Colorado Libraries for Early Literacy (CLEL), an advisory group to the Colorado State Library, is launching the Bell Picture Book Awards, with the first honorees set to be announced on February 5, 2014. The program is designed to celebrate books that foster adult-child engagement around the early literacy practices of read, write, sing, talk, and play.
“We love the ALA awards and they always generate a lot of conversation….We wanted to try to generate that type of conversation around books that support best early literacy practices,” says 2013 Library Journal Mover & Shaker Melissa Zymboly Depper, children’s and family services librarian at the Arapahoe Library District and co-founder of CLEL.
Since 2008, CLEL has brought together staff from more than a dozen Colorado public libraries to work with the Colorado State Library on strategies that strengthen children’s literacy statewide.
A 10-member CLEL selection committee will choose one title in each of five categories representing an early literacy practice: Read, Write, Sing, Talk, and Play. Winning titles will demonstrate content or themes related to one of the practices, and encourage interaction between adults and children.
The announcement of the winners will be accompanied by support materials from CLEL that describe how each picture book title fosters early literacy development. The materials will also include ways that parents, caregivers, and librarians can extend the reading experience with children through shared activities appropriate for home, childcare settings, and library storytimes.
“CLEL is all about supporting library staff who need strategies to help advocate for early literacy, and who want more training around early literacy skills and practices. The Bell Awards are designed to be a celebration of wonderful books for families, to be a tool for advocacy and to be a vehicle for training,” Depper, a member of the inaugural selection committee, tells School Library Journal.
Suggestions for picture book honorees will be accepted online through November 15, 2013. The group is also encouraging discussion on its blog, its Facebook page, and via Twitter. And in the fall, CLEL will debut a free webinar about the Bell Awards to inspire even more participation.
“Getting the conversation going about how books really can make a difference in encouraging parents and caregivers to increase their early literacy interactions seems like a win-win to me,” says Carol Edwards, co-manager of children and family services at Denver Public Library, CLEL member, and a member of the inaugural Bell Awards selection committee. “It’s a win for the professionals who introduce new books and encourage best practices, and it’s a win for the child who benefits from more singing, talking, writing, reading, and playing.”
CLEL has been building some buzz for the event through library listservs and social media, with nominations already beginning to appear, Edwards tells SLJ, noting that the national response from librarians so far has been surprising but very welcome. “I thought that only a few of us in Colorado would even be aware of it for several years!” she admits.
Adds Depper, “We’re seeing the power of our great library online communities and national personal professional networks.” Member of the Bell Awards selection committee will be in attendance at ALA Chicago at the end of this week in order to inspire even more librarians from around the country to nominate their top picture book titles of the year and then join the discussion online.
“My hope is we build a list of books that are really useful to parents and caregivers of young children. That these books show a respect for the development of literacy and inspire librarians, teachers, and parents to creatively interact with children to nurture their learning,” Edwards says. “It is also my hope that publishers see how their books are used by libraries and children to foster literacy—and that they continue to offer talented writers and illustrators a platform for sharing their wonderful ideas.”