student, student-teacher, teacher-parent, teacher-teacher, and how those things all come together to impact student learning (and also how books seem to play an important role in so many of these relationships). I think I may be blogging more about this as I continue to think about and process these thoughts.

Today, I want to share something that happened yesterday. Actually, two things that happened yesterday. We were at the end of midterms, and it was the last test for my students before a 4-day weekend between the semesters.

The first thing that happened is another English teacher came into my room with about 15 minutes to go in the exam period. My students had all finished their tests, and this teacher was delivering the test of a student who took the test in another room. She gave it to me, looked at my students, then said to me, “Wow. Every one is reading. I wish I had a picture of this!” This stuck out to me for a couple reasons. First off: I should take a picture of it (and I did — but don’t have permissions to share here, so just picture a room of high school freshmen reading various books). Secondly: this wasn’t in the least surprising to me or to them. I had spent a semester building up the culture of reading in my classroom, so that I didn’t even have to tell them they should read when they were done (though I did ask a few if they had a book). They just did it. That’s where we are right now, and that makes me really excited for next semester.

The second thing that happened has to do with a student. He grabbed a book that I know is a bit on the mature side, and I thought might have some things that would be a bit much for him, just knowing him as a person and as a reader. So I called him up to my desk.
“Is there something wrong with my test?” he asked as he approached the desk.
“No, that’s not it at all,” I assured him. “I just noticed the book you were reading.”
“Yeah. I know that one’s a bit mature. It contains a bit of foul language as well as some scenes that are a bit more mature than other books you’ve been reading.” I could see he was a bit at ease now that he realized I wasn’t going to tell him he failed the exam he just took, and his demeanor became a bit more relaxed.
“My sister read this one when she was in high school, so I thought I’d take a look at it. I didn’t know much about it.” Now we were just having a conversation about books.
“That’s fine. I just wanted to give you a heads up about it. If you get to something that you’re not comfortable reading yet, you can put it down. You can always come back to it later on, even in a couple years.”
“Yeah, I know.” And here he got much more serious all of a sudden. “Thanks for talking to me about that. Most English teachers wouldn’t have done that.”

Now, I don’t know about his premise: that most English teachers wouldn’t talk with their students about the books they’re reading, in order to try to find the best fit for the student at that moment in time. In fact, most English teachers I know would do just that. But I do know that in his experiences, most English teachers haven’t done that. I’m glad I can be the start of a change of that for him. And more importantly: this small, quick exchange (it took about 45 seconds all together) contributes to a strong foundation for this student and I to continue to discuss books. That’s more than worth the time.