Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Let's Go to the Moon! by Erica Silverman and Jess Golden

Today's post is contributed by Stacey Rattner, the "leaping librarian" at Castleton Elementary School, just outside of Albany, NY. For the past two years she has run a 10 week Mock Geisel project with a collaborating first grade teacher and looks forward to doing it again this year. You can follow her on Twitter @staceybethr or 

I cannot wait to get Let’s Go to the Moon! by Erica Silverman and illustrated by Jess Golden into the hands of my first grade Mock Geisel Committee members this fall.  As they soar into the story, I know they are going to feel “over the moon” as they successfully read it aloud or quietly to themselves.

Lana wants to go to the moon but can’t find anyone in her family to join her, even her dog, Furry.  Instead of giving up, she retires to her room to build her own rocket. When she finally lands on the moon she meets moon man, moon woman and two moon boys, Super-Nova and Ninja-Nova. Only after a full day of moon fun (and that’s an understatement), does Lana realize she misses being home. Where else can you bake moon cookies with your family? Yum!

With a page turning plot and repetitive text throughout, I think this is a likely contender for the Geisel award. The second page alone has “moon” written four times.  

When I talk about the Geisel award with my students, I ask them to describe at least one page where the illustrations help tell the story. Silverman’s light water color pictures help move the story along and certainly work to aid our young readers with the text.  It starts as quickly as you can read page 1. “Mama and Papa were raking the leaves.”  Having trouble with figuring out the words “raking” or “leaves”?  Let your eyes wonder just a bit and there’s Mama and Papa busy with their yard work And while you are at it, make sure to check out Mama’s cute flowered gloves.

The sentences are short and always stay on one page, which really helps our emerging readers.  Are there some challenging words?  Sure—trampoline (although the illustration helps), gravity, Earth (perhaps?), Ninja (but that might be a word kids just know now), are just a few.  I don’t think that’s enough for this not to be a serious contender for the Geisel award.

We also ask our students if the book is a page turner?  Did you want to read more?  Absolutely!  Poor Lana cannot find someone to join her on a moon excursion. Thankfully that doesn’t stop her!  She is resourceful and imaginative and puts those traits to work. DO try this at home, friends.  How can YOU build a rocket in your bedroom? The possibilities are endless.

We’ve all had that time when we couldn’t find anyone to play with us.  This book takes that time and turns it positive.  You don’t want to go to the moon with me? Fine, then I will just go myself.  I predict that fans of the Don’t Throw it to Mo format and the Bink and Gollie adventures will travel to the moon with Lana night after night while the 2018 Geisel Committee seriously considers where to put a sticker on the cover.

Friday, August 11, 2017

Little Plane Learns to Write by Stephen Savage

Today's guest blogger is Brian E. Wilson. Brian works as a Children’s Librarian at the Evanston Public Library and served on the 2015 Odyssey and 2017 Caldecott committees. He blogs at

Just as in his 2016 Geisel Honor winner Supertruck, about a bespectacled garbage truck who transforms into a superhero snowplow when crisis arises, Stephen Savage gives the young reader an instantly lovable anthropomorphic vehicle that triumphs on his own terms. In the short but sweet Little Plane Learns to Write, the titular character tries to skywrite but fails when making an "o" because "loopity-loops" cause him to feel dizzy. After two unsuccessful attempts under his flight instructor's watchful eye, the forlorn Little Plane mopes while on a solo nocturnal flight. He then sees the moon and feels a surge of inspiration and confidence, and voila, he creates two perfect "o"s that help spell "moon." Little Plane radiates pride on the final double page spread; young readers share his joy.

So how does Little Plane Learns to Write work as a Geisel contender? It has some flaws, but overall it soars. Young children will find Little Plane’s plight relatable. Savage's vibrant, uncluttered digital art jumps off each double page spread. Although readers will notice that five other planes appear, their eyes will instantly be drawn to the red Little Plane. The large bold font grabs the eye, and only a small number of words (less than 20) appear on each spread. The toughest words (e.g., "instructor") are repeated. The Geisel criteria says that contenders should contain "the kind of plot, sensibility, and rhythm that can carry a child from start to finish," and this inspirational you-can-do-it book certainly honors that request. The story's suspense creates the desired "page-turning dynamic" the committee desires.

As the story unfolds, Savage provides visual clues that help young readers understand the story (another ask of the Geisel criteria). The aforementioned flight instructor (a large gray plane) draws the shape of the arcs, dives, and loopity-loops the planes must practice on a chalkboard. This helps readers comprehend the next two spreads that show the airborne Little Plane excelling at dives and arcs but not quite pulling off the dreaded loopity-loops. The scenes with Little Plane trying to get away with spelling "cloud" and "rainbow" without an "o" work especially well. I have read the book to several preschoolers and they laugh when they see CLUDS instead CLOUDS (the flight instructor adds the "o" to complete the words). Savage puts clouds and a rainbow on these respective pages to serve as visual aids. When Little Plane successfully spells "moon," Savage captures this triumph beautifully by including a lovely full moon.

Little Plane Learns to Write does have a couple of flaws. The ending seems a tad abrupt. Also, my eyebrows went up a little at how one page ends with "He flew around it carefully…" and the next page starts off with a sentence fragment "And made a perfect loopity-loop." This seems off, but perhaps not enough to knock it out of contention. In summary, Little Plane Learns to Write is a fun, compelling story that speaks to the concerns of young beginning readers.

Friday, August 4, 2017

Andy & Sandy and the Big Talent Show by Tomie dePaola and Jim Lewis

When Sandy sees an announcement for an upcoming talent show, she is excited to enter, but Andy doesn’t think he has any stage-worthy talents. After suggesting several options, Sandy settles on the idea of dancing together. Andy struggles, but improves with practice. When the big day arrives, Sandy is struck with stage fright, but Andy’s sweet moves save the day.

This book is written for the earliest beginners, with generously-sized fonts and only a few words per page. The illustrations do an excellent job of supporting the text: when new vocabulary is introduced (“juggle,” “tumble,” “hula hoop”), Sandy is clearly pictured performing those actions. This book also uses some elements we’ve seen in other books this year: there are four pages of wordless spreads showing Andy and Sandy’s dance, and throughout the book pages are divided into comic-book-style panels. There is also some slightly more challenging vocabulary present on signage (“Andy and Sandy Sashay Through the Park”), just as we saw in What’s Your Favorite Favorite?.

This is a useful title that displays several excellent elements. Is it a contender for the Geisel? Well, it could be, depending on the rest of the field. It’s certainly worthy of discussion. Will it appeal to beginning readers and motivate them to keep reading? Perhaps. Talent shows are a perennially popular topic, and dePaola’s art may draw in readers familiar with his other works, which include the earlier titles in this series. Have you tried this book with the beginning readers in your life? What did they think of it?

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Some Info on Informative Geisel Books

Today's guest contributor is Patrick Gall. Patrick works as a librarian for children in preschool through eighth grade at the Catherine Cook School in Chicago. He served on the 2015 Newbery Award Committee and is a guest reviewer for The Horn Book Magazine.
Geisel Award committees rarely recognize fact-focused books.

Of the 51 total Geisel Medal/Honor recipients (as of 2017) it appears that only 3 books can accurately be classified as “nonfiction” – meaning that they are regarded, first and foremost, as factual (and cataloged accordingly in most libraries). For an analysis of these fact-driven and thoughtfully executed titles see Kahla Gubanich's 2016 Guessing Geisel post Geisel-Worthy Nonfiction: Past and Present.

More interestingly, perhaps, is that many more Geisel awardees can best be described as “informational” (helpfully defined in the Sibert Medal terms and criteria as “written and illustrated to present, organize, and interpret documentable, factual material”). Unlike the 3 previously identified works of nonfiction, the factual content of many informational books is often covert, or rather presented, organized, and interpreted through fictional scenarios. This allows for effective and seamless narratives where blades of grass humorously tackle suffixes; a dog and mouse reinforce letter knowledge during a wily chase; birds and bears contemplate relativism through goofy arguments; an anthropomorphized mouse models getting dressed; and cause/effect dynamics are explored through ingenious cutouts and page turns. These books include We Are Growing! by Laurie Keller (2017 Medal), Oops, Pounce, Quick, Run! by Mike Twohy (2017 Honor), You Are (Not) Small by Anna Kang (2015 Medal), Up, Tall and High! by Ethan Long (2013 Medal), Little Mouse Gets Ready by Jeff Smith (2010 Honor), One Boy by Laura Vaccaro Seeger (2009 Honor), and First the Egg by Laura Vaccaro Seeger (2008 Honor).

When revisiting these informational Geisel awardees it becomes clear that they largely center on English language development and the natural world. This is not to say that superb fact-rich books about other subjects (such as history) for young readers haven’t been published since 2005 – consider Lightship by Brian Floca (2007), Underground by Shane Evans (2011), and Viva Frida by Yuyi Morales (2014) – they just haven’t won. And while Scholastic, DK, National Geographic, and other publishers produce a fairly wide range of factual early reader titles every year, they simply don’t win either.

With that in mind, I searched widely for nonfiction/informational 2018 Geisel contenders that aren’t about language development and nature – yet excellent titles focused on those subjects still rose to the top of my list. They are (so far):

  • Penguin Day: A Family Story by Nic Bishop (Scholastic Press) – Straightforward text, strong design, and exquisite photography come together to depict a day in the life of a rockhopper penguin family. Similar in format and tone to Bishop and author Joy Cowley’s wonderful Red-Eyed Tree Frog (1999) and Chameleon, Chameleon (2005).

  • Wordplay by Ivan Brunetti (TOON) – Compound words (such as playground, bookworm, and eggplant) literally come to life in a young student’s mind – thanks to a clever use of thought balloons and smart panel layouts – resulting in a real compound word workout.

  • Something’s Fishy by Kevin McCloskey (TOON) – An excellent addition to McCloskey’s Giggle and Learn easy-to-read comics series – arguably the best since We Dig Worms! (2015). A gamut of fish facts, from basic (what gills do) to bold (a goldfish can grow a foot long, in the right conditions), are explored via informative captions, word balloon dialog, and the occasional gag.
  • My Awesome Summer by P. Mantis by Paul Meisel (Holiday House) – P. Mantis provides an energetic first-person account of her development from nymph to adult. Friendly, bright, full-page illustrations are regularly accompanied by short updates about who is eating who – including one’s own insect siblings! 

  •  Round by Joyce Sidman (HMH) – This poetic reflection on all things round in nature does much more showing than telling – with purposeful illustrations that, when coupled with the heady text, deliver a great deal of informational content.

  • The Hidden Life of a Toad by Doug Wechsler (Charlesbridge) – The first 3 years of a female American toad’s life – from egg to tadpole to toadlet to breeding adult – are ambitiously documented through original photographs and simple, playful text.

My hope is that we’ll continue to see even more nonfiction/informational 2018 Geisel contenders this fall – especially outside of the established language development and nature subject ranges – and that this year’s committee will recognize and eagerly reward those outsiders.

What titles have I missed, and what are you looking forward to seeing this fall? Please share your thoughts in the comments.