Monday, July 30, 2018

Nobody’s Duck by Mary Sullivan

Today's post comes to us from Lizzie Nolan, a Senior Librarian in Youth Services at the San José Public Library. Under the great inspiration of this very blog she helped start a mock Odyssey award blog for great children's audiobooks at Ears on the Odyssey.

Duck is pretty happy on Alligator’s lawn. Alligator though, is not very much so. Duck insists that he is simply being himself and that he is “ ...nobody’s duck”, but Alligator goes on a madcap quest to prove otherwise.

Mary Sullivan’s 2014 picture book Ball snagged a Geisel Honor. Her latest, Nobody’s Duck, offers new readers many compelling and memorable moments putting her in the running for the Gesiel again.

Nobody’s Duck simply put is hilarious and uncomplicated. Odd couples as main characters are a hallmark of beginning readers and offer a built in tension for comedy.(And I’ll admit, I’m sucker for them!) But it is Sullivan’s expressive illustrations and pacing choices that heighten the humor and the page turning quality. Alligator, true to his uptight personality, wears a collar and tie, and has comic book like markings of distress and frustration encircling his head in each scene. Duck on the other hand is drawn as a carefree and live in the moment kind of creature, with big expressions of excitement or earnestness poking out his ever so slightly oversized beak. The illustrations also depict the concepts in the text with skill. I was particularly impressed with the use of a “thinking cap” to illustrate the abstract concept of thinking.

Sullivan also successfully creates a primer for the graphic novel format with a smattering of rounded panels and expressive word bubbles. For example, at the end of the book Sullivan cleverly uses a series of wordless panels to reminisce about the moments of friendship in Alligator and Duck’s past adventures. Without words, Sullivan gets across the end point of the plot - that Alligator and Duck are now buddies. On the other side of this page, Sullivan shapes the word bubble into a heart that again shows young readers that Alligator has found a loving friend in Duck.

The text too is straightforward and does not contain many words and is full repetition. In search of his “somebody” Alligator brings Duck to the library, the movies, the go-kart track, and a skydiving place. At each locale, Alligator asks “Is this your duck?” and some other animal replies “No. That is not my duck.” Outside of this basic setup, Duck uses a few emotive quacks, question words (Who, What, Yes, No, etc.) and few additional words that have visual cues or context. Overall, the text offers the chance for a positive reading experience for new reader.

Nobody’s Duck has lots for young readers’ to enjoy. The humor, clear cut premise, and graphic novel like illustrations are elements that could easily put it on the radar of the 2019 Geisel committee.

Wednesday, July 25, 2018

My Friends Make Me Happy! and My Toothbrush Is Missing by Jan Thomas

Today's guest contributor is Michelle Young. Michelle works as a branch manager in a public library system, but is still a children's librarian at heart! She served on the 2018 ALSC Caldecott Award Committee, and is currently reading adult fiction and nonfiction for the 2019 RUSA Notable Books Council.

Jan Thomas is a must-buy at my library for her humorous storytime hits. Although the story structure and illustrations are similar to those in her earlier picture books, this traditional beginning reader format makes it more likely that kids who are learning to read independently can discover this series while browsing.

Both titles seem like decent Geisel Award candidates, though My Friends Make Me Happy! is stronger with its guessing game involving words that begin with the letter "F." Another nice feature is the use of thought bubbles as well as speech bubbles, which introduces children to a common comics element. Kids will feel smart because the clue to the correct answer is in the title, so they know what Sheep's friends don't. Also, it's obvious that "turnips" does not begin with "f" so they can also feel smarter than Duck while laughing at his devotion to the root vegetable.

Since I am encouraging my toddler to brush her teeth before bedtime, I was delighted to discover My Toothbrush is Missing, which is a rare book on hygiene that is fun and not didactic. This book seems like a Geisel Award contender because Donkey is so ridiculous that kids will want to find out what other thing he has confused with a toothbrush. Other elements of this book are friendly for emerging readers:
  • The almost-wordless sequence where we see a hoof reach for a toothbrush (labeled "Dog"), followed by a spread with an empty cup and the title page with a speech bubble declaring "My toothbrush is missing!"
  • Dog, Donkey, Sheep, and Duck are all highly expressive creatures so their reactions to Donkey's queries add to the humor
  • There are lots of basic sight words with some more unusual words like "bristles," "giant," and "scrub" sprinkled in
  • The pattern of the dialogue, with Donkey trying to recall seeing Dog's toothbrush, provides repetition of the phrase "-----? Weird. I feel like I’ve seen it…"
This story seems conducive to introducing young children to readers' theatre. The occasional variety in fonts (boldfaced, red) can help children know which words to emphasize. The use of different punctuation marks (commas, periods, question marks, exclamation marks, and ellipses) give them an opportunity to practice reading in varying tones.

My sole criticism of this book is that Donkey's last attempt at locating the toothbrush results in the procurement of an egg beater, which may be unfamiliar to young children. It's also not as clearly identifiable as the cat or the broom.

Overall, both books are solid adds for any beginning reader collection and may have Geisel Award potential.

Friday, July 20, 2018

What Kids Say Series - July, 2018

Welcome to the first post in the new monthly What Kids Say series meant to mimic a major part of the Geisel Committee experience. Unlike some kid lit awards, kid appeal and a successful reading experience are part of the criteria and definitely a part of the discussion for committees. In fact there’s a section in the award manual that encourages committee members to “Take an active role and become immersed in the world of beginning readers” [p.19] followed by a list of possible ways to achieve this goal including, “‘Adopt’ a kindergarten or first grade class and observe how children learn to read” [p.19]. 

This series attempts to achieve a similar goal. Each month I send a list of four contenders to a half dozen of our guest contributors that are caregivers of or regularly work with K-2nd grade students in a school setting. Why four titles? That allows me to choose a variety of levels and topics for readers at different stages of the learning to read process. Disclaimer: This month you’ll see only three titles covered in this post. I didn’t realize until after the fact that one of the titles wasn’t eligible because the illustrator was born and currently resides in Europe. 

Contributors can record feedback in any format, however I do provide them with a grown-up contributor feedback sheet, as well as a kid version adapted by school librarian Stacey Rattner for kids to fill out themselves (Thanks, Stacey!). Thanks to Jamie Holcomb, Sarah Lee, Benji Martin, and Stacey Rattner for sharing and observing with the kids in your lives. Thanks you to this month twenty kids across the United States participated. Some read all the titles, others just one or two. 

Guest contributors will be reviewing each of these titles later this year, so this series focuses on the experiences and observations from kid readers and their grown-up contributors. 

Without further ado, let’s jump into our first title! 

Pig and Cat are Pals by Douglas Florian 
I’m a big fan of Holiday House’s I Like to Read titles, especially for the very newest reader. But I wondered how the artwork and text of this very simple and well-worn story about a duo of friends expanding to a trio would work for readers. 

Several adults have mentioned to me that they struggle with Florian’s artwork in this book. The images seem blurry at times and pages, filled to bursting with crayon marks, can be overwhelming at first glance. One grown-up contributor wrote, “the dog didn’t look like a dog.” 

Kid readers, on the other hand, had no such qualms. Most kids liked or loved the book and found it easy to follow. One grown-up contributor mentioned that her kids liked the artwork with one child saying to other that they could draw pictures like the art in the book. Several kid readers found the kites especially wonderful with the octopus and bumblebee kites getting specific shout outs. 

This is definitely a book for the very newest of readers and those were the kids who enjoyed it most. For one child, this was one of the first books they read completely by themselves and they read it every night before bed. More advanced readers found the story a little boring and said they probably wouldn’t read it again. 

Oddly enough, the most difficult word for 50% of the readers was “pals.” The only other word that required help for one child was “read.” 

Please, No More Nuts! by Jonathan Fenske 
In this companion book to last year’s We Need More Nuts, two squirrels try to give all their acorns to the reader because they just can’t stand to eat them anymore. I chose this title because I wanted to see how kid readers responded to the layout of panels and speech bubbles, as well as the slapstick humor in the illustrations and rhyming text. 

Notably, only two kids choose to read this book, which makes me wonder about the cover appeal. Neither child said they would read it again, although both read it with a minimum of difficulty. Both struggled with the word “adored.” Other tough words were “hoard” and “supper.” 

One kid lamented the lack of plot saying “And all it was about was two squirrels and some nuts.” The child’s grown-up agreed, “there is not enough substance to keep kids coming back.” However, the second kid reader said, “It was kind of weird, but I liked it.” From a layout perspective one grown-up contributor found the change in speech bubble color, rather than staying consistent to each character, was “unnecessarily confusing.” I'd love to have more kids read this title and see how they respond. Was it just not a good fit for the two kids who read it? Would it be more engaging to kids who have read the first title?

Fox and Chick: The Party and Other Stories by Sergio Ruzzier 
I’ll be honest, as a grown-up I found this graphic novel featuring three friendship stories about a well-meaning fox and a slyly clever bird hilarious. But I wondered, would kid readers grasp the humor or would it sail over their heads leaving them confused? 

I needn’t have worried, all the kids who read this book said they loved it, would read it again, and would happily read a sequel. Many of them wrote about their favorite funny moment. Weh thay said can I you’s your bathroom [sic]” wrote one six-year old. One grown-up contributor appreciated that the humor was a good match for the reading level. They pointed out that the bathroom joke was a particular hit, but not gross. All readers found the layout of panels, speech bubbles, and other design elements easy to follow. 

Based on kid feedback, this title seemed to be attractive and successful for more confident readers (around 1st and 2nd grade). Most kids were able to read most words without needing help, however the following words were cited as difficult for one kid or another (but no two kids got stumped on the same words): wonder, grasshoppers, guys, sometimes, supposed, moles, parsley. Upon rereading this book I noticed that nearly all of those words are introduced and repeated several times. There wasn’t enough information from the feedback forms to know if readers were able to learn and retain these words once introduced. 

That’s what kids have to say this month! What are your kids saying about these books? Let us know in the comments. Also, you can use the comments to let us know if there are any titles you’d like us to cover in future installments of What Kids Say.

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

My Family Four Floors Up by Caroline Stutson and Celia Krampien
Photos courtesy of Gigi Pagliarulo

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, has served on the steering committee of Colorado Libraries for Early Literacy, and the CLEL Bell Picture Book Award Selection Committee.

 Comfort and familiarity resonate in this joyful, posthumously published picture by book Caroline Stutson, in the theme and plot as well as the accessible language used in the text and in Celia Krampien’s bright, clear and fabulously detailed illustrations. In My Family Four Floors Up, realistic urban scenes portray a dark haired, tan-skinned father-daughter pair (and their pup) going about their daily routine in a busy, diverse urban environment, recognizable and cozy for many young readers. From breakfast “four floors up,” down to the city streets and playground, to getting caught in a summer storm, home and bath, dinner and bed, readers will see their own days mirrored in the pleasant story, while enjoying the depth of detail to explore in the illustrations.


This cleverly written, illustrated and designed book is packed with excellent, challenging word choices that are scaffolded by the author’s use of rhyme and rhythm, repetition, conversational vocabulary word selection and a storyline full of familiar events and contexts for beginning readers. Likewise the illustrator’s use of crisp, cartoon-inspired artwork in double-page spreads full of context clues that clearly reflect the text and deliciously fun details to discover and discuss. For an extra bit of fun, color words are included throughout the book and are correspondingly colored in the text, adding another level of discovery and context cueing for new readers.

The Geisel Award criteria seeks books that add new words “slowly enough to make learning them a positive experience. This picture book is not a traditional beginning reader but the text mostly includes vocabulary simple enough be a successful independent reading experience for more advanced early readers. The words choices are quite varied as the lively, rhyming text bounces along at a chipper pace, but this is nicely tempered by the expansive double page spread illustrations, the use of no more than 12 words per page/stanza of text, and the surrounding of more advanced words like “snuggled ” with familiar words like “goodbye,” “bite” and “story.”

A truly lovely, diversely portrayed title with smart, supportive text and illustrations to help beginning readers move through the sometimes challenging vocabulary, My Family Four Floors up is certainly a picture book that fulfills many Geisel Award criteria. There is an avid picture-book-devourer and pre-reader in my house who has very much enjoyed having this book read aloud several times while interestedly discussing the illustrations, but I have not had the opportunity to share this book with an early reader. Any experiences are welcome in the comments!

Friday, July 13, 2018

Guessing Geisel Returns

“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 third 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 as always let us know if there are any titles you'd particularly like to see discussed.

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.