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History of the Hawai'i State Reading Award

Each year, Hawaii's elementary and middle school children vote for their favorite fiction book and present the author with the prized Nēnē Award. This is an exciting time filled with reading and sharing, and voting for the best.

The award began in 1959 when third graders at the University Elementary Lab School decided to create a book award. The Nēnē Goose, Hawaii's State Bird, was chosen for the award's motif. That year, the children selected The Blue Mountain by Beth Lewis as the first winner of the fledgling Nēnē Award.

The guidelines for nominated titles were designed by the children themselves:

By 1963, the idea had spread to other schools throughout Hawai'i and the first state-wide Nēnē Award was presented in 1964 to author Scott O'Dell for Island of the Blue Dolphins. Ever since that time more children participate each year. Children in public and private schools and in public libraries read and vote. The award is sponsored by the Hawai'i Library Association's Children and Youth Section, the Hawai'i Association of School Librarians, the Hawai'i State Public Library System, and the Department of Education.

The winning authors have been visiting Hawai'i since 1994 -- Phyllis Naylor (Shiloh), Bruce Coville (My Teacher is an Alien), Jerry Spinelli (Maniac Magee), Constance Hiser (Ghosts in Fourth Grade), Graham Salisbury (Under the Blood-Red Sun) and Barbara Robinson (Best School Year Ever). The authors meet with the children who voted for their books and announce the next year's Nēnē Award winner. In 2003, Christopher Paul Curtis entertained the children of Hawai'i by sharing stories about his 2002 Nēnē Award winner, Bud not Buddy. Kate DiCamillo, 2005 Nēnē winner, delighted the audience with her witty banter at the Award Ceremony honoring her book Because of Winn-Dixie. 2009 Nēnē winner Cornelia Funke, author of Inkheart, made an appearance, as did 2010 Nēnē winner, Margaret Peterson Haddix, author of the book Found. The 2011 Nēnē winner, Michael Buckley, author of NERDS, entertained with a lengthy question and answer session. Both the 2012 winners, Brian Selznick and Jacqueline Davies, (an unprecedented tie!) bid fair to follow the trend, as they have tentatively agreed to speak at the 2013 Nēnē Award Ceremony in April 2013.

From 1964-1966, the Nene Nominee list was chosen by children in schools, using a variety of methods. Each school submitted one title, these titles were compiled into a ballot, and children voted on the ballot.

From 1967-1972, there was no recommended list. Children were encouraged to vote directly, on any book they chose that met the established criteria. However, a significant number (about one-third) of votes cast were ineligible according to the criteria.

In 1972, the Nene committee approved the idea of committee members compiling a recommended reading list, but reiterated that this list was not exclusive and children should NOT be limited to voting only for books on the list.

Since then, a recommended list has been compiled each year. In recent years, it has gone back and forth between "write-ins allowed" to "write-ins welcome" (with a very high rate of ineligible votes) to "students are encouraged to recommend titles for next year's Suggested Reading List" since the major use of the write-in votes was to find eligible titles suitable to put on the next list. Nene Award-winning books have been selected after being added to the list because they received significant numbers of write-in votes.

Selection now consists of the top "votegetters," and write-ins from the previous voting, and additional titles suggested by public and school librarians. Approximately 30 titles comprise the Suggested Reading List printed each year.

For more information, email neneaward@gmail.com, write the Nēnē Award Committee c/o Hawai'i State Library, Children's Section at 478 South King Street, Honolulu, Hawai'i 96813 or call 808-586-3510.