Three guesses: Why do you think they almost all are announced in December? My answer: Marketing! For harried holiday gift buyers, nothing spells safety better than a bright, glittering seal on the cover of a book in a bookstore. "He's got to like this one; it won the National Book Award!"
My neighbors gave me the National Book Award winner for Christmas every year for years. And, truth be told, it rarely disappointed. The best of these books was Mating by Norman Rush, which won the National Book Award in 1991. (It had so many hard words--I had to ask a Classics professor what "uchronia" could possibly mean (since it wasn't in even the big dictionary)--that I would announce my new words for that day every night at dinner. My friend Adam said I had the rate of vocabulary acquisition of a two-year-old, but it was all Norman Rush's doing.) Buy Mating here.
(All right, I'll tell you. Professor Rick Griffiths of the Amherst College Classics Department opined that "uchronia" was a word akin to "utopia." If "utopia" meant "no place," and by that "some perfect place," then, by analogy, Griffiths reasoned that "uchronia" meant "no time," and by that "some perfect time." Thank you, Rick.)
Well, teachers, why let all these muckety-mucks of the publishing world have all the fun? Have a book award contest of your own. You can choose to make awards in a variety of fields--fiction, nonfiction, poetry--or just choose one big winner. You can solicit nominations, hold a vote (and by doing that teach something about the nature and process of elections), and design the award (which would be an opportunity for a creative response to literature). Students could be asked to provide written rationales for their votes, which gives you, ready-made, a book evaluation assignment with built-in authenticity.
|Your award might look humbler than this, and be made of paper. It doesn't matter.|
If you have the time and inclination, compare awards from the classes of other teachers. Students will be gratified when the same text win awards as those in the classroom across the hall, and intrigued when different texts win.
One caveat: Be leery of holding award contests for student writing. That might turn into a popularity contest and would certainly result in hurt feeling for those student writers that did not win. You don't want a disincentive for students to produce their own writing.
But as for reading assigned in class, judge away! Isn't evaluation the pinnacle of Bloom's Taxonomy? (Am I showing my age?) You could even have a Raspberry Award for Worst Thing We Read This Semester. I'm sure any class of readers would love choosing the winner for that.
The Room 231 Literary Awards (and Holiday Buying Guide)? Will you produce something like this with your classes? Let us know in the comments section, below.
The English Avocado