Judy Freeman

Judy Freeman

JUDY FREEMAN is a well-known speaker and writer on reading aloud, storytelling, booktalking, and all aspects of children’s literature. A national seminar presenter for BER (Bureau of Education and Research; www.ber.org), she also gives a variety of workshops and speeches at conferences, schools and libraries throughout the world for teachers, librarians, parents, and children. Judy served as a member of the Newbery Committee to select the Newbery Award book for the year 2000 (Bud, Not Buddy by Christopher Paul Curtis) and the 2008 Sibert Committee, to select the most distinguished informational book for children published in 2007 (The Wall: Growing Up Behind the Iron Curtain by Peter Sís). Judy proudly served as a member of the 2014 Caldecott Committee to select the Caldecott Award book for the year 2013 (Locomotive by Brian Floca).

Judy has written more than 400 book reviews and other content for best-selling author James Patterson’s spectacular website for parents, librarians, and teachers, and other children’s book-loving souls. Learn more about Judy Freeman and her work at her website,  www.judyreadsbooks.com.

Winners! Handbook

The Winners! Handbook is put out once a year by Judy Freeman and contains a closer look at some of her top-rated children’s books from the previous year. Each year, Freeman combs through the books named “best of the year” by various library organizations in order to highlight the best of the best, or bring attention to books that had been overlooked by awards committees. Freeman uses this handbook in her acclaimed Winners! Workshop, where she examines various books’ library and classroom applications as well as how the titles tie in to Common Core Standards.

Every spring, for the past 30+ years, Judy Freeman has presented her wildly popular, idea-packed, full-day seminar, The Winners! Workshop, throughout New Jersey. Her program is a field day for teachers, librarians, and other children’s literature-lovers looking for innovative and practical ways to use the best of the year’s children’s books for curricular connections, thematic tie-ins, resource-based learning, and just plain fun. If you can’t make it to New Jersey each year, this handbook, upon which Judy’s workshop is based, that each participant receives as part of the day, is the next best thing to being there.


Looking for ways to integrate Common Core or your state standards into your classroom or library? In The Winners! Handbook, you’ll discover a host of successful, kid-tested, motivating, literature-based techniques and strategies for reading and writing lessons across the curriculum, giving you a whole new repertoire of irresistible titles your kids will love as read-alones, read alouds, and for book discussion groups.

– From The 2015 Winners! Handbook

From The 2018 Winners! Handbook: A Closer Look at Judy Freeman’s Top-Rated Children’s Books of 2017 

✪ The Losers Club. Clements, Andrew. Random House, 2017. {ISBN-13: 978-0-399-55755-2; 231p.} FIC (Gr. 4-6) RL: 3.9

Andrew Clements, himself a former teacher, has been writing middle grade school stories with attitude for more than twenty years, since Frindle caught everyone’s eye in 1996. He excels in slightly rebellious characters who stand up for what is right even if it costs them. Now meet sixth grader Alec Spencer, who, at 9:15 a.m. on the first day of school, is already sitting outside the principal’s office on the bright red plastic chair known as the “Hot Seat.” He sat in it many times in fifth grade, not for the usual infractions like talking back or misbehaving, but for reading. “Once he found a beginning, he had to get to the middle, because the middle always led to the end of the story. And no matter what, Alec had to know what happened next.” We know kids like that. Some of us were kids like that and/or still are. Today, Alec was sent to the office for reading instead of drawing in art class. Now, as he becomes engrossed in Lloyd Alexander’s Newbery classic, The High King, a loud voice demands his attention. “Hey, can you guys smell something?” says his former friend, Kent Blair, the popular kid who likes to show off for his friends by tormenting Alec. “Ohhh! Look! That’s Alec Spencer on the Hot Seat. So the smell? It’s fried bookworm! Get it? Ha-ha!” Inside the principal’s office, Mrs. Vance tells him that if he chooses not to change his classroom behavior and bring up his grades in study skills, not to mention class participation and attitude reports, he will be attending a special six-week studies skill program in summer school to catch up. The teachers have also been talking about how to deal with Alec’s singular problem and have arranged for him to sit front and center in every class. This year, instead of going right home after school, Alec and his brother Luke, a third grader, are enrolled in the three-hour Extended Day Program in the gym. He figures he’ll be able to read with no interruptions. Unfortunately, he is given three options: sign up for the Active Games Program, the Clubs Program, or do homework in the Homework Room. He is, however, free to start a club of his own but he must find at least one other kid who wants to join. He calls it The Losers Club, hoping no one else but his friend Dave will want to join it because of the off-putting name. Unfortunately, there’s another kid in Extended Day—Alec’s nemesis, Kent, who ridicules Alec’s idea and calls him a bookworm, a nickname Alec detests because of Kent’s derisive way of saying it. Unfortunately, Kent talks Dave into staying with the Active Games group that will be playing kickball every day. What he needs is another bookworm. Luckily, Alec spots one, a tough as nails kid named Nina Warner, sitting at the Origami Club table, engrossed in one of his favorites, A Wrinkle in Time. When she agrees to sign on to his club, the two plan to do nothing but read for three hours every day. Pretty soon, though, other kids want to join. And Alec, who is developing a crush on Nina, is none too pleased when Kent decides he likes her, too. Aside from the emphasis on the power of reading great books, the story, divided into brief chapters with punch, deals with boy/girl relationships, competition, one-upmanship, jealousy, revenge, and the differences between fiction and real life. All in a day’s work in a Clements book.

GERM: You’ll want to introduce/booktalk/make available all the books Alec and the other kids read in the course of the book. Sure, your kids all know the Wimpy Kid books, but how about Bud, Not Buddy by Christopher Paul Curtis, The Giver by Lois Lowry, or even The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle? These and forty-nine other titles mentioned in the course of the story are on the Losers Club Book List at the back of the book. Run off copies and have your students check off ones they’ve read or would like to read. Have them add titles of their own favorites at the end of the list or start a new list—a class chart that kids can add onto and use for inspiration when they can’t think what to read next. One of the selections Alec reads is Ray Bradbury’s gripping short story, “All Summer in a Day.” Don’t miss reading it aloud. If your library doesn’t have a copy, you can find it on docs.google.com—just type the title in the search bar.

Discussion Points/Research & Writing Prompts:

1. Why does Alec get in trouble all the time for something as valued as reading? Have you ever gotten in trouble for being lost in a book? What was the book and what happened? (Chapter 1-3)

2. Alec could join a club for chess, robotics, Chinese, Lego, and Origami, or be part of Active Games, which means kickball. Which club would you join? If you could start a club, what would it be and why? Why is Kent so nasty to Alec? (Chapter 4-6)

3. Alec has comfort books that he revisits often, including Charlotte’s Web and the Narnia books. What are your comfort books that you’ve read many times? What is it about these books that makes you want to reread them? Alex’s parents know every Star Wars movie by heart, and even named Alec for Alec Guinness, the actor who played the first Obi-Wan Kenobi, while Luke was named for Luke Skywalker. Are you a movie person, a book person, or both? Alec has read every Star Wars book in his parents collection many times but has only seen most of the movies once. Which do you prefer—the movie made from a book or the original book itself and why? (Think of the Harry Potter books versus the movies and other recent films of books such as R. J. Palacio’s Wonder, Brian Selznick’s Wonderstruck, and L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time.) (Chapter 7)

4. How does Alec get Nina Warner to sign up for The Losers Club? What does he mean when he says the name of the club is the skunk? How has his opinion of Nina changed since he first saw her the day before? (Chapter 8-10)

5. Why doesn’t Alec tell Nina what he really thinks of Kent? What does she seem to think of Kent? Why does Alec let Lily Allenby join the Losers Club? (Chapter 11-12)

6. How does Alec negotiate a deal with his parents to keep him out of the Homework Room after school? What does he want to say, compared with what he does say? How do you win an argument or discussion with your parents? (Chapter 13)

7. Why does Alec feel like a loser when Nina doesn’t come to the table but instead plays kickball with Kent? Nina notices that a lot of the books Alec reads are ancient, or at least not modern. He says, “A book is either good or not. And if it’s good it never gets old,” Do you agree with that statement? What books that you have read would fit that description? (Chapter 14-15)

8. Why did Kent keep kicking balls to the Losers Club table? How did Nina stop him without confronting him? Why does Kent ask Alec if he and Nina are “like, together, or anything”? What does Nina think of Kent and why? (Chapter 16-18)

9. Alec asks himself this question: “I’ve read all these books about these amazing heroes who do incredible things—people who fight for honor and glory and patriotism . . . and love. So—what about me? Do I just sit around while Kent grabs all the attention?” What should he do about Kent? What does he do? (Chapter 19)

10. Alec asks his father for advice on how not to be called a bookworm. How does his father’s story about rebranding apply to Alec? How is real life different from fiction? (Chapter 20-22)

11. How does Alec’s brother help him wrap his head around what is happening between him and Nina? How come he doesn’t take Luke’s advice: “Neanderthals—you need to learn to ignore them.”? How does Alec then defuse Kent’s “anger grenade” with new club member, Jason? (Chapter 23-25)

12. Alec recalls his father’s words: “Nobody can be summed up by one label.” What are some of the labels you’d apply to yourself, including a secret one? How does Alec get his revenge on Kent? And how does it backfire? (Chapter 26-27)

13. Alec’s librarian helps in his search for “jerk-proof” books that Kent will like in spite of himself. What does he check out for him? If you’ve never read it, look up a synopsis of it on Amazon. Who wrote it and what’s it about? What are some books you’ve read that are jerk-proof/sure-fire/can’t-miss? (Chapter 28-29)

14. What’s the difference in the reading habits of Alec and his brother, Luke? What does it mean to be a reader? What do you think is more important—fiction or nonfiction? Why? (Chapter 30-31)

15. Why have so many kids joined the Losers Club? How much time do you have for reading the books you want to read? Keep track of how many minutes you spend reading books you like each day. How do Alex and Kent finally reach a truce with each other? (Chapter 32-33)

16. What does Alec realize about the difference between books and real life? What do you think about that? (Chapter 34)

17. Alec needs to come up with a smashing show-and-tell presentation to do with his club for the Extended Day open house for parents. Some of the club members want him to change the name of the club. Brainstorm some possible ideas of what he should do. (Chapter 35)

18. Why does Alec worry that he was acting like a dictator with the Losers Club. What is he afraid of losing? (Chapter 36)

19. How does Alec rebrand the readers in the Losers Club? Make a list of all the books you remember having read in your lifetime (or maybe just in the last year). Look over your list. What can you tell about your life as a reader from your list? (Chapter 37)

RELATED TITLES: Alexander, Kwame. Booked. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2016. / Anderson, John David. Ms. Bixby’s Last Day. Walden Pond, 2016. / Angleberger, Tom. The Strange Case of Origami Yoda. Amulet, 2010. / Clements, Andrew. Extra Credit. Atheneum, 2009. / Clements, Andrew. Frindle. Simon & Schuster, 1996. / Clements, Andrew. Lost and Found. Simon & Schuster, 2008. / Clements, Andrew. Lunch Money. Simon & Schuster, 2005. / Clements, Andrew. No Talking. Simon & Schuster, 2007. / Greenwald, Tom. Charlie Joe Jackson’s Guide to Not Reading. Roaring Brook, 2011. / Korman, Gordon. Slacker. Scholastic, 2016. / Mills, Claudia. Kelsey Green, Reading Queen. Farrar, 2013. / Paulsen, Gary. Hatchet. Atheneum, 1987. / Tashjian, Janet. My Life As a Book. Henry Holt, 2010

Order Now

To order the “Winners! Handbook” click on the link within with the photo, to order the BOOKS mentioned inside the handbook, use the green “Click Here” button provided. 

Judy Freeman’s Top-Rated Children’s Books of 2017 in the BTSB Bookstore

Judy Freeman’s Top-Rated Children’s Books of 2016 in the BTSB Bookstore

Judy Freeman’s Top-Rated Children’s Books of 2015 in the BTSB Bookstore

Judy Freeman’s Top-Rated Children’s Books of 2014 in the BTSB Bookstore