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.

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