Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Everyday Diversity and Beginning Readers

This week's contributor is Gigi Pagliarulo, a librarian for the Denver Public Library. Gigi is especially interested in youth services, early literacy, and issues of diversity and multiculturalism within children's literature and programming, and has served on the steering committee of Colorado Libraries for Early Literacy.

Geisel guessers, it’s time for another foray into the land of diversity in children’s literature. Last year I discussed why we need diverse beginning readers (#WeNeedDiverseBeginningReaders). Although the number of books featuring racially diverse characters was on the rise in 2016, the Cooperative Children’s Book Center, in their yearly analysis of diversity in children’s book publishing, notes that these books still comprise just a small fraction of children’s books published in the United States. As issues of racial and ethnic diversity, representation, and equality continue to shape our social and political landscape, those of us who care about children, their literature, and their reading life believe that there is a strong need for ALL children to see themselves reflected in the pages of the books they read. Rudine Sims Bishop, in her essential, oft-quoted article about books serving for readers as “Mirrors, Windows and Sliding Glass Doors,” warns: “When children cannot find themselves reflected in the books they read, or when the images they see are distorted, negative, or laughable, they learn a powerful lesson about how they are devalued in the society of which they are a part.”

Conversely, research has found that when children see themselves represented in the books they read, they make more connections between the text, themselves, and the world around them, thus leading to more positive associations, motivation to read, and better performance. This seems especially important during that short but crucial time when children are beginning to read and need motivation to persevere through the challenges of the learning process. Beginning readers featuring Everyday Diversity can help fill that gap.

Some diverse books are culturally specific, focusing on a particular culture’s authentic experiences, and some books are culturally neutral, showing people of color as characters without any reference to cultural characteristics or attributes. There is an important need for both types of literature, and a website called the Everyday Diversity Project seeks to highlight those books that portray racially and ethnically diverse characters in everyday, familiar settings and experiences, with the message and goal of all children seeing themselves mirrored in books. Anna Haase Kruger, who founded the site, defines the characteristics of Everyday Diversity books:
  • Predominantly features a racially diverse main character.
  • Primarily shows modern day contemporary life.
  • Subject matter is not about race, religion, history, "other cultures," or ability.

Beginning readers are a great venue for this type of literature, with so many series centered around well-loved characters doing recognizable activities, gently weaving new vocabulary into familiar scenarios to build tender readers’ confidence. Here is a list of beginning reader series featuring Everyday Diversity. Please note, I’ve also included few other subgenres, including biographies, with the belief that it should be an “everyday” experience for kids of all backgrounds to have a variety of reflective beginning reader books to suit their diverse interests.

Modern Life

Andy and Sandy by Tomie de Paola and Jim Lewis

Bradford Street Buddies by Jerdine Nolen and Michelle Henninger

Confetti Kids by Paula Yoo and Shirley Ng-Benitez

Katie Woo by Fran Manushkin and Tammie Lyon

Lana’s World by Erica Silverman and Jess Golden

The Life of Max by Adria F Klein and Mernie Gallagher-Cole

Ling and Ting by Grace Lin

Max and Zoe by Shelley Swanson Sateren and Mary Sullivan

Messy Bessey by Fredrick McKissack and Dana Regan

Mo series by David A. Adler and Sam Ricks

Robin Hill School by Margaret McNamara and Mike Gordon

Sofia Martinez by Jacqueline Jules and Kim Smith

Tony and Lauren Dungy Ready-To-Reads by Tony Dungy and Lauren Dungy

Fantasy and Science Fiction
Buzz Beaker by Cari Meister and Bill McGuire

Robot and Rico by Anastasia Suen and Mike Laughead

Zoey and Sassafrass by Asia Citro and Marion Lindsay

Katie Fry Private Eye by Katherine Cox and Vanessa Brantley Newton

King and Kayla by Dori Hillestad Butler and Nancy Meyers

Graphic Novels
Flop to the Top by Eleanor Davis and Drew Weing

Luke on the Loose by Harry Bliss

You Should Meet series by various authors

National Geographic Readers biographies by various authors

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Charlie & Mouse by Laurel Snyder, illustrated by Emily Hughes

Today's post is by Elisa Gall. She works as Youth Collection Development Librarian at a public library north of Chicago, Illinois. She can be found on Twitter at @gallbrary. 

Arnold Lobel took home a Caldecott honor in 1971 for Frog and Toad Are Friends, and a Newbery honor in 1974 for Frog and Toad Together. There is no rule that says beginning readers are off-limits to “other” award committees besides the Geisel, but Lobel never won a Geisel—the first award wasn’t given until 2006.

The 2018 Geisel Committee can only place Geisel-eligible books up against other books published in the same year, so they aren’t thinking too much about Frog and Toad. I bet they’ll be thinking just a little bit about the amphibian friends though, because the Frog and Toad-ness in Laurel Snyder and Emily Hughes’s Charlie & Mouse cannot be ignored. It’s there in the muted color palette, the short chapters capturing slice-of-life moments, and the tender relationship between two characters who live together. It is subtle, and who knows how intentional, but it hits all the same notes which make it an excellent beginning reader book and book in general. Of all the readers published this year, Charlie & Mouse is the title I could see receiving crossover committee recognition; but, since we have only Charlie & Mouse on the table today, and we’re examining it for the Geisel Award specifically, let’s get to business and look at all of the ways I think it shines through the Geisel lens:

The repetition here is functional, but not too functional. Words are introduced thoughtfully and in context. Repetition creates predictable pacing (making lines easy to read aloud and with expression) and some humor as well:
     “Now it is time for bed,” said Mom.
     “Not without a story!” said Charlie.
     “No,” said Mom. “Of course not. Not without a bedtime story.”
     She read Charlie and Mouse a bedtime story.
     “Now it is time for bed,” said Mom.
     “Not without a song!” said Mouse.
     “No,” said Mom. “Of course not. Not without a bedtime song.”
     She sang Charlie and Mouse a bedtime song.
    “Now it is time for bed,” said Mom.
    “Not without a banana!” said Charlie.
     “A banana?” said Mom.
     “We need a banana!” said Charlie.
     “You need a banana?”
      Mouse nodded. “Charlie is right,” he said. “We cannot go to sleep without a bedtime banana.”

Image from Charlie & Mouse
by Laurel Snyder, illustrated by Emily Hughes
The illustrations are supportive, representing and extending what the text offers relating to plot, setting, and character. For example, the art in the opening pages can help a reader understand that the talking “lump” is actually a person snuggling underneath a bedspread. An illustration of “Sakamoto’s Shave Ice” on page 27 shows that the children’s snack break is inspired by what they see in their neighborhood. There are so many elements of visual storytelling that we would miss if we were only looking at the text. We see the dad looking tired over his cup of coffee. We see the kids’ imaginative outfits during their adventure to the park. We see Charlie and Mouse hunting for money under the couch cushions, and Mom’s surprise when she sees all of the rocks her children have brought home with them. We get depth to the characters’ relationships too, as shown when Charlie gently rubs Mouse’s head as they brush their teeth together. Hughes’s illustrations provide scaffolding for readers working to comprehend the text, but they do so much more.
Image from Charlie & Mouse by Laurel Snyder, illustrated by Emily Hughes

Motivation & Encouragement. 
Image from Charlie & Mouse
by Laurel Snyder, illustrated by Emily Hughes
The textual repetition combines with Hughes’s illustrations to make for nearly-perfect page turns. My favorite page turn of this book appears on page 13, when everyone shouts “Come on!” and the following page reveals a line of children, one after the other, marching along to the park. The next turn reveals a full bleed illustration of the empty park equipment, just waiting for the children to explore it. The larger font size and line spacing also pull readers in, for there is enough room for a finger (or pencil) to rest between the lines as readers track text. The book’s four chapters are short, and start to finish the entire story leaves readers satisfied, but excited for more. (The young readers in my life were sad to see the book end, but content at knowing a sequel is on the way.) And then there are the endpapers. I don’t think grown-ups always realize how much endpapers can intrigue. The mint green endpapers show objects (ice cream cones, wiggly socks, bananas, rocks, and branches) which provide story foreshadowing but fun things to examine regardless.

From a Geisel standpoint, I have no concerns about this book. There is a scene when one of the neighbors holds a cigarette, but if anyone questioned that in deliberations I’d remind them that there are to be “no limitations as to the character of the book considered except that it will be original and function successfully as a book for beginning readers.” The plot, rhythm, and visual storytelling in Charlie & Mouse combine to make a book that is excellent for summer, excellent for siblings, and excellent for beginning readers. What do you think?

Friday, June 16, 2017

Little Wolf's First Howling by Laura McGee Kvasnosky and Kate Harvey McGee

It’s time for Little Wolf to learn how to howl, and he just can’t wait. His father Big Wolf demonstrates proper howling form, and then it’s Little Wolf’s turn. However, Little Wolf’s irrepressible spirit comes through in his improvisational be-bop style. At first, Big Wolf tries to demonstrate and encourage “proper howling form,” but eventually he, too, gets carried away in the joy of sound, and the two harmonize as the moon rises.

Throughout the history of the Geisel Award, many picture books have been honored alongside books formatted as traditional beginning readers. Of course, those books must display excellence in the Geisel criteria, just as the beginning readers do. Is Little Wolf’s First Howling going to join Good Night Owl, Waiting, and The Watermelon Seed (to name just a few recent examples) on the list of Geisel picture books?

Like many picture books, Little Wolf’s First Howling is vocabulary-rich, peppered with words like zigzagged, outcrop, demonstrate, muzzle, thrilled, admire, express. There are some nice instances of repetition – muzzle and demonstrate, for instance, appear multiple times. It’s also rich in syntax and figurative language. As a read-aloud, this book will certainly shine. But many of these same elements that make for such a rich read-aloud might be stumbling blocks for readers who are not entirely proficient. What will they make of the “dibbity dobbity skibbity skobbity” scat that peppers Little Wolf’s exuberant howls?

Also like many picture books, Little Wolf’s First Howling features beautiful illustrations that do an excellent job of supporting and enhancing the text. For example, on an early page when the wolves are waiting for the time to howl, the illustrations do depict a few stars coming out as the sun sets in the west and the moon rises over the hilltop. Later, when each note of Big Wolf’s howl “rang clear and true and soared to the moon,” the “AAAAAOOOOOOOOO” that swoops across the page from Big Wolf’s muzzle does, indeed, end with the last “ooo” right on the moon. The full-page illustrations are specific in their depiction of the wolves’ Yellowstone scenery, and they do not crowd the text. In most cases, the text is either dark words on a light-colored or white background, or more commonly, light words on a dark or black background. There are a few instances where black text appears on a dark blue sky, which may be challenging for young readers whose vision is still developing. Sometimes the words on one page of a spread are dark on light, while the words on the facing spread are light on dark, and readers who are hurrying along might miss one set or the other.

So, does this picture book have Geisel potential? While it’s strong in some elements, it also provides numerous challenges. This early in the year, it’s hard to say how it compares to other offerings. It’s certainly a lovely book, and it could provoke plenty of discussion among Geisel committee members and Mock Geisel program participants. What do you think?

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Design Discussions with Melissa Manlove, Senior Editor at Chronicle Books

Hi Guessers,

Melissa Manlove, Senior Editor at Chronicle Books.
Photo courtesy of Melissa Manlove
Amy here. I’m super excited to bring you the first in our new Design Discussions monthly (ish) series that looks into the editorial process of creating beginning readers. The more I’ve delved into beginning readers, the more I’ve realized that design choices can make a big difference for emerging readers. We were curious to know, how do editors approach design? What elements do they prioritize? How does design impact content and vice versa? 

For the first post in this series, I had the pleasure of interview Melissa Manlove, Senior Editor at Chronicle Books. We talked about beginning readers in general, but also two new beginning reader series, Charlie and Mouse and Barkus. Melissa editd Charlie and Mouse, while her colleague Victoria Rock edited Barkus

I asked Melissa about any design standards created specifically for beginning readers. Charlie and Mouse and Barkus mark Chronicle’s first foray into beginning readers, so they haven’t developed any hard and fast rules. However, best practices were discussed quite a bit, especially the need for “a larger than average type size, choosing typefaces that would feel familiar to readers at this level, not letting the art encroach on the text or letting a background color change behind any individual paragraph / bundle of type.”

I’ve also been wondering recently what kind of guidelines editors give their authors and illustrators. Melissa said they definitely discuss the above elements with their creators, but that neither of their 2017 beginning reader titles are meant to be “leveled” readers, so there was less concern for strict counts of sight words, words per line or sentence. However, there was much thought put into the introduction of more challenging vocabulary and syntax, the amount and placement of text, where art was needed to support the reader, and how all of these things would affect the pace of the reader. Editors and authors wanted to “make books that would challenge readers gently and delight them—books that wouldn’t slow a reader down in confusion but that might still encourage them to linger over a joke or an illustration.”

At Chronicle, design conversations start in-house very early in the process. Melissa told me that “by the time we have the final text and art, we’ve also settled on a draft of the final design. At this point we create what we call “galleys”—layouts of the text, typeface, and art as they might occur in the final book—and we send those layouts to the artist and the author for comments, questions, and disagreement (if there is any). Every book is a team effort.” 

Melissa edits picture books and beginning readers, and she discussed the difference in the relationship between text and art in both forms. In picture books, the magic “lies in the interplay of the crafts of writing and illustrating.” In beginning readers, kids are reading independently and they need support as they encounter new words and grammatical structures. This is when visual context clues are super important. Melissa gave an example using the word “pizza.” The first time it’s encountered readers “may not be 100% sure that the word on the page is the same one they’ve been hearing, since the pronunciation has a ‘t’ sound in it. Having a pizza in the illustration allows the reader to check their understanding and proceed in confidence.” It’s a tricky line to walk between “making space for the delight of information that only appears in art” and making sure there are enough visual context clues for readers to be confident.

Image from Charlie & Mouse by Laurel Snyder, illustrated by Emily Hughes

In addition to the interior design of a book, Melissa brought up the importance of title choice and cover design for beginning readers. “Novels and picture books can sometimes have cover art that leave their titles intriguingly oblique, but that shouldn’t happen in beginning readers. The kids of this reading level should be pretty confident of what any title means, and what the book is promising, when they are looking at the cover.” For instance, there was a bit of risk in choosing Barkus, a made up word for a title. However, Melissa pointed out “it’s a single word (and so less challenging in that way) and there is a big, funny, appealing dog pictured right underneath the title, so we’re pretty sure kids who are reading at this level will have no trouble guessing ‘Barkus’ must be the funny name of this funny dog.” 

Every book lover and creator has pet peeves, I asked Melissa what hers are when it comes to beginning readers. She pointed to the limitations in format being “used as an excuse not to offer children unique characters and a satisfying narrative. This age group—of ALL age groups—should be able to find ALL the pleasures of reading in their books, or how can we expect them to keep going?”

Does Melissa have an all-time favorite beginning reader? She simply couldn’t choose one! “Maybe Mouse Soup, for its gently connected stories, the humor’s great timing, and the surprising ideas in each story. I adored the Goblin Story in Little Bear as a child—just the right amount of scary for me. I am (as most people are) a huge fan of Bink and Gollie and Mo Willems’ Elephant and Piggie books—I see his background in Sesame Street and the Children’s Television Workshop so strongly in them. Each is a perfect little stage skit, and the timing is flawless. But I’m also so, so thrilled with the way the Geisel committee looks for books that could function as beginning readers among the larger-sized picture books as well—Kevin Henkes’ Waiting, Jon Klassen’s I Want My Hat Back, Ethan Long’s Up! Tall! And High! are some favorite examples.”

Melissa offered the following closing thought about the process of creating beginning readers, “Every book we make is a new world to explore, with new conversations to have, new problems to solve, new ways of reaching our readers. The only thing I’m hoping for every time is to make a reading experience that children will find so compelling that they’ll want to read some more.”

Stay tuned for more Design Discussions, as well as an upcoming post on Charlie and Mouse.
Image from Charlie & Mouse by Laurel Snyder, illustrated by Emily Hughes

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.

Thursday, June 1, 2017

Guessing Geisel Season 2

“The Theodor Seuss Geisel Award recognizes the author(s) and illustrator(s) of a book for beginning readers who, through their literary and artistic achievements, demonstrate creativity and imagination to engage children in reading.” 

Welcome back for the second year of Guessing Geisel! Guessing Geisel was created to expand understanding of the Geisel award criteria, provide assistance to those planning Mock Geisels across the country, and celebrate good books for beginning readers. We have a lineup of great contenders to celebrate, relevant topics to discuss, and insights into the committee experience to share with all of you. We're thrilled to hear from many of last year's bloggers as well as adding some new voices to the conversation. Watch for the first contender post coming soon, and let us know in the comments what titles you're excited about this year. 

And the fine print:
Guessing Geisel is in no way affiliated with nor reflective of the views of this year’s Real Committee for the Theodor Seuss Geisel Award, whose selections will be announced at the ALA Midwinter Meeting Youth Media Awards. Opinions stated here do not reflect the attitudes or opinions of ALSC, SLJ, Booklist, or any other institutions with which the authors are affiliated. All thoughts on eligibility or the strength of a contender are entirely speculation.