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Augusta middle school students create Bill Martin Jr. Picture Book Award activity guides

Students in Dr. Melissa Reed’s seventh-grade AP English class at Augusta Middle School USD 402 took their required reading further, creating activity guides that correspond with each of the 10 books nominated for the 2024 Bill Martin Jr. Picture Book Award.

The Bill Martin Jr. Picture Book Award is administered through Emporia State University to promote an appreciation of quality literature in young children across Kansas. The award is named for Kansas native and ESU alumni Bill Martin Jr., the internationally renowned author best known for his classic text “Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do you See?”

The 22 students in Reed’s class were required to read all 10 books before they began their project.

“They each chose a partner in our classroom to collaborate with and one of the 10 books to research, write and prepare an activity which would be presented to the K-3 students at Garfield Elementary School in Augusta,” Reed added. “Many of the seventh graders had attended Garfield as elementary school students, so it was empowering to return in this leadership role.”

Reed, who serves on the Bill Martin Jr. Picture Book Award nomination committee, said middle school students often question why they are being asked to learn a particular skill.

“I am always looking for opportunities for my students to practice authentic reading and writing experiences,” she said. “I felt this project would be an engaging opportunity for my students to purposefully use their reading and writing skills they were learning in our classroom.”

The activity helped the middle school students practice research skills, reading and writing skills such as summarizing and writing fluently, the writing process, effective speaking and listening and presentation skills.

“These skills are aligned to the Kansas ELA Standards for seventh grade,” Reed said. “This project allowed us to apply our learning to create the guides for each of the 10 books in a purposeful and motivating way.”

The day the students visited Garfield Elementary, they read the books aloud to small groups, asked engaging questions as they read and then did an activity to conclude the reading time. They were divided into 10 small groups, one for each book.

“After returning to our classroom, they reflected on the experience and then revised their guides based on their interactions with the elementary students and the books,” Reed said.

The intended audience for the activity guides is teachers and librarians who are sharing the nominated books with their students.

“The guides provide educators with a ready to use ‘learner tested; reader approved’ story-related activity for each book,” Reed said.

Reed added that she is hopeful the guides will bring more attention to the book award, which is given each year. Educators may sign up to vote on a winning title and nominate titles each year.

“I would like young readers to have opportunities to enjoy the books,” Reed said. “I believe it is an honor to have two national book awards in our state at ESU, the Bill Martin Jr. Book Picture Book Award and the William Allen White Children’s Book Award. The guides are a way to encourage teachers and students to actively participate in the picture book award process in Kansas.”

Dr. Heather Caswell, chair of the Bill Martin Jr. Picture Book Award, stated, “I enjoyed observing the leadership of the Augusta Middle School students as they engaged in the 2024 nominees and actively engaged with young readers. The Bill Martin Jr. Picture Book Award plans to share these activity guides on the award website, which will provide an opportunity to promote an appreciation of quality literature in young children across Kansas.”

More information and the activity guides can be found on the Bill Martin, Jr. Picture Book Award website at