Tuesday, October 19, 2021

Tag Team (back again)

Cover of El Toro & Friends Training Day

We're thankful this week to have a post by Betsy Bird. Betsy is the Collection Materials Specialist of Evanston Public Library and the former Youth Materials Specialist of New York Public Library. She reviews for Kirkus, runs the School Library Journal blog A Fuse #8 Production, hosts the podcast Story Seeds, and runs the podcast Fuse 8 n’ Kate. Betsy is the author such books as LONG ROAD TO THE CIRCUS, her debut middle grade novel out NOW, with art by David Small.

Cover of El Toro & Friends Tag TeamAbout ten years ago, as I was working at New York Public Library’s Children’s Center at 42nd Street, we hosted a class of local schoolchildren. After our standard presentation they were allowed to come to the reference desk to ask for books on specific topics. All at once ten kids were in front of me, all asking the same thing: “Where are your books on Mexican wrestlers?” A decade or more has passed since I received that query and yet the answer has remained fairly static. There just ain’t that much out there, kids. Until now. Who could have predicted that Raul the Third would be so adept at spinning off side characters from his popular Vamos! picture book series into easy books of their own? And, even better, side characters with direct ties to the sport of Mexican wrestling? Tag Team and Training Day both star El Toro, a masked Mexican wrestling hero who is not without flaws. In Training Day El Toro needs to practice but, much to the dismay of his coach (a rooster named Kooky Dooky), he keeps avoiding it. In Training Day El Toro and his partner La Oink Oink discover that they must take matters into their own hands when they find that their beloved wrestling stadium is a complete mess. Both books inject a much needed shot of adrenaline into the easy book format. Not only are the colors bright, eye-popping, and vibrant, but the content is brimming with excitement. Sure, one of the books focuses primarily on cleaning, but when you’ve got El Toro and La Oink Oink doing the work it’s anything but dull. I’d also like to pay special tribute to the plot of Tag Team. The book takes pains to show that when El Toro discovers that the stadium is in disarray, he doesn’t call up the female La Oink Oink to help him clean up because she’s a girl. Instead, it is the equality of the two that makes them an excellent team. El Toro calls her up because she is his partner, sharing both the victories and the hardships that come with that relationship. This is a book about being a team through both the good and the bad. As for the language, simple words are the norm. It is also worth noting that incorporating Spanish words and terms into easy books is a splendid method of paying tribute not merely to Mexican and Mexican-American culture, but also to the importance of normalizing other languages in our easiest literature for youth.  With any luck, perhaps these books will mark a new trend in culturally explorative, exciting easy book fare. So long, Dick and Jane! With El Toro and friends, they’re here to save the day from the banal and mundane once and for all.

Friday, October 15, 2021

Charlie and Mouse Lost and Found by Laurel Snyder

 Charlie and Mouse are back in a 5th book in the series, exploring themes of Lost and Found. Laurel Snyder and Emily Hughes received Geisel Gold in 2018 for the initial entry to the Charlie and Mouse series, about which the committee chair that year compliment the "authentic dialogue, thoughtfully repeated phrases, and distinctive illustrations". But does this latest entry have what it takes to catch the committee's eye? It is tough but not impossible for a series to earn repeat recognition - just take a look at Mo Willems' Elephant and Piggie series. Are the charming Charlie and Mouse among the "most distinguished" again this year?

The opening story jumps right into the repetition that makes this series such a strong choice for beginning readers, as Charlie and Mouse search all manner of "somewheres" for Mouse's missing blanket. The direct sentences give the dialogue a cadence reminiscent of Frog and Toad.

Emily Hughes' illustrations again add to the story, from a depiction of the many somewheres they're searching to the absolutely perfect representation of "nothing fun" at the opening of "Errands".

And then we have it - the ringer on every beginning reader team - a dog! While the Geisel criteria obviously don't require the presence of a dog, there's no denying the success of pups ranging from Henry and Mudge to King and Kayla and of course the protagonist of last year's Geisel Medal winning See the Cat. If connecting to a criteria, I'd say that dogs more often than not speak to "Subject matter must be intriguing enough to motivate the child to read". And with Charlie and Mouse as our examples, we see that the addition of a dog is enough to liven up the dreaded errands.

Laurel Snyder and Emily Hughes paint a clear picture of the impact of a new dog on family life (especially for poor Kittenhead), and the story finds its way to a touching conclusion with one last moment of silliness as it ends on another intriguing subject matter for kids of a certain age - dogs peeing. This story, like others in the Charlie and Mouse series makes sure to call back to the earlier stories in its conclusion - a reward for beginning readers who tackle all four stories in one go. 

This addition to the series is sure to be adored by fans (who could resist the utterly adorable Boop?) Will it be as impressive to the Geisel Committee? We will have to wait and find out. 

Tuesday, October 5, 2021

Hello October! Guessing Geisel is back for another season!

 Hello folks!

Guessing Geisel is back for another season. There are some great books out this year for beginning readers and more with publication dates yet to come. We'll have some exciting guest posts, and we'll do our best to cover as many Geisel eligible titles as we can. Has anything in particular caught your eye? What are your picks for the best books for beginning readers for 2021? Let us know in the comments, and we'll be back Tuesday, October 12th with our first review post. 

Welcome back,


Tuesday, February 2, 2021

Surprised and Delighted!: The Guessing Geisel Co-Hosts React to the 2021 YMA Announcements

In this post, the co-hosts of Guessing Geisel (Amanda, Amy, and Misti) share their thoughts and reactions to the 2021 Geisel Award winner and honor titles. 


See the Cat: Three Stories About a Dog
 written by David LaRochelle, illustrated by Mike Wohnoutka
Amanda: Delighted to see this choice! Congratulations to David LaRochelle and Mike Wohnoutka. A fantastic combination of meta humor and solid beginning reader fundamentals. I hope this means we’ll see more beginning readers from this pair. 
Amy: I love the clever humor and off-stage narrator for this meta charmer. I’ll be honest, I had totally overlooked this one because of the way the text and illustrations often say and show different things. I worried new readers might get confused by the juxtaposition. However, knowing that the real committee makes a point to observe developing readers interacting with contenders, I have a feeling this book did better with real readers than it did with the imaginary ones in my head! I do so love being proved wrong when it means another book for new readers to love! 

Misti: In a year of not reading as widely as I usually do, it was exciting to see the award go to something I had actually read! But whether or not I had read it beforehand, I would have been so pleased with this pick, with its clever use of speech bubbles and fonts, its hilarious back-and-forth between the dog and the book, and its charming illustrations. 


The Bear in My Family written and illustrated by Maya Tatsukawa 
Amanda: This one caught us by surprise, but I can see how the design choices and the relatable storyline for anyone with a sibling appealed to the committee. I find the illustrations charming. I’ll bet there was some interesting discussion in the room about the hand-lettered text, and the brevity and repetition that we know really supports an emergent reader. 

Misti: Boy, do I love the illustrations in this book! The font is dark and clear, and the hand-lettered text is generally also clear enough to be easily deciphered by a beginning reader. As Amanda said, it caught us by surprise, but that’s another reminder to us all that the committee is always working hardest to discover and discuss all of the year’s best. 

Amy: I’ll echo the others: surprised, but delighted! There are too few beginning readers by BIPOC creators that feature BIPOC characters, so I was really happy to see two on the honor list this year! Strong word repetition and page-turning dynamic provide support to help readers over the occasional uneven punctuation and line breaks. The illustrations are so playful, and I think the idea of a protection bear is really relatable for early elementary kids. 

Ty’s Travels: Zip, Zoom! written by Kelly Starling Lyons, illustrated by Nina Mata 
Amanda: Both entries into Ty’s Travels were great this year, and such welcome additions to the beginning reader shelves. It is fantastic to see one of them receive the honor. Congratulations to Kelly Starling Lyons and Nina Mata for creating this celebration of imagination, perseverance, friendship and joy. 

Misti: This book has repetition without feeling repetitive -- that’s an impressive display of writing skill! There’s so much kid appeal in both the illustrations and the plot, and hooray for a story featuring BIPOC characters just having a fun day. We need more of that in the beginning reader arena.

Amy: The illustrations are such a stand out for me. The change in illustration style makes the transition between the real and imaginary worlds crystal clear. I can also see a book featuring scooters as a real winner with kids. I’m still working mostly from home and I kind of miss having to remind kids that scooters, while awesome, are best used outside the library. 

What About Worms!? written and illustrated by Ryan T. Higgins 

Amy: I find the word repetition in this one especially clever. The illustrations add humor and foreshadowing in a way that is not often seen in beginning readers. Here’s hoping for more beginning readers from Ryan T. Higgins! 

Misti: I’m always excited to see humor recognized for excellence, and this book definitely has it, both in words and pictures. Well done!

Amanda: The Elephant and Piggie Like Reading series is definitely building a reputation for quality easy readers, and this funny entry about fears and mistaken impressions will surely leave readers giggling. Thrilled to see so much well done humor for beginning readers being recognized this year, and this one is as delightful to read aloud to others as it is to read alone. 

Where’s Baby? written and illustrated by Anne Hunter 
Misti: I was initially on the fence about splitting up the syllables in the word “ba-by” in most instances in the book, but I think the intention is clear, and it’s repeated often enough that the reader will be confident in encountering it by mid-book. Indeed, repetition is definitely one of this book’s strengths. Clever illustrations, as well. 

Amy: Picture book contenders can easily fall through the cracks because reviews, publisher summaries, and other online book discussions/content seldom evaluate picture books with a beginning reader lens. So I was happy to see the committee had cast such a wide net when looking for contenders. I agree with Misti, repetition is clear and intentional throughout. The illustrations are unusual for a beginning reader text, which makes me love them all the more. I’m always a fan of the unique! 

Other Thoughts 

Amanda: Overall it felt like a great morning. A mix of pleasant surprises and affirming choices both for Geisel and all the other YMAs. I am thrilled for all the committees and winners. 

Misti: This has to have been such a challenging year for the committee, with virtual meetings, delayed deliveries, and all of the stress and uncertainty of everyday life. Thank you all for all of your hard work. And thank you to our blog readers for sticking with us through all of the changes in our lives and yours. Here’s to a better year ahead. 

Amy: The pool of Geisel contenders isn’t as big as that of the Newbery or Caldecott, but it nevertheless poses some challenges. With the many additional obstacles Misti mentioned above, I’m sure the process of identifying beginning reader excellence beyond the beginning reader section took much more time and diligence on the part of the committee members than it would during a non-pandemic year. Thank you to the committee for persevering to select such wonderful titles! Thank you to the winner and honor authors and illustrators for creating such supportive, engaging books for new readers!

Monday, January 25, 2021

Congratulations, to the 2021 Geisel Award Winner and Honors!

This morning the 2021 Geisel Award Winner and Honor Titles were announced at the Youth Media Awards (YMAs) Announcement. You can view a complete list and a video of the announcements here

Congratulations to the 2021 Geisel Award winner... 

See the Cat: Three Stories About a Dog, written by David LaRochelle, illustrated by Mike Wohnoutka and published by Candlewick Press. 

This year four honor books were named: 

  • The Bear in My Family, written and illustrated by Maya Tatsukawa and published by Dial Books for Young Readers, an imprint of Penguin Young Readers, a division of Penguin Random House 
  • Ty’s Travels: Zip, Zoom! written by Kelly Starling Lyons, illustrated by Nina Mata and published by HarperCollins Children’s Books, a division of HarperCollins Publishers 
  • What About Worms!? written and illustrated by Ryan T. Higgins and published by Hyperion Books for Children, an imprint of Disney Book Group 
  • Where’s Baby? written and illustrated by Anne Hunter and published by Tundra Books of Northern New York, an imprint of Penguin Random House Canada Young Readers, a Penguin Random House Company. 

Congratulations to all of the book creators! Here at Guessing Geisel we’re still gathering our thoughts and hope to be back later with a longer reaction. For now, congratulations to committee chair Lori Coffey Hancock, and to the members of the committee - Jessica Gillis, Jamie Fujiko Kurumaji, Michelle Ng, Katie E. Patterson, Charles Pieri, Elizabeth Wright Redford - on your selections. Thank you all for your dedication to recognizing the very best books for beginning readers!

Thursday, January 21, 2021

2020 Contenders (and Ineligible Titles, too!)

As the Youth Media Awards (YMAs) announcement draws near we've been thinking about all the wonderful books for developing readers published in 2020. We didn't have time to blog about as many as we'd hoped, but that doesn't mean we can celebrate them! So we're using this last post before the YMAs to present you with a list of eligible contenders. And to wrap it up we'll include some of our favorite ineligible titles at the end.

While we've done our best to include as many eligible contenders as we could find, this list is in no way comprehensive. There's also no way to know what the real committee read or discussed. Perhaps this year's winner and honor titles are on this list. Perhaps none of these titles will be announced on Monday! We'll just have to wait and see. 

Did we miss your favorite? Let us know in the comments. 

Eligible Contenders

Note: Titles with an asterisk (*) are written and/or illustrated by a previous Geisel winner/honor author and/or illustrator.

Beginning Readers

Bumble and Bee (series) by Ross Burach

Bunny Will Not Jump by Jason Tharp

Charlie & Mouse Outdoors by Laurel Snyder, illustrated by Emily Hughes*

Dog Meets Dog by Bernice Myers

Duck and Cat's Rainy Day by Carin Bramsen

Come In, Zip! and For Otto by David Milgrim*

Fox Tails (series) by Tina Kügler

Fox Versus Winter by Corey R. Tabor*

Frog & Dog (series) by Janee Trasler

Horse & Buggy Plant a Seed! by Ethan Long*

Go, Go, Go by Bob Barner

Jack Books (series) by Mac Barnett, illustrated by Greg Pizzoli*

King & Kayla and the Case of the Unhappy Neighbor by Dori Hillestad Butler, illustrated by Nancy Meyers*

Layla and the Bots (series) by Vicky Fang, illustrated by Christine Nishiyama

Lunch Box Bully by Hans Wilhelm

A Pig, a Fox and a Fox by Jonathan Fenske*

Princess Truly: I Can Build It! by Kelly Greenawalt, illustrated by Amariah Rasucher

The Really Rotten Princess and the Awful, Icky Election by Lady Cecily Snodgrass, illustrated by Mike Lester

Run, Mo, Run! and Swim, Mo, Swim! by David A. Adler, illustrated by Sam Ricks*

Score One More by Marilyn Janovitz

See the Cat: Three Stories About a Dog by David LaRochelle, illustrated by Mike Wohnoutka

Shark Report (series) by Derek Anderson

Snow is Fun by Steve Henry

Testing the Waters by Jane Yolen, illustrated by Mike Moran

Ty's Travels: Zip Zoom! and Ty's Travel's: All Board! by Kelly Starling Lyons, illustrated by Nina Mata

Unlimited Squirrels: I Want to Sleep Under the Stars! by Mo Willems*

What About Worms!? by Ryan T. Higgins 

Who Ate My Book? by Tina Kügler

Who Needs a Checkup? by Norm Feuti

Picture Books

Black is a Color Rainbow by Angela Joy, illustrated by Ekua Holmes

Blue Table by Chris Raschka

The Camping Trip by Jennifer K. Mann

Round by Jennifer Ward, illustrated by Lisa Congdon

Sun Flower Lion by Kevin Henkes*

Turtle Walk by Matt Phelan

Up on Bob by Mary Sullivan*

Graphic Novels

Baloney and Friends by Greg Pizzoli*

Chick and Brain: Egg or Eyeball? by Cece Bell*

Cookie and Broccoli: Ready for School! by Bob McMahon

Noodleheads Lucky Day by Tedd Arnold, Martha Hamilton & Mitch Weiss, illustrated by Tedd Arnold*

Pizza and Taco: Who's the Best? by Stephen Shaskan

Puppy Problems by Paige Braddock


Being Frog by April Pulley Sayre

Early Chapter Books

Astrid & Apollo and the Happy New Year by V.T. Bidania, illustrated by Dara Lashia Lee

Kondo & Kezumi Visit Giant Island by David Goodner, illustrated by Andrea Tsurmi

The Princess in Black and the Giant Problem by Shannon & Dean Hale, illustrated by LeUyen Pham

Ineligible Titles

If we're wrong about the eligibility of any of these titles, please let us know! 

  • All the Dear Little Animals by Ulf Nilsson, illustrated by Eva Eriksson - Swedish author and illustrator
  • Ana & Andrew (series) by Chrstine Platt, illustrated by Anuki Lopez - Illustrator born and currently living in Spain
  • Beach Day! by Candice Ransom, illustrated by Erika Meza - Illustrator born in Mexico and currently living in the UK
  • Big Shark, Little Shark, Baby Shark by Anna Membrino, illustrated by Tim Budgen - Illustrator born and currently living in the UK
  • Bug Dipping, Bug Sipping by Marilyn Singer, illustrated by Lucy Semple - Illustrator born and currently living in the UK
  • Cat has a Plan by Laura Gehl, illustrated by Fred Blunt - Illustrator born and currently living in the UK
  • Donut Feed the Squirrels by Mika Song - Exceeds the 96 page limit
  • Fairylight Friends (series) by Jessica Young, illustrated by Marie Vanderbemden - Illustrator born and currently living in Belgium
  • Fox & Rabbit by Beth Ferry, illustrated by Gergely Dudás - Illustrator born and currently lives in Hungary
  • Hound Won't Go by Lisa Rogers, illustrated by Meg Ishihara - Illustrator born and currently living in Japan
  • Houndsley and Catina at the Library by James Howe, illustrated by Marie-Louise Gay - Illustrator born and currently living in Canada
  • If You Love Books, You Could Elizabeth Dennis, illustrated by Natalie Kwee - Illustrator born and currently living in Singapore
  • Interrupting Cow by Jane Yolen, illustrated by Joelle Dreidemy - Illustrator born and currently living in France
  • It Is a Tree by Susan Batori - Author born and currently living in Hungary
  • King of the Birds by Elise Gravel - Author born and currently living in Canada
  • Sea Sheep by Eric Selzter, illustrated by Tom Disbury - Illustrator born and currently living in the UK
  • Shadow in the Woods and Other Scary Stories by Max Brallier, illustrated by Letizia Rubegni
  • Tip and Tucker Paw Painters by Ann Ingalls & Sue Lowell Gallion, illustrated by Andre Ceolin - Illustrator born and currently lives in Brazil
  • You Can Do It, Yasmin! by Saadia Faruqi, illustrated by Hatem Aly  - Egyptian born illustrator currently living in Canada

Tuesday, January 19, 2021

Science and Learning to Read: I am NOT an Expert

Before I jump into the meat of this post, I want to make it very clear that I am not an expert in the science of learning to read. I’m a children’s librarian with a profound passion and interest in supporting kids learning to read and the grown ups in their lives. 

I want to share a bit of a personal struggle I’ve been having with a segment of the Geisel criteria over the last few years. The library system I work for has prioritized supporting developing readers since 2017. As a part of the team working on various projects and services for K-3rd graders, I’ve had the opportunity to really dig into the science around learning to read. And more than just reading the research, I’ve had thought-provoking conversations with colleagues about how science should inform the way reading is taught, and more importantly for this post, about how books can support, rather than hinder, reading skills. 

To be clear, I'm discussing research about the science around learning to read as distinct from the teaching approach called The Science of Reading, which has been gaining momentum lately. This approach has become part of the decades-long reading wars in which educators have been debating the most effective way to teach reading. If you're interested in learning more check out this article by Jill Barshay from the Hechinger Report, Four Things You Need to Know About the New Reading Wars

Thinking about the scientific research I've read over the past 3 years (and there's a lot of research out there; there's so much more for me to explore), many parts of the Geisel criteria hold up:
  • “New words should be added slowly enough to make learning them a positive experience” 
  • “Words should be repeated to ensure knowledge retention” 
  • “Sentences must be simple and straightforward” 
  • “The illustrations must demonstrate the story being told” 
The part of the Geisel criteria that I’ve been struggling to reconcile with science is: 
“The book must also contain illustrations, which function as keys or clues to the text.” 
Without science, this criteria seems to make sense. Upon first encountering a new word, readers can use pictures to help them figure out that word. But scientific research shows that readers who are taught to decode (in simple terms, sound out), rather than guess words based on visual context clues, are more likely to be stronger readers in the long term. Emily Hanford looks at this specific area of learning to read in her article/podcast for APM Reports in 2019, At a Loss for Words: How a Flawed Idea is Teaching Millions of Kids to be Poor Readers

So what do we do with this information? I don’t have the ability to magically change the Geisel criteria, although I hope ALSC might be interested in exploring and potentially updating the criteria in the near future. So let’s think beyond the award itself. Let’s think about the many ways libraries continue to perpetuate myths about the learning to read process. And let’s start thinking, and more importantly, taking action to use our library powers to debunk those myths so that we can help the children in our communities become strong, motivated readers. This includes lifting up truly supportive beginning reader titles during reader’s advisory interactions, and addressing the way we shelve, label and organize our books for new readers. We can also use our voices and collections budgets to encourage publishers, editors, authors, and illustrators to delve into the research themselves so that books being created and published for new readers are supportive AND fun, captivating, and page-turning. 

I am not an expert in the science of learning to read. But as a library professional, I can find research, educate myself, share my knowledge, have conversations, question how things are done, and make changes at my library that can and do impact the developing readers in my community. 

Interested in learning more about the science of learning to read? Here are a few resources to get you started. Add your recommendations in the comments section.