Thursday, July 7, 2016

My House, by Byron Barton

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Today's post comes to us from Katya Schapiro, Senior Children's Librarian at the Bay Ridge Branch of the Brooklyn Public Library. She served on the 2016 Geisel Award committee, and has just joined the Quicklists Consulting Committee.

Hello Geisel Guessers! This is Katya, of the 2016 Geisel Award Committee, here to discuss My House by Byron Barton.

Barton’s richly saturated digital illustrations and simple declarative prose have made his picture books justly beloved for many years. From My Car to My Bike, he has explored homey, perennially interesting subjects through easy-to-digest first-person narration.

In My House, the narrator is Jim, an orange cat. Jim shows the reader through his house (bright yellow and magenta) and introduces his bed, his litter box, and his friend, Jane. Jim wraps up with his love for his house, his home, and that’s it. In twenty short sentences, none longer than seven words, Barton takes the reader through a satisfying journey of recognition and comfort.

Barton uses large font text as a visual element, contrasting brightly colored letters with equally bright backgrounds. Beginning readers are often docked points for a lack of white space, which helps the uncertain reader distinguish between text and illustration, but in My House, the large font on colorful backgrounds provides an alternate way for the text to pop out to the viewer’s eye. This is a plus for the early reader, who can have trouble distinguishing smaller fonts or more complicated text placement. Some of the color combinations, such as yellow on a variegated green, might cause issues for colorblind readers, but most readers will welcome the eye-popping contrasts.

A quick walk through the Geisel criteria:

Excellence in quality: Unquestionable. From the first full page spread (none of that pesky publishing info interfering with the story text) to the final conceptual lift as ‘house’ is elevated to ‘home’, this is a carefully thought out and beautifully made title.

Individually distinct: Barton’s fully saturated pages cannot be mistaken for the work of any other creator, and his unique style is consistent throughout.

Providing a stimulating and successful reading experience for the beginning reader containing the kind of plot, sensibility, and rhythm that can carry a child along from start to finish: Absolutely. The repetition of ‘this is, these are, I am’ carry the reader through the new vocabulary as different parts of the house are introduced. The book isn’t big on plot, but the pleasure of recognition and the gentle, straightforward friendliness will carry readers through and keep them turning pages. Barton is very careful about vocabulary choice as well—most of the words are contextual or illustrated, and all are easy to sound out. The two stairway spreads “Upstairs is the bedroom” and “I hear a noise downstairs” cannot be entirely decoded using visual context clues, but with such a simple story the minor challenge to the reader is a positive. Literal minded kids and children on the spectrum will appreciate the real world practicality of the story, and everyone will love Jim’s house right along with Jim.

When considering simple picture books for the Geisel award, it can be easy for us storytime mavens to get sidetracked into their excellent qualities as read-alouds, and to assume that those qualities will translate to benefits for the independent reader. While there is certainly overlap, this can be a dangerous assumption, as some great read-alouds prove too simple, too complex, too punctuated, or too otherwise daunting for the kindergartner who laughed and laughed at storytime. Some, though, make the transition flawlessly—usually through a combination of strong child appeal and an attention to detail. Based on my class visit experience where early readers enjoyed hearing it read aloud AND grabbed for it after the session, I can firmly say that My House succeeds in both categories, and will be an enjoyable and successful reading experience for many young real estate lovers.

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