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.)

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