10 years of the Indiana Early Literacy Firefly Award

On Oct. 1, 2014, the Indiana Center for the Book announced their new Indiana Early Literacy Firefly Award in the Indiana State Library’s weekly newsletter, the Wednesday Word. Later in 2015, the first book to win the award was announced. In the first year of the award, over 1,200 Indiana children ages 0-5 voted on one of eight books nominated by Indiana librarians and selected by the Indiana Early Literacy Firefly Committee as being worthy of consideration for this award. The first year, the book “Don’t Push the Button!,” written and illustrated by Bill Cotter, took home top honors and won the award. Each year since, a different book has won the award, based on votes from Indiana children, ages 0-5.

Some things about the award have changed. Starting in the second year, only five books appeared on the ballot, as it was determined that young children could more easily choose from a group of five books versus a group of eight. During the pandemic, remote voting was added. Also, starting in 2018, the Firefly Committee began creating program guides to go along with the award, providing parents, caregivers, teachers and librarians with dozens and dozens of developmentally appropriate activities to support each title appearing on the ballot. The program guide is what sets the Indiana Early Literacy Firefly Award apart from other state book awards.

This year’s program guide includes songs, book lists, rhymes, magnet boards, full-body activities, fine-motor activities and much more to support the program and encourage parents and caregivers to not just read the books, but to immerse their children in activities about the books.

Since the award’s inception, over 27,000 votes have been cast for the Indiana Early Literacy Firefly Award. This year, the committee is hoping for another crop of votes from young children, ages 0-5 to usher in the next 10 years of the award. Of course, it is assumed that children ages 0-5 will need assistance in casting their ballots. Some libraries provide voting programs where children each get a bean bag that they put directly on the cover of their favorite book. Other libraries provide ballot boxes that parents can use to log their child’s vote. No matter what book wins, everyone wins when they participate in the Indiana Early Literacy Firefly Award. Why? Because it’s just the cutest book award in the land.

Voting for this year’s award is now open. Votes can be submitted online through the remote voting form or can be submitted through any local library in Indiana that is participating in the award.

The 2024 nominees are as follows:

  • “Bear Has a Belly” by Jane Whittingham.
  • “Firefighter Flo!” by Andrea Zimmerman.
  • “Let’s Go Puddling!” by Emma Perry.
  • “I Was Born a Baby” by Meg Fleming.
  • “One, Two, Grandpa Loves You” by Shelly Becker.

For more information about the Indiana Early Literacy Firefly Award, reach out to Suzanne Walker, director of the Indiana Center for the Book.

This blog post was submitted by Indiana Young Readers Center librarian Suzanne Walker.

Two writing contests for youth open for entries at the Indiana State Library

The Indiana Center for the Book, an affiliate of the Library of Congress housed in the Indiana State Library, is open for entries for two writing contests for youth this fall. The Indiana Statehood Day Essay Contest is open to Indiana fourth graders and the Indiana Letters About Literature Contest is open to Indiana’s fourth through 12th graders.

For the Indiana Statehood Day Essay Contest, Indiana fourth graders are invited to write an essay on the theme of “Playing IN Indiana.” Judges are looking forward to seeing students’ interpretation of the theme which can encompass Indiana sports, recreation in Indiana’s parks, playing music, visiting Indiana’s amusement parks and so much more. The Indiana Statehouse Tour Office partners with the Indiana Center for the Book for this contest which commemorates Indiana Statehood Day each year. Indiana’s 207th birthday is Dec. 11. Winners of the essay contest will be honored at a Statehood Day Celebration. The 2023 celebration is on Dec. 8 at the Indiana State Museum and on Dec. 11 at the Indiana Statehouse. Four top winners will be selected. Each winner will receive a CollegeChoice 529 Deposit of $529 made possible by the Indiana Education Savings Authority! All Indiana fourth graders should take advantage of this exciting opportunity. Find out more about the contest at the contest website. The deadline to enter is Oct. 27.

The Indiana Letters About Literature contest is also now open for the 2023-24 contest cycle. This contest is a reading and writing contest for Indiana students in grades four through 12. Students are asked to read a book, poem, essay or speech and to write to the author – living or deceased – about how the work affected how they see themselves or how they see the world. Letters are judged on how well they interpret the theme of the power of literature to change readers as well as on expression, voice, structure and grammar. One hundred state winners are announced each spring. All winners get published in the annual Indiana Letters About Literature anthology, and top winners receive cash prizes. All winners are invited to an annual virtual celebration where they will get to meet an Indiana author. This year’s author is Rob Harrell, Indiana author of “Wink.” The Indiana Letters About Literature program is supported by the James and Madeleine McMullen Family Foundation and the Indiana State Library Foundation. For more information about Indiana Letters About Literature, visit the contest website. The deadline for entries is Jan. 19, 2024.

The judges are hoping that hundreds of students enter each contest. For questions, please reach out to Suzanne Walker, director of the Indiana Center for the Book. Good luck to all the young Hoosier writers who enter either – or both – contests.

This blog post was submitted by Indiana Young Readers Center librarian Suzanne Walker.

Get your Sammy fix with poets laureate and Indiana children’s authors

Sammy the Interviewing Toucan, who works out of the Indiana Young Readers Center, is back with a whole load of content for all the Sammy fans out there patiently waiting for more of this sassy bird. Sammy was hard at work this summer catching up with all kinds of literary types. The corduroy puppet has put together two series of videos. The first features five of Indiana’s poets laureate, including current Poet Laureate Matthew Graham and the second showcases five Indiana authors who write for children.

First to hit the airwaves will be five interviews with the poets laureate available on the Indiana State Library’s YouTube channel the morning of Sept. 5. When asked what it was like to talk to poets, Sammy said, “Of course I was delighted. I especially liked the fact that so many of them talked about birds. Except Matthew. He talked about James Dean, but that was cool too. James Dean is about as famous as I am, so there’s that.”

Then on Sept. 11, five more videos will be released featuring Indiana authors who write for children including an interview with award-winning Margaret Peterson Haddix. “That was just a dream come true,” Sammy said. “I mean, MPH is legendary in children’s literature. And it was great getting to talk to so many authors about how reading books – all kinds of books – is great for kids!”

When asked what’s next for this busy bird, Sammy said, “Oh, I’m going to be the star of some Escape Rooms that my staff is working on. They’ll be available for Indiana librarians to check out starting sometime in 2024. There’s always something keeping me flying!” Mark your calendars and tune in to catch up with Sammy, authors and the poets laureate of Indiana.

This blog post was submitted by Indiana Young Readers Center librarian Suzanne Walker.

2023 National Book Festival – Indiana’s involvement

The Library of Congress is once again presenting the National Book Festival, and Indiana is excited to be part of it. The 23nd running of the festival will take place in-person on Aug. 12 at the Washington Convention Center. A selection of programs will be livestreamed, and videos of those presentations can be viewed online after the festival concludes. The theme for this year’s festival is “Everyone Has a Story.”

Indiana is participating in the festival in a variety of ways. The Indiana Center for the Book will staff the Indiana booth in the Roadmap to Reading area of the festival, and two books by Indiana authors are being highlighted at the festival as part of the Great Reads from Great Places initiative. “The Rabbit Hutch” by Tess Gunty is the selection for adult readers and “Grace and Box” by Kim Howard is the selection for youth readers.

The Indiana Center for the Book is partnering with Indiana Humanities to host a program with Tess Gunty in-person on July 17. You are welcome to join Indiana Humanities and the Indiana Authors Awards for a conversation between National Book Award winner Tess Gunty and Indiana author Susan Neville at the Indiana Landmarks Center on Monday, July 17 at 6:30 p.m. Eastern. The event is free but registration is required.

“Grace and Box” won the Indiana Authors Award in the Children’s category in 2022 and was also nominated for the Indiana Early Literacy Firefly Award in 2022.

In addition to these two authors, Indiana author Chasten Buttigieg will also be at the festival in-person. Buttigieg’s book “I Have Something to Tell You – For Young Adults: A Memoir” is featured in a program guide put together by Indiana Humanities and Indiana Center for the Book. Use the program guide to participate in the festival. Explore the writings of one of the authors. Learn more about the Library of Congress, our national library. Listen to a podcast interview in a group and discuss it afterwards. Above all, enjoy connecting with Hoosier literary heritage.

This blog post was submitted by Indiana Young Readers Center librarian Suzanne Walker.

History Escape Room Kits from the Indiana State Library!

Attention teachers and youth librarians! There’s a new kit coming from the Indiana State Library created especially with middle and high school students in mind. History Escape Room Kits will be available for teachers and librarians to check out starting in January of 2024.

Escape rooms are a popular way to engage students in learning, problem solving and critical thinking. Students enter a room or a space and are presented with a problem or mystery. They are “locked in” until the mystery is solved. They must scour the room for clues and work together to solve a series of puzzles that involve all manner of skills: map reading, image analysis, math problems, analyzing short passages, searching through newspapers, teamwork, leadership and more. If they succeed in solving the puzzles (usually in a limited amount of time) they can solve the mystery and “escape.”

The Indiana State Library’s History Escape Room Kits are being developed for Indiana’s public libraries and schools. All programs will be steeped in history and based on primary sources available from the Indiana State Library’s collections and the collections of the Library of Congress. The programs will be housed in containers and shipped to libraries and schools using the State Library’s courier network. Possible themes for the kits include: Genealogy with the Iris Baughman Diary, Jazz on Indiana Avenue with Sanborn Maps, Presidents and Vice Presidents of Indiana (including Benjamin Harrison), the Flu Pandemic of 1918 with WWI letters, Famous Political Speeches in Indiana and Indiana Basketball focused on Crispus Attucks High School.

Each History Escape Room kit will align with Social Studies Standards in Indiana for grades 6-12. These standards include map reading, industry in Indiana, primary and secondary sources, and events and movements in the 20th century. Escape rooms could be used by teachers as an engaging activity both during and after school hours. Youth librarians could use them as a pre-planned out-of-the-box program. History Escape Room kits will be designed for up to 16 youth to work on together but could be used by groups as small as four. Teachers could check out two to three copies of the same kit to accommodate larger classroom sizes.

Ease of use is front of mind for these kits. Teachers and librarians should be able to receive a kit, watch a video and get their room set up in 20 minutes or less. All solutions and hints will be included for the lead librarian or teacher, and all kits will be tested with actual teens before release. Interested libraries and schools will be able to reserve kits through KitKeeper, the same service that is used to book Storytime Kits, Book Club Kits, and Lego and Duplo Kits.

Training on using the kits will be available both at the Indiana Library Federation’s Youth Services Division conference held on Aug. 13 in Indianapolis, and at fall trainings held by the Indiana State Library yet to be scheduled.

The Escape Room Kits are sponsored in part by the Library of Congress Teaching with Primary Sources Midwest Region Program, located at Illinois State University. Content created and featured in partnership with the TPS Midwest Region does not indicate an endorsement by the Library of Congress.

Questions? Reach out to Suzanne Walker, Indiana Young Readers Center librarian.

This blog post was submitted by Indiana Young Readers Center librarian Suzanne Walker.

Visit the Lego Monument this holiday season! It’s free!

Visitors to the Indiana Young Readers Center located in the Indiana State Library will get a treat this holiday season. For the fourth time since 2018, a 7-foot-tall replica of the Indianapolis Soldiers and Sailors Monument is on display from now until Valentine’s Day, 2023. Startlingly similar to the real monument, the replica is made from Legos, over 75,000 Legos to be precise.

Jeffrey Smythe of Center Grove, Indiana is the artist behind the Lego sculpture. Smythe attended the Herron School of Art and Design and graduated from IUPUI with a degree in interior design. He loves sharing his piece with the Indiana public, especially with field trips who visit the Indiana Young Readers Center.

The initial construction back in 2017-18 lasted 15 months, including three months of planning and sketching. Lego bricks used to create the sculpture, which includes a roughly 6-foot circular base area, were obtained from existing kits, Goodwill stores, auction houses and via online retailers and resellers. The piece was constructed at a 1:48 scale to accommodate Lego minifigures.

Since the initial build, Smythe has tweaked the design and grouped different combinations of characters around the base of the monument to tell different visual stories and provide lots of opportunities for viewers to seek and find.

This year, visitors will be delighted by a Muppet rock concert and a very familiar mystery solving dog. Let’s just say that we Scooby-Dooby-Doo hope you bring your families to visit the monument. “It’s one of my very favorite parts about working downtown in December,” said Indiana Young Readers Center librarian, Suzanne Walker. “The Lego Monument is beautiful, quirky and so very ‘Indiana.’”

The Indiana Young Readers Center is free and open to the public Monday through Friday from 8 a.m.-4:30 p.m. The library is located at 315 W. Ohio St. in downtown Indianapolis. Visitors can also view the monument on select Saturdays; Dec. 10, 2022, Jan. 14, 2023 and Feb. 11, 2023 from 10 a.m.-4 p.m. If you have questions about viewing the Lego Monument, reach out to Suzanne Walker, Indiana Young Readers Center librarian.

This blog post was submitted by Indiana Young Readers Center librarian Suzanne Walker.

Indiana Letters About Literature writing contest for grades 4-12

The Indiana Letters About Literature writing contest is now open! Students in grades four through 12 are invited to write a letter to an author, living or deceased, whose one work has made a difference in how the student sees themselves or the world. Indiana students can write about works of literature including fiction, nonfiction, short stories, poems, essays or speeches, including TED Talks.

Last year over a thousand letters were submitted to the contest. Students wrote about many books, including “Wonder” by R. J. Palacio, “The Lightning Thief” by Rick Riordan and “To Kill a Mockingbird” by Harper Lee. Students once again explored weighty issues including identity, neurodiversity, anxiety (we received a lot of letters about anxiety), racism and police violence. Letters are not actually delivered to the authors, but for the past ten years about 100 letters are selected for inclusion in an annual anthology.

First, second and third place winners are selected from amongst the top 100 letters in three levels: grades 4-6, grades 7-8, and grades 9-12. In addition, a special award is given to the top letter written to an Indiana author.

The top letters from the 2021-22 contest are as follows:

Callum Green, New Palestine, was the first-place winner from Level One. He wrote a letter to Alan Gratz, author of the bestselling novel for children, “Grenade.” This is a selection from his letter:

“I really should blame this whole thing on my great-grandfather. I mean, the reason I got interested in WWII was to know more about his past. He fought in the Battle of the Bulge and was captured. He is still alive today, at 98 years old. I would always listen to his stories and not fully understand them until one day I decided I would learn about this major conflict … Due to my interest in the topic, I immediately got hooked on your writing. Your style of writing and the perspectives makes me feel like I am actually in the setting of your books.”

Naomi Cohen, Indianapolis, was the first-place winner from Level Two. She wrote a letter to Sara Leicht-Weinstein, author of the novel, “The Power of Hatred, the Strength of Love.” This is a selection from her letter:

“From the very first page to the last … tears began to sting my face as I envisioned a girl my age stepping off a filthy cattle car into the gates of hell – Auschwitz. I began to question the world and people around me. What causes people to hate so deeply? Why do people find it so difficult to put their differences aside? Which is more powerful – love or hate?”

Loralee DeYoung, Dyer, was the first-place winner from Level Three. She wrote a letter to Markus Zusak, author of the novel, “The Book Thief.” This is a selection from his letter.

“As I read the first few pages … it became clear that this novel was not like the ones I had read before. Confusion grew, then shock. Not only is the strange narrator the embodiment of Death, but he unceremoniously visits Liesel’s younger brother. The character Death was desperately foreign to me; there had not even been a single warning in advance. As I journeyed farther into the story, the kind of story I was reading grew increasingly clear. There was never going to be a happy ending, and a lot of people were going to end up hurt or dead.”

BethAnn Fairchild, Madison, won the Indiana Author Letter Prize for the top letter written to an Indiana Author. She wrote a letter to Gene Stratton-Porter, Indiana author of “Laddie, Freckles, and A Girl of the Limberlost.” This is a selection from her letter:

“Gene Stratton-Porter, thank you so much for painting elaborate pictures of the creation you love. It makes me able to experience what you experienced when you were young. And I have gained so many lessons from my friendships with your characters. The world has changed a lot but because of your books, everyone can encounter the beauty of the Limberlost.”

The deadline to enter the 2022-23 contest is Jan. 9, 2023. Details, entry forms and official rules for the contest can be found on the Letters About Literature website.

Get your students excited to enter the contest by sharing this video with them:

This blog post was submitted by Indiana Young Readers Center librarian Suzanne Walker.

Virtual field trip now available

The Indiana State Library serves all of Indiana, including its farthest flung counties. For many counties, bringing a busload of students to visit us here at the State Library is just not feasible. Luckily, we’ve designed a virtual field trip for teachers to explore with their students at their own pace. Designed in Google Docs, the virtual field trip includes Indiana Trivia, a virtual tour with videos of several of the library’s spaces, a deep dive into the Indiana Young Readers Center and much more!

The quickest way to learn about our building is certainly the videos about each area of the library. Of note is the Stacks video that allows students to see into areas of the library not open to the public.

Teachers can extend their virtual field trip by booking a virtual visit with the Indiana Young Readers Center Librarian. The librarian is happy to chat with classes about Indiana Authors, being a librarian or architectural features in the Indiana State Library.

Feel free to reach out for more details about this opportunity. The Indiana Young Readers Center librarian can be reached here.

This blog post was submitted by Indiana Young Readers Center librarian Suzanne Walker.

Indiana participates in the 2022 National Book Festival

The Library of Congress is once again presenting the National Book Festival, and Indiana is excited to be part of it. The 22nd iteration of the festival will take place in-person on Sept. 3 at the Washington Convention Center. A selection of programs will be livestreamed, and videos of those presentations can be viewed online after the festival concludes. The theme for this year’s festival is “Books Bring Us Together.”

Indiana is participating in the festival in a variety of ways. The Indiana Center for the Book will staff the Indiana booth in the Roadmap to Reading area of the festival, and two books by Indiana authors are being highlighted at the festival as part of the Great Reads from Great Places initiative. “Zorrie” by Larid Hunt is the selection for adult readers and “You Should See Me in a Crown” by Leah Johnson is the selection for youth readers.

The Indiana Center for the Book recently hosted an evening with Laird Hunt where Suzanne Walker, director of the center, spoke to the author of “Zorrie” about the novel and especially about the author’s Indiana roots. “Zorrie” is unique because it was chosen to represent two states at the festival. Laird Hunt is from Indiana, but currently lives in Rhode Island, and the Rhode Island Center for the Book partnered with Indiana on the event and has also chosen the book to represent their state at the festival.

Leah Johnson, author of “You Should See Me in a Crown” was interviewed back in 2021 by Sammy, the toucan puppet affiliated with the Indiana Center for the Book. They talked about books, reading, and of course, being from Indiana.

In addition to these two authors, Indiana author Karen Joy Fowler will also be at the festival in-person. Fowler’s book “Booth” is featured in a Toolkit put together by Indiana Humanities and Indiana Center for the Book. Use the toolkit participate in the festival. Explore the writings of one of the authors. Learn more about the Library of Congress, our national library. Listen to a podcast interview in a group and discuss it afterwards. Above all, enjoy connecting with Hoosier literary heritage. The Golden Age of Indiana literature isn’t in the past. It’s beginning all over again.

This blog post was submitted by Indiana Young Readers Center librarian Suzanne Walker.

‘An Evening with Laird Hunt,’ author of ‘Zorrie’

Join the Indiana Center for the Book and the Rhode Island Center for the Book for “An Evening with Laird Hunt,” author of the 2021 National Book Award finalist, “Zorrie.” This title is being featured by both Indiana and Rhode Island at the National Book Festival. “Zorrie” tells the story of one Hoosier woman’s life convulsed and transformed by events of the 20th century, specifically the Great Depression. Set in Clinton County, Indiana, Zorrie is orphaned twice, first by her parents and then her aunt. She ekes out a living, eventually finding work in a radium processing plant in Illinois. However, when Indiana calls her home, she returns and works to build a new life, yet again. Laird Hunt’s novel is a poignant study in rural Midwestern life and an exploration of the passage of time through individuals and communities. Join us to learn more about the author and this fascinating novel.

  • Date: Aug. 2, 2022
  • Time: 7:00 – 7:45 p.m. Eastern
  • Location: Zoom
  • Cost: Free of charge

Participants must register online. Registered participants will be sent a Zoom link upon registration. The event will be recorded and will be available on the Indiana State Library’s YouTube channel in the days following the event. This program is eligible for one LEU for Indiana library staff.

About Laird Hunt
Laird Hunt is the author of eight novels, including the 2021 National Book Award finalist “Zorrie.” He is the winner of the Anisfield-Wolf Book Award for Fiction, the Grand Prix de Littérature Américaine, the Bridge Prize and a finalist for both the Pen/Faulkner and the Prix Femina Étranger. His reviews and essays have been published in the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Wall Street Journal, the Daily Beast, the Guardian, the Irish Times and the Los Angeles Times, and his fiction and translations have appeared in many literary journals in the United States and abroad. A former United Nations press officer who was largely raised in rural Indiana, he now lives in Providence, Rhode Island where he teaches in Brown University’s Literary Arts Program.

This blog post was submitted by Indiana Young Readers Center librarian Suzanne Walker.