Sunday, December 17, 2017

It's Shoe Time! by Bryan Collier

Today's post comes to us from Keary Bramwell. Keary is the Youth Collection Librarian at the Mount Prospect Public Library. She has served on a number of ALSC committees, including the Notable Children’s Books Committee from 2014-2016.

It’s Shoe Time! by Bryan Collier is the newest title in the Elephant and Piggie like Reading! Series created by Mo Williams. Another title in the series, We are Growing! by Laurie Keller, won the Geisel last year. Can Collier do it too?

It’s Shoe Time! tells the story of a girl picking out shoes to wear to meet her father. Will she choose fancy shoes? Flip-Flops? Boots? Sneakers? To the surprise of all the shoes, she picks two shoes that don’t match. The two left behind mismatched shoes set off after her to correct the mistake. When the shoes finally catch-up to the girl, they see that her father also has on mismatched shoes for their daddy-daughter day.

There’s a lot to love in the text with great repetition and humor. Much of the humor plays out in the text, like when the sneakers call something “sneaky” or the slippers are “always slipping in a joke.” Using a pair of shoes is a great way to get repetition in without it seeming overdone or redundant. Here the right shoe can say something then the left shoe repeats it.
Let's turn from the text to just the illustrations. The illustrations are done in darker shades than most beginner readers. You usually see bright colors with white or solid color backgrounds, but here there are black or textured backgrounds creating a more mature look to the illustrations. Without the white outline, the colored speak bubbles would be difficult to locate. While the darker illustrations don’t distract from the reader’s experience, they are worth noting.
The Geisel criteria says, “the book must also contain illustrations, which function as keys or clues to the text.” And “the illustrations must demonstrate the story being told.” Let’s focus on that second one for a moment. The shoes are all made to look cartoony and the girl is a more realistic style. It almost looks like they belong in different stories. Or are they a mismatched pair like in the story that work together?
So the question is how much of an impact do the illustrations have on the award? There must be some illustrations according to the criteria. But how to judge those illustrations? Do you only take the illustrations into account when they distract or are less effective as clues to the text? I’m sure these are questions the committee is contemplating. What do you think? Are Collier and the Geisel the perfect pair?

Oh, and did you catch the Pigeon on page 50-51? He makes an appearance in all of the Elephant & Piggie Like Reading! titles.

Friday, December 15, 2017

We Need More Nuts by Jonathan Fenske

Liesel Schmidt is a children's librarian at Denver Public Library's Central Library. She enjoys exploring the wonders of the world alongside all sorts of kids.

How many nuts are enough for two hungry squirrels? Find out in Jonathan Fenske's goofy counting book, We Need More Nuts! An exuberant squirrel tosses nuts into their friend's mouth and, as the friend's cheeks fill with "One nut. Two nuts. Three nuts. Four nuts," the happy squirrel proclaims, "Fun. Fun. Fun! These nuts are great!" The friend catches all the nuts tossed their way, with ever-expanding cheeks, leaving readers to guess: Will they ever reach the point of too many nuts?

Fenske, who won a Geisel Honor in 2016 for A Pig, a Fox, and a Box, merrily addresses many of the needs of a beginning reader. This is a counting book that, unusually, goes all the way up to twenty-four, guiding readers through the tricky teens and into the twenties. The text is entirely made up of the squirrels' speech, presented in speech bubbles. Vocabulary is repeated frequently throughout the text with lots of clues to build confidence, although a few contractions may throw learners for a loop.

Bold, cartoony illustrations provide visual clues to the text. In fact, the illustrations carry much of the storyline. While one squirrel cheerfully counts while passing nuts to their friend, the other squirrel's reactions are not written. The reader can see the second squirrel's growing frustration, although that aspect of the story is told exclusively through the artwork. Dynamic illustrations will leave young readers laughing--and motivate readers to keep reading.

As nuts are passed around, the squirrel's speech provides the written word for each number, while the image of the nut itself has the numeral marked on it. In this way, young readers are supported as they connect numeral to written word. For twelve, a number that can be particularly difficult for young learners, extra support is given. "Our old friend twelve," says the squirrel, pointing at the numeral. "Where one...meets two!" Readers who already know how to recite the numbers one through twenty will feel confident pairing the written words with the numerals as the book moves along.

We Need More Nuts! expertly pairs the structure and simplicity needed in a beginning reader with humor. Fenske has given us another silly read that manages to subtly push beginning readers toward greater skill.

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Frankie by Mary Sullivan

Our guest blogger today is Susan Kusel, a librarian, children's book buyer and selector at an independent bookstore, and the owner of a children's book consulting company. She has served on the Maryland Blue Crab Young Reader Award committee, the Cybils Easy Readers and Early Chapter Book Awards committee, the 2015 Caldecott Medal selection committee, and she is currently the chair of the Sydney Taylor Book Award committee. She blogs at Wizards Wireless

I adored this book. It was fun, delightful and Frankie is just plain lovable.

The repetition was the star of the show. Done just right and not too heavy handed, it set up a wonderful pattern to follow and predict. The one exception was the phrase ”No Way”, instead of “No.” I was also intrigued that each dog had their own word bubble shape, to make it easier to figure out which dog said what.

The book is a combination of a picture book and a graphic novel. The panels are arranged well and easy to follow. I did have a concern with the font, which almost looks like handwriting, and is challenging for an early reader.

I will admit, though, to being surprised at my son’s reaction. He’s the beginning reader I ask to read all the books I review for this blog, to see what words or concepts trip him up. This time, I was taken off guard as he got quieter and quieter as the book progressed. He felt that Nico was bullying Frankie, and he got extremely sad as Nico took away each item. He was very happy and relieved to find out the two dogs were able to share at the end.

What I thought what a light hearted and silly book brought out real emotions in him.

Overall, I thought it was a really well done book with many strengths.

I’m curious to find out if any other Guessing Geisel readers have tried this with young readers and what their reactions have been. Please share in the comments!
Image from:

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Wallace and Grace Times Two

Today's guest contributor, Anna Taylor, is the Assistant Head of Children’s Services and Collection Development Coordinator for Darien Library in CT. She serves on the ALSC/PLA Every Child Ready to Read Oversight Committee and will soon blog for YALSA’s Quick Picks for Reluctant Young Adult Readers. Find her on Instagram @librarianna

Meet the Night Owl Detective Agency, best friends Wallace and Grace who live in the Great Woods and solve any mystery that comes their way (at least the ones that don’t interfere with their sleep). With bold text by Heather Alexander and bright illustrations by Laura Zarrin, this new young reader series is full of short chapters, new vocabulary, and a wealth of characters.

Wallace and Grace and the Cupcake Caper marks the series’ second book, however this series can be read in any order as they bring on new cases in every story. In Cupcake Caper, Wallace and Grace set out to find “whooo-done-it” when Monty the Chipmunk’s cupcake goes missing while he is sleeping or hibernating. Large words like hibernating, witness, and culprit, are italicized throughout the story along with an explanation by Wallace or Grace on its definition.

Alexander’s third book in the series, Wallace and Grace and the Lost Puppy, begins with a sad, dirty, and smelly lost puppy who got lost looking for an apple thief. The story begins at night and goes through sunrise, daytime, sunset, and back to night and the illustrations do a great job on helping the reader know what time of the day it is by showing sunrises and sunsets of purple, orange, and pink and night skies of velvet blue.

Some wordplay (whooo-done-it) and word designs are incorporated within the text and is comparable to the text style of Doreen Cronin’s Chicken Squad series. This text is complimented by Zarrin’s colorful illustrations which more often than not, tell more of the story than the text. For example, clues are sometimes given in some illustrations which have not yet been discovered by our Detectives, Wallace and Grace, encouraging the readers to become detectives themselves and not just rely on our owl protagonists.

Each story begins with Wallace and Grace in the middle of an activity. Cupcake Caper begins with a game of I Spy, while Lost Puppy shows the two in the midst of a scavenger hunt. Both novels close out their stories with either an end of the activity (finding all the scavenger hunt items) or picking up where they left off (I Spy-ing another thing).

Readers are able to take a look at the table of contents before each story to see all four chapters and their titles. This addition, plus the format of the text are perfect for readers transitioning into traditional fiction novels. In addition, the large, bold text and one or more illustration per page spread allow a nice balance between beginning and intermediate independent readers.

Early reader mystery series are a dime a dozen these days but Wallace and Grace have a lot to offer for the younger reader. I would give this to a child who is between Young Cam Janson and Nancy Drew and the Clue Crew, as well as readers who enjoy animal stories and science/nature. Whether this becomes a Geisel contestant or not, Wallace and Grace deserve a spot on your younger reader mystery series radar!

Friday, December 8, 2017

Fly Guy's Big Family and Noodleheads See the Future by Tedd Arnold

This week's contributor is Danielle Jones, a youth and teen public librarian in Portland, Oregon. She is currently serving on ALSC’s Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion Task Force and the 2018 Sibert Committee.

Tedd Arnold has garnered two Geisel Honors for books in his Fly Guy series  (2006 Hi! Fly Guy and 2010  I Spy Fly Guy).  His keen sense of humor is a match for what beginning readers find hilarious, and he is able to repeatedly deliver books that have mass appeal.

Next in the Fly Guy series is Fly Guy’s Big Family. Buzz, a young boy notices his pet fly, Fly Guy, is drawing picture’s of Fly Guy’s family. Buzz, realizing that Fly Guy is missing his family, decides to hold a surprise party for Fly Guy inviting hundreds of Fly Guy’s closest relatives.

Many factors make this title very Geisel worthy. Humor is a propelling forces keeping the reader engaged. Simple short sentences and use of a controlled vocabulary with plenty of white space leaves room for decoding and comprehension. The illustrations reinforce the text, and there is lots of word repetition. “Surprise” is repeated throughout the story and the word “drawing” is shown both as a verb and a noun. A word like “cousin” that might pose challenging to sound out, is cleverly introduced with Arnold’s use speech bubbles when Buzz meets the first of Fly Guy’s family members to arrive for the party when she introduces herself as “Cuzz.” Cousin is then later repeated several more times.

One double page spread that might create debate among committee members is a double page spread showing Fly Guy reuniting with several family members. Arnold is playing with phonemes rather than using true spellings. Some might find that readers will delight in sounding out the fly pronunciations, while others might see it as challenging reading with introducing improper spelling of words at this stage in reading development.

Also out this year by Arnold is Noodleheads See the Future, the second in his graphic novel Noodlehead  series that pays homage to folklore’s noodlehead stories. Arnold’s pasta shaped characters, Mac and Mac,  and “Meatball” the antagonizer, get the humor rolling in this title where characters often state the obvious, but the two Macs view it as them “seeing the future.” Short chapters build on each other carrying threads of previous stories full circle to a satisfying ending and also offer readers a great "’page-turning’ dynamic.

What makes this a great graphic novel - its use of more rare words (those words that are used mostly in daily conversation, and outside the controlled vocabulary of most readers) - might deter it from being a great early reader. Noodleheads doesn’t maintain the controlled vocabulary that Arnold uses in the Fly Guy series. Words like “bruise” and “piece” are used several times, but the illustrations don’t always give context clues as to their meaning, and if it is a hard word to decode, the reader will miss the joke, and might get frustrated. Established readers however will delight in exploring these funny folk tales in a new way.

Monday, December 4, 2017

Mock Geisel for Professional Development

Previously we’ve featured Mock Geisel events as an opportunity for working with kids and students, but Mock Awards – and Mock Geisel in particular – can also provide valuable professional development opportunities.

Goals for participation in a Mock Award program include:

  • Increased awareness of newly published book for a specific audience
  • Practice evaluation skills using a given set of criteria
  • Best practices for constructive discussions and consensus building
  • Insight into the committee process

The skills practiced inform collection development, reader’s advisory, and programming competencies

Why use the Mock Award framework, rather than simply training on the above competencies in a different way? 

The ALSC award selection process is established, connected, and respected. There’s no need to reinvent a process when the toolkit for conducting mock award discussion exists. And the list of mock results that grows each year on the ALSC Blog is a testament to how we are able to have a shared conversation across many groups rooted in common criteria. Holding Mock Awards for your staff encourages them to develop the skills necessary to volunteer to serve on the real award committees, representing your library system in contributing to the success of the profession on a national scale. But even if they never aspire to participation on an actual committee (although we here at Guessing Geisel highly recommend it), participation in a Mock Award program develops skills and knowledge directly applicable to the everyday work of many librarians and other educators.  

Why mock the Geisel Award specifically?

The Geisel Award has some of the most specific criteria of any of the ALSC books awards. And yet, it is often referred to as one of the most challenging to guess or predict. Often selections may catch people by surprise, with the loudest cheers in the room given for picture books choices and polite applause for the readers. Why haven’t we heard of the excellent titles from the beginning readers series before they’re recognized? Well . . .

  • Picture books are hardly ever reviewed through the lens of a successful experience for the independent reader. It is incredibly challenging to identify what books might work for independent readers based solely on reviews. So those seeking books for independent readers must rely on the series’ produced by the various publishers explicitly for that purpose. 
  • A bias exists toward these deliberately supportive books. Because they have been designed with intent for the independent reader, they may not be considered as potentially distinguished. We’ve talked about Caldecott/Geisel crossover before, but only with regard to picture books. Although readers may do what they do very well, it challenges us as adults to see them as artful instead of utilitarian.
  • Our more frequently mocked awards ask us to focus on one component of the book – text or art – while the Geisel places the successful reading experience at the fore and requires that both the text and art be considered as components of the whole.

     Particularly for adults who are more accustomed to evaluating whether a book is a satisfying read aloud in their day-to-day selection, whether preparing for storytime or selecting a gift, recognizing the excellence in a beginning reader title will be a real challenge.

Which is exactly why we should mock the Geisel Award.

If it’s challenging for those of us with specialized expertise in children’s literature, as librarians and teachers, how much more challenging must it be for a parent without that background?

Speaking from a Public Library perspective, when parents come in to support their emergent reader we want to be friendly and knowledgeable. Parents may be feeling vulnerable about whether their child is reading at grade level, progressing fast enough, or falling behind. This is a unique point of opportunity to provide good customer service and support grade level reading in our communities. Mocking Geisel gives us language to discuss options meaningfully with these parents and to make suggestions to offer their child the best opportunities for reading success. It informs how we organize and shelve our collections, making these titles accessible to parents who are browsing.

Newly emergent readers need books that are motivating to both practice reading skills and foster a love of reading even when it is hard, and they can find those books at the library if we help them. Mocking Geisel challenges us to see things through their perspective, to examine how we’re supporting the process of learning to read and improve our approach to better meet the needs of our kids. 

There’s also nothing quite like looking only at the books for beginning readers to realize how very much we need diverse books to be published each year.

Mock Geisel for professional development can take as little as a couple of hours for most participants, and yet it can have a yearlong impact on the knowledge and skills of your group. The Midwinter meeting when the real winner will be decided and announced isn’t until February for 2018, so you still have time if you'd like to hold a Mock Geisel for professional development this year.