Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Everyday Diversity and Beginning Readers

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.

Geisel guessers, it’s time for another foray into the land of diversity in children’s literature. Last year I discussed why we need diverse beginning readers (#WeNeedDiverseBeginningReaders). Although the number of books featuring racially diverse characters was on the rise in 2016, the Cooperative Children’s Book Center, in their yearly analysis of diversity in children’s book publishing, notes that these books still comprise just a small fraction of children’s books published in the United States. As issues of racial and ethnic diversity, representation, and equality continue to shape our social and political landscape, those of us who care about children, their literature, and their reading life believe that there is a strong need for ALL children to see themselves reflected in the pages of the books they read. Rudine Sims Bishop, in her essential, oft-quoted article about books serving for readers as “Mirrors, Windows and Sliding Glass Doors,” warns: “When children cannot find themselves reflected in the books they read, or when the images they see are distorted, negative, or laughable, they learn a powerful lesson about how they are devalued in the society of which they are a part.”

Conversely, research has found that when children see themselves represented in the books they read, they make more connections between the text, themselves, and the world around them, thus leading to more positive associations, motivation to read, and better performance. This seems especially important during that short but crucial time when children are beginning to read and need motivation to persevere through the challenges of the learning process. Beginning readers featuring Everyday Diversity can help fill that gap.

Some diverse books are culturally specific, focusing on a particular culture’s authentic experiences, and some books are culturally neutral, showing people of color as characters without any reference to cultural characteristics or attributes. There is an important need for both types of literature, and a website called the Everyday Diversity Project seeks to highlight those books that portray racially and ethnically diverse characters in everyday, familiar settings and experiences, with the message and goal of all children seeing themselves mirrored in books. Anna Haase Kruger, who founded the site, defines the characteristics of Everyday Diversity books:
  • Predominantly features a racially diverse main character.
  • Primarily shows modern day contemporary life.
  • Subject matter is not about race, religion, history, "other cultures," or ability.

Beginning readers are a great venue for this type of literature, with so many series centered around well-loved characters doing recognizable activities, gently weaving new vocabulary into familiar scenarios to build tender readers’ confidence. Here is a list of beginning reader series featuring Everyday Diversity. Please note, I’ve also included few other subgenres, including biographies, with the belief that it should be an “everyday” experience for kids of all backgrounds to have a variety of reflective beginning reader books to suit their diverse interests.

Modern Life

Andy and Sandy by Tomie de Paola and Jim Lewis

Bradford Street Buddies by Jerdine Nolen and Michelle Henninger

Confetti Kids by Paula Yoo and Shirley Ng-Benitez

Katie Woo by Fran Manushkin and Tammie Lyon

Lana’s World by Erica Silverman and Jess Golden

The Life of Max by Adria F Klein and Mernie Gallagher-Cole

Ling and Ting by Grace Lin

Max and Zoe by Shelley Swanson Sateren and Mary Sullivan

Messy Bessey by Fredrick McKissack and Dana Regan

Mo series by David A. Adler and Sam Ricks

Robin Hill School by Margaret McNamara and Mike Gordon

Sofia Martinez by Jacqueline Jules and Kim Smith

Tony and Lauren Dungy Ready-To-Reads by Tony Dungy and Lauren Dungy

Fantasy and Science Fiction
Buzz Beaker by Cari Meister and Bill McGuire

Robot and Rico by Anastasia Suen and Mike Laughead

Zoey and Sassafrass by Asia Citro and Marion Lindsay

Katie Fry Private Eye by Katherine Cox and Vanessa Brantley Newton

King and Kayla by Dori Hillestad Butler and Nancy Meyers

Graphic Novels
Flop to the Top by Eleanor Davis and Drew Weing

Luke on the Loose by Harry Bliss

You Should Meet series by various authors

National Geographic Readers biographies by various authors

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Charlie & Mouse by Laurel Snyder, illustrated by Emily Hughes

Today's post is by Elisa Gall. She works as Youth Collection Development Librarian at a public library north of Chicago, Illinois. She can be found on Twitter at @gallbrary. 

Arnold Lobel took home a Caldecott honor in 1971 for Frog and Toad Are Friends, and a Newbery honor in 1974 for Frog and Toad Together. There is no rule that says beginning readers are off-limits to “other” award committees besides the Geisel, but Lobel never won a Geisel—the first award wasn’t given until 2006.

The 2018 Geisel Committee can only place Geisel-eligible books up against other books published in the same year, so they aren’t thinking too much about Frog and Toad. I bet they’ll be thinking just a little bit about the amphibian friends though, because the Frog and Toad-ness in Laurel Snyder and Emily Hughes’s Charlie & Mouse cannot be ignored. It’s there in the muted color palette, the short chapters capturing slice-of-life moments, and the tender relationship between two characters who live together. It is subtle, and who knows how intentional, but it hits all the same notes which make it an excellent beginning reader book and book in general. Of all the readers published this year, Charlie & Mouse is the title I could see receiving crossover committee recognition; but, since we have only Charlie & Mouse on the table today, and we’re examining it for the Geisel Award specifically, let’s get to business and look at all of the ways I think it shines through the Geisel lens:

The repetition here is functional, but not too functional. Words are introduced thoughtfully and in context. Repetition creates predictable pacing (making lines easy to read aloud and with expression) and some humor as well:
     “Now it is time for bed,” said Mom.
     “Not without a story!” said Charlie.
     “No,” said Mom. “Of course not. Not without a bedtime story.”
     She read Charlie and Mouse a bedtime story.
     “Now it is time for bed,” said Mom.
     “Not without a song!” said Mouse.
     “No,” said Mom. “Of course not. Not without a bedtime song.”
     She sang Charlie and Mouse a bedtime song.
    “Now it is time for bed,” said Mom.
    “Not without a banana!” said Charlie.
     “A banana?” said Mom.
     “We need a banana!” said Charlie.
     “You need a banana?”
      Mouse nodded. “Charlie is right,” he said. “We cannot go to sleep without a bedtime banana.”

Image from Charlie & Mouse
by Laurel Snyder, illustrated by Emily Hughes
The illustrations are supportive, representing and extending what the text offers relating to plot, setting, and character. For example, the art in the opening pages can help a reader understand that the talking “lump” is actually a person snuggling underneath a bedspread. An illustration of “Sakamoto’s Shave Ice” on page 27 shows that the children’s snack break is inspired by what they see in their neighborhood. There are so many elements of visual storytelling that we would miss if we were only looking at the text. We see the dad looking tired over his cup of coffee. We see the kids’ imaginative outfits during their adventure to the park. We see Charlie and Mouse hunting for money under the couch cushions, and Mom’s surprise when she sees all of the rocks her children have brought home with them. We get depth to the characters’ relationships too, as shown when Charlie gently rubs Mouse’s head as they brush their teeth together. Hughes’s illustrations provide scaffolding for readers working to comprehend the text, but they do so much more.
Image from Charlie & Mouse by Laurel Snyder, illustrated by Emily Hughes

Motivation & Encouragement. 
Image from Charlie & Mouse
by Laurel Snyder, illustrated by Emily Hughes
The textual repetition combines with Hughes’s illustrations to make for nearly-perfect page turns. My favorite page turn of this book appears on page 13, when everyone shouts “Come on!” and the following page reveals a line of children, one after the other, marching along to the park. The next turn reveals a full bleed illustration of the empty park equipment, just waiting for the children to explore it. The larger font size and line spacing also pull readers in, for there is enough room for a finger (or pencil) to rest between the lines as readers track text. The book’s four chapters are short, and start to finish the entire story leaves readers satisfied, but excited for more. (The young readers in my life were sad to see the book end, but content at knowing a sequel is on the way.) And then there are the endpapers. I don’t think grown-ups always realize how much endpapers can intrigue. The mint green endpapers show objects (ice cream cones, wiggly socks, bananas, rocks, and branches) which provide story foreshadowing but fun things to examine regardless.

From a Geisel standpoint, I have no concerns about this book. There is a scene when one of the neighbors holds a cigarette, but if anyone questioned that in deliberations I’d remind them that there are to be “no limitations as to the character of the book considered except that it will be original and function successfully as a book for beginning readers.” The plot, rhythm, and visual storytelling in Charlie & Mouse combine to make a book that is excellent for summer, excellent for siblings, and excellent for beginning readers. What do you think?

Friday, June 16, 2017

Little Wolf's First Howling by Laura McGee Kvasnosky and Kate Harvey McGee

It’s time for Little Wolf to learn how to howl, and he just can’t wait. His father Big Wolf demonstrates proper howling form, and then it’s Little Wolf’s turn. However, Little Wolf’s irrepressible spirit comes through in his improvisational be-bop style. At first, Big Wolf tries to demonstrate and encourage “proper howling form,” but eventually he, too, gets carried away in the joy of sound, and the two harmonize as the moon rises.

Throughout the history of the Geisel Award, many picture books have been honored alongside books formatted as traditional beginning readers. Of course, those books must display excellence in the Geisel criteria, just as the beginning readers do. Is Little Wolf’s First Howling going to join Good Night Owl, Waiting, and The Watermelon Seed (to name just a few recent examples) on the list of Geisel picture books?

Like many picture books, Little Wolf’s First Howling is vocabulary-rich, peppered with words like zigzagged, outcrop, demonstrate, muzzle, thrilled, admire, express. There are some nice instances of repetition – muzzle and demonstrate, for instance, appear multiple times. It’s also rich in syntax and figurative language. As a read-aloud, this book will certainly shine. But many of these same elements that make for such a rich read-aloud might be stumbling blocks for readers who are not entirely proficient. What will they make of the “dibbity dobbity skibbity skobbity” scat that peppers Little Wolf’s exuberant howls?

Also like many picture books, Little Wolf’s First Howling features beautiful illustrations that do an excellent job of supporting and enhancing the text. For example, on an early page when the wolves are waiting for the time to howl, the illustrations do depict a few stars coming out as the sun sets in the west and the moon rises over the hilltop. Later, when each note of Big Wolf’s howl “rang clear and true and soared to the moon,” the “AAAAAOOOOOOOOO” that swoops across the page from Big Wolf’s muzzle does, indeed, end with the last “ooo” right on the moon. The full-page illustrations are specific in their depiction of the wolves’ Yellowstone scenery, and they do not crowd the text. In most cases, the text is either dark words on a light-colored or white background, or more commonly, light words on a dark or black background. There are a few instances where black text appears on a dark blue sky, which may be challenging for young readers whose vision is still developing. Sometimes the words on one page of a spread are dark on light, while the words on the facing spread are light on dark, and readers who are hurrying along might miss one set or the other.

So, does this picture book have Geisel potential? While it’s strong in some elements, it also provides numerous challenges. This early in the year, it’s hard to say how it compares to other offerings. It’s certainly a lovely book, and it could provoke plenty of discussion among Geisel committee members and Mock Geisel program participants. What do you think?

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Design Discussions with Melissa Manlove, Senior Editor at Chronicle Books

Hi Guessers,

Melissa Manlove, Senior Editor at Chronicle Books.
Photo courtesy of Melissa Manlove
Amy here. I’m super excited to bring you the first in our new Design Discussions monthly (ish) series that looks into the editorial process of creating beginning readers. The more I’ve delved into beginning readers, the more I’ve realized that design choices can make a big difference for emerging readers. We were curious to know, how do editors approach design? What elements do they prioritize? How does design impact content and vice versa? 

For the first post in this series, I had the pleasure of interview Melissa Manlove, Senior Editor at Chronicle Books. We talked about beginning readers in general, but also two new beginning reader series, Charlie and Mouse and Barkus. Melissa editd Charlie and Mouse, while her colleague Victoria Rock edited Barkus.

I asked Melissa about any design standards created specifically for beginning readers. Charlie and Mouse and Barkus mark Chronicle’s first foray into beginning readers, so they haven’t developed any hard and fast rules. However, best practices were discussed quite a bit, especially the need for “a larger than average type size, choosing typefaces that would feel familiar to readers at this level, not letting the art encroach on the text or letting a background color change behind any individual paragraph / bundle of type.”

I’ve also been wondering recently what kind of guidelines editors give their authors and illustrators. Melissa said they definitely discuss the above elements with their creators, but that neither of their 2017 beginning reader titles are meant to be “leveled” readers, so there was less concern for strict counts of sight words, words per line or sentence. However, there was much thought put into the introduction of more challenging vocabulary and syntax, the amount and placement of text, where art was needed to support the reader, and how all of these things would affect the pace of the reader. Editors and authors wanted to “make books that would challenge readers gently and delight them—books that wouldn’t slow a reader down in confusion but that might still encourage them to linger over a joke or an illustration.”

At Chronicle, design conversations start in-house very early in the process. Melissa told me that “by the time we have the final text and art, we’ve also settled on a draft of the final design. At this point we create what we call “galleys”—layouts of the text, typeface, and art as they might occur in the final book—and we send those layouts to the artist and the author for comments, questions, and disagreement (if there is any). Every book is a team effort.”

Melissa edits picture books and beginning readers, and she discussed the difference in the relationship between text and art in both forms. In picture books, the magic “lies in the interplay of the crafts of writing and illustrating.” In beginning readers, kids are reading independently and they need support as they encounter new words and grammatical structures. This is when visual context clues are super important. Melissa gave an example using the word “pizza.” The first time it’s encountered readers “may not be 100% sure that the word on the page is the same one they’ve been hearing, since the pronunciation has a ‘t’ sound in it. Having a pizza in the illustration allows the reader to check their understanding and proceed in confidence.” It’s a tricky line to walk between “making space for the delight of information that only appears in art” and making sure there are enough visual context clues for readers to be confident.

Image from Charlie & Mouse by Laurel Snyder, illustrated by Emily Hughes

In addition to the interior design of a book, Melissa brought up the importance of title choice and cover design for beginning readers. “Novels and picture books can sometimes have cover art that leave their titles intriguingly oblique, but that shouldn’t happen in beginning readers. The kids of this reading level should be pretty confident of what any title means, and what the book is promising, when they are looking at the cover.” For instance, there was a bit of risk in choosing Barkus, a made up word for a title. However, Melissa pointed out “it’s a single word (and so less challenging in that way) and there is a big, funny, appealing dog pictured right underneath the title, so we’re pretty sure kids who are reading at this level will have no trouble guessing ‘Barkus’ must be the funny name of this funny dog.”

Every book lover and creator has pet peeves, I asked Melissa what hers are when it comes to beginning readers. She pointed to the limitations in format being “used as an excuse not to offer children unique characters and a satisfying narrative. This age group—of ALL age groups—should be able to find ALL the pleasures of reading in their books, or how can we expect them to keep going?”

Does Melissa have an all-time favorite beginning reader? She simply couldn’t choose one! “Maybe Mouse Soup, for its gently connected stories, the humor’s great timing, and the surprising ideas in each story. I adored the Goblin Story in Little Bear as a child—just the right amount of scary for me. I am (as most people are) a huge fan of Bink and Gollie and Mo Willems’ Elephant and Piggie books—I see his background in Sesame Street and the Children’s Television Workshop so strongly in them. Each is a perfect little stage skit, and the timing is flawless. But I’m also so, so thrilled with the way the Geisel committee looks for books that could function as beginning readers among the larger-sized picture books as well—Kevin Henkes’ Waiting, Jon Klassen’s I Want My Hat Back, Ethan Long’s Up! Tall! And High! are some favorite examples.”

Melissa offered the following closing thought about the process of creating beginning readers, “Every book we make is a new world to explore, with new conversations to have, new problems to solve, new ways of reaching our readers. The only thing I’m hoping for every time is to make a reading experience that children will find so compelling that they’ll want to read some more.”

Stay tuned for more Design Discussions, as well as an upcoming post on Charlie and Mouse.
Image from Charlie & Mouse by Laurel Snyder, illustrated by Emily Hughes

Friday, June 2, 2017

What's Your Favorite Favorite? by Bob Shea

Ballet Cat and her cousin Goat are eagerly awaiting Grandma’s visit. While Ballet Cat choreographs the perfect combination of twirls, jumps, and leaps to perform for Grandma, Goat (a.k.a. The Great Goatini) polishes his magic tricks. Grandma is sure to like his act best, he informs Ballet Cat. After all, magic is her FAVORITE favorite. Ballet Cat ups her game in hopes of impressing Grandma most, and careful readers will notice that perhaps Goat is not as confident as he seems. Grandma arrives, and the show begins. Afterwards, when the two ask which act is her favorite, she tries a diplomatic “Both,” and when that fails, offers ice cream as a diversionary tactic. Smart Grandma.

This book follows the recent trend of beginning reader books that feature bright colors, plentiful humor, and some comic-style elements such as speech bubbles. The visual appeal can’t be downplayed when considering the book’s impact on its intended audience – it’s a big factor in ensuring that the book appears “intriguing enough to motivate the child to read,” as the criteria states. This book is sure to catch the attention of readers who love all things bright and sparkly. Moreover, the comic-style elements provide a simple introduction to that style of book design, which readers will surely encounter in their future reading. The illustrations are energetic and expressive, enhancing the story with a little added humor (note, for instance, Goat digging in his pocket for the quarter for his magic trick, and the fact that said quarter ends up in Ballet Cat’s pocket after the trick is done).

One issue with this book is that the layout of text on the page can be difficult to follow. For instance, on the first page the text is in three speech bubbles: “Let me see, I could jump / then leap / then jump.” However, the second speech bubble is positioned higher on the page than the first one, which may pose a challenge for some readers who have been drilled on the fact that text goes “top to bottom and left to right.”

There is a sentence that is carried over a page turn by the ever-popular ellipses: “Well, today, magic is going to be Grandma’s . . . FAVORITE favorite!” There are also plenty of instances of casual syntax such as sentence fragments, words and phrases capitalized for emphasis, and other such devices. Some sentences are on the long side, ranging from 13-16 words. For confident readers, these will not pose any difficulty, but beginners may find that the challenges outweigh the rewards.

Mid book, Goat asks Ballet Cat, “Want to see a trick?” to which she replies, “No, I am fine, thank you.” Then there are two pages with no text (other than the background “Magic Show Today” poster) while Goat stares down Ballet Cat, then Ballet Cat changes her mind: “OH MY GOSH! Yes!” This reversal struck even this adult reader as a bit confusing – I actually had to page back to figure out exactly what Ballet Cat was reacting or replying to.

So, looking at the Geisel criteria, this book is strong on points such as motivating readers, illustrations that demonstrate the story being told, and creating a page-turning dynamic. However, it is weaker on some of the other criteria, including simple and straightforward sentences and creating a successful reading experience for beginners.

Will What’s Your Favorite Favorite? net Ballet Cat her first shiny sticker? Though the book is certainly worth discussing in the context of beginning reader books published this year, it seems unlikely that it will be the 2017 Geisel Committee’s favorite favorite.

Thursday, June 1, 2017

Guessing Geisel Season 2

“The Theodor Seuss Geisel Award recognizes the author(s) and illustrator(s) of a book for beginning readers who, through their literary and artistic achievements, demonstrate creativity and imagination to engage children in reading.” 

Welcome back for the second year of Guessing Geisel! Guessing Geisel was created to expand understanding of the Geisel award criteria, provide assistance to those planning Mock Geisels across the country, and celebrate good books for beginning readers. We have a lineup of great contenders to celebrate, relevant topics to discuss, and insights into the committee experience to share with all of you. We're thrilled to hear from many of last year's bloggers as well as adding some new voices to the conversation. Watch for the first contender post coming soon, and let us know in the comments what titles you're excited about this year. 

And the fine print:
Guessing Geisel is in no way affiliated with nor reflective of the views of this year’s Real Committee for the Theodor Seuss Geisel Award, whose selections will be announced at the ALA Midwinter Meeting Youth Media Awards. Opinions stated here do not reflect the attitudes or opinions of ALSC, SLJ, Booklist, or any other institutions with which the authors are affiliated. All thoughts on eligibility or the strength of a contender are entirely speculation.

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Calling All Guessers!

Hey Guessing Geisel Fans,

Are you a public or school librarian or teacher passionate about beginning readers? Have you served on a beginning reader award committee (Geisel, Maryland Blue Crab, etc.) or a best books committee that included beginning readers? Are you interested in digging into the Geisel Award criteria? If you found yourself nodding yes, we hope you’ll consider becoming a guest contributor.
Last year we had a great roster of guest contributors who brought a variety of perspectives, observations, and experience to the shared table. Guest contributors are asked to write at least one blog post between June and December. Posts are approximately 500 words and focus either on a current Geisel contender or on a topic related to beginning readers.

If you’d like to participate, please email us at by May 1, 2017. In that email include a short paragraph to let us know:
  • Your name
  • Position/Organization
  • If you’re a school or public librarian or teacher
  • Why you’d be an excellent guest contributor
  • 3 beginning reader titles (already or soon to be published in 2017) that you’d like to blog about

If you have questions, you can comment below or send us an email.

Friday, February 3, 2017

Looking Forward

Thank you for joining us for the first year of Guessing Geisel! We’ve had a great time, and would especially like to thank the many contributors who brought us thoughtful insight and analysis time and again about some truly wonderful books. We will be taking a break for now but will be back again when award speculation heats up in the fall, so if you’re interested in joining the ranks of contributors please let us know.

Even though we’re taking a break for a few months, we’ve got our eyes open for upcoming titles for beginning readers.
There’s nothing like spending more time with favorite characters from an existing series. Here are a few friends we look forward to seeing again in 2017.

We also like to consider titles by previous Geisel winners and honorees.
  • Just released in January, Greg Pizzoli, 2014 winner (The Watermelon Seed) and 2017 honoree (Good Night, Owl), illustrated North, South, East, West, a picture book featuring text by Margaret Wise Brown.
  • Jonathan Fenske, 2016 honoree for A Pig, a Fox, and a Box, will release a follow up in February, A Pig, a Fox, and Stinky Socks.
  • Mary Sullivan’s Frankie (April) is a canine adventure with cover art that recalls Treat, for which she received a Geisel honor in 2014.
  • 2016 honoree Stephen Savage (Supertruck), gives us another vehicle-centric story with his picture book Little Plane Learns to Write (June).
  • Creators of the Cowgirl Kate and Cocoa series (honored in 2006) bring us a new title in the Lana’s World beginning reader series. Let’s Go to the Moon is set to publish in June.
  • 2007 honoree Antoinette Portis (Not a Box) brings us a picture book simply titled, Now (July).

Here are some brand new titles that inaugurate three new series.
  • Chronicle Books has two new beginning reader titles. Charlie & Mouse (April) by Laurel Snyder, illustrated by Emily Hughes, follows the adventures of two biracial Hawaiian brothers, and Barkus (June) by Patricia MacLachlan, illustrated by Marc Boutavant shines a colorful spotlight on a loveable pet dog.
  • It seems that Jan Thomas’ signature humor and cartoonish illustrations will take center stage in the first two titles in the Ready-to-Laugh Readers series: There’s a Pest in the Garden! and What is Chasing Duck? (June).

If you spot a title that you think has the potential for Geisel gold, let us know! We’ll keep comments on this post open while we’re on a break, or you can reach us by email. Happy reading!

Friday, January 27, 2017

Thrills and Chills!: The Guessing Geisel Hosts Share Their Post-YMA Reactions

In this post, the three co-hosts of Guessing Geisel (Amanda, Amy, and Misti) share their thoughts and reactions to the 2017 Geisel Award winner and honor titles.

Watching the YMAs
Amy: I had the extreme pleasure of being in the room when the honors and winners of the 2017 Geisel Awards were announced. There was delighted applause when Pizzoli’s Good Night, Owl, Oops, Pounce, Quick, Run! An Alphabet Caper by Mike Twohy, and Milgrim’s Go, Otto, Go! were announced. There was a smattering of applause for The Infamous Ratsos (mostly, I think, because this was an unexpected and unknown title for many). And a roar of joyful applause and cheers when the winner, We Are Growing by Laurie Keller, was proclaimed. What a thrill to be in the room, on the edge of my seat, with so many enthusiastic librarians, publishers, and other children’s book lovers!
Amanda: I had to play along at home, but I’m thrilled to see the committee able to recognize 5 great books for beginning readers this year. From the simplicity of Go, Otto, Go! to the complexity of the early chapter book The Infamous Ratsos, the committee has decisively considered the full extent of the Geisel Award age range this year. It’s exciting! Congratulations to the committee, and to all the authors/illustrators.
Misti: I was watching from home, as well -- or, rather, from my office, where I provided the morning's entertainment for my office-mates with my excited exclamations and arm-flails at particularly exciting announcements!

We Are Growing by Laurie Keller
Amy: Mo Willems’ Elephant and Piggie have been superstars of the Geisel Award world, so I don’t think the announcement of this spin-off series title came as a surprise to many. And it most certainly cements the new format and series. There’s so much to appreciate about this book from design to page turns, layout to word choice. It’s definitely a strong start to Disney-Hyperion’s Elephant and Piggie Like Reading series, and, in my humble opinion, the stronger of the two titles in the series published in 2016. While at the ALA Midwinter Conference I chatted with a publicist at the Disney-Hyperion booth about the two new series titles slated for 2017, including The Good for Nothing Button! by Charise Mericle Harper and another title in the fall.
Misti: If you haven’t seen it, Mo Willems created Elephant & Piggie artwork celebrating this win -- Gerald and Piggie holding a copy of the book, with a speech balloon saying “Laurie Keller is the GEISEL-IEST!” So adorable.
Amanda: We Are Growing was the staff Mock Geisel pick in my library system, and the more we examined the book’s strengths the more distinguished it appeared to be. It is entirely deserving of this award on its own merits, and it somehow seems fitting that if Elephant and Piggie must pursue other projects they are passing the torch to gold-medal titles like this one.

Go, Otto, Go! by David Milgrim
Amy: I adore the way Milgrim has transformed mundane sight words into a compelling story. The cover has fantastic kid appeal, as does the content (robots, rockets, and outer space). It’s also notable that this is a title specifically created for a beginning reader series. We need more excellent beginning readers in beginning reader format, so I was super happy to see this title recognized. I hope publishers, authors, illustrators, designers, and editors take note of this, and other winners and honors in beginning reader format, as examples of excellence in this format.
Misti: I completely agree that it’s good to see books that are intended as beginning readers rise to excellence. This is a book that I initially wrote off (in my own mind, at least) as serviceable but not spectacular, but upon rereading I had more appreciation for what Milgrim does with word choice and illustration -- it’s subtle, but all the more impressive for that!
Amanda: The deliberate use of sight words and repetition, and in a beginning reader format, really emphasizes that this is a title that was designed with the success of an emerging reader in mind. The excellence of this title propelled it to second place in our mock election here, so I know I’m not alone in celebrating its inclusion on the list of honors.

Good Night Owl by Greg Pizzoli
Misti: I reviewed this way back when we first started blogging here. I loved it at the time, but wondered how well it would stand up when we started comparing it with other titles. Obviously, in the eyes of the committee, it stood up pretty well!
Amy: A second Geisel award for Pizzoli! Hooray! Once again Pizzoli’s skill and attention to design, so integral to a successful beginning reader experience, shines.
Amanda: What more can we say? Pizzoli’s style in this delightfully funny picture book lends itself to success as both a read-aloud and an adventure for the beginning reader.

Oops, Pounce, Quick, Run! An Alphabet Caper by Mike Twohy
Amy: I’ll be honest, I was completely blindsided by this one. Earlier this year, this title came across our radar and I remember voting to take it off the Guessing Geisel title roster because I felt it was more of an alphabet/concept book, rather than a beginning reader. My instinct was that the audience for an alphabet book skewed younger than the K-2nd age range for the Geisel. It’s one of those oversights that reminds me how much feedback from real beginning readers can impact a committee. I haven’t read this title with kids, but I’m guessing that would be very revealing.
Misti: Looking at this book now, I can definitely see some distinguished elements. The font size is huge, and with just a word or two per page, it’s not going to be too daunting to the earliest beginners. Plus, the alphabet book structure provides a pattern for the book, a sort of clue for the reader. The illustrations also do an excellent job of providing context.
Amanda: I’m with Amy - this one was the biggest surprise for me. I can see the strengths that Misti identifies, and I’m looking forward to hearing more from the committee about the elements that they found distinguished.

The Infamous Ratsos by Kara LaReau, illustrated by Matt Myers
Amy: This title first came to our attention as a write in on the first Guessing Geisel Mock ballot. What smart readers we have! In the same way I underestimated Oops, Pounce, Quick, Run! An Alphabet Caper for skewing too young, I discounted this title because I thought it would be a stretch for most 2nd graders to read successfully. Now, on a second, closer look, I can see much to appreciate. I think the word repetition is strong. The sentences build on one another, creating a scaffold that supports beginning readers as they encounter more complex words and longer sentences.
Misti: I've got this one on order, but haven't had a chance to look at it yet.  It's great to celebrate the books we've all been hearing about all fall, but I do feel happy for book creators when a title that has gotten less "buzz" comes into prominence at the YMAs.  Sometimes those end up being my favorites.  I'm looking forward to reading this one.
Amanda: I’ve made no secret of my belief that the Geisel definition of “beginning reader” includes those building confidence who are ready for chapters. The manual even calls out the presence of short chapters as a permissible option. The Infamous Ratsos, with 64 pages and 7 chapters, clearly falls among the upper reaches of what can be considered a Geisel book. The chapters are episodic, allowing a beginning reader to take as much of a break as they might need between tales of the brothers’ intended mischief. Black and white spot art by Matt Myers provides clues to decoding the text and keeping up with Ralphie and Louie’s straightforward schemes. More good books are always needed for those beginning readers preparing for the jump to longer and more challenging chapter books. I am pleased for Kara LaReau and Matt Myers that their book provided such a successful and satisfying experience for readers that it made the cut this year, and look forward to future entries in the series.

Other Thoughts
Amy: It was lovely to see Leave Me Alone! by Vera Brogsol and They All Saw a Cat by Brendan Wenzel receive Caldecott honors. Both were on the Guessing Geisel Mock Ballot and it’s so fantastic to see their appeal as picture books recognized as well.
Misti: I looked at Leave Me Alone! after it was a write-in on our first ballot, and though I had some issues with how it might function for beginning readers, it still became one of my favorite picture books of the year, so it was the Caldecott honor I was most pleased to see.
Amanda: We may not have a Caldegeisel year, but I too was very pleased to see They All Saw a Cat and Leave Me Alone! recognized by the Caldecott committee. Really, well done to all the committees this year on your selections. Enjoy this week of finally being able to talk all about your favorites. (Geisel Committee members, call us! We’d love to feature your insights into the strengths of the winners.)