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Friday, October 19, 2018

What Kids Say - October 2018

Welcome to the third What Kids Say post. This series is meant to mimic an important part of Geisel Committee members’ experience: observing while kids read Geisel contenders out loud. You can read more about the inspiration for this series in the inaugural post.

This is how it works. Each month I send a list of four contenders to a half dozen of our guest contributors that are caregivers of or regularly work with K-2nd grade students. I do my best to select a variety of levels and topics for readers at different stages of the learning to read process. Each of the titles highlighted in this post will be covered by guest contributors at some point this year. The focus of this series is on the experiences and observations from kid readers and their grown-up contributors.

A big shout out to Jamie Chowning, DaNae Leu, Samantha Marino, and Stacey Rattner for all their hard work sharing, observing, and collecting feedback from the kids in their lives. This month 61 kids participated nationwide. Most were 2nd graders and they read just one or two titles.


Noodleheads Find
Something Fishy
book cover
Noodleheads Find Something Fishy by Tedd Arnold, Martha Hamilton and Mitch Weiss, illus. by Tedd Arnold
21 kids read the third installment of Noodlehead adventures, which was the longest and most challenging of the books on this month’s list. I wondered if this might deter some readers, but it seems my fears were unfounded. One grown up contributor wrote, “I think the wordplay is at a just-right level--it’s enough of a challenge that they are still thinking about it later, but doesn’t interrupt their reading.”

Most kids found the graphic novel layout easy to follow and nearly all the kids said they enjoyed the book and would read it again. Even a few kids who needed help sounding out 6-10 words enjoyed it and said they would read it a second time. Some words that tripped up readers included, Noodleheads, taught, also, bean. Two readers asked their grown up to bring home more books in the series.

The details in the text and illustrations seemed to have been memorable for many kids: 

  • “I like that the fish tricked the noodleheads that she was the biggest when she was just a normal fish.” 
  • “I like how they learn a lesen [sic] about fishing.” 
  • “We liked how the fish tricked the noodles.” 
  • “Liked the part where they took a map.”

One child particularly loved that both characters are named Mac for macaroni and was excited to realize that the only way to tell them apart was shirt color.

Good Dog book cover
Good Dog by Cori Doerrfeld
It cannot be denied that books with cute animals on the covers generally have kid appeal. But I wondered about this title, would the lack of repetition and placement of the text on the page prevent new readers from having a successful reading experience?

26 kids read this title with several written in comments along the lines of, “I like the hole [sic] thing!!!!!!!” On the other hand, there were several kids who seemed less enthused, giving the book only one or two stars out of five. Since most of the kids were in 2nd grade, it seems not many words challenged them. However, a few struggled with 1-5 words and one reader in particular got hung up on hungry, sad, good, Rufus (a person thanked on the dedication page), and Doerrfeld.

It seems the pictures, especially of the cute dog, were super attractive to many kids. Nearly all the comments were about things that happened in the illustrations, such as: 

  • “I liked that the dog was super silly and funny.” 
  •  “When the dog got the tedy [sic] bear and helped it.” 
  • “I liked the pictures.” 
  • “Because the dog was cute. I like the pictures.” 
  • “Didn’t like the guy that chases the dog away.”

Dog books are abundant this year (or maybe I should say, every year?). Some kids who also read Bark Park for last month’s What Kids Say post seemed initially to prefer that dog-filled book to this one. But in the days following their first read of Good Dog they asked for it multiple times. It would be interesting to present readers with several dog/cute animal contenders at once and see how they react and what they choose to read first.

Nobody's Duck book cover
Nobody’s Duck by Mary Sullivan
24 kids read this crowd-pleaser, with most kids saying they’d read it again and/or read a sequel. Several kids wrote on their feedback sheets that they loved “all the quacking.”

Other kid comments included: 

  • “It was bomb. 
  •  “It’s funny, funniest on earth, the thinking cap is great.” 
  • “I liked when the duck went go-karting.” 
  • “I lrd Ducks are Crase [sic]” (I’m guessing this means: I learned ducks are crazy)

On the other hand, two kid readers pointed out that the duck was a “liar pants” because the duck said they didn’t belong to anyone, but actually the duck belongs to the alligator.

The cover art was especially attractive, and the illustrations overall were observed to be a strength, “My kids lingered over the sky diving and race track” wrote one grown up contributor.

A grown up contributor noted that the “slightly complicated layout makes this a good choice for a kid who CAN read longer and more difficult books but is in the mood to relax rather than a very new reader.” The same contributor noted that her six-year-old missed the punchline, but her seven-year-old got it right away. However, even though the six-year-old didn’t quite get the humor of the ending, they enjoyed doing different voices for the duck and alligator, a great indicator of reading fluency.

Finally, there weren’t many words that tripped up kid readers, but this may have been because the majority of this month’s kid readers are in second grade. Most kids only needed help sounding out a word 1-5 times. Interestingly, the word “whose” was problematic for a couple readers.

Overall, this title seems to have a ton of kid appeal, in a large part due to the brightly colored, cartoonish illustrations. It would be interesting to try this book with newer readers to see how they interact with it.

Fox is Late book cover
Fox is Late by Corey R. Tabor
The humor of this book really shined for the 25 kids who read it. “It was so funny!” wrote one reader.

None of the kids who read this book needed help sounding out any words. This could be because it’s one of the easier books featured this month or because nearly all kids who read this time around were 2nd graders. However, I also think it’s notable that even though kids read it with ease it gained near universal approval from our readers. One grown up contributor wrote, “My impression is that Fox is Late was a big hit.”

The skateboard tricks were also a big hit with kids: 

  • “I liked the flip.” 
  • “He did tricks.” 
  • “He did cool tricks.” 
  • “I liked the part when he did a trick. I did not like when he was late.

Several readers liked the line about arriving just in time for lunch. Other readers liked the animals. Some liked both! 

  • “I like it because it has lunch.” 
  • “I like it because it has animals.” 
  •  “I like that the fox eats and that the book has animals.”

I’d love to see how newer readers feel about this title. Would kindergarten or 1st graders have an equally successful reading experience?

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So that’s what kids have to say this month! What are your kids saying about these books? Let us know in the comments. Also, you can use the comments to let us know if there are any titles you’d like us to cover in future installments of What Kids Say.

Monday, October 15, 2018

#WNDB: #OwnVoices

Photo courtesy of Gigi Pagliarulo
This week's contributor is Gigi Pagliarulo, a librarian for the Denver Public Library. Gigi is especially interested in youth services, early literacy, and issues of diversity and multiculturalism within children's literature and programming, has served on the steering committee of Colorado Libraries for Early Literacy, and the CLEL Bell Picture Book Award Selection Committee. 

Hello, dear Geisel Guessers, and welcome to Fall 2018, where the issues of representation, equity, and authenticity are more present and more pressing than ever. I’ve been writing this blog yearly since 2016, exploring and working to evolve with these ideas as our understanding of the need for more diverse representation in literature grows. In prior years I’ve discussed the #WeNeedDiverseBooks and #EverydayDiversity movements, and how they relate to beginning readers. Today I’d like to discuss another crucial step forward in the drive towards equality, the #OwnVoices movement.

In 2015, young adult author Corinne Duyvis created the hashtag #OwnVoices on Twitter to highlight children’s and young adult literature where the main character(s) and creators share the same diverse/marginalized identity, as defined by #WNDB. In addition, portrayals of marginalized experiences are also essential for furthering authenticity and equity.

The need for the movement is twofold: first, stories of marginalized groups by majority-group authors have frequently been, as Kayla Whaley writes for Brightly, “rife with stereotypes, tropes, and harmful portrayals”, and even when they are stereotype-free, can never reach the true “nuance and authority that comes with writing from lived experience.” In addition, authors and illustrators from marginalized communities have been deeply oppressed by persistent institutional bias in the publishing industry, struggling to get their voices heard while their own stories are co-opted, inauthentically portrayed, and turned into damaging stereotypes. Year after year, research has found that the numbers of diverse characters, creators, and members of the publishing industry are inequitable.

While the genre of beginning readers is one known more for Everyday Diversity than specific portrayals of marginalized experiences, and yet the need for a multitude of diverse stories to be told and characters portrayed authentically, free from harmful representations and with appropriate nuance is something that children learning to read need as desperately as the rest of the reading (and pre-reading!) population. It can never be said enough: all people, particularly children and particularly children from marginalized groups, need to see themselves accurately portrayed in books, and creatorship has a vital role to play.

Librarian Amy Forrester, one of the excellent editors of this blog, performed a diversity audit of the early books and transitional readers in her large public library system’s collection. The results are more than sobering, and #OwnVoices author and illustratorship are among the lowest representation out there: “a scant 1% of Early Books authors and illustrators (that's combining them together) are OwnVoices.”

Publishers need to know that we—parents, librarians, teachers, and most importantly, kids, want to read more #OwnVoices stories across all genres. Consider letting some of the major publishers of beginning readers know how you feel! Here are three ways to take action to let publishers know you want more #OwnVoices titles:

  • Going to a library conference? Stop by publisher booths and ask a rep for their favorite upcoming #OwnVoices titles. 
  • If you do any purchasing at your library, contact your vendor and publisher reps and ask specifically for #OwnVoices. 
  • Use social media to cheer on publishers who put out #OwnVoices titles, and let them you know want more.

In the meantime, please seek out some of the few #OwnVoices beginning reader titles that Amy and her team identified.

Tony Dungy and Lauren Dungy Ready-to-Reads, illustrated by Vanessa Brantley Newton


Find the Cat and The Cat Food Mystery by Gwendolyn Hooks, illustrated by Mike Byrne

Moving Day by Anthony C. Brandon, illustrated by Wong Herbert Yee

My Favorite Foods by Dana Meachen Rau, illustrated by Grace Lin

Ready? Set. Raymond! By Vaunda Micheaux Nelson, illustrated by Derek Anderson

Friday, October 12, 2018

Quiet by Tomie dePaola

Quiet by Tomie dePaola, cover image
Two children, out walking with their grandfather, observe how nature is both busy and quiet. In the first half of the book, they see birds flying, a frog jumping, a dog chasing a ball, and more activity surrounding them. When the three sit together on a bench, they observe the birds resting, the frog sitting, the dog sleeping. "To be quiet and still," the book concludes, "is a special thing."

Appropriately, for a book focused on being contemplative and mindful, the vocabulary here is simple, containing lots of sight words. Longer words like 'dragonfly' are ones that should be easy for inexperienced readers to take apart and sound out. Each page contains one or two sentences, and most of those sentences are short. Even the longer ones top out at only eleven or twelve words. And the structure of the book itself means that many words will be repeated, as each creature or natural element is observed first in motion, then at rest. The text is neither as large nor as bold as it would be in a traditional reader, but it's clear and legible. The font is a thin sans-serif, and always appears against the white space that is the sky in dePaola’s distinctive illustrations. Those illustrations support the text well, for the most part, though there are a few words that may take a little more work – for instance, it's hard to represent 'blinking' in a single still image.

In a book as, well, quiet as Quiet, it's hard to typify a 'page-turning dynamic,' but when children recognize the book's repeating structure, they may be interested to see what each of the things from the first half of the book are doing in the second. After all, not every book has to be full of dizzying plot twists. Sometimes, it's enough to just be Quiet

Quiet by Tomie dePaola, final page spread

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

Fergus and Zeke at the Science Fair by Kate Messner, illustrated by Heather Ross

Fergus and Zeke at
the Science Fair book cover
The classroom mice duo from last year's Fergus and Zeke are back for a second round of adventures. This time the kids in the mice's classroom are getting ready for the science fair and Fergus and Zeke want to participate too. But each project the mice try to copy goes humorously wrong. Finally, the pair decide their experiment will be to train the kid using them as an experiment!

Ross's digital illustrations are bright and cheery. Targeting the upper range of the award criteria, the longer chapters (approximately 10 pages each) are broken up with a combination of spot and full-bleed illustrations. As is suitable for this reading level the illustrations provide some context for new words and concepts, especially how each experiment works, but there are fairly large text blocks as well. 

Messner builds repetition into the text quite often. For instance, the word "experiment" is used 5 times in the first chapter alone. There are a few multi syllablic words used only once, which could trip up some readers; words like "announcement" and "masterpieces." But for the most part new words are repeated to allow for lots of practice.
Image of mice listening to a teacher read and doing classwork from Fergus and Zeke at the Science Fair.
This is a school-oriented story with a rather obviously educational bent to it. In fact, nit would have been nice to have back matter with step by step instructions for each of the experiments mentioned in the text. It certainly has plenty of supportive features, but I wonder if it will provide enough page turning appeal for readers. What do you think?
Image of a school science fair from Fergus and Zeke at the Science Fair.

Tuesday, October 9, 2018

Maud the Koala series by J.E. Morris

Cover of Much Too Much Birthday by J.E. Morris
 Cover of Fish Are Not Afraid of Doctors by J.E. MorrisThe new Maud the Koala series by J. E. Morris makes broad use of the sort of graphic novel style panels we’ve seen used so effectively in other beginning readers, with colorful illustrations in a woodcut style. Where the series really excels is in portraying Maud’s experiences in a way that makes her anxieties relatable and accessible to the target audience.

In Much Too Much Birthday, effective use is made of both text and illustration to depict how Maud’s “You can never have too much birthday” attitude is changed as she is squeezed, squashed, jostled, and jabbed. Maud’s pursuit of a little quiet seems entirely natural. There is excellence in the use of the illustrations to contrast the hectic party scene with the calm of the hiding place behind the bushes. Washing out the party scene to allow the reader to focus on the characters referenced in the text is supportive of young readers relying on picture clues to support their decoding. The ending empowers Maud to find her own solutions, both for herself and her friend Simon, which is very respectful of a child reader. 
Interior from Much Too Much Birthday where Maud Koala looks overwhelmed, depicted by a spiral behind her clutching her head. And inset shows her hiding behind a bush.
In Fish Are Not Afraid of Doctors, Maud is nervous about her checkup and getting a shot. By pretending to be a fish, she gets through the experience just fine and gets a sticker as a reward. There is plenty of repetition of vocabulary like “vaccinations” and “pretended” throughout, and the illustrations are vibrant and engaging. The use of panels keeps the story moving for a reader. Vaccination is at one point phonetically misspelled as “vax-i-nay-shun”, which may help a more confident reader with a potentially unfamiliar word.
An adult directed Note to Caregivers at the end of each book in the series calls out the techniques depicted in the story which may help children cope with an overwhelming situation, yet for the most part the series avoids feeling like didacticism has outweighed considerations of quality. 

5 panels depicting Maud hiding in the doctor's cabinet to avoid getting a shot, then being discovered by her mother and returning to the table for an explanation of what vaccinations are.

Librarians often hear from parents looking for an updated picture book to prepare their child for experiences like visiting the doctor or dentist. Maud the Koala fills this need, and I wouldn’t hesitate to include it in my recommendations to parents. However, it’s this strength that makes me question whether Maud the Koala is really intended for independent reading. Despite its beginning reader trim size, the font and leading are not as large or spacious as we would expect from text directed at beginning readers. Because of the effective use of panels, there’s quite a bit of text on most two-page spreads, and some lengthier sentences. Overall, intended audience would appear to be a child and caregiver together, right down to the caregiver note at the end of each books. Of the two, I think Much Too Much Birthday is more qualified as a Geisel Contender, but I think the true strengths of Maud the Koala may be best appreciated during shared rather than independent reading. What do you think?

Friday, October 5, 2018

Flower Wings: Marigold Fairy Makes a Friend by Elizabeth Dennis, illustrated by Natalie Smillie

Photo courtesy
of Lizzie Nolan
Lizzie Nolan is a Senior Librarian in Youth Services at the San José Public Library. Under the great inspiration of this very blog she helped start a mock Odyssey award blog for great childrens’ audiobooks at Ears on the Odyssey.

In an enchanted garden, Flower Wings are fairies with magical powers from the blossoming flowers. Marigold Fairy is best buds with Butterfly, and they do all things best friends do together in the garden: eat, cook, and tend to the vegetables. But oh they spot a pest! Can a pest be a friend too?

Marigold Fairy Makes A Friend is the second in the Flower Wing series from the Simon & Schuster imprint Simon Spotlight’s Ready to Read collection. As Editorial Director Siobhan Ciminera notes in this Guessing Geisel interview, the Ready to Read books follow to a set of well developed design principles that focus on helping make a positive reading experience for new readers. The adherence to these guidelines certainly mirror some of the Gesiel award criteria.

Book cover of
Flower Wings: Marigold Makes a Friend
by Elizabeth Dennis, illus. by Natalie Smillie
First off, Natalie Smillie’s illustrations create a bubbly and gentle world of fairy dust and blooming flowers that certainly have child appeal. Smillie’s rounded drawing style invokes an inviting softness. The garden world too is incorporated in simple ways: Marigold’s Fairy’s dress is an inverted marigold and dinner table lights are flower petals. And all the fairies are encased in just a wee bit of sparkle dust.

True to the stated “Level One” standards, this book has “easy sight words and words to sound out”, “simple plot and dialogue” and “familiar topics and themes.” For the most part, the illustrations match the plot and the word choice is limited and very focused. The plot is very simple, but still child relatable. Marigold and Butterfly want to do the right thing but how can they take care of the garden and include the pests as friends?

The final page of this read contains a bit of educational back matter titled: “The Science behind the Story” that explains that marigold and butterflies have a real symbiotic relationship in the nature world. While informative, the design uses a small font without much white space, which might be lost on readers at this level. A two page spread might have worked better.

Moreover, this book could work well for those readers who are attracted to but not ready for the Rainbow Magic Fairy world. Featuring a main character of color, Marigold Fairy is also an example of everyday diversity.

Though not top of my list for Geisel award 2019, Marigold Fairy Makes A Friend is affable and glittery, and could find a reader with someone looking for a little magic.

Wednesday, October 3, 2018

Peter & Ernesto: A Tale of Two Sloths by Graham Annable

Today's guest contributor, Anna Taylor, is the Assistant Head of Children’s Services and Collection Development Coordinator for Darien Library in CT. She's a co-convener of ALSC's Children's Collection Management Discussion Group and serves on YALSA’s Quick Picks for Reluctant Young Adult Readers. Find her on Instagram @librarianna 

Cover of Peter & Ernesto A Tale of Two Sloths depicting both sloths peeking out of a tree - one right side up, one upside down.
Images provided by Anna Taylor
The first book in a new series, Peter & Ernesto join the early reader/graphic novel bandwagon incorporating repeating words, bold text, and simple plots in a graphic novel format.

In this first installment, the reader is introduced to Peter and Ernesto, two sloths who are content sitting in their tree and seeing cloud shapes in in the sky. When Ernesto is convinced he must see all of the sky instead of just their small piece while in the tree, he leaves Peter to go on an adventure thus beginning the plot of the story.

This book is told entirely via speech bubbles from the characters. The speech bubbles have a bold black line outlining the white bubble making it easy to find for young readers. The speech bubbles will change their shape based on certain actions. For example, when Ernesto is walking across a wobbly bridge and steps off, he still feels wobblyand the speech bubble is a curvy circle to show what the word wobblymeans and feels like.



The characters Peter and Ernesto have an Elephant and Piggie feel that kids will recognize as they go back in forth in simple dialogue and friendship ends up being the central focus of the story. One thing that makes Peter and Ernesto stand out from the Willems crew is the format and trim size of the physical book. The book is told via comic panels throughout, has a larger trim size, and a page count of 128 pages.

Peter and Ernesto is a great introduction to graphic novels for young readers and those who are already comfortable with beginning reader books. While the plot is simple, the long page count and use of large words such as Hibiscusand admirableincrease the level of the book. However, readers straddling the line of Toon Books and Dog Man will be thrilled to read about two sloths named Peter and Ernesto.

I believe that Peter & Ernesto: A Tale of Two Sloths is a strong contender for the Geisel Award and is anything else, a new favorite series for young readers.