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The City Journals

Joel P Jensen Middle School abuzz with reading Beehive Books

Jun 05, 2019 04:43PM ● By Jet Burnham

Students receive prizes for reading. (Jet Burnham\City Journals)

By Jet Burnham | [email protected]

“Letters to the Lost” by Brigid Kemmerer was voted by Utah teens as the winner of the 2019 Young Adult Beehive Book Award. Daniel Faber, a ninth-grader at Joel P Jensen Middle School, said out of the 19 nominated books that he read, that was the one he voted for.

Beehive Books, nominated by the Children's Literature Association of Utah, include young adult fiction, children's fiction, picture books, informational books, poetry and graphic novels. 

“It was really interesting to see all the different ways that people can write books—like different styles,” said Daniel. 

Belinda Bambino, librarian at Joel P Jensen Middle, selected 19 books from the Beehive Book nominees most appropriate in content and reading level for middle school readers and challenged students and staff to read them.

Students who had read the most books by spring represented JPJMS at the Battle of the Books competition against other local middle school teams. 

JPSMS’s team of seven took first place in this year’s battle, held at Riverton High School. It was a huge improvement from last year’s last-place standing.

“It was the first year we had gone,” said Courtney Beesley, language arts teacher. “We didn't realize that we should have read as many of the books we could. This year, they were really gung-ho about reading as many of the books as they could, and they really studied.”

Beesley worked with team members to practice answering detailed and specific questions about the books.

“We split the books up to different people so they could specialize in that and be really focused on that book,” said Samantha Kyriss, an eighth-grade team member.

Due to the extra preparation, the team was able to collectively answer all but one of the 48 questions correctly.

“There were definitely ones I personally didn’t know,” said Daniel. “But since there are four on a team, I think that we had our bases pretty covered.”

Bambino motivated other students to read the nominated books by offering candy for each book they read. The 40 students and teachers who read at least five books from the list were invited to a party at the end of April where they enjoyed a catered lunch, won prizes and admired the shiny trophy the team had earned.

“You don't always get recognized for being a good reader or for loving reading,” said Beesley. “So I think it was kind of cool for them to get some recognition.”

Beesley said students are also pushed out of their normal reading patterns.

“There's all sorts of different genres and all different kinds of subject matter in the Beehive Books,” said Beesley. “They're exposed to a lot of different types of books.”

While Daniel said it is rare to find him without a book, he admits he probably wouldn’t have read many of the nominees if it weren’t for the challenge. However, he was surprised to find he liked the different books, such as “Forget Me Not” by Ellie Terry.

“I had never seen a book written like that,” he said. “Instead of chapters, it was a one- to two-page poem or little segments. It doesn’t tell you what’s going on, but it gives you little glimpses of it.”

Samantha, who read a total of 70 books this year—11 from the nominee list—was also pushed out of her comfort zone.

“I would never have read “Eliza and her Monsters” [by Francesca Zappia] probably because it didn’t really appeal to me at first—like the cover and the summary,” she said. “But when I started reading it, it was really, really good.”

She said the story about a teen dealing with anxiety helped her gain an understanding of something she doesn’t have a personal experience with.

Marilee Moon, president of the Children's Literature Association of Utah, said the current trend in youth literature is books about young people dealing with hard experiences such as mental illness, imperfect families, disability, LGBTQ and struggling with inclusion and belonging.

Graphic novels are also a growing trend—especially with reluctant readers.

“Kids love them because they’re short and fun,” said Moon. “It’s a way to get struggling readers to love reading.”

The Beehive Award Winners are the only children’s book award chosen by children. Youth were invited to read the nominees and vote for their favorite. The winning books in each category are listed at or can be found on display at local libraries. Next year’s nominees are also posted on CLAU’s website. Voting opens in September and closes April 1, 2020.