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.)

Monday, January 23, 2017

And the winner is . . .

And the winner is . . . We Are Growing! A Mo Willems’ Elephant and Piggie Like Reading! Book, written and illustrated by Laurie Keller, published by Disney-Hyperion

And the honor books are:

Go Otto Go, written and illustrated by David Milgrim, published by Simon Spotlight
Good Night Owl, written and illustrated by Greg Pizzoli, published by Disney-Hyperion
The Infamous Ratsos, written by Kara LaReau, illustrated by Matt Myers, published by Candlewick Press
Oops, Pounce, Quick, Run! An Alphabet Caper, written and illustrated by Mike Twohy published by Balzer + Bray

Congratulations to all the book creators! What a wide-ranging group of winners the committee has selected, from picture books to readers, and an alphabet caper to  a beginning chapter book. Here at Guessing Geisel we’re still gathering our thoughts and will be back later with a longer reaction. But for now, thank you to the Geisel Award committee and all the award committees for your hard work this year, and congratulations on selecting your winners.

The 2017 Geisel Award Committee:

Shilo Halfen, Chair
Patricia Carleton
Miriam Martinez
Kathleen Neil
Susannah Richards
Madeline Walton-Hadlock
Judy Zuckerman

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Caldegeisel? Geiselbery?

With They All Saw A Cat taking the top spot in our Mock Geisel, I’m reminded of the great potential for award crossover we have this year.

Not only does They All Saw A Cat distinguish itself as a beginning reader, but the illustrations exploring the various perspectives have garnered Brendan Wenzel some Mock Caldecott attention as well.But it’s far from the only title with potential for overlap. With so many picture books eligible for both the Geisel and the Caldecott, we’ve seen crossover before with titles like 2016’s Waiting and 2008’s First The Egg. When a book is exceptionally distinguished, it’s not unusual for more than one committee to recognize and reward those qualities. And there is nothing in the criteria that prevents the Newbery committee, for example, from considering books that are also eligible for the Geisel. In fact, the manual contains language specifically cautioning against such a bias. After 2016’s groundbreaking selection of a picture book for the Newbery Medal, will this year’s committee also find themselves impressed by a book for the younger end of their age range? Could this be the year that an easy reader is recognized for the first time since 1973’s Frog and Toad Together?

Below are some titles that we, and others, have recognized as having the potential to sport multiple shiny medals after the committees have had their say.

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This Is Not a Picture Book by Sergio Ruzzier

Robin Smith does a thorough job exploring the Caldecott potential of this delightful book on Calling Caldecott, and also includes a plea to the Geisel Committee to take note. The use of white space (just look at that first spread), an appropriately large font, and fairly decodable text position this as a possibility for the Geisel. Will this be the year that Ruzzier’s imaginative Seussian landscapes receive recognition?

Elephant and Piggie Like Reading

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Between them, Dan Santat and Mo Willems have 4 Caldecott Awards and 7 Geisel Awards, so one cannot discount the possibility that The Cookie Fiasco will receive deserved recognition this year. In our own Mock Geisel, Laurie Keller’s We Are Growing has devoted fans and took third place on our first mock  ballot. Patrick Gall has explored the Caldecott potential of both titles in this new series on Calling Caldecott, and Jonathan Hunt makes the case for one or both appearing on the Newbery table on Heavy Medal. Might either of these titles have advocates on this year’s committees?

We Found a Hat by Jon Klassen

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Jon Klassen has experience with receiving more than one award in a year, as he did in 2013 when he was the second artist to receive two Caldecott medals in the same year.  I Want My Hat Back was a Geisel Honor in 2012 and This Is Not My Hat took Caldecott gold in 2013. Will this third installment in Klassen’s hat trilogy be the one to take both awards?

What other titles do you see as having award crossover potential this year? Any books so distinguished that the committees will have a difficult time placing all of their award seals on the cover?

Sunday, January 15, 2017

And the (Mock) Winner is...

Today we are happy to announce the winner and honor titles of Guessing Geisel's first Mock! 

Winner: They All Saw a Cat by Brendan Wenzel

Honor Titles: 

  • The Princess in Black and the Hungry Bunny Horde by Shannon Hale and Dale Hale, illustrated by LeUyen Pham
  • What's Up, Chuck? by Leo Landry
  • Go, Otto, Go! by David Milgrim
  • The Thank You Book by Mo Willems

These results were determined by our second ballot made up of 44 responses. Using the same weighted point system as the Real Committee (4 points for each first choice vote, 3 points for each second choice vote, and 2 points for each third choice vote), They All Saw a Cat raced ahead of the competition with 9 first place votes, 5 second place votes, and 1 third place vote for a whopping total of 53 points! That's an 18 point lead! More than enough to declare it our Mock winner. 

Now on to the mock honor titles. As with the Real Committee, we decided there would be no limit (or requirement) for the number of honor titles to be named. Looking at the results, we felt that these 4 titles clearly rose to the top with total point counts between 28 and 35. You can see the tally of points below. 

As Amanda pointed out in her post about balloting, the Real Committee has the option to ballot again to determine honor titles. However, in the interest of announcing our mock results before the real Youth Media Awards announcements, we decided to stop at just 2 ballots. 

Other interesting ballot results:

  • All titles on the second ballot received at least 2 votes. 
  • Some titles garnered all or nearly all of their points from one question on the ballot. We Are Growing! finished with 20 points, all of which came from 1st place votes, two-thirds of the votes for The Thank You Book were 3rd place votes, and almost all the points for Go, Otto, Go! were 1st place votes. 
  • Go, Otto, Go! and They All Saw a Cat were neck and neck at the close of the 1st ballot, but the gap between the two at the end of the 2nd ballot was 21 points. 

Now all we can do is count down until the announcement of the real YMAs on January 23, 2017 at 8am (EST). We hope you'll join us in live streaming the annoucements online or watching with bated breath in person at ALA Midwinter in Atlanta, GA. 

Friday, January 13, 2017

Tell us about your mocks!

While we're waiting for the final results from our  second ballot, it's your turn to talk!

Did you run a Mock Geisel program in your school, library, or another setting?  We'd love to hear about your process and results in the comments on this post! Here are some questions to get you started:

How did you select the contenders?
How many did you include?
How were titles read and discussed?
How did you conduct voting?
How did you share the results?

Special thanks to commenter DaNae, who posted her school's Mock Geisel results on an earlier post!

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Write-in Roundup

In our suggestions post and in the write-in portion of our ballot, you brought to our attention several contenders that we hadn’t addressed yet this year on this blog. Though nobody knows for sure what the Real Committee is considering, it’s likely that these titles have at least made an appearance on their reading lists, so we want to give them a chance to shine here as well.  They span the Geisel criteria, from a book with only six words to a picture book, a couple of intermediate chapter books, and a graphic novel. Below is a round-up of the write-in titles.

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Hippopotamister by John Patrick Green
Red Panda and Hippopotamus decide to leave the run down old City Zoo to experience the exciting outside world. Hippopotamus has a natural knack for lots of jobs; unfortunately, Red Panda's hysterically terrible mistakes get them fired from every one. Hitting the upper range of the Geisel criteria, this attractive full-color graphic novel squeaks in at exactly 96 pages. The text, surrounded by white space in narrative boxes or speech bubbles, is often supported by clear visual context clues. Sequential panels alternate with two page spreads, moving the plot along. Will emerging readers struggle with the large vocabulary and long sentences? Will the sentence-interrupting page turns be confusing? Will readers be intimidated by the challenging to pronounce title? One thing’s for sure, readers who triumph will delight in the witty wordplay and hilarious situations in this animal-fueled adventure.

The Infamous Ratsos by Kara Lareau, Illustrated by Matt Myers
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The Ratso brothers, Louie and Ralphie, aspire to be just as tough as their father. They go out of their way to do tough, mean things, but somehow they end up helping their classmates and neighbors. Ultimately, they learn that “Life is tough enough…We might as well make it easier for one another, whenever we can.” Another title at the upper end of the Geisel age range, there are still frequent black and white spot illustrations to provide context for actions and characters. The text, although printed in a large font with lots of leading (distance between the lines of type), is full of long, complex words (“distracts”, “heavily”, “business”) and names (Florinda Rabbitski, Mrs. Porcupini). Would these create stumbling blocks for emerging readers? Another factor is the complicated punctuation and the length of sentences. With lots of commas and many sentences over 12 words long, this title might lean more toward an early chapter book, rather than a beginning reader.  

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Juana & Lucas by Juana Medina
In Bogotá, Colombia, a young girl named Juana struggles through learning English in school. Fortunately for her, after school her best four-legged friend Lucas is waiting to offer moral support. This 88-page intermediate chapter book is at the very top of the Geisel age range, and it presents a lot of interesting points for discussion.  With full-color illustrations on every page, it resembles contenders like the Princess in Black series and What’s Up, Chuck?, but the vocabulary and sentence structure is perhaps even more complex than those titles, due to Juana’s bubbly, conversational first-person narration.  The font is used in the book design, going very large or very small for emphasis, or spilling across the page into the illustrations, or fading to gray, among other tricks.  Additionally, the text is peppered with italicized Spanish words.  Confident readers of English will be able to parse most of these based on context, but readers who are still struggling with English and have no knowledge of Spanish may be thrown for a curve. On the other hand, readers with some knowledge of both languages may appreciate this book all the more.  It’s certainly a great multicultural read with an appealing heroine (and adorable dog!), but is it truly a book for beginning readers?  That will be up to the committee to discuss.

Leave Me Alone! by Vera Brogsol
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A little old woman just wants to be left alone to finish her knitting, but her very large family won’t give her any peace.  Neither will the bears, mountain goats, and aliens that she encounters in her quest for solitude.  Will she ever find a quiet place to knit? The illustrations and the text support each other nicely, but there are some instances of rich vocabulary (samovar, wormhole, void, matte, utterly) which, though supported in the illustrations, are likely to pose a challenge.  And, though the font is clear and reasonably large, the text does wander around the page, and there are a couple of instances where it might get lost in a particularly busy spread.  Most of the sentences are short, but a few reach 15-18 words in length, and contractions are plentiful, including “she’d,” which can be particularly confusing to some beginning readers. Will emergent readers be put off by the vocabulary, or will the engaging plot and plentiful humor be enough to sustain interest?  Either way, this is a picture book that will be thoroughly enjoyed as a read-aloud by many, many dedicated knitters and their families!

This is NOT a Cat! By David LaRochelle, illustrated by Mike Wohnoutka
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In this humorous tale by David LaRochelle, a trickster receives a comeuppance when the real deal appears. Using only six distinct words - This, is, not, a, cat, and it’s - the story relies on repetition with differing emphasis to convey humor in the text. The illustrations do most of the heavy lifting for the story, with the first and final spreads appearing free of text entirely. Will beginning readers be able to sufficiently focus on the illustrations to understand the action? Will the need for changes in emphasis, indicated by italicized font, be an achievable reading challenge for these beginning readers? Certainly, the brevity of the story is a mark in its favor as a book for beginning readers, as is the appeal of the spread in which each member of the classroom yells “ A cat!”

Although none of them garnered enough support to top our mock ballot results, the Real Committee will have spent more time with these titles in the company of children. As anyone who has served on an award committee knows, one fervent supporter can make a real difference in a title’s chances -- and each book listed above has at least one fervent supporter among the readers of our blog. Will any of these titles provide the most successful experience for a beginning reader?

Voting is still open on our Mock Geisel Ballot #2! An analysis of the ballot #1 results can be found here.