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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.

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