Allison Cabaj was a first-year school librarian, splitting her time between the school library and the English classroom, when she created her MAE-Award-winning program that helped to build “an interactive community of readers” at Riverside Brookfield (Ill.) High School. Whether you are a brand new or an experienced librarian, if you ran an outstanding reading or literature program for young adults in the past year you should consider applying for the MAE Award.

Cabaj replied by email about her experience with the MAE Award.

Q: What would you tell librarians who are considering applying for the MAE Award this year?
‘ A: I think that everyone should consider applying for the MAE Award. In applying myself, I was able to be reflective on the process of creating and implementing a program in our library, and I found areas that I wanted to improve and/or change for the future. School librarians are important in the lives of our students, and I know there are amazing literature programs out there.

Q: How did winning this award affect how you were viewed in your school?

A: I think that people sat up and started to listen. Our library staff had just been cut by nearly half and winning this award gave people a moment’s pause to consider the effects of these cuts. Many stakeholders were excited about the award and the attention a national award brought to the school. I have to say, though, that no one was more excited than my students. In their words, it was “really cool.”

Q: Your winning program highlighted the Abraham Lincoln Award: Illinois’ High School Readers’ Choice Award books. Last year’s Abe Award winner was The Maze Runner. Which books on the Abe list were most popular with your students?

A: All the books were popular, but besides Maze Runner, I would say that Carter Finally Gets It by Brent Crawford and Wish You Were Dead by Todd Strasser were two of the top most liked.

Q: You are working in a different high school this year. Are you featuring the Abe Awards at your new school?

A: We do feature the Abe Awards at Hinsdale Central High School, but not in the same way. At Riverside Brookfield, I ran this program completely around the Abe list. At Hinsdale Central, we promote the Abe list extensively within our general programming and teaching and within a great literature program called “The Reading Marathon.”

Q: You used MAE Award money to bring author M.T. Anderson to your school last year. How was that event? How did students respond to Anderson’s visit?

A: Having M.T. Anderson at Riverside Brookfield High School was one of the most amazing and fulfilling events in my 14-year teaching career. [Last year] all freshmen read Feed at the beginning of second semester. To have over 350 students meet the author who wrote a book that they read (and quite frankly loved, because Feed is great) was an awesome experience for the students and teachers. M.T. Anderson is just fantastic. He is funny, accessible to the students, down to earth, and a great speaker. It was no surprise that the students adored not only his work but him as a person.

This post was published on behalf of Mary Haas and the MAE Award Jury.

About mk Eagle

I'm the librarian at Holliston High School, a bit west of Boston. In my spare time I advise my school's yearbook and Gay Straight Alliance, write about food, and root for the Red Sox.

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