Friday, September 28, 2018

Noodleheads Find Something Fishy by Tedd Arnold, Martha Hamilton, and Mitch Weiss, illustrated by Tedd Arnold

Danielle Jones is a youth and teen librarian in Portland, Oregon. She has served on the 2018 Sibert Committee and the 2016 ALSC Notable Children’s Books Committee.

Book cover of Noodleheads Find Something Fishy
by Tedd Arnold, Martha Hamilton, and Mitche Weiss,
 illus. by Tedd Arnold
The team that brought us last year’s 2018 Geisel Honor Noodleheads See the Future have joined up again to bring us a third book in their Noodleheads series. Paying homage to folklore’s noodlehead stories, this Holiday House publication written by Tedd Arnold, Martha Hamilton, and Mitch Weiss, and illustrated by Tedd Arnold, delivers the same great humor and storytelling as its predecessors.

In this early reader graphic novel Mom Noodlehead wants to get the Noodlehead brothers, Mac and Mac, out of the house. Giving them a snack and a coin each, she sends them out to the great outdoors in hopes that they will learn something new. Mac and Mac, having found a fishing pole, decide to learn how to catch a fish. Similar to this year’s Vernon is on his Way: Small Stories by Philip C. Stead, fishing in this book also can look very different from what is expected, adding to the humor of the book.

In putting this up to the Geisel criteria, this hits a lot of marks. It has a great story arc that is carried over a series of short, episodic chapters. Both the storytelling and graphic novel paneling offer great pacing and page turns. Bold color illustrations are offset by large speech bubbles, that offer plenty of necessary whitespace for emerging readers. Certain words are in bold to add extra dramatic emphasis that readers will easily pick up on.

I felt that this year’s Noodleheads was making more of a conscientious effort around controlled vocabulary and its use. New words like “rental” and “promise” were repeated, and often on the same double page spread. I also felt that the jokes in this book were more layered, respecting that the reader had enough sophistication to catch the irony.
6 panels showing the Noodleheads buying worms from Miss Froggy's Bait Shop
Though this wouldn’t necessarily be a consideration for the Geisel committee, as an adult reader sharing stories with children, I appreciated the authors’ note where they break down the etymology of each Noodlehead story element and its cultural background. What seems like effortless storytelling actually stems from a rigorous of study of noodlehead and noodlehead-type stories from all over the world.

One concern I have is the portrayal of Mom Noodlehead in her 1950’s-esque dress and house apron. It felt very gendered and antiquated in a story that I felt was set in a more contemporary world.

For the most part, this is a strong contender for the Geisel committee, and though we won’t know for sure, I wouldn’t be surprised for it to at least make to the table for discussion in Seattle come January.

Wednesday, September 26, 2018

Take a hike, Miles and Spike! by Travis Foster and Ethan Long

Photo of Sylvie Shaffer in front of library shelves
Photo provided by Sylvie Shaffer
Today's contributor, Sylvie Shaffer, served on the 2018 Geisel Committee. She’s the preK-8 librarian at the Capitol Hill Day School in Washington, DC and is active in several overlapping kidlit-focused communities including ALSC and Capitol Choices. She is currently serving on the Sydney Taylor Book Award and is busy parenting her own five year old emerging reader with help from her wife in Takoma Park, Maryland where she also serves on the Board of the Friends of her local library.  

Cover art from

Miles and Spike set off on the titular hike on the book’s title page, and continue pillaging resources from and dismissively bidding animals farewell as they stuff their increasingly full pack until they can no longer carry it. The pair’s realization that they can’t lift their pack, along with the animals’ collective response, forces them to realize- and remedy- their wrongdoings.

Much of the story is told through Travis Foster’s deceptively simple illustrations, which feature monochromatic backgrounds that highlight each scene’s full-color interaction between Miles, Spike, and whichever animals they are currently insulting. Each illustration also shows in muted tones matched to the background colors, the ever-growing mob of seething critters the pair has angered along the way. This artistic choice helps beginning readers track the story’s arc and serves well both as a running visual gag and as a reminder of the text’s rhythm and rhyme pattern.

An angry gazelle, buffalo, and dragonfly look on as Miles and Spike pack a bag for hiking.
Photos by Sylvie Shaffer

A number of details around word choice elevate this picture book to Geisel contender. The repeating pattern of “See you later, Alligator” type phrases is established from the first pages and maintained throughout the text, save for a few pages - one with a nonsense sound that’s fun for readers, and the other featuring two simple words, “pant” and “drip”  repeated five times each. Each of these two pages gives readers who’ve been working hard in the preceding pages a chance to rest and feel successful. Note, though, that even the few trickier, longer creature names (Dragonfly, Gazelle) are easily decodable. And perfectly upholding the Geisel criteria, if the book’s emerging reader is still stuck, the cartoony illustrations offer clues. Perhaps the most useful feature of the book as a reading primer is that rhymes utilize the same letter combinations only half the time, reinforcing to early readers that there are multiple ways of spelling the same sound. (dumb/chum; again/then; here/deer)

Miles and Spike struggle with an "Urrrgh" to life an overstuffed pack.
Canine pals Miles and Spike’s characters are well-developed in the first half of the story through their careless and dismissive words and actions towards the other animals in the forest. When the pair realize the errors of their ways, they undergo a true and believable change of heart and try again, mending relationships with the animals they’d hurt, and sharing messages with the book’s beholders about the importance of owning one’s mistakes, “We acted dumb, chum.”, the power of inclusivity, “Join the fun, EVERYONE!”, and trying again when you get something wrong the first time.

Other animals look on smiling as Miles and Spike invite them to "Join the fun, everyone!"
While the book’s messages are both valuable and conveyed in a not-too-overly-didactic way, they hold no bearing on its Geisel eligibility...except maybe that last one, about trying again...thematically, I see echos of Laurie Keller’s 2017 Geisel winner, “We Are Growing.” Specifically, the idea that personal growth is a journey of stopping, starting, and trying again is one that closely mirrors the process of learning to read, of sounding words out, maybe getting them wrong along the way. In addition to this message of resilience, Take a Hike, shares many markers and conventions - regarding both text and illustration- apparent in many prior Geisel winners and honors: a tight word count (under a hundred!) highly effective use of dialogue bubbles, repetition of patterns including rhyme, shifting a lot of the heavy lifting of storytelling to the illustrations, humor, and anthropomorphization. And, of course, Ethan Long has already been awarded the Geisel Gold medal for “Up, Tall, and High”...could this book earn him a second gold, tying Willems for Geisel wins?

I think out Mo!

Overlook this book?
It’d be a pity, real committee!

Monday, September 24, 2018

Bark Park by Trudy Krisher, illustrated by Brooke Boynton-Hughes

Book cover for
Bark Park! by Trudy Krisher,
illus. by Brooke Boynton-Hughes
If you’re a dog, going to the park to play with people and canine friends must be the absolute definition of bliss. And that’s exactly what happens in this doggy-filled picture book. From the impatient wait at the door to the many joys of the park to falling into a yawning, sleepy heap at night, the dozen or so dogs featured in this book take pleasure in all parts of their day.

There’s a lot to admire about this book, starting with the cover itself. Filled with dogs playing and barking, it not only gives the reader visual clues as to the title, but also to the story found inside.

The rhyming text features short, declarative sentences printed in a simple font, oh-so-friendly for new readers. I do so love a stick and ball A and a just-like-it’s-handwritten G. The words are mostly single syllable, although a few double or triple syllable ones appear here and there (explored, beauty, chewing). A simple chorus of “Bark! Bark! Bark!” finishes up each stanza. The text is smartly placed on the page, allowing for plenty of white space.

Kids, grown ups, and dogs at a park, playing on a dinosaur statue, and eating ice cream.
From Bark Park! by Trudy Krisher, illus. by Brooke Boynton-Hughes

The pen and ink, watercolor, and colored pencil illustrations employs soft, summery washes, as well as rounded shapes and lines to create an inviting atmosphere. Who wouldn’t want to visit this park? It seems positively idyllic! And just like there are a variety of dogs (corgi, terrier, chihuahua, dachshund, etc.), there’s a wonderful diversity of humans, including mixed race families, same sex couples, adopted children, siblings, etc. The visual context clues are clear and easy to spot in most compositions. Although , for instance, it may be a bit challenging for readers to find the dog licking the ice cream cone in the illustration above.

My main concern with this book is the lack of repetition beyond "dogs", "bark", and "park". There’s quite a lot of new vocabulary introduced over the course of the book, especially considering the fact that the length of sentences, illustrations, and story seem to fit a newer, rather than more experienced, reader.

Muddy dogs on leashes and dogs getting petted, bathed, and fed.
From Bark Park! by Trudy Krisher, illus. by Brooke Boynton-Hughes
Hear what kids are saying about this book in this month’s What Kids Say post. What do the kids in your life think about this book?

Friday, September 21, 2018

Honk! Splat! Vroom! by Barry Gott

Brian E. Wilson works as a Children’s Librarian at the Evanston Public Librarian where he buys a lot of the kids books and has been known to squeak like mice, honk like geese, vroom like cars, and make other odd yet familiar noises. He has served on the 2015 Odyssey Committee and the 2017 Caldecott Committee.

Honk! Splat! Vroom! Cover image
provided by Brian E. Wilson

Barry Gott's action-packed romp Honk! Splat! Vroom! reminds me in the best possible way of those classic Road Runner and Tweety & Sylvester cartoons I watched as a child. The characters keep trying to outsmart each other and hijinks ensue. In less than 20 words (many of them sound effects) and in only 32 pages, Gott creates a deliriously funny look at five mice trying to win a slapstick-ridden car race.
The reader immediately sympathizes with the critter driving the blue car. At the start of the race, the others leave it behind in a sneeze-inducing cloud of dust. When it sees that the four competitors have become trapped in some mud, the little mouse speeds ahead by using their heads like a bridge, bouncing off each one with an amusing "boink boink boink boink." But then our hero (now an anti-hero?) does something rude. It laughs at its competitors, honks the horn, and peels off laughing with a "VROOM!" Uh-oh, look out for karma. The giggling mouse's mood turns sour when it lands with a SPLASH! in a stream and watches with shock as the others VROOM over its head with a HA! HA! and a HONK! HONK!.
Image of four mice racecars stuck in a muddy ditch.  A fifth mouse in a blue racecar skips over them to a grassy bank.
Image provided by Brian E. Wilson
Even at this point in the story, Honk! Splat! Vroom! already possesses many attributes of a serious Geisel contender. Gott creates a vibrant visual experience with his wildly expressive digital illustrations. They serve as amusing keys or clues to the text. Gott also does an excellent job conveying speed. The book's action keeps surprising the reader and invites excited page turns. The layout and design are uncluttered, with the simple words (usually less than eight per double page spread) popping off the page.
Gott then raises the book to another level of hilarity when he introduces a goose who saves the mouse in the blue car. This feathered hero allows the mouse to use its neck like a ramp. I love how Gott uses the word "HONK" here. The cars HONK, and so does the goose.
Image of the mouse in the blue racecar crossing a stream  by using the neck of a white goose as a ramp.
Image provided by Brian E. Wilson.
This act of kindness introduces a sense of sweetness to the story. Now instant friends, the mouse and goose hug (awwww!) and the goose hops on the back of the blue car for a ride. This sweetness continues when the mouse and goose join forces to save the other four mice now trapped by a ferocious cat. I love the feline's shocked face when the goose and mouse's blue car chase it into a pond, and the whooshing dramatic font used for the goose's no-nonsense HONK!!.
Although Honk! Splat! Vroom! has some peril and mischief, Gott's tale ultimately emerges as a friendship tale inviting cozy repeat readings. Even if the soaked cat would disagree.

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

What Kids Say - September 2018

It’s time for this year’s second What Kids Say post. This new series was created as a blogging equivalent of an essential part of many Geisel Committee members’ experience: observing while kids read Geisel contenders out loud. You can read more about the inspiration behind this series in the inaugural post.

This is how it works. 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. I do my best to select a variety of levels and topics for readers at different stages of the learning to read process. Each of the titles highlighted in this post will be or has been covered in separate, evaluative posts by our roster of bloggers. The focus of this series is on the experiences and observations from kid readers and their grown-up contributors.

Thanks to Jamie Holcomb, DaNae Leu, and Benji Martin for sharing and observing with the kids in your lives. This month eight kids from all over the country participated. Most read just one or two titles.

Peter and Ernesto: A Tale of Two Sloths by Graham Annable
Book cover of
Peter & Ernesto:
A Tale of Two Sloths
by Graham Annable
Three second graders opted for this title, which makes sense based on the appearance of the book (definitely the thickest and longest on this month’s list), as well as the complexity of the words and sentences.

The humor was easily the most notable feature, according to our readers. 
  • “His face was funny.” 
  • “I liked when they found each other. I think it’s long and kind of fun.” 
  • “Liked the friendship, and all the yelling in the book.” 

 One grown up contributor said, “It reminded me of a longer Elephant and Piggie.”

All readers found the layout of panels and speech bubbles easy to follow. One reader said they would read it again, but the other two weren’t so sure. The amount of help readeres needed also varied. Some didn’t get stuck on any words, while another needed help sounding out “hibiscus”, “ambitious”, “stupendous”, “admirable”, sorrows”, and content.” Which is an intimidating list of multisyllabic words when you look at them all together.

Bark Park! by Trudy Krisher, illustrated by Brooke Boynton-Hughes
Book cover of Bark Park!
by Trudy Krisher,
illus. by Brooke Boynton-Hughes
Four kids picked up this picture book, which may say something about the cover appeal. “An easy sell for any kid who likes dogs”, commented one grown up contributor. The same contributor wrote, “My new first-grader reads fluently for his age, but reluctantly. He picked this right up, though, and was really engaged with the pictures and the text.” The contributor praised the book for incorporating stylistic elements (like matching bark size with dog size) while still creating an accessible book for very new readers.

The illustrations were a hit with readers and many noted their favorite details in their feedback: 
  • “Liked the squirrel holding the ice cream cone.” 
  • “Maybe the little dog made the little bark.” 
  • “My favorite part was really in the mud.” 
  • “I liked the dogs drinking from the toilet.”

The length of sentences and the “cute” (said one reader) pictures seem to target newer readers, however some of the vocabulary gave kindergarteners a bit of trouble including, “thump”, “through”, “heap”, “wait”, “blink”, “chewing”, “explored”, and “adored.” The first and second grade readers didn’t seem to have any  problems sounding out words. 

Our quartet of readers were split on quality of the story itself. Two readers said they wouldn’t read a sequel, while another reader gushed that there was nothing they didn’t like about the book. The final reader said they enjoyed it “a little”, but I heard from their grown-up that they’re a tough crowd.

Dance, Dance, Dance! by Ethan Long
Book cover of
Dance, Dance, Dance!
by Ethan Long
Two kids chose to read this title for this project. In a stroke of luck (for us!), they represent the bookends of the Geisel grade range: kindergarten and 2nd grade. Both readers found the layout easy to follow and needed little help sounding out words. The humor of the story was a notable quality and contributed much to the enjoyment of the book. 

On the other hand, the lack of plot was lamented. The 2nd grader “didn’t think that much happened”, although they said they’d read it again, and also a sequel. The kindergartener told their grown up, “I liked the part where he’s lying down on the ground with the drink. The middle is kind of boring. It’s a fun book. It’s good. I liked the pictures.” One grown-up contributor noted a similarity to Bob Shea’s Ballet Cat books in this new series. Hmmm, mixed feelings on this one for sure.

A Mammal is an Animal by Lizzy Rockwell
Book cover of
A Mammal is an Animal
by Lizzy Rockwell
Three readers choose to read this title, rating it high on their list to read again. One reader said, “It was awesome.” This book is an especially good fit for nonfiction animal book lovers, noted a grown up contributor. “The technical terms could be a struggle for some kids, but I think if the book and reader are appropriately matched--that is, for a reader motivated by nonfiction animal books in general--they will not be a problem”

Those technical terms did prove a little daunting for one reader, who stumbled over “vertebrae”, “suckles”, “amphibians”, and “womb.” However, as one grown up contributor noted, their first grader “stumbled over a few of the technical words, but was motivated to keep going.” That same first grader needed help once when they skipped over a text block at was at the bottom of the page under the illustrations.

One kindergartener had their mom read the book to them, so we weren’t able to glean what it might have been like as an independent reading title for them. However, this reader said their favorite thing about the book was the game within it. This was a common thread for all the readers. As one grown up contributor noted, “The book being ‘wrong’ over and over again in the first part as each animal turns out not to be a mammal adds a lot of kid appeal with the facts.”

A compelling case for the page-turning dynamic of nonfiction titles, although without adequate background knowledge this could be a challenging title for many new readers.
So 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.

Monday, September 17, 2018

Nate the Great and the Wandering Word by Marjorie Wienman Sharmat and Andrew Sharmat, illustrated by Jody Wheeler

Nate the Great and the Wandering Word cover image
Nate's friend Esmeralda wrote down the perfect name for the pet singing concert that Rosamond, another of their friends, is planning, but then Esmeralda lost the paper on which the word was written. Is the paper still at Rosamond's house? Did it go home with another of their friends, or one of their pets? Nate the Great is on the case!

This Nate the Great book straddles the line between beginning reader book and early chapter book. The text is longer and more complex than many beginning readers, but still uses simple vocabulary and straightforward syntax. The story is broken up into eight chapters, with full-color illustrations on every page spread. Potentially unfamiliar words (especially characters names) are repeated multiple times. There is one instance when Nate writes a note to his mother in slightly smudgy cursive, but if a reader can't make out the handwriting, they are not missing any information integral to the plot -- and if they can make it out, it is good practice for reading cursive writing. 

Nate the Great and the Wandering Word interior spread with handwritten note

As for appeal to child readers, this book is part of a long-running series that certainly already has its fans. While the Geisel committee can't consider this book in relationship to other books in the series, I think it's fair to say in the context of this blog that this particular book is not likely to win over readers unfamiliar with Nate the Great's other exploits. The writing is solid, but not particularly exciting. The characters are not especially memorable, though they have a variety of interesting pets that young readers may enjoy hearing about.

Perhaps that sounds like an unfairly negative review. The truth is, young readers need books like this: ones that move beyond the bare basics, that challenge them while still being attainable. And long-running series help build confidence. This will be a useful book for many, many beginning readers – but does it stand out? Will it win awards? I'm guessing that it will not, but really, that's a mystery that only the current Geisel committee can solve.

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

What's It Like to Be on the Geisel Committee #4

Welcome to our continuing series featuring former Geisel committee members talking about their experiences. This post will be in interview format between former committee members Jacqueline Partch, a School Corps Librarian with the Multnomah County Library in Oregon, and Mary Schreiber, a Collection Development Specialist for the Cuyahoga County Public Library in Ohio. They served together on the 2012 Theodor Seuss Geisel Award Committee.

JP: How did serving on the Geisel committee help with your day-to-day work in your job?

MS: Serving on the Geisel committee gave me a greater appreciation for beginning reader books and a better understanding of what is needed in a book to help kids on their journey to becoming a reader. These tools helped while I was a Children's Librarian because I felt better equipped to help families find the right book for each individual reader.

During my year reading for Geisel I also changed jobs and moved from working directly with children in a branch to centrally selecting materials for our 28 locations. My knowledge of beginning readers helped me find authors, series, and publishers that are creating fun, exciting, and engaging books. Now I can get them into the hands of even more kids.

JP: How did the Geisel committee compare to other ALSC committees on which you have served?

MS: I adored serving on the 2012 Geisel committee! It was my second ALA committee and my first award committee. It was the first committee that I felt I truly bonded with my fellow committee members. It is still a treat to run into each other at ALA and stay in touch through social media. The reading was intense for Geisel but smaller in scope than when I served on the 2016 Newbery committee.

My non-award committee experience has shown me some of the ins and outs of how ALSC works. Serving on Membership I got to write postcards to welcome new members; on Nominating I had the opportunity to help select candidates to go on the ballot for President, Board, and some of the award committees. Right now I'm co-chairing the ALSC Public Awareness Committee. This committee helps amplify the voice of ALSC and the work done by various committees and task forces.

I'm definitely a book person so serving on a book committee has always appealed to me, and I'm so impressed by the professionalism and dedication of the award committee and notable committee members who devote a year, or two, of their time to reading, re-reading, and lots of note taking.

JP: How do you juggle the time commitments of being on an ALSC committee with your job and personal responsibilities?

MS: Serving on an ALSC committee, whether book related or not, can be a big time commitment. You may find that your library will let you do some committee work on the job, but I wouldn't count on it when making your decision. I knew going into both Geisel and Newbery that the reading and note taking would not take place during work hours and that I would have to adjust my non-work life.

Some committees like Geisel are going to take up at least a few hours each week while others might only be an hour or two a month. At times, Newbery would take up several hours each day, especially when preparing for the Midwinter selection meeting. If you're not sure what the time needed for a specific committee is, it is okay to ask. The current chair or committee members can give you an idea.

For me, I tend to carve out the time from my personal life. This may mean less time to watch TV or go see a movie. It can also mean less time to read (if it's not a book committee). I'm a planner and organizer so I try to make sure the things that I don't compromise on are family and friends. I still make time for my niece and to attend book club each month - just not always all three discussions!

JP: What do you think are the most valuable qualities for someone who wants to serve on the Geisel committee?

MS: You need to be organized and able to meet deadlines. You don't want to be the member the chair has to track down for your suggestions each month or when nominations start. [Being] a reader of children's literature is a must. You have to have a passion for books for young readers. If you have that, you can be taught what to look for in a beginning reader and how to apply the award criteria. [You also need] the ability to view books through a critical lens. Practice discussing books - do it with kids and adults. Write reviews whether for SLJ, GoodReads, or your personal book journal. Read reviews.

JP: Of all you learned on the committee, what has stuck with you the most?

MS: That Children's Librarians have huge hearts and are dedicated to the communities they serve. Working together on a committee allows for knowledge and best practices to be shared. Whether you serve on a virtual committee or attend ALA conferences, you will have the chance to network and be inspired by librarians from all over the world.

Friday, September 7, 2018

Fox + Chick: The Party and Other Stories by Sergio Ruzzier

Today's guest contributor is Patrick Gall. Patrick works as the Early Childhood/Lower School Librarian at the Catherine Cook School in Chicago. He served on the 2015 Newbery Award Committee, is currently serving on the USBBY Outstanding International Books List committee, and is a guest reviewer for The Horn Book Magazine.
As far as the last few years of unconventional beginning readers go, Sergio Ruzzier has been an author/illustrator to watch. I’d argue that the wonderfully miniature Two Mice (2015) and the metafictive This is Not a Picture Book! (2016) were both strong Geisel contenders during their individual years, although they certainly don’t follow anything close to a Ready to Read or I Like to Read formula. Notably, Ruzzier’s illustrations for other recent beginning reader-ish texts, such as Eve Bunting’s Whose Shoe? (2015) and Katie Hesterman’s A Round of Robins (2018), are generally more straightforward in terms of narrative structure and format than his previously mentioned standalone titles. Ruzzier’s newest solo work, Fox + Chick: The Party and Other Stories, is a shift toward more conventional storytelling while still being a slightly unorthodox Geisel contender in that it is both a great beginning reader and superb comic.
In 4 panels, fox sits underneath a ticking clock. Photos provided by Patrick Gall.
 Set in Ruzzier’s signature quasi-Mediterranean fantasy world of polychrome rocks, pom-pom foliage, and anthropomorphized animals, The Party and Other Stories is centered around the mild-mannered Fox and incorrigible Chick. Each of the book’s three short stories offer young readers a fairly predictable gag, along with an additional element that sets each joke pleasingly askew. For example, when Chick asks Fox to use his bathroom we find, after Fox waits for several hours, that Chick is having a raging party! When asked to leave, Chick indignantly replies, “I guess he didn’t mean it when he said I could use his bathroom.” After berating Fox for eating vegetables instead of critters such as field mice, frogs, and well, little birds, Chick is thankful for Fox’s vegetarian soup, as well as for not being eaten, for which Fox snidely replies, “At least not today.” The final story features Fox attempting to paint Chick’s portrait after being told by Chick that “Landscapes are boring,” and neglecting to do so because the little bird just won’t sit still. Upon completing his landscape painting, Fox receives praise from Chick, along with the following suggestion: “You should paint a portrait of me one day.” Fascinatingly, Fox agrees, stating, “Great idea, Chick. One day I will.”

Fox shows chick a landscape painting he has just finished.
These slight tweaks at the end of each story add an extra layer of narrative complexity. Likewise, Ruzzier’s pen, ink, and watercolor illustrations – although playful and amusing – are also complex and maturely executed. In particular, shifts between varied panel layouts are seamless and carry storytelling import. Young readers familiar with comics will likely glean meaning easily and subconsciously navigate each page without a second thought, but some confusion could arise for those less accustomed to the format. Another point of concern is Ruzzier’s propensity for complex, multi-syllabic words, particularly when those words aren’t directly supported by the illustrations. In the second story, for example, Chick repeatedly identifies difficult to read animal names that Fox should eat, including grasshoppers, chipmunks, squirrels, and lizards – none of which are visually depicted. Part of the charm of this bit is Chick’s rapid-fire diatribe, making for a funny scene, but one that is less than supportive of beginning readers.

Chick tells Fox some of the things he thinks foxes are supposed to eat.
My impression of Fox + Chick: The Party and Other Stories, like most other Sergio Ruzzier picture books, is that he simply made the book that he wanted to make, and if it turned out to be a beginning reader, so be it. Having that said, this collection of stories is a pretty great beginning reader comic that kids will most likely love (see What Kids Say Series – July, 2018), even though they may ask for some help with the trickier words.

Wednesday, September 5, 2018

How Do You Shelve Books for Beginning Readers?

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about ways that public libraries can make beginning reader collections more accessible and easier to navigate for library staff, kids, and the grown ups in their lives. How does the way a collection is shelved and cataloged help or hinder children and grown ups looking for engaging titles that can be successfully read independently?

Click on image to enlarge.
Visual of elements to consider when shelving beginning
readers at the public library. Created by the author.
For me there are two major components: reader interest and reading level. Sometimes a reader’s interest and level are such that there are tons of titles for them to choose from; other times it seems as if those interests and levels are at odds with what is on the shelf. 
I’m sure we’ve all experienced customers who want to know where the first grade books, level J/350/2.5, or “the books that teach my kid to read” are located. While it’s certainly important for kids to find “just right” books so they can build fluency and confidence, it hurts my heart every time a grown up restricts a child from picking a book because it’s too hard or too easy. What a missed opportunity to expand vocabulary and background context, not to mention foster a love of reading!

On the other hand, I’ve seen kids become discouraged when they open book after book on a topic they adore, but they can tell at a glance have too many words, not enough pictures, or are just too long. How can we better support readers so they can find books that engage their particular passion and create a successful reading experience?

Now think of those two components combined with navigation of the physical space. Many beginning readers don’t have the reading skills to navigate a computer catalog or the physical library space independently. They have to rely on a grown up, another kid, or visual, non-textual, clues to find the books they want (such as signs with images of topics or characters they know). Thanks to Renee Grassi for bringing this point (and many others) to light in her recent ALSC post.

Levels also impact the discoverability of beginning reader titles. First, the journey of learning to read has a lot of baby steps. There’s a big difference between Milgrim’s Go, Otto, Go and The Infamous Ratsos by Kara LaReau, illustrated by Matt Myers . And yet both were recognized by the 2017 Geisel Award Committee. Second, there are the many reading level assessment systems used in the United States. A factor that varies depending on your community and school district(s). There might even be several systems used at the same district or school. Finally, each publisher has a different way of determining the reading level of a title, as well as their own set of labels (Level A, Level 1, Step 3, etc.). Check out Danielle Jones’ post on Navigating the Challenging World of Reading Levels for more on this topic.

With all of this in mind, I wonder, how does your library balance the need for new readers to have the freedom to select their own reading material (regardless of level) with the very real need to have some sort of system to support grown ups trying to find a book that is engaging, as well as confidence building, for their child? Let's get a conversation going in the comments below.