As just one of two young people selected in January 2013 to serve on the 15-member Connecticut Nutmeg Book Award 2015 Intermediate Selection Committee, Newtown Middle School eighth grader Michael Arther read more than 30,000 pages in 120 books over the course of eight months — 40 of those books during last summer’s break from school. Seeking out the opportunity and committing to the challenge was not unusual for Michael, said his father, Fred.
Not only has Michael always been an avid reader, he has busied himself with the NMS Math Team, Student Council, and the Young Adult Council at C.H. Booth Library. He served this past year as president of the NMS Interact Club, is in the Gifted And Talented Educational Students program, plays golf on a Trumbull league team, and is on a recreational soccer team. He frequently seeks out additional studies to supplement regular school programming. So when he applied to be on the Nutmeg Committee, his parents were not surprised, and were happy to get him to and from the meetings at Fairfield Public Library when he was selected to serve.
Members of the Nutmeg Book Award Selection Committee met approximately every six weeks, said Michael, to discuss the books they had read and to vote on which ones would be kept in the process. Each time, they winnowed down the choices, eventually determining the final ten that would vie for the 2015 Nutmeg Book Award.
The Nutmeg Book Award allows children in grades 4-12 to read and vote for quality literature each year, from a list of ten nominated titles chosen by selection committees at elementary, intermediate, teen, and high school levels. Through reader voting, one book each year is ultimately selected from the nominees to receive the honor of Nutmeg Book Award.
Even though the books assigned to the Intermediate Selection Committee are geared for those in grades 4-6, and range from just over 100 to around 400 pages each, “It was a little overwhelming, at first,” admitted Michael. He also found serving on a group comprised of 13 adult librarians and media specialists intimidating initially, he said, but quickly developed a relationship with the older readers.
“I felt that they respected our opinions,” he said, being the closest in age to the authors’ intended audience. He also discovered that it was fun to discuss the books with the adults.
“They are mostly young adult and children’s librarians, and like to read the same books that I do,” said Michael.
Keeping track of all of the books read between meetings was helped by the summaries supplied to each member, he said, and the notes that he kept as he read each one. Michael also had to keep in mind the less sophisticated reading levels of the targeted audience as he judged the quality of each book. The real difficulty was when a book did not hold his interest.
“Then I kind of left it to read until the last,” he said, “but sometimes, they surprised me at the end.”
By the final meeting in November 2013, the committee had made its way through all 120 books and submitted their votes for the top ten to nominate for the 2015 Nutmeg Book Award.
“We sent in our top ten selections before the meeting, plus ten alternates,” Michael said. The group then compiled the selections for a final vote, and tweaked the results. “We needed to make sure there was a balance of books. Fourth graders really read at a different level than the sixth graders,” he pointed out.
When the final tally was taken, the following ten books were nominated:
Walls Within Walls by Maureen Sherry; Joshua Dread by Lee Bacon; White Fur Flying by Patricia MacLachlan; The Unwanteds by Lisa McMann; Tuesdays At The Castle by Jessica Day George; Spy School by Stuart Gibbs; Liar & Spy by Rebecca Stead; King Of The Mound by Wes Tooke; St Louis Armstrong Beach by Brenda Woods; and Shadow by Michael Morpurgo.
Voting for the 2015 Nutmeg Book Award takes place in the spring of 2015, said C.H. Booth Young Adult Librarian Kim Weber.
“Multiple copies for intermediate, teen, and high school Nutmegs are all here at CHB,” she said, with the intermediate books found in the children’s department on the first floor, and the others in the young adult section, on the second floor of the library.
Looking back, Michael said that he was not disappointed in the ten books the committee has chosen for this year’s contest. He particularly liked The Unwanteds, a book that falls into the fantasy genre that Michael enjoys.
“A lot of the other books were realistic fiction, so that made this one a little different. It stood by itself,” said Michael. Like his all-time favorite book, Inheritance by Christopher Paolini, Michael found The Unwanteds to also be thoughtful and have depth.
The book that Michael found the most enjoyable from the entire Nutmeg experience, though, was one that did not make the final cut. The Savage Fortress, by Sarwat Chadda, he said, held his interest.
“The plot was very developed, and it was a fun book to read. It kept you in suspense, and the characters were very personable,” said Michael.
Michael is enthusiastic about his experience serving on the committee. “It definitely expanded my endurance for reading,” he said, “and it helped me learn about myself and what elements make a good story. If I ever wanted to write a book, this experience on the committee would be helpful. I learned what people like about books and how readers react.”
The extra reading, even below grade level, has helped him gain in writing skills, said Michael.
“Reading and writing have always been linked. The more you read, the better writer you can be,” he said.
“I think other people from Newtown who like to read should apply to be on a Nutmeg Committee,” Michael said. “It’s hard work, especially toward the end, but really beneficial.” (Information on becoming a Nutmeg Book Award Selection Committee member can be found at www.nutmegaward.org.)
He is looking forward to a summer with some down time, before beginning his high school career, but reading is not something he has set aside. There will be required summer reading for school, for one thing.
“And I think I’ll read the third Ender’s Game book, Xenocide,” he said. It is, at last, a book of his own choosing.