Wednesday, January 25, 2023

Thanks and appreciation

 LibLearnX is this weekend, and with it comes the final award selections for a number of book award committees. Thank you to everyone who has volunteered countless hours to recognize some of the most distinguished books of the year for young readers, and to the ALA staff who make their work possible. We look forward to hearing you selections this coming Monday. Special thanks from Guessing Geisel, of course, to the Geisel Award Committee. May your deliberations be meaningful, your committee experience be fulfilling, and your time in New Orleans be memorable. Whatever your choice, we know you'll have put many hours of work into reading, nominating, and choosing your selections and we can't wait to see them. 

Thanks as well to everyone who has been a contributor to Guessing Geisel over the past 6 years. This blog could not have existed without you. We've been honored to host conversation about Geisel Award criteria and the many excellent contenders out there. Writing a book for our very youngest readers is no easy task and it has been a privilege to highlight some of those book creators doing phenomenal work for this audience.

Guessing Geisel has ended as a review blog, but the archives will remain available for your reference. If you are looking to check out some possible Geisel contenders before choices are announced on Monday, we recommend Travis Jonker's predictions  for 2023 and Betsy Bird's 31 Lists in 31 Days Easy Books and Early Chapter Books List

Thanks to everyone who has read, commented, contributed, or participated in our online Mock Geisel over the years. It's been a delight to share this space with you.

Thursday, April 14, 2022

Congratulations! Fox at Night 2022 Geisel Award Winner

 A fantastic array of books were recognized at the January 2022 Youth Media Awards. Your 2022 Geisel Award Winner is:

Fox at Night by Corey R. Tabor

Congratulations Corey R. Tabor, creator of Fox the Tiger, on your second Geisel Award! 

Three Honor Books were also recognized:

Beak and Ally #1: Unlikely Friends is written and illustrated by Norm Feuti - Congratulations Norm and welcome to the Geisel Honorees!

I Hop is written and illustrated by Joe Cepeda - Congratulations Joe! Joe adds this to a number of other awards, including a Pura Belpre honor. 

Nothing Fits a Dinosaur is written and illustrated by Jonathan Fenske - Congratulations Jonathan! Jonathan has written a number of humorous kids books and previously was honored with a Geisel for A Pig, A Fox, and a Box. 

There's so much to celebrate in this collection of titles, which appeal to an excellent mix of reading abilities with humor and respect for the experiences of children. 

Fantastic work, Eboni Njoku and the entire committee! You made wonderful selections after a challenging year. It is a fantastic mix of familiar names and new titles to meet, and I hope that you all - committee members, recipients, and publishing teams - get to celebrate this summer!

Thursday, January 20, 2022

It's almost time! 2022 Youth Media Awards are Monday January 24th

It's almost time. Whether you're rooting for any titles in particular, or looking forward to surprises to add to your "to read" pile this coming Monday is when the diligent work of the many committees will be complete and the announcements made of the 2022 Youth Media Awards. 

Again this year I can't help but reflect on how the experience of being on a committee has changed since my Geisel committee year. My sincerest appreciation to this year's committee for their work and dedication. I'll be thinking of you this weekend as you go through the process of selecting your winner and honors, and I'll be wishing you a fulfilling committee experience. We can't wait to see what you'll choose!

Thank you as well to all the folks who do the work every year of making the awards announcements (and those delightful calls possible). It's a major production and takes the talents and efforts of many people to run smoothly even without the complication of it being a livestream. There are plenty of people who work very hard to make these awards shine who will never be the face on camera or the name in the slideshow, and yet it simply couldn't happen without them. 

Without any further ado, here it is, the inside scoop on how you too can get up in your PJs and watch the announcements on a livestream:

The 2022 Youth Media Award announcements will take place virtually on Monday, Jan. 24, 2022, at 8 a.m. CT  during LibLearnX: The Library Learning Experience, a completely new conference experience based on years of research, exploration, and feedback from industry partners, event planning experts, and most importantly, ALA members. A live video stream will be available at

To all the authors, editors, and publishing teams - best of luck! And know too that even if you don't get that call your work is appreciated by children, families, educators, librarians, and so many more. 

Tuesday, January 11, 2022

See Bip Grow! by David Milgrim

Alec Chunn is a Children's Librarian at Tualatin Public Library. He was a member of the 2021 Caldecott committee and co-founded the mock Stonewall Book Award blog, Medal on My Mind.

Milgrim is no stranger to the Geisel award, having earned two honors for Go, Otto, Go! in 2017 and See Pip Flap in 2019. Both of these books are from Milgrim’s The Adventures of Otto series. But there is another series—The Adventures of Zip—that has yet to attract so much attention. No more, I say! As far as I’m concerned, See Bip Grow! is Milgrim’s magnum opus. (Yes, all of his books more or less have the same title. I promise this one is special.)

The basic plot concerns two green aliens, Zip and Bip. Zip magically zaps Bip so that Bip—who appears to be a baby—will be tall enough to play ball. But Bip just keeps growing and growing and growing. Bip grows to big they end up in space. But, at just the right time, Bip’s magical powers activate and Bip shrinks back to usual size and lands safely back on their planet. I love that the sentence structures and repetition harken back to Dick and Jane books, but the plot is absolutely out of this world. It’s pretty standard Milgrim fare, but it’s so successful—and fun! When I look at the Geisel criteria, this is exactly the kind of book that comes to mind: repeated words (fewer than 60!), simple and straightforward sentences, illustrations that demonstrate the story, and a “page-turning” dynamic. All the boxes are checked. But it’s the tone and illustrations that send this book into superstar territory. This book seems to have as much fun being read as readers would have while reading it. I don’t mean that it is too self-aware or too clever for its own good. Rather, both the characters and the layout offer a sense of playfulness with every page turn. Bip definitely gives me Jack-Jack from The Incredibles energy (just look at that infectious smile). The layout creates a sense of familiarity—a sentence or two above an image of characters on every page—then quickly breaks it. Let’s dive more deeply into the illustrations. As soon as Bip grows too big for the page, the text moves to accommodate the change in scale. But Zip doesn’t move! At least not at first. So, it feels more and more disorienting until the static frame is broken completely. Each page turn starts to change the scale (and detail) of the whole setting as Bip grows even bigger. Then, when Bip shrinks, it flips and goes back to the familiar format and scale. It’s almost visually symmetrical. But the text is not symmetrical. The text takes readers on a journey that breaks the repetitive mold because the reader has gained confidence—and had a laugh or two—while reading. That’s a win in my book!

Tuesday, January 4, 2022

Good Fun with Barkus & Friends

Taylor Worley (she/her) is a Youth Services Librarian for Springfield Public Library in Oregon. When not reading, she’s typically gaming, creating something, or collecting bits of nature. You can find her in various online communities at @magpiebricolage, @magpiemakesstuff, or @magpiereadsstuff.

Patricia MacLaclan (author) and Marc Boutavant (Illustrator) return to their endearing early-reader series with this third installment, “Barkus: The Most Fun.” In fifty-five nostalgically illustrated pages, readers follow Barkus, Baby, and their humans through four chapters, each of which can be read as a stand-alone narrative. Chapter one, set in (suggested) summer, is a camping adventure in which Baby (the cat) sneaks along with Barkus and the humans. Chapter two is a Spring story on the farm, in which Barkus gets to flex his herding skills. Chapter three is a celebration of pets with an autumnal parade. Finally, chapter four is a vacation to a cozy cabin for a closing, winter tale.

Because the word count on Barkus’ books is fairly high, dividing these stories into the approachable chapters is very helpful for emerging readers. Notably, each of the four seasons is explicitly stated - either in chapter titles or during the story - except for Summer, which isn’t specifically labeled. Summer is also out of seasonal order, which might cause confusion for more particular readers. That being said, this title is still solidly in the “emerging reader” or “learn to read” category, simply on the upper edge of the spectrum. “The Most Fun” qualifies for Geisel Award consideration, however I’m not confident it quite has what it takes to be a viable contender, this year. This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t have all three volumes of Barkus’ adventures on your library shelves - you should! - but rather there are a few minor flaws that are likely to knock it out of the running. The heart of Geisel Award criteria is the need to generate the necessary “page turning” experience to “stimulate a successful reading experience” for emerging readers. “The Most Fun” lulls in Autumn, lacking a clear plot to move the story forward. Because this chapter occurs between 50% and 75% of the way through the book, there’s a risk of losing the interest of those emerging readers. This, combined with the curious ordering of seasonal stories, is enough to knock it out of the top contenders for the 2021 publishing year. That being said, the Barkus series is still an exceptionally strong choice for early-reader shelves. Boutavant’s vivid illustrations are sweet and have a distinctly nostalgic feel (at least, for folks old enough to feel nostalgic). The book design is in sync with readers’ needs, utilizing a large and clean serif font, generous white space, and illustrations on almost every page. Barkus is bright, happy, and endearing; exactly what we want to engage new readers. So is “Barkus: The Most Fun” going to take home a Geisel Award this year? Probably not. Is it a lovely book and part of an excellent early-reader series? Definitely! Don’t hesitate to add these delightful books to your shelves. They are great fun.

Tuesday, December 28, 2021

Wish List: Beginning Reader Reviews in Professional Journals

Amy Seto Forrester (she/her) is a youth services supervisor at Eugene Public Library (OR). After serving on the 2016 Geisel Award Committee, she helped to co-found and then co-host Guessing Geisel for several years. She writes books for developing readers with her author-illustrator brother, Andy Chou Musser. Their first book will be published by Chronicle Books. She is represented by Marietta Zacker of Gallt & Zacker Literary Agency. 

As someone who eagerly awaits the release of any and all beginning reader titles, I’ve always kept my eye on reviews in professional journals such as School Library Journal, Kirkus, Horn Book, Booklist, Publisher’s Weekly, and the Bulletin for the Center of Children’s Books. I’ve recently started a new job that includes selecting beginning reader titles, a change for me as my last library system had centralized collection development. Now that they are vital to my daily work, I’m reminded how few beginning reader reviews there are, especially in comparison to other kidlit formats. 

So here’s my wish list for beginning reader reviews from professional journals. Some changes can be made by reviewers themselves (perhaps that includes you, dear reader!), while others rely on journals reassessing how they organize and present reviews. It’s my hope that 2022 brings us many of these changes! 

Beginning readers are reviewed as books for independent readers, rather than as books to be read aloud by an adult to a child. This might seem like a subtle difference, but consider the difference font design and size, vocabulary, and layout can make when it comes to creating a successful reading experience for developing readers. I’m looking for a review that tells me about word repetition, white space, page turning dynamic, etc. not a review that tells me if a beginning reader is fun to read aloud at preschool storytime. 

Create a beginning reader category in print journals and online databases. Many journals divide their books by age or grade. Often, beginning readers get lumped in with picture books or in a category that encompasses “Elementary” or “Younger Readers.” Selectors are then challenged to determine which titles might be beginning readers. For me this involves using page count and trim size as a starting point and then searching for more information on a title to see if I can get a sneak peek of the interior or find some other clues that tell me about vocabulary, layout, font, etc. This is time consuming and I’m pretty sure there are wonderful titles that fall through the cracks. Kirkus has an “Early Reader” category and I would love to see something similar from other journals. 

Create a beginning reader category for best book lists. Did you know that the ALSC Notables Children’s Book List does not include a category for beginning readers? It’s also a missing category in the best book lists from SLJ, Kirkus, and Horn Book (to name a few). Might this lack of category correlate with the low numbers of beginning readers included on these lists? 

Review more beginning reader titles. Books that get reviewed are more visible to selectors. If it’s not reviewed, I might not even have it on my radar. And even if I do, I have to rely on prior knowledge of the creators, publisher reputation, or the world wide web to determine if it’s a good fit for my library. The percentage of beginning readers reviewed out of the number that are published each year is strikingly low, especially when compared to picture books, middle grade, and even graphic novels. 

Take Action! 
You might be wondering what you can do right now to change the landscape of beginning reader reviews. I encourage you to take one or more of these actions to advocate for beginning reader reviews and increase their quality too! 

If you write for a professional review journal, ask them to assign you beginning readers and let them know how helpful that content would be to you and your colleagues. 

If you subscribe to a professional review journal, email them to ask for a beginning reader category or tag to make beginning readers easier to find. Bonus points if you let them know that beginning reader reviews are most helpful when written with a format-specific lens. 

Kick your beginning reader book reviews up a notch by digging into these helpful resources: 

What else do you yearn for in beginning reader reviews from professional journals? Use the comments below to share your ideas, questions, and thoughts. 

Tuesday, December 21, 2021

Jack Gets Zapped! by Mac Barnett

Jayce Senter is the lead librarian at Fort Worth Christian School. She has taught primary aged students for 16 years.

A book by Mac Barnett that looks like a video game? What else could you want? You know from just looking at the cover that Jack Gets Zapped! is going to be fun! Fans of Mac Barnett’s Jack series will immediately be in for this adventure. But even kids who don’t know Mac or his character Jack will snatch this book up. It is easy to read with sentences like “Jack! Quick! Come in!” It is reminiscent of Dick and Jane style but closer in content to Mo Willems books. They are high-interest because they are funny and hold the attention of early readers, but they are also easy to read with short sentences and predictive text. The 1st and 2nd graders I asked to read this book absolutely saw themselves in Jack who wants to do nothing but play video games. The kids that I had read this book said things like: “I liked it because it’s about stuff I like to do in real life.” “I liked it because it talked about him going into a video game.” “It was very funny!” “I liked it when the lady stomped the boss’s head. Now she can save Jack!” When I asked what the kids didn’t like about the book no one could come up with anything. It is a fun, easy book, perfect for beginning readers and a great contender for the Geisel award.