Friday, September 30, 2016

Is That Wise, Pig? by Jan Thomas

Today's guest blogger is Liesel Schmidt. Liesel is a Children's Librarian at Denver Public Library. Liesel is a former preschool teacher and she gets excited about books that get young children reading.

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Jan Thomas, author of such wonderfully silly books as Can You Make a Scary Face? and Is Everyone Ready for Fun? has a new book out and it is just as goofy as one might hope. Is That Wise, Pig? gives us the tale of three friends and their collaborative soup-making venture. Cow and Mouse assiduously add vegetables such as onion and cabbage to the big red soup pot, while Pig attempts to add galoshes and umbrellas, prompting the question, “Is that wise, Pig?” As the animals add ingredients to the soup, the number of ingredients increases, from one onion, to two cabbages, to three umbrellas. Lots of specific vegetables are introduced, from carrots to Brussels sprouts. Finally, Pig, Mouse and Cow find a use for the galoshes and umbrella after all, in a giggle-inducing ending. It is a goofy book about a warm and welcoming friendship. How does it fit into the Geisel Award criteria?

Is the subject matter intriguing enough to motivate a new reader? The plot is carefully structured around the creation of the soup. Readers will know to expect that the number of ingredients will keep increasing, following the structure of a counting book. Into this steady, predictable narrative structure, comes Pig, disrupting the flow and adding suspense. Kids will laugh to see their expectations thrown off course. These elements create the "page-turning dynamic" that the Geisel Award requires.

Are new words added slowly enough to make learning them a positive experience? This book has quite specific vocabulary for a beginning reader. Terms like Brussels sprouts and cabbages may be unfamiliar to someone just learning to read. The challenge of these words is helped by Thomas’ clear, bold illustrations of the vegetables. The action of making soup may also provide a clue to readers. Savvy young readers will know to expect Cow and Mouse to be adding vegetables to the soup, which will provide a clue as to the meaning of the words. This will make Pig’s addition of galoshes even more challenging, however.

Are words repeated to ensure knowledge retention? This book is full of repetition, used to humorous effect. In particular, the refrain, “Is that wise, Pig?” is repeated often enough to allow readers to become comfortable with the words and the joke behind them. The plentiful repetition provides support for the young reader. The repetition of vocabulary, in combination with reinforcement from Thomas’ illustrations may provide readers with enough help to navigate challenging words.

Are the sentences simple and straightforward? Thomas excels at imbuing simple, declarative sentences with mischief. Each time the friends ask, “Is that wise, Pig?” Pig answers, “Oh. I guess not,” and the illustrations show us Pig’s puzzled face. No sentence in the book is longer than seven words.

Is That Wise, Pig? is a funny and big-hearted book that manages to meet many of the goals of a beginning reader. What did you think? Will it win the Geisel?

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