Monday, December 10, 2018

One Font to Rule Them All?

Today's guest blogger is Katya Schapiro, Senior Children's Librarian at the Bay Ridge Branch of the Brooklyn Public Library. She served on the 2016 Geisel Award committee. 

There’s a lot of talk about which fonts are best for beginning readers—should they be large? Small? Short? Tall…? You could practically write a book for beginning readers on the subject, in fact…now there’s an idea.

There seems to be a general consensus that beginning readers do best with fonts that are reasonably large, not too fancy, have high x-heights and large counters (larger forms of multi-form letters like lower case g), and that all caps is a no no. But is there a one true font? Should we not be using training wheels and simply go with fonts that are similar to books printed for adults? Watch out for the fancy design-y fonts becoming more popular? Ignore font design entirely and focus on other design elements such as ample white space and short text block formation?

The truth is, as with most truths about early readers, there is no one, true, font. There are, however, some standouts. Let’s look at some recent Geisel winners and honors.

Charlie & Mouse by Laurel Snyder, illus. by Emily Hughes
Charlie & Mouse book cover

This title, aimed at more confident readers, uses fairly standard Baskerville font (a transitional serif), and expects the reader to navigate a young reader friendly version of an adult style type.

Supertruck by Stephen Savage
Supertruck book cover
Stephen Savage’s tale of an heroic garbage truck uses a clean, large type. The cover is in all caps but the interior text is reassuringly large and square on the page, very much in the same style as the clean, right-angled illustrations. Young readers may find this large, no-nonsense text inviting, and reassuring.

The Watermelon Seed by Greg Pizzoli
The Watermelon Seed book cover
Greg Pizzoli’s book features three kinds of text—hand lettering by Pizzoli, large clear main text similar to that used in Supertruck, and all caps ‘sound effect’ writing. The large point size of the text again makes it inviting to early readers.

Oops, Pounce, Quick, Run! by Mike Twohy 

Oops, Pounce, Quick, Run! book cover

At first glance, this title looks to be more complex font-wise, as color and enlarged first letters are used liberally, but the consistent use of large counters and wide, clear font makes it deceptively simple and engaging to unsure readers faced with a large amount of vocabulary.

So. There is no one, true, style, but there are several tried and true maxims, and book designers flout them at their peril, especially as children also gravitate toward the familiar. A careful mix of subtle and more intuitive elements makes a font that a young reader can approach with confidence, without even realizing what draws them in.

Learn more about typography for beginning readers:

Friday, December 7, 2018

See Pip Flap and See Zip Zap by David Milgrim

Image of Jenna Friebel with Street BackgroundJenna Friebel lives in Chicago (West Loop, best loop!) and works as a Materials Services Librarian at the Oak Park Public Library. She served on the 2016 Geisel Award Committee, 2018 Printz Award Committee, and will be going on to the 2020 Newbery Award Committee. When not hidden beneath piles and piles of books, you can find Jenna hanging out with her foster kittens or teaching yoga. Also look for her on twitter @jenna_friebel.

David Milgrim is no stranger to the Geisel award. Go, Otto, Go! was a 2017 Geisel Award Honor book. Now, he’s back with another of Otto’s adventures in See Pip Flap, plus the start to a new series, The Adventures of Zip, with See Zip Zap.

In See Pip Flap, Pip (the mouse) sees a bird in the sky and wants to fly, too, but no amount of arm flapping is working! Can Otto (the robot) help get Pip in the sky? With See Zip Zap, Milgrim moves from robots to aliens. Zip is showing off magic skills, but baby Bip isn’t impressed. When things get out of control, it’s up to baby Bip to save the day!

Stylistically, both books are very similar, beginning with the covers.

Cover of See Zip Zap
Cover of See Pip Flap
Throughout the books, both use a lot of white space on each page; large, clear text (although it does use the double stacked “a”); and simple, vibrantly colored illustrations all outlined in black. Text is short with a lot of repetition and rhyming. And, both stories are a lot of fun! Clearly, Milgrim knows what he’s doing. These are both high quality early readers, but under close scrutiny, will they live up to Geisel standards? I think they are both solid contenders.

Personally, I think See Zip Zap has a slight edge over See Pip Flap. Zip and Bip are both very expressive, and the high stakes dinosaur chase will delight young readers.

Zip runs while carrying Bip from a one-horned green dino. Text reads See Zip go. Go, Zip, go!

 See Pip Flap isn’t quite so exhilarating although it is still fun and funny. My question is, will kids understand “Ho hum”? Ultimately, they’ll understand the concept based on the images, but I wonder if this little phrase that might be unknown will throw them off a little.

Image of Mouse holding a remote control for a toy drone stading with Robot. Text reads Ho hum.
While I still think both books are great choices, I do have one major issue with both: the see-through pages! A thicker paper would make so much of a difference. The effect of white space is lessened when readers can see through it to other pages. These books are worthy of better paper and printing. Maybe with more Geisel recognition, the publisher will invest more into the physical quality. I know I’ll have my fingers crossed for a shiny sticker for Milgrim come January!

Wednesday, November 28, 2018

Snow Day! by Candice Ransom, illustrated by Erika Meza

Book cover of Snow Day! 
by Candice Ransom, illus. by Erika Meza
Featuring the same brother and sister duo from Ransom and Meza’s previous titles (Apple Picking Day!, Garden Day!, Pumpkin Day!), this title follows the siblings, their friends, and loving mother and father on a delightful snowy day, from the first flake to cuddling up at the end of the day. When the next morning comes, it's back to school they go!

Book covers of Garden Day!, Pumpkin Day!, and Apple Picking Day! 

The rhyming text, possibly helpful for predicting the last word of a phrase, is printed in a large font that pops off the page. There’s only a handful of words on each page and most are single syllable. The illustrations are bright and colorful, with seasonal appeal for both grown ups and children. Some pages have strong visual context clues, so important for new readers as they encounter new vocabulary.

Image of kids having a snowball fight from
Snow Day! by Candice Ransom, illus. by Erika Meza

This title is labeled a Step 1: Ready to Read (“preschool-kindergarten”), however the complex punctuation (plentiful commas, and even a dash) suggest that it might be a better fit for more confident readers. Consider the following pages, which feature these four lines of text: 
“Bunny hat- / on you, too cute! / Can not zip my coat./ Lost my boot.”
Image of brother and sister getting dressed in winter clothes from
Snow Day! by Candice Ransom, illus. by Erika Meza

Would these type of sentence fragments be confusing to new readers? I also have some reservations about the use of "can not" instead of "cannot", which seems an odd choice. Additionally, although the text rhymes, the lack of plot and repetition of words and ideas could make it challenging for readers to rely on the rhyme scheme as a support.

There’s strong use of visual clues throughout, but instead of repeating new words to give readers a chance to practice and gain confidence, often times new words are only used once and then never again. I wonder if the introduction of so many new words could be overwhelming to some readers.

Image of kids snuggling up and drinking cocoa on a couch from
Snow Day! by Candice Ransom, illus. by Erika Meza
Although this title features an appealing topic and a winsome sibling pair, overall it lacks true beginning reader supports, as well as the essential page-turning dynamic need to rise to the top of the Geisel pack.

Monday, November 26, 2018

Croc and Ally Friends Forever and Fun, Fun, Fun! by Derek Anderson

Crock and Ally Friends Forever Cover, depicting Croc and Ally against a grass backdrop
Derek Anderson, illustrator of the Hot Rod Hamster Easy Reader series and Little Quack picture books debuts a new easy reader series this year where he is both author and illustrator. Croc and Ally are a duo who have taken their cue from other Easy Reader anthropomorphic animal duos like Elephant & Piggie. 2018 brings two entries to the series with plenty of potential for more. 

Each title includes three vignettes featuring the title characters. In Friends Forever, the two go chair shopping and hunt for the missing moon in the first and third chapters. The second story is a bit more abstract, with Croc being grumpy and Ally cheering him out of it with mimicry. The story ends at bedtime, with the characters complimenting each other on being a good friend. The text in this one is logically placed, and the design on these is intuitive for a beginning reader with text in predictable locations relative to the illustration, and with logical line breaks where needed. The font, kerning, and leading are all well matched to the abilities of the target reader. There is sound use of repetition and the illustrations support decoding most new vocabulary.

Croc and Ally Fun, Fun, Fun! Cover depicting Crock carrying a red balloon adn Ally dressed in a hat and swim trunks and carrying a Teddy Bear
In Fun, Fun, Fun Ally goes swimming while Croc prefers to stay dry, Ally unsuccessfully attempts to pressure Croc into a change of hat, and a spider under their chairs leads the duo to call in a new character, Ally’s mother, from a bus, a train, and a plan ride away to relocate the spider. While mirroring many of the strengths of the first entry in the series, this title does stretch line breaks across page turns, and concludes with the line “There was only one thing to do” with an illustration depicting Ally making a phone call (to his mother, we can safely assume). As a result, this one is slightly less supportive of the beginning reader, requiring more confidence and comprehension. 

Of the two entries to this series, Friends Forever stands a stronger chance as a Geisel contender, matching excellent design choices and text that is well-supported by the illustrations. I’ll be very interested to hear what kids have to say about these titles, and whether they find the humor compelling, since as an adult reader I found Ally to be not such a good friend in the second installment (but maybe I’m just being grumpy like Croc). Regardless, these are a solid addition to the beginning reader duo bookshelves.

Wednesday, November 21, 2018

Holiday House I Like to Read Titles - Fall 2018

Image courtesy of Jamie Chowning
Jamie Chowning is a children's and adult librarian at the Rodolfo "Corky" Gonzales branch of Denver Public Library. She became interested in beginning readers when she didn't know what books to bring home for her personal children once they started kindergarten. This October, she co-presented on introducing beginning readers to storytime families at the Colorado Libraries for Early Literacy conference.

Book covers of I Like My Car by Michael Robertson, Squeak the Mouse Likes His House by Pat Schories, and Can You Find My Pup? by Vincent X. Kirsch

This fall, Holiday House adds three more Fountas & Pinnell leveled readers to its very competent I Like to Read series, all aimed at very new readers in kindergarten and first grade. Take a look at my earlier post for more about the spring I Like to Read series titles. 

There’s no A-level entry this time, making the earliest one I Like My Car by Michael Robertson, at level B. Different animals appear in different colored cars, with only the color varying. The repetition and visual context clues allow even very new readers to have a successful experience--if not a compelling one. The illustrations are engaging, though not particularly special, but there’s no discernible plot or even order to the cars. 

Image of a shark driving a black car from I Like My Car by Michael Roberson

Squeak the Mouse Likes His House by Pat Schories (level C) offers a little more excitement as a mouse darts around without being seen by humans and benefits from some spilled trail mix. The tininess of the mouse relative to the children, though, interfered with visual context clues, and on one page he refers to a shoe as a “bed,” which isn’t supportive of kindergarten readers. On the other hand, illustrations showing the mouse drinking out of the dog’s bowl and enjoying the “free snacks” spilled by a little girl are likely to draw children in. 

Image of a mouse drinking water from a dog dish and a sleeping dog from Squeak the Mouse Likes His House by Pat Schories

The highest level, and the most interesting fall offering, is Can You Find Pup? by Vincent X. Kirsch, at level D. Pup is frustrated that he never shows up in Tate’s drawings. But when Pup runs away, Tate makes many drawings of him for posters and they are soon reunited. Children who are drawn to seek-and-find books will enjoy looking for ten bugs, ten birds, ten Pups, etc., and may also enjoy talking about the different art styles--Tate draws mostly in black and white, while other pictures are in rainbow colors and the rainy day when Pup is missing is all gray.

Image of ten birds hidden in a black and white tree and one multicolored pup from Can You Find Pup? by Vincent X. Kirsch

Very early readers are hard to write and Holiday House struck gold three times last year with I Can Run, I See a Cat (2018 Geisel Honor), and I Like the Farm, all at level A. Perhaps it’s unfair, but I keep finding myself disappointed that their subsequent offers haven’t been as strong. They are all…fine. More engaging than much of what exists at this reading level. As with the spring titles, though, I don’t see an award winner here.

Monday, November 19, 2018

What Kids Say - November 2018

Welcome to this year’s penultimate 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 series’ 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. All the titles covered in this month’s post have already been covered by guest contributors and links can be found below. The focus of this series is on the experiences and observations from kid readers and their grown-up contributors. 

Many thanks to Jamie Chowning, DaNae Leu, and Samantha Marino for all their hard work sharing, observing, and collecting feedback from the kids in their lives. This time approximately 80 first and second graders participated. About 20 kids read each title and most kids read just one of the titles. 

Kick It, Mo! book cover
Kick It, Mo! by David A. Adler, illus. by Sam Ricks 
Mo Jackson, still the youngest and smallest, is back for a sports story all about soccer. Adler and Ricks’ first book about Mo (Don’t Throw It to Mo!) was the Geisel winner the year Amanda, Misti, and I were on the committee. Pass the Ball, Mo! by the same creators also came out this year, but to me Kick It, Mo! is the stronger of the two. Additionally, the kids in my community can take or leave basketball, but they’re absolutely gaga about soccer. We simply never have enough soccer books to satisfy their obsession. For more on both Mo titles published in 2018, read Jackie’s post from last month.

Looking at the feedback, it seems the kids in my community have a lot in common with our kid readers this month because nearly all comments were about soccer. 

  • “I love soccer” 
  • “He made a skor” [sic] 
  • “It was a good book about it was about soccer.” 
  • “That Mo winse the game.” [sic] 
  • “Mo does not give up at all.” 
  • “Mo kicked it.” 

Kids were also specific about the things they didn’t like so much. 

  • “The teams they wer weerd.” [sic] 
  • “He woldint realy kick it on the ground” [sic] 
  • “He mist one time when he trid to wine” [sic] 
  • “It was soccer and he couldn’t kick the ball and he was tiny and his team sucks.” 

Less than half of the kids said the book was interesting, although most said they would read the book again. Not many words were called out as challenging, although one first grader said players was a difficult word for them. Six out of 20 found the book confusing. Those six kids said they enjoyed the book, but wouldn’t read it again. One grown up contributor wrote, “Sometimes you have a book that you think the reader (adult or child) in front of you will like. It has everything they like! And they don’t like it. The Mo books are great--they just didn’t resonate [with my kids] for whatever reason.” 

Given the feedback, it’s clear that kids are excited to read about soccer, but I wonder if the fact that so many of them said the book was confusing will keep this title from rising to the top. 

A Parade of Elephants book cover
A Parade of Elephants by Kevin Henkes 
Henkes has been honored twice by the Geisel Committee (Waiting and Penny and Her Marble), so I wanted to see how his newest picture book offering would be received by kids. I wondered if the pastel color palette and the simple story would be enough to engage first and second graders. On a side note, after reading this book I learned there are three collective nouns for a group of elephants: a parade, a herd, a memory. 

Overall, most kids found the book interesting and would read a sequel, although a handful said they’d do neither. Additionally, nearly all the kids found the design of the book easy to follow. Marching elephants seemed to be a big hit with lots of kids mentioning that specifically in their feedback, although one kid emphatically disliked, “wen thay march” [sic]. Several kids called out the stars, the colors, the moon, and the ending as things they enjoyed about the book. 

Positive feedback included: 

  • “The stars surprise at the end!” 
  • “It shode their butt’s” [sic] 
  • “Wen they wet to sleep” [sic] 

About half the kids read the entire text with ease. The other half needed help with 1-5 words. Only one child, a first grader who found the book confusing, needed help over 10 times. Words that tripped up readers: yawns, stretch, parade, elephants, round, across. Marching and scattering seemed to be the most difficult words for multiple kids. For more on this title, read Kahla’s post from last month. 

Take a Hike, Miles and Spike!
book cover
Take a Hike, Miles and Spike! by Ethan Long 
Having won the Geisel in 2013 for Up, Tall and High!, I was curious to see if Long’s humorous picture book about an outdoorsy pair of dogs would have the same page turning dynamic. For more on this title, take a gander at Sylvie’s post from September.
It seems kids either read this title with ease or were tripped up by quite a few words, including: rainbow, everyone, join, marmoset, gazelle, otter, trout, vamoose, acted, again. Enjoyment of the book was also mixed; some kids struggled to read this book, but still wanted to read it again, while other kids who read it with ease gave it two or three stars out of five. About a third of the kids found the book confusing. 

Another fascinating observation is that only a handful of kids included specific feedback for this title (For the other three titles covered this month the kids were quite vocal in their likes and dislikes). Two kids liked “when all the animals yelled at Miles and Spike!” and another especially loved the moose. On the flip side, one kid found the book boring and another disliked, “when they were rood to the animals” [sic]. 

All in all, it seems this title didn’t seem to engage readers as much as other titles and the vocabulary presented some challenges for readers. 

Mr. Monkey Bakes a Cake
book cover
Mr. Monkey Bakes a Cake by Jeff Mack 
The first book in Mack’s new Mr. Monkey series, this is the longest book this month coming in at 64 pages, twice the length of Kick It, Mo! (32 pages). As Jenna pointed out in her post, there are some very visually busy pages, as well as the use of several fonts. Would these elements deter readers from having a successful reading experience? 

The page design and multiple fonts didn’t seem to stop any kids from enjoying the book, as nearly all the kids said they enjoyed reading it. One grown up contributor wrote, “There is a lot to like here. Monkeys, bananas, and slapstick are all kid-pleasers...The humans shown are diverse and there’s a lot of inviting visual comedy.” Indeed, much of the praise from kids focused on the visual humor of the story. 

  • “At the end of the story he triped and fel and his head went into the cake.” [sic] 
  • “Everyone enterd for the cake show.” [sic] 
  • “At least he got to eat the frosting.” 
  • “His butt has a ribbon on it!” 

The cake itself was a pretty big hit for many kids: 

  • “All those guys baked really big cakes and Mr. Monkey made the smallest cake.” 
  • “When the monkey makes a cake” 
  •  “It had a cake in it.” 

One reader especially loved the part “when the monkey gave the banana to the gorilla.” And another loved that “At the end he made a frand.” [sic] 

Although most kids loved this title, a few kids struggled to sound out words, including Mr. Monkey and bananas. Notably, idea was an especially challenging word for several kids. Several kids mentioned that they didn’t like “that he kept saying ooh!!” Additionally, a grown up contributor wrote, “It does seem, though, like a larger font would have been more supportive of newer readers."  

The same contributor wrote, "My little guy initially balked at the length of the book, but realized it was a quick read--as a longer book with strong repetition, it works as a challenge for a newer reader or a comfortable confidence- and fluency-building read for a more confident one." 


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.