The Bluestem Award: Illinois' Grades 3-5 Readers' Choice Award

Frequently Asked Questions

1) What is the significance of the name Bluestem?

Big Bluestem, the Illinois state prairie grass, symbolizes the entire Bluestem Award and the variety of titles on the Master List each year.  The deep roots of this dominant native grass of the tall grass prairie indicate the older titles with lasting appeal.  New yearly growth relates to the newer titles chosen.  Its changing colors are a reflection of the variety of literatures, and the three seed spikes represent the three grades of students for whom the program is intended: 3rd, 4th, and 5th.

2) Who may participate and what are the requirements?

Any school which serves students in third through fifth grade may register and participate in the Bluestem Award program. Public libraries are also encouraged to register if local schools do not participate and to provide access to the program for home-schooled children.

Any Illinois student in grades 3-5 during the school year of the award may participate.  Participants must read, or have read to them, four of the 20 nominated books.

3) How do I register for participation and what are library requirements?

The registration form is available on the Bluestem website. Participants may register between mid-March and January 15th of each award cycle.


Any school in Illinois with students enrolled in the third, fourth or fifth grade and agreeing to meet the following requirements may participate in the Bluestem Award program:

  • Submit the official Registration Form by the appointed date.
  • Provide access to a minimum of 12 titles from the Master List of 20 Titles.
  • Develop procedures for determining each child's eligibility to vote. Each child should have read or heard at least four of the titles in order to be allowed to vote.
  • Plan, in cooperation with teachers and or parents, some reading motivation activities during the year to acquaint students with the titles on the Bluestem Master List.
  • Provide an opportunity for eligible students to cast their vote at the appropriate time.
  • Tally the total votes cast for each title in the school and report the results by the deadline date, March 15th.


Any public library in Illinois that provides services for students enrolled in grades third through fifth where schools are not participating in the award program is encouraged to register. Public Library participation will allow children in grades third-fifth whose schools are not participating as well as home schooled children to be involved in reading and voting. Public libraries should follow procedures outlined in the School Participation section.

4) What are the voting procedures?

The school library media specialist will conduct the voting. In schools with no library media specialist a teacher, library paraprofessional, or parent may conduct voting in the schools. In public libraries, a librarian may collect votes from eligible readers not voting in another school or library. To be eligible to vote children must have read or heard at least four (4) of the books on the Master List. Any appropriate day between February 15th and March 15th may be selected as voting day. Each reader may vote for his or her favorite book from among the nominees. Vote totals are then submitted online by March 15th. Online voting will be available between February 15th and March 15th. After the statewide tabulations are complete, the Bluestem winner will be announced on the ISLMA listserv and posted on the ISLMA website.

5) Who will accept the award and when will it be announced?

The Bluestem Award is given to the book, not necessarily the author or illustrator.  In this way classic pieces of literature can still be a part of the nominated titles.  If the author or illustrator of a book is still living and available for presentation, the book’s award will be presented to the author/illustrator or his/her selected representative.

6) How do I nominate a book?

All nominations are accepted online.  Click here to read the nomination requirements and nominate a book.

7) How do I volunteer?

Volunteers are currently requested for the Reader’s Committee.  To learn Reader Committee responsibilities and to fill out a volunteer reader form click here.  The Bluestem Steering Committee will appoint the Reading Committee.

8) May students participate in more than one of the Illinois reader’s choice awards?

Students are free to read and vote in more than one award program.  If their school only participates in one, they may vote at a public library that is participating.

Date Modified: 3/18/21