The pitch of Katie Nederhoed’s voice increased as Plankton grew more frustrated that Mussel wouldn’t talk with him. The librarian turned a page in the children’s book and the pink critter swam into the mollusk’s mouth to get his attention.

“SNAP!” she said as Mussel trapped Plankton inside.

Giggles erupted from Bonner School kindergartners. “Snap!” repeated one girl as she bounced on her heels.

“¡Delicioso!” Mussel proclaimed. “Aha! I knew you would talk,” Plankton said triumphantly from inside the clam.

It was the end of the book. Now, it was up to the students to decide how well they liked it, a decision that would help librarians around the country decide which books to order for children’s sections.

After a retired librarian from Bozeman worked with them to apply, nine public school libraries in Missoula County were selected by the nonprofit International Literacy Association and the Children’s Book Council to represent nine western states in the Children’s Choice Book Awards, the only national book awards chosen by kids.

In the first year, the schools will divide up three copies of 998 books donated by publishers and written for grades K-5. Students at the participating schools rate the books they read. Votes are tallied nationwide to choose annual winners in several categories.

“It’s a huge bonus for the schools. It’s more than $50,000 worth of books,” said Nan Brandenbergerpayne, who grew up in Missoula, worked in a Memphis library, taught at Montana State University and retired in Bozeman. “Next year we get double the amount of books. I’m so enthusiastic. I’m so happy my hometown is benefiting from this program.”

Nederhoed, too, is grateful that Brandenbergerpayne reached out to recruit schools.

“The kids are loving it because they get to see so many different books,” she said. “It’s empowering for them to be able to have an opinion about what you’re reading.”

After reading “Plankton is Pushy” by Jonathan Fenske on Tuesday, she asked the kindergarten students to close their eyes.

“Raise your hand if you loved the book.”

Fifteen did.

“Raise your hand if you liked the book.”

One girl raised her hand.

“All right, and didn’t like the book?”

No one.

Nederhoed tallied the votes on a small slip of paper she later entered in the electronic voting system. The school has submitted almost 3,000 votes so far and has through the end of January to do so. Older students enter their own votes online and have the option of typing a description of why they liked or didn't like a particular book.

Laela Childress, 9, gave a high rating to the latest installment of the CatStronauts graphic novels by Drew Brockington, which feature the adventures of feline scientists in space.

“It’s very good and I like comic books,” she said.

Bryce Willis, 10, said he has particularly liked the Children’s Choice program has brought more books about sports into the library, such as “Baseball Genius” by Tim Green and Derek Jeter. One of his favorites so far was "Bone Jack" by Sara Crowe, a young adult novel about a boy training for a race to make his war-scarred father proud, but ultimately must save his home from dark, dead forces.

“I liked all the detail the author put into,” Willis said. “(S)he made it really specific.”

Shay Hall, 11, recently finished “The Complete Book of Fashion History” by Jana Sedlackova.

“The illustrations are really good and funny. I learned a lot from it,” he said, turning through the pages. “It’s not just for girls, I found out, because it has barbarians in it. … There were dyers and it showed how they dyed their skin for war.”

Madyson Goeres, 9, said the new program is “awesome.”

“You read books then you get to tell (why) on the website,” she said. “You vote on it.”

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Education Reporter

Education and special projects reporter at The Missoulian.