Monday, November 21, 2016

Can I Tell You A Secret? by Anna Kang

Today's guest blogger is Robbin Friedman. Robbin is a children's librarian at the Chappaqua Library. She chairs ALSC's School Age Programs and Service committee, serves on the Carnegie Medal/Notable Children's Videos committee, and writes reviews and other what-have-you for School Library Journal.

Geisel Award-winning duo Anna Kang and Christopher Weyant (You Are (Not) Small) team up for another dialogic charmer. An anxious frog peers out from the cover, wide-eyed and eager to share a secret. With a series of lines suggesting a conversation with the reader, Monty the frog divulges that (gulp) he’s afraid of water and cannot swim. As he talks his predicament through with the audience, the frog tries one, twice, three times to reveal the secret to his parents. The confessional opener followed by the suspense of Monty’s situation decidedly fulfill the award criteria of a “page-turning dynamic”and readers will find reassurance in his parents’ supportive response.

More challenging than Kang and Weyant’s previous two books, Secret suits a somewhat more sophisticated audience, both in vocabulary and structure. The story switches several times between Monty’s address to the reader and exchanges between the frog and his parents; this requires readers to follow the shifts and recognize asides, even when both forms of dialogue occur on the same page. The vocabulary also steps up in complexity from the repetitious debates of the creators’ earlier books, featuring humdingers such as "fantastic" and "exhausting." Even with less repetition of new words, Kang keeps a close eye on most of her more unwieldy vocab and offers subtle support in the text. Eliciting a promise from the reader early in the text pays off later when Monty’s parents employ the word to reassure him. And the author builds to some of her other new verbiage, surrounding likely challenges with context: "Are you sure? POSITIVE?/You wouldn’t lie to me, right?"

Monty’s ingratiating face dominates most pages, surrounded by ample white space, and Weyant includes just enough background imagery to situate the story around Monty’s pond-side cottage. Charming details will engage readers of all levels, though some of the illustrations may not fully support the text for newer readers. Will readers connect dodging raindrops with "hard work?" Or consider clinging to an irate heron "exhausting?"

Kids will surely cheer Monty’s triumphant entrance to the pond and they will happily return to the book for additional rounds. But beginning readers hoping for a repeat of the duo’s Geisel winner will either need to press their thinking caps on a little harder, or screw up the courage to ask for help.

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