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Saturday, July 30, 2016

Go, Otto, Go! by David Milgrim


Image from Books.SimonandSchuster.com
Elisa Gall is today's guest contributor. She's the Director of Library Services at an independent school in Chicago serving children in preschool through high school. Find her on Twitter: @gallbrary.

When people hear beginning reader, they often think two things—or rather, people. Yep. You know who (*cough*DickandJane*coughcough*). There is a well-known story about Dr. Seuss—the creator after whom the Theodor Seuss Geisel Award is named—writing his first reader after a challenge by William Spaulding (inspired by John Hersey) to break the “boring” Dick and Jane mold and make something both helpful and engaging for young readers. (More about that can be found here.)


David Milgrim’s Go, Otto, Go!—about a homesick robot creating and flying a jetpack to find his faraway family—succeeds in accessibility and appropriateness for beginning readers, with short sentences, hefty white space, a large font size, patterned language, and supportive illustrations. But look closely: do you notice any similarities between the language of Go, Otto, Go! and this page from a reader of yesteryear?





Image from Go, Otto, Go! by David Milgrim (photos by Elisa Gall)
Image from Rare Book School from Mancini, Mark. "15 Fun Facts About 'Dick and Jane'" Mental Floss. N.p., 16 Sept. 2015. web. 07 July 2016.  

Those familiar with the ALSC awards will note that I can’t compare Go, Otto, Go! to Dick and Jane. I can only compare it to other eligible books published this year. So I’m going to own that this comparison would be shushed in jury deliberations and stop there.

What I find remarkable about Go, Otto, Go! is that despite its predictable and repetitive format, Milgrim’s text works in tandem with bold, heartfelt illustrations to make the story the opposite of boring. The images also keep the story interesting by adding characters and objects visually (a telescope, for example) without overwhelming the text.

The placement of page turns also does wonders for the plot and for readers. On the first page, we “See Otto,” frowning at a picture. After a page turn, we “See Otto look,” the portrait enlarged for assumptions to be made that the picture is of Otto and his family. On the recto page, we “See Otto look at his home” through a telescope. The following page turn and double-page spread (showing Otto looking up at the stars, family portrait in hand) builds suspense and paces the story so young readers can sit with the information and check for understanding. We then see Otto working, pals by his side, to build a jetpack and fly it up, down, left, right, here, there, and nowhere—until he recognizes that despite his setbacks, he has a home with his loyal buddies. For added humor, Otto’s pals look in dismay at his mishaps, with nothing but an exclamation mark coming out of Otto’s word balloons. These user-friendly balloons and one-syllable sound effects (POPs and POWs, which explode out of Otto’s jetpack) carry meaning while also keeping readers engaged.

I am still reflecting on whether the scaffolding is strong enough when Otto is “here” (a desert), “there” (Antarctica), and “nowhere” (back where he started). As part of a series, the question of whether the book is dependent on other media might also come up, up, up. (I couldn’t help myself there, but rest assured: it stands on its own.) Go, Otto, Go!’s greatest achievement might just be that it is simple, but not too simple. It is accessible, but not condescending. I’m on board the Geisel train for this one, as are the handful of kids I know who have read it independently. How about you? Go, you, go! and read this one with children. I’m interested to hear what you all think.

2 comments:

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    1. Thank YOU, David, for contributing to children's literature for beginning readers!

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