Monday, December 26, 2016

Mr. Putter and Tabby Hit the Slopes by Cynthia Rylant, illustrated by Arthur Howard

This week's contributor is Gigi Pagliarulo, a librarian for the Denver Public Library. Gigi is especially interested in youth services, early literacy, and issues of diversity and multiculturalism within children's literature and programming, and has served on the steering committee of Colorado Libraries for Early Literacy.
Cover image from
In the Mr. Putter and Tabby series, Geisel award-winning author Cynthia Rylant has created a charming set of characters in a gently curmudgeonly man and his cat. This elderly pair tend to favor the quiet life until…enter zany, energetic next-door neighbor Mrs. Teaberry and “her good dog Zeke,” who always bring a new adventure. In Mr. Putter and Tabby Hit the Slope, adventure comes to save a slow winter day in the form of a high-speed sled ride that helps Mr. Putter relive his youth and and sends poor Tabby straight up a tree!

One might think that after so many volumes in a series, so many series in a career, these titles could feel formulaic. Instead, Rylant’s special talent lies in consistently creating endearing characters and keeping their stories fresh and recognizable to each year’s crop of new readers. Let’s delve into Mr. Putter and Tabby Hit the Slope to see if it’s a distinguished enough entry to be in the running for a Geisel award!

Distinguished, in a Geisel award criteria nutshell, means “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.” Engaging subject matter, carefully measured pacing and placement of words and sentences, and of course, entertaining and expressive illustrations motivate children to start a story, persevere through any reading challenges, and successfully finish the book.

In Mr. Putter and Tabby Hit the Slope, the silliness of two old folks and their pets zipping down a hill on sleds is funny and novel, and some unexpected surprise plot twists also keep pages turning. The rhythm of the text is satisfying, mixing simple, descriptive narration with small bits of dialogue and vivid action passages, all in doses a tender new reader can handle. Mr. Putter’s distinctive voice and dry sense of humor are evident throughout the text, providing the kind of sensibility of language that demonstrates to children the pleasure of reading good writing.

New vocabulary words are introduced in a deliberate manner throughout the course of the book, and Arthur Howard’s playful paint-filled line drawings hilariously illuminate the story, backing up the text with clear visual context clues. Dear, long-suffering Tabby’s itchy sweater, twitchy tail, and distinctly displeased demeanor are the highlight of text and illustrations both, and highly giggle-worthy.  

Mr. Putter and Tabby Hit the Slope is an entertaining new title that zips readers down a snowy hill with an engaging plot, interesting new vocabulary words, and humorous illustrations. An overarching fine use of language to create character, mood, and plot development sets it apart from most titles for this age group. Clearly, Rylant is an author who is still very much at the top of her beginning reader game. Though perhaps not individually distinct enough for the medal itself, Mr. Putter and Tabby Hit the Slope is truly a solid entry into the field and a fine candidate for a Geisel honor book. 

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