Thursday, September 15, 2016

Planning a Mock Geisel? Here are 12 Ideas to Consider

Bracket voting system used at the Catherine Cook School.
Photo courtesy of Patrick Gall
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.

I was recently posed the following question by a fellow school librarian, “How do you do a Mock Geisel?” In my head, I thought “you just…uh…do.” I love the Geisel Award. A Mock Geisel is an experience ripe with opportunity for substantive critique, debate, and appreciation with the newest of readers. Yet, my response was less than inspiring, amounting to something like “you just…uh…do.”

Of course, “you just…uh…do” isn’t good enough, nor is it accurate. Any meaningful mock award experience is academic, yet exciting. Structured, yet flexible. Immediate, yet expansive. It takes planning and collaboration among colleagues. It takes buy-in from students – after all, they will be spending a lot of time with a finite number of books. It also takes trial and error. After five years of facilitating various mocks with young people, including two years of Mock Geisels, here are some (hopefully) useful tips to consider based on our library’s Mock Geisel experience with first grade students:

1. Stick to the Geisel Award criteria (sort of) – While the Geisel Award Committee Manual and Terms & Criteria page are necessary resources for facilitators to know and understand, it's different for participants. Instead, we focus our students’ attention on finding the “most distinguished American book for beginning readers” by identifying and comparing the excellence of three key attributes distilled from the actual criteria: “page-turner” quality, use of repetition, and helpful illustrations.
2. Be intentional about diversity – As Gigi said in her 8/21 post, #WeNeedDiverseBeginningReaders! when selecting candidate books for your mock list, provide young readers with what Dr. Rudine Sims Bishop calls “mirrors, windows, and sliding glass doors”: choose from as many diverse books (and creators) as possible, with regards to (but certainly not limited to) ability, ethnicity, family, gender expression, race, religion, sexual identity, and wealth.
 3. Look beyond traditional beginning readers – While many mock-worthy titles fall under the traditional “I Can Read!” structure (32-40 pages, upright, plenty of white space), many do not. Board books, nonfiction, and longer beginning chapter books (to name a few examples) easily meet the Geisel Award’s criteria.
4. Share past winner and honor titles – A great list of distinguished beginning readers already exists. Model the mock discussion process using past award recipients and make these books as visible and available as possible throughout your library and classrooms.

5. Read together (as a class, in small groups, and in pairs) – Due to their typically small trim size, traditional beginning readers can be a challenge to effectively read aloud to a group. Using a projectable document camera is an ideal way to share small books, but isn’t always an option. Having students work in small groups or pairs can maximize time and effort, particularly for re-reading.
6. Re-read – Re-reading at first may seem unnecessary to young participants (especially if they “get” the book the first time through), but it is essential for successfully applying the award criteria. A particularly effective activity when re-reading is to have students react to notes from different groups regarding the same title – this almost always leads to a fuller understanding of the text.
7. Document work – Document the students’ thoughts, reactions, and questions throughout the entire process. You might film conversations, implement thinking routines, or simply use a quick exit slip for feedback. Use these artifacts as another form of text to critique, debate, and reflect upon with students.
8. Over communicate with everyone – A Mock Geisel needs to live both inside and outside of the library. Share your candidate books and award criteria with teachers and families. Make bookmarks and posters for the hallways and classrooms. Use every social media tool available to you to post up-to-date voting results. Most importantly, create a buzz.

9. Celebrate and share the results – Selecting your Mock Geisel winner is reason for celebration! Find a way to extend the revelry to the greater community. This may mean an assembly presentation, announcement video, and/or a kid-designed award seal.
10. Watch the ALA Youth Media Awards – Although we stress that the goal of our library’s Mock Geisel is NOT to predict the official winner, but rather to understand and implement our criteria, it is certainly exciting to watch the ALA Youth Media Awards with an invested and informed group of young readers.
11. Contact committee members – Award committee members do a lot of work. Their knowledge is deep and experiences varied. They are also children’s advocates and have much to contribute beyond their award year. Consider having students create a list of questions, reactions, and comments to share with official committee members through email, Twitter, or a Skype interview. The 2017 committee is listed here.
12. Reflect and improve – The success of any reoccurring unit or program is always contingent on reflection. Ask for feedback from not only your students, but all members of the process, including colleagues, administration, and families.

Are these 12 approaches essential for the perfect Mock Geisel? Probably not. Guiding mock award experiences is perhaps as much of a learning experience for the facilitator as it is for students. Knowing, and adjusting to, your community of learners is critical. Find what works, change what doesn’t, and share your successes with others.

Note from the Guessing Geisel editors: Looking for more about hosting a Mock Geisel at your school or library? A School Library Journal column on Mock Geisels is coming your way soon! We'll post a link when it's live. 


  1. I am so thrilled this blog is here! We're about to start our third year of Mock Geisel and our track record for guessing the winner hasn't been very good :)
    Just published our post for this year's Mock Geisel. Fingers are crossed!

  2. Michele, it's great to here from you! It looks like you've come up with a really strong shortlist. Kudos to you for giving your students the opportunity to engage in some discussion about great books. We'll look forward to hearing your results.

  3. My school is getting ready to host our first Mock-Geisel. I love the idea you suggest about contacting the committee members. I see the list of committee members on the ALA website, but do you know if there is a way to approach any of them about a skype session after the awards have been announded?

    Thank you so much for sharing your insights! Your blog has been so helpful in the planning process!

    1. Elisabeth, I'm so glad you're finding the blog helpful! As last year's chair I found myself invited to Skype with classes by email and through a direct message on twitter, and really enjoyed the experience. It should be possible to send a message through ALA Connect to the chair, and they can pass the invitation on to their committee members.


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