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An Adventure in Reading: Homestead Teacher Judges International Book Contest

By Kelly Adams (K.L. Going)

As a young author at the start of my career, one of my peers was asked to judge a book award. At the time, that felt like a far-away goal – something I could never imagine being invited to do. I remember thinking, I hope I get to have that experience someday. Fast forward twenty years and I finally found myself in this position. This past year, I had the unique opportunity to serve as a judge for the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators’ (SCBWI) Golden Kite Award.

The Golden Kite Award was launched in 1973 and it’s the only literary award that’s judged by authors. Each year more than a thousand books are entered into the contest with winners announced in the categories of: Picture Book Text, Picture Book Illustration, Illustration for Older Readers, Non-fiction for Younger Readers, Nonfiction for Older Readers, Middle Grade Fiction, Young Adult Fiction and Young Adult Nonfiction. Winners receive a personal cash prize and a cash prize to donate to a charity of their choice. Contestants are submitted by both individuals and publishers, but do not include self-published books.

I served as a judge for the Middle Grade Fiction category along with two other judges: Debbi Michiko Florence and Jewell Parker Rhodes. Together, we evaluated approximately two hundred fifty entries in our category. The books started pouring in mid-year as the publishers sent out their Spring and Summer titles. Day after day, boxes would arrive on my front porch full of contenders in every genre. By August we’d entered over a hundred books on our spreadsheet, and we weren’t even half way through the year!

Not every book was read in full. Some books were clearly not award contenders based on their content or the quality of their writing, but as an author, I felt strongly that every book needed to be read – at least in part – by someone. It soon became evident that I might need some help! I enlisted several trusted readers to give me feedback. My mother (who spent her career as a children’s librarian) my father, my 12 year old son, Ashton, along with Mira Comstock and Nisha Gupta provided invaluable insights on various titles. I especially appreciated hearing from the kids since we considered kid-appeal along with literary achievement when judging the award.

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By December, books were still piling in every day with our deadline to choose the nominees fast approaching. By February, SCBWI announced five nominees in each category and then winners were revealed on March 15th at a virtual Golden Kite Gala. I got to represent my team of judges and open the proverbial envelope to announce the winners for Middle Grade Fiction.

I’m excited to share our selections with you. The Middle Grade Honor Book went to Cuba in My Pocket by Adrianna Cuevas, published by Farrar, Straus & Giroux, and the Award Winner was Red, White, and Whole by Rajani LaRocca, published by Quill Tree Books. Both books are beautifully written, emotional journeys that celebrate diversity and emphasize what makes us human over and above our differences. (To read about the winners in every category you can visit scbwi.org.)

This was an amazing experience and a highlight of my career. Plus, now I get the fun task of distributing the books! Many of the titles will go to Homestead’s CCHS campus in Hurleyville, NY where I work as a Language Arts teacher, and to the Homestead School Upper Elementary library. In addition, some books were donated to the Josephine Public Library in Walden, NY where my mother worked before retiring, and some books were gifted to the young readers who offered me feedback.

A Short Bio: Kelly Adams, also known as K.L. Going, is an award-winning author who publishes picture books, middle grade novels, and young adult fiction. Her first novel, Fat Kid Rules the World, was a Michael Printz Honor book, has been made into an independent film, and it’s currently being workshopped for Broadway. Her books have been published world-wide and have been International Reading Association (IRA) Notable Books, American Library Association (ALA) Best Books, and recipients of numerous other accolades. Her newest book is The Next Great Jane, a middle grade novel best described as “Pride, Prejudice, and Plankton” where Jane Austen meets ocean science. www.klgoing.com

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