Mockingbird AwardMockingbirds for Young Texans

Texas Library Journal Spring 1997 Volume 73 Number 1

By Dorothy Davidson and Barbara Vick

Interest and enthusiasm generated by the Texas Bluebonnet Award caused learning resource specialists and teachers in the Abilene school district to wish for a reading program for our younger students.

So, LRC specialists met in 1986 to compile a list of titles suitable for reading aloud to children in kindergarten, first, and second grades. Our first list consisted of titles currently in the existing elementary school LRC collections, with little or no criteria. Although our lists of twenty books were well received, we soon saw a need for a more structured program. Questions to be answered included: Shall we allow students to vote for a favorite book, or will this be only a read-aloud program? Indeed, are younger elementary school students capable of choosing a favorite book? Are they mature enough to make such a decision? If students vote, when? During which months will teachers and LRC specialists read the books to classes? How will we gather and calculate statistics?

Very informal for the first year or two, the Mockingbird Reading Program, as we named it, became immediately popular with students and teachers. Second semester seemed to be the logical time to read these books; “When will we begin reading Mockingbird Books?” is now a familiar question asked soon after Christmas each year. Therefore, reading begins when we return from the Christmas holiday. Students vote before May 1 each year.

In 1995, as the tenth anniversary of the AISD Mockingbird Program approached, the idea of presenting the winning author/illustrator with a tangible award developed. We visited with Terry Gilbreth, an Abilene artist, to ask him about casting a statuette. He agreed, and we presented Janet Stevens, whose book Coyote Steals the Blanket: A Ute Tale won in 1995, with a beautiful mockingbird statuette. Dog Breath: The Horrible Trouble with Hally Tosis, by Dav Pilkey, won the 1996 Mockingbird. We hope that each year the winning author/illustrator will come to Abilene for the presentation.

Positive results include an increased awareness and appreciation of excellent picture books. A group of carefully chosen books, all of which are relatively new to both teachers and students, is available during the second semester in Abilene elementary schools. School children are proving that they can choose from a wide variety of genre, including fiction, nonfiction, folk tales, poetry, and biography. Students, at times months after the book was one of the designated titles, request “a Mockingbird Book” and frequently request the exact title. They look for the mockingbird symbol — a spine label and a stamp on the inside front cover of the books. Often one of the Mockingbird Books becomes an integral part of the curriculum or establishes a tradition for a specific teacher or grade level.

Requests from other school districts throughout the state for lists and criteria have increased during the past ten years of our program. These positive results and requests encourage AISD learning resource specialists to maintain the tradition of this quality read-aloud program for young Texans.