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?

1 comment:

  1. This is one of my favorites so far this year too, and I loved your comparison to Lobel. There is great pacing, rhythmic language, and great page turns as you pointed out. I loved getting to see the close relationship of Charlie and Mouse, and I appreciated how them being together was integral to the story. I also liked how we got to see their community, and I can't wait for the sequel to see if some of their friends return.

    It's funny about the cigarette. I didn't see a cigarette, but rather that he was pointing a finger. But like you said, it doesn't deter from the Geisel criteria, and it something that many people do on their porches. I appreciated that scene though because one can infer that Mr. Erik and Mr. Michael are a couple, even though it isn't explicit. It offers a chance for a child to see some representation of their family makeup, and one thing that is sorely lacking in readers is LGBTQ+ representation. I also appreciated that Mouse doesn't adhere to gender norms in his tutu. (Mouse is never referred to in the text by a he/him pronoun, but the opening flap of the book refers to Charlie and Mouse as brothers.)