Monday, December 31, 2018

What Kids Say - December 2018

Thanks to everyone who’s been following along with this series this year. This is the last What Kids Say post of 2018, but I’m excited to say that it’ll be coming back in 2019! Read more about 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. The focus of this series is on the experiences and observations from kid readers and their grown-up contributors.

A big shout out to Jamie Chowning and DaNae Leu for all their hard work sharing, observing, and collecting feedback from the kids in their lives. This time approximately 80 first and second graders participated. About 20 kids read each title and most kids read just one of the titles, mostly because there was a limited time frame for reading.

I Want to Be a Doctor 
book cover
I Want to Be a Doctor by Laura Driscoll, illus. by Catalina Echeverri 
Recently, guest blogger Liesel Schmidt wrote about this community helper contender. For this series, 23 kids read this title with over half of them giving it the top ranking of 5 stars.

The plot was the major discussion point for most kids. Many of the comments they wrote on their feedback sheets mentioned plot points. One reader summed up the whole book, “Somewone got hert and they got beter” [sic]. “The dokdors” [sic], as one kid wrote, were a highlight for several kids (interestingly, Doctor proved to be a tough word for three readers). Another reader mentioned they liked the x-ray machine. Several kids mentioned that this was a fun book.

On the other hand, many kids lamented Jack’s broken foot and pointed to it as the thing they didn’t like about the book, “his feet brok” [sic], “I like it all I don’t like it when Jakc bokn his foot” [sic], “I did not like win he fle oof the bed” [sic]. There were also a number of tricky words that tripped up readers:
  • Mrs. Lopez 
  • Dr. Lopez 
  • Machine 
  • Loosen 
  • Shrug 
  • Doctor 
  • Want 
  • Where 
Only one reader commented on the illustrations, saying “I liked how the pictchrs are dran!” followed by about a zillion exclamation points. (see image).
Thanks to DaNae Leu for 
gathering this feedback!
One grown up contributor noted that this title was finished by most 2nd graders in the allotted time and seemed to be liked well enough, but the grown up didn’t notice any gushing. This seems like an accurate summation of a series that's meant to introduce concepts, but lacks that all important page-turning dynamic sought by the Geisel Committee.

See Pip Flap book cover
See Pip Flap by David Milgrim 
28 kids read what one grown up contributor called the “safest bet” of this month’s four titles. The contributor noted that the book was, “Too easy for some, just right for others.” Readers were excited to hear there were additional Adventures of Otto titles, and nearly all of them liked the book and found it easy to follow. Even the handful of kids who said they wouldn’t want to read this title again, said they would read a sequel.

Backing up our contributors observations, there were just a handful of challenging words-- Otto, Pip, Flap, Fly. However, Milgrim’s intentional repetition throughout means that even though kids struggled initially, they were given plenty of opportunities to practice and gain confidence with these words.

Overall, this book seemed like a solid hit for many kids. One reader even felt it was too short! Here's a sampling of their comments:
  • “It was funny and fun.” 
  • “Flap flap flap flap flap flap flap flap flap flap flap flap.” 
  • “Robot I like.” [sic] 
  • “The mouse was triinge to fly” [sic] 
  • “I liked that whe pip flew high in the sky” [sic] 

Tiger vs. Nightmare 
book cover
Tiger vs. Nightmare by Emily Tetri 
This graphic novel was read by 41 kids with three quarters of them giving it 5 stars out of 5. As both our grown up contributors this month mentioned, this 64-page title falls towards the upper end of the K-2nd Geisel range.

One grown up contributor noted the cover appeal of this title. The Geisel is notable among ALSC awards as being the only award to take kid appeal, including whether or not the cover makes them want to read the book, into account in final discussions.

The story itself seemed to be engaging for most readers. Some kids loved the scary parts--“I like it because I like monsters and I like when the monster has a sword and shield ... And there was fighting.--while others found those parts too skeree” [sic]. One grown up contributor wrote, “As an adult, I was seeing a sweet friendship and teamwork story. I was surprised that my older child found it scary, because he doesn't strike me as easily frightened in general, but he did. As a librarian, on the strength of his opinion, I would ask if the child liked scary stories before recommending it. It's a great find for those (like my younger child) who do!”

Many kids needed help 1-5 times sounding out words, including the following words noted as difficult:
  • Helping 
  • Did 
  • Ummmm 
  • Nightmare 
  • Oooo 
  • Yummy 
  • Thanks 
  • Curry 
  • Sure 
  • Monster 
  • Leave 
  • Terrible 
Notably, a few kids mentioned that they didn’t like the fact that some pages didn’t have words.

Positive comments included:
  • “The monster” 
  • “The words” 
  • “I like the starting” 
  • “Funny” 
  • “It was fun to read. I loved it.” 

Will this graphic novel garners Geisel love this year? That could depend on how much weight the committee places in kid and cover appeal, as well as how they interpret the criteria regarding age range.

Unlimited Squirrels in 
I Lost My Tooth
 book cover
Unlimited Squirrels in I Lost My Tooth by Mo Willems 
Out of the 65 kids who read this book, the first in a new Mo Willems series, only 16 of those kids gave it fewer than 5 stars out of 5. It would seem that Willems’s reputation precedes him. A grown up contributor shared that this book was enjoyed by most, and yet “finished by few in the time allotted.” Many kids were excited by thoughts of a sequel. One even suggested a title: Unlimited Squirrels in Shark Time.

Kids were effusive in their feedback:
  • It has facts.
  • “They think the tooth is a baby”
  • “That it was funny!! Ha ha ha”
  • “It was kind of like a activddy it was really fun.” [sic]
  • “I like wen they scremd” [sic]
  • “It was soooo funny. I would give it 10000 stars.”
  • “We will take it from here zoomy.”

The word play was both a pro and con, depending on the child. One grown up contributor observed, “The vocabulary isn't all that challenging, especially in the main story, but we enjoyed it as a change to practice with wordplay.” However, there were a number of challenging words for other kids:
  • Describe 
  • Emote Acorn 
  • Away 
  • Tooth 
  • Loose 
  • Direction 

Squirrel was cited as difficult to sound out by 9 kids, more than any other word in any book this month. Readers spelled squirrel as “sthrabares” and “squlrr”, further illustrating that this is a tough word! The squirrels also showed up in the comments about what kids didn’t like:
  • “How the squirrels talked”
  • “To menee wrds but it was still fun” [sic]
  • “It had to many squirrels” [sic]

Could this series be the start of more Geisel love for Mo Willems books? It would seem that the sheer enthusiasm for this title could give it an extra push on the discussion table, however the difficulty of the word “squirrel” alone could give committee members pause.

So that’s what kids have to say this month! What are your kids saying about these books? Let us know in the comments. We also invite you to share kid feedback on any of this year's contenders in this comments section of the title's post.  

Friday, December 28, 2018

I Want to Be... series by Laura Driscoll

Liesel Schmidt is a children's librarian at Denver Public Library's Central Library. She enjoys exploring the wonders of the world alongside kids of all kinds.

Cover image: I Want to Be a DoctorCover image: I Want to Be a Police OfficerCover image: I Want to Be a Veterinarian

These three books in the My Community subset of the I Can Read! Series blend narrative with nonfiction elements to explore the careers of a variety of community helpers. Each book begins with a different child expressing curiosity about the job of a person in their community. Then, each book goes on to explore a variety of different job titles within each profession. For instance, after encountering an emergency room doctor in I Want to Be a Doctor, the young narrator learns about specific types of doctors who perform X-rays, fix bones, help newborn babies and more.

I Want to Be a Doctor, I Want to Be a Police Officer, and I Want to Be a Veterinarian are all well-made contributions to the community helpers category. All titles feature an appealing cast of diverse primary and secondary characters, including gender, race and ability diversity. A clear, consistent typeface is used, with generous leading providing space between the lines so that new readers can focus easily. Vocabulary is straightforward and made up predominantly of high frequency words. Glossaries at the back of each volume give more specific definitions of each job (A police detective "tries to find all the facts about a crime," etc.). Still, these books may excel in their category, but how do they stack up against other Geisel contenders?

Driscoll's I Want to Be books combine fiction and nonfiction to introduce new information about professions in the community. When introducing new information, excellent books for beginning readers provide supports for learners through text and illustration--and it is in this area that these books are lacking. Although sentences are short and concepts simple, more difficult vocabulary is included, sometimes without significant support. The word "veterinarian" is introduced on the first page of I Want to Be A Veterinarian, after which the word "vet" is used in its place without explanation until page 20, when "veterinarian" is used again. In I Want to Be a Doctor, the word "emergency" is used once in the context of an emergency room, but then is not repeated or defined. These three books also utilize turns of phrase and abbreviations that may be difficult for a new reader. In I Want to Be a Police Officer, Driscoll mentions ID cards, without defining the term or explaining what ID means. In that same book, Driscoll refers to a K-9 unit without explanation.

Although Driscoll's I Want to Be books stand out from their counterparts in their engaging diversity and appealing narrators, they are missing some beginning reader supports that would make them first picks for the Geisel award. Still, look to these books for cheerful introductions to community helpers.

Note: Librarians at Oakland Public Library produced a guide to Evaluating Children's Books about Police. The ideas presented in that guide may provide a useful rubric for examining I Want to Be a Police Officer.

Friday, December 21, 2018

Katie Blows Her Top and Daddy Can't Dance by Fran Manushkin

Today's guest poster is Cheryl Shrake. Cheryl currently works at the Latin School of Chicago, a JK-12 Independent school in Chicago, Illinois. She holds a staff position supporting many areas of the school, including the three school libraries. Cheryl is a recent graduate of Dominican University, receiving an MLIS, and is a member of ALA, ALSC, and the Illinois Library Association.

There are two recent additions to the Katie Woo collection. Let's review to see if they have met the Geisel criteria, encouraging and supporting the beginning reader, thus a candidate for the award.

Cover image: Katie Blows Her Top
Cover courtesy of Capstone Publishing
In Katie Blows Her Top, Katie has an exciting school project to make a volcano with classmates JoJo and Pedro. Once they receive their materials to build the volcano from their teacher, Miss Winkle, Katie does not like that Pedro makes their volcano lumpy. Then she spills red dye on her shirt. When JoJo tries to grab the baking soda, she accidentally spills it on Katie's head. This series of events leads up to Katie blowing her top! With her cheeks red, and her angry face, Katie realizes she can be just like a volcano. The trio of friends try again, but this time working together, frustration-free, each doing their share to make the lava flow.

Demonstrating the story being told through the illustrations is one of the Geisel Award criteria, and these pictures are clues that should demonstrate the story being told. The colorful watercolor illustrations help the reader understand Katie's dissatisfaction with the volcano-making process. Her body language and facial expressions are depicted with the paintings on many of the pages, but especially at the height of her annoyance on pages 18 & 19.

The story also has a terrific example of another Geisel criteria in which key words are repeated to aid in retention of knowledge. This repetition of "kaboom" and "boom" throughout the story is reflected, parallel, describing Katie’s emotions and the volcano sounds. These onomatopoeic words also contribute to an exciting story, which causes the reader to want to turn the page.

Katie Blows Her Top contains plain sentences within 3 short chapters that contribute to the flow of the story, yet are stimulating to the beginning reader. The glossary in the back of the book acts as a support to the words introduced in the story. It is this and the evidence above that make this book a standout for consideration for the Theodor Seuss Geisel Award.

Cover image: Daddy Can't Dance
Cover courtesy of Capstone Publishing
In another book in the Katie Woo series, Daddy Can't Dance, Katie Woo and her father are invited to a Daddy-Daughter dance. Katie says she's a good dancer, but her dad steps on her mom's toes when her parents dance. Katie tells her dad not to worry because she will teach him how to dance. But the lessons begin, and Katie finds out that dancing with her dad can be tricky. Once at the dance a fast song plays, and Katie's dad can dance to the fast one and is terrific! When the slow dance starts, Katie’s dad seems worried, so Katie suggests they sit down. Her new shoes feel tight, so Katie takes them off. Katie then gets the idea to stand on her dad's feet for the slow dance. Katie's friends do it too, and this makes Katie's dad proud.

Again, the vivid watercolor illustrations compliment the text and demonstrate the story of Katie and her dad on the adventures at their first Daddy-Daughter dance. There are many pictures of Katie and her father on the pages of the 3 chapters in this book. Another appropriate picture exists on page 9 when an instructional diagram is displayed, as a clue to what the words of the story is saying. As the early reader understands the structure of the Katie Woo series of early reader books, not only do the stories and illustrations motivate the reader to go to the next page, but the glossary and craft projects at the end of the book contribute to the book's appeal as well.

Katie Woo is a character with sass and spunk, and her stories are expressed in simple sentences throughout the collection of 40+ books. Some elements of the Geisel criteria do exist in Daddy Can't Dance, however they are not as prevalent in comparison to Katie Blows Her Top, making Daddy Can't Dance not a top contender for the award.

Wednesday, December 19, 2018

2018 International Beginning Reader Roundup

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, is currently serving on the USBBY Outstanding International Books List committee, and is a guest reviewer for The Horn Book Magazine.

Much like the selections found on last year’s international beginning reader roundup, this year’s books are quite varied narratively, visually, and geographically. And although published and made available within the United States, they don’t qualify for the Geisel Award since “books originally published in other countries are not eligible.” To find several more international beginning readers from the last 12 years, plus other excellent international books through 12th grade, check out the USBBY Outstanding International 

The following collection of books is not intended to serve as a comprehensive list of every international beginning reader published in the United States in 2018. Instead, I consider these titles to be inherently valuable and worth highlighting because they contain unique perspectives, interesting structures, and introduce an American audience to extraordinary international creators.

While gathering, organizing, and narrowing down this list of titles a clear “pairings” theme emerged (in that several international authors published two or more excellent beginning readers in 2018 that paired well together). Some of these books are within a series, while others just complement each other stylistically (as is the case for two board books by different creators through the same publisher). Additionally, a couple titles are “sequel-ish” follow-ups to books published over the past couple years.

The following titles are roughly organized by intended audience (youngest to oldest) and include their country of origin after each publisher: 

Mirror Play: What Am I? by Monte Shin, illus. by the author (Minedition/Korea)
Peek-a-Who? by Elsa Mroziewicz, illus. by the author (Minedition/French) 
In Shin’s Mirror Play, readers are challenged to reveal the identities of 12 oddly shaped paper cutouts by rotating each figure along the edge of a mirrored page to “visually complete” each form. Mroziewicz’s Peek-a-Who? asks young readers to identify a series of animals by their characteristic sounds prior to revealing each animal’s identity by opening triangular board book flaps. These effectively designed board books offer both an innovative and supportive reading experience, thanks to their repetitive question/answer structures and thoughtful visual clues. 

niwîcihâw / I Help by Caitlin Dale Nicholson, illus. by author (Groundwood/Canada) 
This follow-up to last year’s excellent nipêhon / I Wait has all of the same qualities that made its predecessor so fantastic – dual Cree/English text, large vertical format, and expressive acrylic illustrations. This loving autumnal story follows a young Cree child and his grandmother as they collect rosehips for tea. A quickly predictable back-and-forth pattern (“Kôhkom listens.” / “I listen.” / “Kôhkom helps.” / “I help.”) drives most of the story; however, a simple, yet clever, twist at the end provides a gently humorous conclusion. 

The Crocodile and the Dentist by Taro Gomi, illus. by author (Chronicle/Japan) 
I Really Want to See You, Grandma by Taro Gomi, illus. by author (Chronicle/Japan) 
The Crocodile and the Dentist and I Really Want to See You, Grandma are exemplary picture books in that their words and illustrations work so beautifully together that each title’s whole far exceeds the sum of its parts. Ingeniously repetitive texts, a purposeful employment of gutters, and two fantastically ridiculous plots (the mutual fear between a human dentist and his crocodile patient and a hilarious series of missed connections between a grandmother and grandchild) result in two undeniable “page-turners.” 

Farmer Falgu Goes to the Market by Chitra Kanika, illus. by Kanika Nair (Karadi Tales/India) 
Farmer Falgu Goes to the Kumbh Mela by Chitra Kanika, illus. by Kanika Nair (Karadi Tales/India) 
Readers in the USA were lucky to gain two new installments of the unwaveringly optimistic Farmer Falgu in 2018. In Farmer Falgu Goes to the Market a series of mishaps (from potholes to greedy goats) nearly ruin the farmer’s foodstuffs, while Farmer Falgu Goes to the Kumbh Mela documents an ill-fated trip to a Hindu festival. In both cases Farmer Falgu comes out on top, thanks to his ingenuity and kindness. In particular, Farmer Falgu Goes to the Market functions effectively as a beginning reader thanks to its cyclical structure and large, color-coded text. 

Me and My Fear by Francesca Sanna, illus. by author (Flying Eye/Great Britain) 
Perhaps the most conceptually complex title on this list, this follow-up to Sanna’s The Journey (2016) is a sequel of sorts in that it focuses on the experience of a child relocated to a new country. In Me and My Fear, a young girl’s “Fear” is physically represented by a ghost-like figure that visually expresses her simply stated feelings of isolation and unease (such as a room-sized Fear blocking the door when the girl attempts to leave her home, “…but Fear won’t move.”). Sanna’s ability to depict childhood anxiety in a manner that is creative, understandable, and respectful to beginning readers is an unparalleled achievement. 

Additionally, the following titles, although standalones, each deserve an honorable mention: 

  • The Visitor by Antje Damm, illus. by author (Gecko Press/Germany) 
  • Smon Smon by Sonja Danowski, illus. by author (North South/Switzerland) 
  • Bim Bam Boom by Frédéric Stehr, illus. by author (Gecko Press/France) 

As was the case last year, I have certainly left many excellent international beginning readers off of this list. Please share your 2018 international beginning reader recommendations and thoughts in the comments!

Monday, December 17, 2018

Unlimited Squirrels: I Lost My Tooth! by Mo Willems

Image courtesy of Taylor Worley
Taylor Worley is the Youth Services Librarian for Springfield Public Library in Oregon. She loves the challenge of finding truly wonderful early reader material for her patrons. She is just beginning terms on ALSC's Notable Children’s Digital Media committee and Oregon's Reader's Choice Award Committee. She also reviews for School Library Journal. She can be found reading, making, and exploring on Instagram and elsewhere @thatonelibrarian. 

Mo Willems is no stranger to the Geisel, having garnered wins in 2008 and 2009 and honors in 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, and 2015. While his tenure in the Geisel ranks is undeniably impressive, does his newest venture, Unlimited Squirrels: I Lost My Tooth!, live up to his legacy?

Unlimited Squirrels: 
I Lost My Tooth! 
by Mo Willems 
book cover
I Lost My Tooth weighs in at the maximum page count for a Geisel, and Willems utilizes every single one. The end papers depict the cast which includes Boom, Zowie, and Flappy Squirrels. We immediately break the fourth wall as the squirrels carry the book across the title page announcing, "This is a big book! It is full of … BIG FUN!" Next is the table of contents where readers learn the BIG Story is only part of this big book. There are Acorny-Jokes and facts, too. 

Then we have – brace yourselves – the EMOTE-ACORNS. Seven little acorns used to decipher the squirrels' vast array of emotions. This is hardly necessary as the illustrations are more than expressive enough on their own, but readers are likely to find this hook amusing.

The Big Story is about two-thirds of the book. The narrative is clear, engaging, and ridiculous. Zoom squirrel has lost a tooth. A BABY tooth. The other squirrels are positively distraught and won't stop until baby tooth is found. Emphasized words are bold or, if they are very important, bold, larger, and in all-caps. Speech bubbles alternate color to help distinguish among speakers. This is very useful, as the squirrels' somewhat similar appearances can be confusing at first glance. As with Elephant & Piggie, the entire narrative is told through character speech; there is no narrator or third-person observations. 

When the Big Story ends on page 58, the Acorny-Joke sections break up nonfiction interludes with Research Rodent and Quiz Squirrel. These sections are fun and readers will enjoy them, however, there is a marked difference in reading level between the facts and the primary story line. Also of note is how much smaller this factual text is when compared to the narrative. 

Image of squirrels vowing to find the lost tooth from Unlimited Squirrels: I Lost My Tooth! by Mo Willems

When considering I Lost My Tooth for the Geisel, there is little doubt that it "encourages and supports the beginning reader". The illustrations are effective and engaging, and it absolutely has the "page turning dynamic." Readers will love this book, and they will anxiously await Unlimited Squirrels' next adventure. However, there is a slight disconnect between the Big Story and the back sections. While there is ample white space during the narrative, the joke pages seem crowded and possibly overwhelming. The facts are presented in much smaller text, and with a broader vocabulary that the rest of the book, which may inspire frustration in some readers.

All things considered, is Unlimited Squirrels: I Lost My Tooth "distinguished" enough to add to Willems' collection of Geisel wins? I am sure it will get its time in the ring this year, and it is well deserving of that discussion, but we'll just have to wait and see if it rises to top.

Friday, December 14, 2018

Potato Pants by Laurie Keller

Today's guest contributor, Benji Martn, is a librarian and educator from Montgomery, Alabama. He serves as the elementary school librarian at Saint James School, and blogs at Tales of an Elementary School Librarian. You can find him on Twitter at @mrBenjimartin.

Cover image: Potato Pants
Laurie Keller's last book, We are Growing, won the 2017 Theodor Seuss Geisel Award, so it makes sense that her next book, Potato Pants! would be on the Guessing Geisel radar. It was certainly on mine. I've been a fan of Laurie's ever since Arnie the Donut first came into my life, and I was extremely excited to hear that she had a new picture book coming out in 2018.

Potato Pants is everything I hoped it would be. It's funny, has some great illustrations, and the kid appeal is off the charts. It also has a nice little message about forgiveness and the perils of assuming the worst of people, which it delivers without ever feeling preachy or didactic. It also makes a great read aloud for a wide range of age groups.

However, Guessing Geisel is not just a review blog for awesome picture books. I have to look at this book in terms of the Geisel award criteria, and I'll be honest: As much as I love this book, it isn't really a beginning reader, or a picture book designed for new readers. There are a few difficult words scattered throughout the book like "suspenders," "trousers," "cucumber" and "exhale" that might trip a new reader up, and the words don't show up again to reinforce the new vocabulary.

Also, much like in Arnie the Donut, Laurie Keller doesn't use a lot of white space. In most of the book, she uses every inch of the page to pack in as much dialog and as many jokes as she can.
Interior spread from Potato Pants

This makes the book better, in my opinion. Older kids will love to sit with the book and follow every conversation, but I can see it being pretty overwhelming for a younger reader struggling to get through a book that is already packed with some difficult words.

Don't get me wrong. This book is amazing. Every kid should read it or have it read to to them, but I will be pretty shocked if it wins the Geisel. It just doesn't fit into the beginning reader category.

Wednesday, December 12, 2018

Blue by Laura Vaccaro Seeger

Today's guest contributor is Kahla Gubanich, a children's and maker librarian at Carroll County Public Library in Maryland.

Cover image: Blue by Laura Vaccaro Seeger

Laura Vaccaro Seeger's Blue, a companion to the beloved Green, is a moving depiction of a lasting friendship through the lens of a single color. The book opens with the snuggly image of a sleeping baby boy and a golden puppy, each touching the corner of a baby blue handkerchief (an item that the two will share throughout the book). Each page turn reveals a new shade of blue and another touching moment with the boy and his puppy. They play together, picking blueberries, splashing through crisp blue water, and snuggling together under the dusky blue of a small tent.

interior image: quiet blue

It quickly becomes clear that both are growing up, growing older. There is an emotional sequence in which the boy, now a young man, must deal with the loss of a best friend and the vast blue grief that follows. But like the small die cuts on each page that reveal a sliver of the next shade of blue, this story looks forward even as it lingers on moments both happy and sad. At the end the boy meets a girl with her dog, and there is joy in a new friendship.

interior image: true blue

There are plenty of opportunities here for beginning readers to stretch their wings with more difficult words like "ocean" and "midnight," while finding familiar comfort on each page with the repetition of the word "blue." There are no sentences, only names for each shade of blue, which may pose a challenge to very young readers looking for structural clues like capitalization and punctuation. Yet the illustrations provide a strong foundation for making meaning of the story. Some images illustrate a more familiar, concrete concept, like "sky blue" or "berry blue."

interior image: baby blue

Other blues are more abstract and encourage consideration, but the illustrations offer context. For example, the page labeled "maybe blue" depicts the boy's painting of himself and his puppy, but the pup has tracked yellow paint across the paper, mixing blue and yellow. The phrases "very blue" and "so blue" connote vastly different meanings as a result of the accompanying images: a bright flurry of butterflies, and a deep sunset full of grief, respectively. While this book certainly works as a quick read, young readers who take their time exploring each page will gain rich experience decoding the interplay between text and image. It's rare that so few words can elicit such a range of emotion, but Blue is a treasure that can be enjoyed by both experienced and inexperienced readers alike.

Interior image: silly blue

Monday, December 10, 2018

One Font to Rule Them All?

Today's guest blogger is Katya Schapiro, Senior Children's Librarian at the Bay Ridge Branch of the Brooklyn Public Library. She served on the 2016 Geisel Award committee. 

There’s a lot of talk about which fonts are best for beginning readers—should they be large? Small? Short? Tall…? You could practically write a book for beginning readers on the subject, in fact…now there’s an idea.

There seems to be a general consensus that beginning readers do best with fonts that are reasonably large, not too fancy, have high x-heights and large counters (larger forms of multi-form letters like lower case g), and that all caps is a no no. But is there a one true font? Should we not be using training wheels and simply go with fonts that are similar to books printed for adults? Watch out for the fancy design-y fonts becoming more popular? Ignore font design entirely and focus on other design elements such as ample white space and short text block formation?

The truth is, as with most truths about early readers, there is no one, true, font. There are, however, some standouts. Let’s look at some recent Geisel winners and honors.

Charlie & Mouse by Laurel Snyder, illus. by Emily Hughes
Charlie & Mouse book cover

This title, aimed at more confident readers, uses fairly standard Baskerville font (a transitional serif), and expects the reader to navigate a young reader friendly version of an adult style type.

Supertruck by Stephen Savage
Supertruck book cover
Stephen Savage’s tale of an heroic garbage truck uses a clean, large type. The cover is in all caps but the interior text is reassuringly large and square on the page, very much in the same style as the clean, right-angled illustrations. Young readers may find this large, no-nonsense text inviting, and reassuring.

The Watermelon Seed by Greg Pizzoli
The Watermelon Seed book cover
Greg Pizzoli’s book features three kinds of text—hand lettering by Pizzoli, large clear main text similar to that used in Supertruck, and all caps ‘sound effect’ writing. The large point size of the text again makes it inviting to early readers.

Oops, Pounce, Quick, Run! by Mike Twohy 

Oops, Pounce, Quick, Run! book cover

At first glance, this title looks to be more complex font-wise, as color and enlarged first letters are used liberally, but the consistent use of large counters and wide, clear font makes it deceptively simple and engaging to unsure readers faced with a large amount of vocabulary.

So. There is no one, true, style, but there are several tried and true maxims, and book designers flout them at their peril, especially as children also gravitate toward the familiar. A careful mix of subtle and more intuitive elements makes a font that a young reader can approach with confidence, without even realizing what draws them in.

Learn more about typography for beginning readers:

Friday, December 7, 2018

See Pip Flap and See Zip Zap by David Milgrim

Image of Jenna Friebel with Street BackgroundJenna Friebel lives in Chicago (West Loop, best loop!) and works as a Materials Services Librarian at the Oak Park Public Library. She served on the 2016 Geisel Award Committee, 2018 Printz Award Committee, and will be going on to the 2020 Newbery Award Committee. When not hidden beneath piles and piles of books, you can find Jenna hanging out with her foster kittens or teaching yoga. Also look for her on twitter @jenna_friebel.

David Milgrim is no stranger to the Geisel award. Go, Otto, Go! was a 2017 Geisel Award Honor book. Now, he’s back with another of Otto’s adventures in See Pip Flap, plus the start to a new series, The Adventures of Zip, with See Zip Zap.

In See Pip Flap, Pip (the mouse) sees a bird in the sky and wants to fly, too, but no amount of arm flapping is working! Can Otto (the robot) help get Pip in the sky? With See Zip Zap, Milgrim moves from robots to aliens. Zip is showing off magic skills, but baby Bip isn’t impressed. When things get out of control, it’s up to baby Bip to save the day!

Stylistically, both books are very similar, beginning with the covers.

Cover of See Zip Zap
Cover of See Pip Flap
Throughout the books, both use a lot of white space on each page; large, clear text (although it does use the double stacked “a”); and simple, vibrantly colored illustrations all outlined in black. Text is short with a lot of repetition and rhyming. And, both stories are a lot of fun! Clearly, Milgrim knows what he’s doing. These are both high quality early readers, but under close scrutiny, will they live up to Geisel standards? I think they are both solid contenders.

Personally, I think See Zip Zap has a slight edge over See Pip Flap. Zip and Bip are both very expressive, and the high stakes dinosaur chase will delight young readers.

Zip runs while carrying Bip from a one-horned green dino. Text reads See Zip go. Go, Zip, go!

 See Pip Flap isn’t quite so exhilarating although it is still fun and funny. My question is, will kids understand “Ho hum”? Ultimately, they’ll understand the concept based on the images, but I wonder if this little phrase that might be unknown will throw them off a little.

Image of Mouse holding a remote control for a toy drone stading with Robot. Text reads Ho hum.
While I still think both books are great choices, I do have one major issue with both: the see-through pages! A thicker paper would make so much of a difference. The effect of white space is lessened when readers can see through it to other pages. These books are worthy of better paper and printing. Maybe with more Geisel recognition, the publisher will invest more into the physical quality. I know I’ll have my fingers crossed for a shiny sticker for Milgrim come January!