Monday, December 30, 2019

I See by Joe Cepada and Where is Mommy? by Pat Cummings

Brian E. Wilson works as a children’s librarian at the Evanston Public Library in Evanston, IL. He served on the 2015 Odyssey Committee and the 2017 Caldecott Committee. He blogs at Mr. Brian’s Picture Book Picks at

One of the best parts of being a children's librarian is sharing new books with young readers in my regularly scheduled storytimes. Every month I visit a preschool class filled with 25 of the most amazing 4- and 5-year-olds, many ready to take on the world when they start kindergarten this upcoming autumn. For this Guessing Geisel assignment, I decided to try out the two new additions to Holiday House's enjoyable I Like to Read series on them. Joe Cepada's I See, which has the publisher's Guided Reading Level B (Middle of Kindergarten) designation, serves as a companion to the author/illustrator's Up and I Dig and stars a boy who examines little creatures with a magnifying glass. Pat Cummings' Where Is Mommy?, given a Guided Reading Level D (End of Kindergarten), shows a girl piecing together clues about her nearby mommy's location after waking from a nap. Would the students enjoy these books?

I See contains very simple sentences never longer than four words. Each double page spread offers only one sentence. The crystal clear, large bold font is easy to read. Cepada's uncluttered illustrations follow the boy up a ladder and into an attic. The older relative (the children said "his dad" or "brother" when I asked about him) accompanying him finds a microscope while the protagonist holds up a magnifying glass.

The boy then travels solo outside carrying his beloved new object. "I see," he keeps saying. The children started saying the words along with me, unprompted. The next page finds the boy examining tiny critters, seen from a distance, with the magnifying glass. "I see," the boy says with a smile. The students already started yelling "ants" by the time I turned the page. And sure enough, they were right. "I see an ant," the boy declares as we see an enlarged view of the happy ant. We then see the child looking at a butterfly, snail, and robin eggs. The children told me they all loved the book. They liked the way Cepada drew the animals. And they loved the final moment that show all the animals following him into his house.

Where Is Mommy? has slightly longer sentences (never longer than six words) and more text. Some spreads have two or three sentences on them. The children had a blast watching the girl trying to solve this lighthearted mystery. Cummings fills the story with delightful visual cues. Mommy has seemingly disappeared, although the girl's cat, and the children in my group, observe mom outside in her garden. They liked knowing something the girl did not notice. When I asked the students their favorite part, they said they loved the girl putting on her mother's glasses, slippers, and scarf. They found the cat funny, the ending happy. The kids followed the story with ease.

I did not ask them which book they enjoyed more. I simply asked "who liked both of the books?" All the hands shot up in the air. Success!!!

Friday, December 27, 2019

Little Penguin's New Friend by Tadgh Bentley

Amy Laughlin works as a youth services librarian at the Ferguson Library in Stamford, CT. She served on the Notable Children's Books committee in 2017 and 2018, and co-wrote a column for School Library Journal from 2014-2018 titled "Mix it Up."
Cover of Little
Penguin’s New Friend

by Tadgh Bentley

Adorable Little Penguin teaches readers a valuable lesson about gossip in this cautionary tale about believing everything you hear.

Little Penguin immediately breaks the fourth wall and addresses the reader directly—“Oh! Hi! Sorry! I did not see you there”—setting the jovial, conversational tone of the book from the very start. All the usual hallmarks of a stand out beginning reader are here: large font, plenty of white space, clear contrast between text and background, and predictive vocabulary that matches the illustrations.

Image from Little Penguin’s New Friend
Readers hear from Little Penguin that a polar bear is traveling all the way from the North Pole to visit the South Pole. He also learns many details about Polar Bears from his friends, including the fact that they have sharp teeth and terrifying roars, they are mean hunters, and they tell very bad jokes. But should we always believe everything that we hear?

When Polar Bear arrives (by boat), she immediately tells Little Penguin a series of bad jokes. Does this mean that all three facts Little Penguin learned about Polar Bears are true? Should Little Penguin be scared for his life?! Instead of laughing at Polar Bear’s humorous jokes, Little Penguin dives behind a rock in fear! Is Polar Bear going to eat him?

Image from Little Penguin’s New Friend
Imagine Little Penguin’s surprise when he learns that Polar Bear has heard something untrue about penguins. The final line of the book, effectively the punchline of a 32-page gag, reads: “I heard that penguins have no sense of humor,” she [Polar Bear] says.” Cue the ba-dum-cha sound on the drums.
Repeated readings of the book reveal a layer of added meta-humor that most books for emergent readers lack, that of the irony that both Polar Bear and Little Penguin believed untrue facts about each other. This irony delivers readers a satisfying chuckle at the end that boosts readers’ confidence—it’s a joke meant to make them laugh without any explanation needed.

Could a book that—more or less—describes the perils of believing gossip become a Geisel honoree? I say absolutely this might win a Geisel!

(Psssst: don’t forget that we shouldn’t always believe everything you hear!)

Friday, December 20, 2019

Our 12 Mock Geisel 2020 Contenders - Read Them Now, Vote Next Month!

This year we here at Guessing Geisel are trying something new. In the past, we would include 30+ titles on our mock ballot. While we loved highlighting so many great books for beginning readers, it could also be overwhelming. This year, with the goal of streamlining to encourage participation, we’ll be featuring just 12 titles on our mock ballot. And we’re sharing them now so you can get a jump start on reading them before voting begins in January, 2020.

Wishing you could have in-person discussions about these titles? Want to introduce your colleagues/patrons/students to excellent books for beginning readers? We encourage you to visit your local library, check out the titles, and share them. Here are a few ideas:
  • Put them on a table in a common area. Send out an email to invite colleagues to explore titles at their leisure. 
  • Make a display and encourage patrons to read them and provide feedback (written or verbal). 
  • Share them at a staff meeting. Take a couple quick minutes to tease the books or spend a longer chunk discussing a handful of titles and invite others to explore the other titles later. 
  • Host a mock with your colleagues, patrons, or students. Take a look at past posts from Patrick Gall, DaNae Leu, and Amanda Foulk, as well as our guest post for SLJ, for ideas. 

Without further ado, here are the 12 Guessing Geisel 2020 mock titles listed in alphabetical order by author. 
*Don’t see your favorite on this list? Let us know in the comments! You’ll also be able to vote for write-in contenders on the ballot.

Monday, December 16, 2019

Ana & Andrew series by Christine Platt, illustrated by Sharon Sordo

Book covers for four Ana & Andrew titles by Christine Platt, illustrated by Sharon Sordo
Siblings Ana and Andrew make their debut in four simultaneously published titles from Abdo. (In 2020 readers can look forward to an additional four titles in this series, as well as Spanish language versions of the first four.) Each title works as a stand alone and can be read in any order. Divided into four chapters, the text includes vocabulary and concepts targeting more confident readers, with many pages featuring 7-9 lines of text. Full color, digital illustrations appear on every page and provide visual support for some words. 

In Dancing at Carnival, the siblings visit their maternal relatives in Trinidad and learn about the origins of Carnival. “Many years ago, there were slaves on the island of Trinidad, just like there were in American,” Uncle Errol tells them. Their paternal grandmother comes to visit the siblings in Washington, DC in A Day at the Museum. She takes the whole family to the brand new National Museum of African American History and Culture. A trip to visit their father’s hometown encourages an oral sharing of the history of the construction of their church by slaves in Summer in SavannahIn A Snowy Day, the title that touches the least on history and culture, Ana and Andrew frolic in the snow with their neighborhood friends and wish their relatives in Trinidad could experience snow too.

Image of family and tour guide outside of the National Museum of African American History and Culture from A Day at the Museum by Christine Platt, illustrated by Sharon Sordo
This series excels at incorporating history and culture into fiction for developing readers, something not done often in the beginning reader world. For example, slavery is mentioned specifically in three titles. On the other hand, not all concepts are adequately explained in the narrative, which could cause confusion for some readers who may not be reading these books with a grown up who could explain the Underground Railroad or what “ancestors” means. An author’s note, glossary, or other back matter to provide more background knowledge would have been a helpful addition. Repetition of words and concepts, happens occasionally, but not as much as one would wish.

Grandpa telling Ana and Andrew about the Underground Railroad from Summer in Savannah by Christine Platt, illustrated by Sharon Sordo

At times the page turning dynamic is held back by mundane digressions that seem extraneous. Will readers really care to read four sentences about the black shutters and red door of a house, or want to read a recap of adventures they’ve just read about? One possible explanation is that these passages were added to achieve a particular word count.

These titles cover a lot of ground when it comes to racial/cultural representations. At the same time they also exhibit gender stereotypes. For instance, Ana is almost always depicted in a dress, in traditionally feminine colors with bows in her hair, and her doll always has a matching outfit. Another example comes after their visit to the museum and each family member is sharing what they enjoyed most. Ana says the dolls, while Andrew liked the old sports team uniforms. Similarly, Mama liked seeing how food was cooked in the past, a contrast to her husband who found learning about African American achievements the best part. 

Overall, although this series has some flaws, it also stands out in a field of contenders sorely lacking in diverse representations.  If I had to pick one, I’d say Dancing at Carnival is the most engaging of the bunch. Is there one title in this series that seems to rise above the rest for you? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

Friday, December 13, 2019

Smell My Foot! by Cece Bell

Robbin Friedman is a children's librarian at the Chappaqua Library. She writes reviews for School Library Journal, serves on ALSC's Budget Committee, and reads a lot of science fiction.

In her new early reader series, "Chick and Brain", Cece Bell ostensibly sends up stilted "Dick and Jane" primers. Of course, today’s beginning readers don’t know that. They’ve never heard of Dick and Jane. And the rare child who might understand the reference probably wouldn’t associate those dry slices of white suburbia with these two weirdos.

Image from Chick and Brain: Smell My Foot! by Cece Bell

Fortunately, the first book—Smell My Foot!—shares more DNA with Tedd Arnold or Ethan Long than with Zerna Sharp (two points to anyone who already knew the author of "Dick and Jane").

Using a straightforward comics format broken into four short chapters, Bell introduces her protagonists: Chick, a fastidious yellow bird with a commitment to manners, and Brain, a white human with stick limbs, heart-print boxers, and a brain-like poof of hair atop his head. Bell has mastered the visual elements of comics for early readers, reveling in the intense goofiness of her subjects here.

Simple backgrounds, adequately-sized speech bubbles, and a clean, serif font pair well with the humor of Bell’s oddly-proportioned duo. Characters regularly break the confines of the basic two to four panel pages, but the visual story proceeds smoothly enough that errant feet or beaks won’t confuse beginners. In fact, Bell uses the spatial perspective of the panels beautifully to convey emphasis and tone, as in this page when Brain’s insistent demand grows too large for the panel next to Chick’s consistent denial.
Image from Chick and Brain: Smell My Foot! by Cece Bell

The story—as silly as it sounds—allows for ample word repetition. Brain’s foot smells great! Everyone should smell it! Chick wants to hear please and thank you before agreeing to anything. But once Spot, a hungry dog, has said the magic word, Chick merrily agrees to lunch. Both Brain and the reader recognize that Spot wants to eat Chick. Brain arrives to save Chick and makes Spot pass out because guess what? His other foot smells really bad! Early readers will finish this book experience confidently tackling words like smell, foot, please, sniff, and you’re welcome, some of which will absolutely come in handy again.

With visual support and reinforced vocabulary, this book may offer smooth sailing for some readers looking to branch out from Mo Willems. For certain readers, though, Bell’s quirky Brain may introduce a hiccup. Brain responds to social niceties differently than Chick (and most readers) expect, and while therein lies the fun for some folks, other readers might find the non sequiturs confusing.

Chick corrects Brain and gets the dialogue back on track. But for readers looking to the narrative to confirm they’re reading accurately, Brain’s unusual style may cause them to wonder if they’ve gotten something wrong.

For readers unfazed by Brain’s approach, Cece Bell has brought us something peculiar and effective, presented in a masterful comics package. If the Geisel Committee is looking for a change from more traditional, earnest early readers, they might want to take a big sniff of this one.

Wednesday, December 11, 2019

Duck & Goose: A Gift for Goose by Tad Hills

Cover of A Gift for Goose
by Tad Hills
Duck has a gift for Goose! He plops it into a box, then proceeds to decorate the box with paint, ribbon, and a handwritten card. But silly Goose, upon receiving the package, believes the box itself is the gift. A few pages proceed during which Goose is full of excitement at how wonderful the box is, while Duck quietly attempts to interject with the information the reader already knows: the gift is inside the box! Goose runs off to get his special things, and returns with wings full of crayons, hats, and yarn to put into his new box. Duck finally finds the moment to explain that the box is, in fact, not Duck’s gift. The next page turn is priceless, revealing Goose’s sad dismay as he misunderstands.

Image from A Gift for Goose by Tad Hills
The misunderstanding is quickly cleared, however, and Goose discovers the real gift: a box for his special things!

A Gift for Goose has all the trappings of a quality beginning reader: large font set against ample white space, simple sentences that are contained on the page spread, and repetition of key words. The bright, uncluttered illustrations clearly reflect the text, giving young readers plenty of clues to help them decipher the text.

The plot is simple, but effectively strikes an emotional chord that will resonate with many children. One friend does something for the other, there is a misunderstanding followed by some brief hurt feelings, then all is resolved. The pacing pulls the reader through the story as they anticipate the moment when Goose will finally figure out that the box is not the gift. The joke is well-delivered, and following the image of Goose’s misunderstanding as it does, delivers a quick jolt of humor at the perfect moment.

All in all, Duck & Goose: A Gift for Goose is a solid contender for this year’s Geisel Award. Will the committee agree? What do you think?

Monday, December 9, 2019

#WNDB - Still Important

As we’ve discussed in previous #WNDB posts, the world of beginning readers is incredibly homogeneous. And what’s more, there are more books about animal and inanimate object protagonists than there are about human kids from diverse backgrounds. This year alone there are beginning readers featuring: 

  • Mice 
  • Fish 
  • Hedgehogs 
  • Squirrels 
  • Rabbits 
  • Hot dogs 
  • Beans 
  • Robots 
  • Invertebrates 
  • A brain with smelly feet 
  • Pasta 

Not to mention the plethora of beginning readers that feature protagonists that are assumed white.   

I’m not saying any of these books shouldn’t exist. There are reasons to love each and every one of them individually. But when we look at them as a whole, it’s obvious that #WeSTILLNeedDiverseBeginningReaders. Because what we don’t see (or see very little of) in this year’s Geisel contenders are representations of characters with diverse abilities, family structures, socio-economic situations, cultural backgrounds, as well as any representations of LGBTQIA+ characters and hardly any #ownvoices books. 

Why is this so important? In two words, reading motivation. As Gigi Pagliarulo wrote in a post from earlier this year, “This reading motivation comes from several areas, including choice and personal relevance. Kids who can self-select books that reflect their interests and life experiences demonstrate more reading motivation. This is where diversity and equity in beginning readers come into play.” Being able to hand a kid a book with a character that reflects their experience is affirming and validating. And for kids from dominant cultures, reading a book with a protagonist from a non-dominant culture widens their view of the world and subverts the idea that stories/life are centered around dominant culture experiences and stories. 

One book/series about a particular diverse representation isn’t enough. We need lots of books with diverse representations at all stages of the learning to read process. As Amanda Foulk wrote in a post from last year, “There’s room on our shelves for so many more types of readers to see themselves reflected at every age and stage of learning to read.” We need to be able to give kids stacks of books that provide windows, mirrors, and sliding glass doors. We cannot and should not expect a handful of books to pull that weight. 

I appreciate books like Charlie & Mouse, King & Kayla, Ana & Andrew, Katie Woo, Ling & Ting, Meet Yasmin (although this last series is sadly not eligible for the Geisel). And I encourage our readers to champion for more diverse beginning reader titles. As Danielle Jones said in an earlier post, “The Geisel Award should be for all children, but a book has to be published for it to have a chance. Many children have yet to see themselves represented in this format. This has to change.” 

Wondering what you can do to champion this cause? Take a look at the three actionable steps Gigi laid out in her post.

Friday, December 6, 2019

Fox + Chick: The Quiet Boat Ride and Other Stories by Sergio Ruzzier

Image of Ellysa Stern Cahoy.
Courtesy of Ellysa Stern Cahoy.
Ellysa Stern Cahoy was a member of the 2019 Geisel Award Committee. She is an Education Librarian and the Assistant Director of the Pennsylvania Center for the Book in the Penn State University Libraries, University Park, PA. At the Pennsylvania Center for the Book, Ellysa serves on the jury for the Baker’s Dozen: Thirteen Best Books for Family Literacy, and administers the Lynd Ward Graphic Novel Prize. 

Fox + Chick: The Quiet Boat Ride
and Other Stories by Sergio
Ruzzier book cover
Sergio Ruzzier is back with a second Fox + Chick book, The Quiet Boat Ride and Other Stories! As in the first entry in this series (The Party), Fox and Chick are friends with very different personalities. Fox is contemplative and thoughtful. Chick is disruptive and devilish! Ruzzier shares three tales of the two friends -- The Quiet Boat Ride, Chocolate Cake, and The Sunrise. The Quiet Boat Ride is anything but -- Chick sees danger -- pirates, shipwreck, and sea monsters around each corner. Fox patiently abides the vagaries of Chick, his voyaging companion. In the second story, a gifted chocolate cake presents a quandary -- how will Chick eat the entire thing by himself? Luckily, Fox is there to help out. And in the final story, The Sunrise, Chick’s disarray and disorganization mean a missed sunrise viewing, but the two friends find something even better (and just as beautiful) to enjoy together.

The Quiet Boat Ride and Other Stories follows the same format as The Party, with colorful endpapers that hint at elements in the story and a layout (including a table of contents and chapter headers) that is easily accessible to new readers navigating their first chapter books. The format is a hybrid of a graphic novel and an early reader, with the action shown in comic panels that are easy to follow. 

Ruzzier’s pen, ink, and watercolor illustrations perfectly depict the humorous depths of each story. When Chick imagines sea monsters, they materialize on the following wordless page as fantastic creatures -- a winding eel with a horn for a nose, a lemon shaped fish, a menacing creature with a foot for a tail. Chick’s house is a small tower (with accompanying miniature outhouse), perilously perched on a singular tree branch. Fox and Chick wander through muted landscapes of lilac, chartreuse, and Tuscan orange that feature rolling hills, fanciful trees, and the occasional cacti. 

Panels of Fox and Chick going on a not so quiet boat ride from 
Fox + Chick: The Quiet Boat Ride and Other Stories by Sergio Ruzzier

The text is structured entirely as dialogue between Fox and Chick to help the reader tell the story dramatically -- Chick yells in all caps, and Fox speaks gently and directly to his friend. The layout is consistent and the font is large and almost always enclosed within speech bubbles (an exception is when Chick ‘smooch’es the ground when he reaches land and Fox’s alarm clock ‘riiiiiing’s in the morning). Even these onomatopoeic sounds provide an opportunity for the reader to apply sound effects to the story! 

Panels of Fox and Chick going on a not so quiet boat ride from
Fox + Chick: The Quiet Boat Ride and Other Stories by Sergio Ruzzier
The pages are numbered, and at 46 pages, meet the minimum number of pages required for Geisel consideration. The dialogue contains a mix of simple and unusual words, such as plunder, shipwreck, worried, salami, and hammer. Many of the more challenging words are repeated multiple times in the text. The funny stories, imaginative illustrations, and unique friendship of Fox and Chick combine to make a very enjoyable experience for the reader. 

Sergio Ruzzier received a Geisel Honor in 2019 for The Party and Other Stories. Full disclosure: I served on the 2019 Geisel Committee, and I love the originality and accessibility of Ruzzier’s art and stories! Perhaps these winning friends will march forward for Geisel recognition once again this year!  

What are your thoughts? Will Fox + Chick once again gain Geisel attention?

Wednesday, December 4, 2019

Noodleheads: Fortress of Doom by Tedd Arnold, Martha Hamilton, and Mitch Weiss

Cover image of Noodleheads: Fortress of Doom
Oh, those Noodleheads! Fans of this series will be glad to see the bumbling duo back for more fun. In this volume, the Noodleheads go to the library to acquire knowledge. They come away with a book of jokes and a book about the Fortress of Doom, both of which inspire their afternoon adventures. A pile of lumber in the back yard becomes their own Fortress of Doom, and when neighborhood bully Meatball shows up, they engage in a tall tale contest for possession of the Fortress.

Jokes, folklore, and tall tales form the basis of these funny stories. As with other books in the series, the format is in the style of comic books, with panels and speech bubbles. While not suited for the very beginning reader, the reader who has gained some proficiency will find success with this book, particularly as it employs good repetition of potentially tricky words ("knowledge," "fortress"). The humor will appeal to young readers, and the short chapters give a pleasing feeling of accomplishment.  

Noodleheads See the Future was a Geisel Honor in 2018 – will Noodleheads: Fortress of Doom gain recognition in 2020?

Tuesday, November 26, 2019

Penny and Her Sled by Kevin Henkes

Today's guest contributor, Benji Martin, 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 of Penny and Her Sled by Kevin Henkes

I live in Alabama and spent most of my childhood here. It hardly ever snows. Every couple of years, we’ll get a good dusting, and even less often, a “blizzard” with snow that actually sticks.

There’s always that lingering hope, though. Every winter, when it gets cold, children and adults alike pay close attention to the weather, hoping against all reason that snow will fall and everyone will get a day off of work or school. (Everything closes here when it snows, except for hospitals and Waffle Houses.) Usually we are disappointed and when spring comes we forget about snow for a little while.

Because of where I live, I could totally relate to how Penny was feeling in this book. She wanted that snow so badly! Her parents made the rookie mistake of telling her that snow was coming. Don’t they know that a parent’s word is a promise? You don’t ever promise weather! Whenever my kids ask a weather-related question, the answer is always, “I don’t know,” or “We’ll see,” regardless of the forecast.

Reading the book, I kind of expected a very late-winter or early-spring snow just because Penny’s parents said it was coming, and in children’s books, parents are almost always right.

It didn’t snow, however, and her parents used the ol’ distraction method and got her looking forward to the snowdrop flowers that would come with spring.

Interior illustration of Penny looking at some snowdrops

There were lots of things I loved about Penny and Her Sled. It was really refreshing to me that Penny’s parents got it wrong. It’s okay for kids realize early that their parents are fallible. Being people, they’ll make mistakes and they’ll do it often.

I enjoyed the fun ways that Penny played with her sled indoors because it looked sad in the corner of her bedroom.

Interior illustration of Penny playing with her sled indoors

I also enjoyed the fact that it never snowed in the book, but Penny chose to be happy and decided to wait for something else.

Waiting seems to be a big theme in Kevin Kenkes’ books lately. I can’t help but think of his Geisel honor-winning picture book Waiting in which all of the characters are looking out of the window and waiting for something, much like Penny in most of this book.

interior illustration of Penny looking out the window

I guess the whole point of this post is to talk about whether or not I think Penny and Her Sled stands a shot at receiving the Geisel award. I do. It checks all of the Geisel criteria boxes for me. It’s a lovely, distinguished story to my eyes. The illustrations have that classic Henkes feel. The text is just challenging enough for the child learning to read to be supported and encouraged. I think kids reading this book will empathize with Penny and her longing for snow, and will be happy with the resolution, even though Penny doesn’t get her wish.

Penny and Her Marble received a Geisel honor in 2014, and while this doesn’t mean anything for Penny and Her Sled’s 2020 prospects, I think that a new Penny book will definitely be on the Geisel committee’s radar. I feel like there’s a chance that we’ll hear Penny’s name called again this January in Philadelphia.

Friday, November 22, 2019

Whose Footprint is That? by Darrin Lunde, illustrated by Kelsey Oseid

It's always tricky to find those nonfiction titles that might be a good fit for the Geisel -- and a delight when you find one that is!

In Whose Footprint is That?, Lunde and Oseid cleverly create a book that hits all the right notes for beginning readers.  The book is structured so that each new footprint is accompanied by a question ("Whose footprint is that?" for most, though later images of a snake's slithery track and a fossil play with the question a bit) and a clue: a part of the animal peeking around the book's corner, or perhaps some other item, such as a feather, left behind. There's also a one-sentence hint in the text, explaining how the footprint was made.  Then, the question is answered simply with the name of the animal, plus a very brief sentence or two of description. This formatting choice provides admirable repetition, and I can see young readers enjoying guessing what might have made each footprint, scrutinizing the hints on the page and being pleased when they successfully guess the answer.

As with any nonfiction title, some vocabulary may prove challenging, but motivated readers will power through. Plus, Oseid's illustrations are both beautiful and accurate, providing excellent support for the text. The font size is ample, if not generous, and the text placement is predictable. Sentences are short and straightforward, and the subject matter is perennially interesting.

Wondering if this title is a serious contender? Maybe you should make tracks to your local library or bookstore and check it out!

Wednesday, November 20, 2019

What Kids Say - November 2019

Welcome to the third post in this year’s What Kids Say Series. This series is meant to mimic an important part of Geisel Committee members’ experience: observing while kids read Geisel contenders out loud. 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, but in a blog format. Each month I send a list of three or 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. While each of the titles highlighted in this post will be covered by guest contributors at some point this year, the focus of this series is on the experiences and observations from kid readers and their grown-up contributors. 

Contributors can record feedback in any format, however I do provide them with a couple feedback templates (Bookmark, kid feedback sheet, grown up feedback sheet). A big shout out to Jamie Chowning, DaNae Leu, Samantha Marino, and Stacey Rattner for all their hard work sharing, observing, and collecting feedback from the kids in their lives. 

This month about 100 kids in 1st and 2nd grade participated nationwide. Most read just one or two titles. 

And now, let’s get to the books and what kids have to say about them! 

Charlie & Mouse Even Better 
by Laurel Snyder, illustrated 
by Emily Hughes book cover
Charlie & Mouse Even Better by Laurel Snyder, illus. by Emily Hughes 
The third title in this sibling duo series follows up the Geisel Award-winning Charlie & Mouse and (not honored, but still amazing) Charlie & Mouse & Grumpy. As Taylor Worley writes in her review, this title “is another warm, fuzzy, and lovely entry in the Charlie and Mouse series.” Let’s see what the 34 1st and 2nd graders who read this title had to say about it. 

Nearly all the kids said they liked the book enough to reread it or read a sequel (keep your eyes peeled for Charlie & Mouse Outdoors in 2020!), and found it easy to follow. One grown-up contributor wrote that she was surprised at how much the gentle humor engaged her child, “He laughed out loud a couple of times. I think he really identified with the sibling dynamic--he was doing voices that were just spot-on.” When she asked her child what he thought, he said it was "medium" and that he would "maybe" read another. The grown-up contributor also appreciated the episodic, yet connected nature of the books, as well as Mouse's gentle gender nonconformity. “The high-heeled white boots are a fabulous touch.” 

Speaking of humor, it was a highlight for many kids, along with the delicious pancakes and the cake Charlie and Mouse make for Mom. Nearly half the kids mentioned them in their comments: 
  • It was funny, it was interesting, and it had lots of pancakes. 
  • That the boys were asking so many things about pancakes. 
  • How they asked mom for al the pankacks [sic]. 
  • I lacke the cake [sic]. 
  • I like when the kid gav the mom the kace [sic]. 
On a similar note, two children made a point to say how much they disliked “wen the kak brnt [sic].” 

Nearly all the 2nd graders sailed through the text with little to no need for help. However, several 1st graders struggled with some of the words, including: 
  • What 
  • Help 
  • Dragon 
  • Try 
  • Present 
  • Decorate 
  • Bubble 
  • Dollars 
  • Jewel 
  • Instead 
To me, this indicates that this book hits a sweet spot for more confident developing readers who can decode more complex words, but still benefit from the other supportive elements in this title. Clearly, the real committee has plenty to discuss. 

Chick and Brain: Smell My Foot 
by Cece Bell book cover
Chick and Brain: Smell My Foot by Cece Bell 
17 kids, all 2nd graders, read Bell’s graphic novel style beginning reader starring a bird and a brain with large (and smelly) feet. Bell took home an honor in 2013 for Rabbit & Robot: The Sleepover. Let’s see how her newest book about an unlikely duo fares with our kid readers. 

The hilarity of the story was clearly a hit with many readers. “Funny interesting werd. [sic],” was one child’s summation of this title. Many kids said that the phrase, “smell my foot” along with Chick actually smelling Brain’s foot were their favorite parts of the story. Some kids loved that the dog tries to eat the bird, but other kids didn’t. A couple kids said it was both their most and least favorite parts of the book. One grown up contributor noted that her child enjoyed feeling smart while reading this book. She said, “While feeling smart is always a hit with this age group, I think he enjoyed it even more because Chick was such a know-it-all.” Only two words were called out as being challenging, “wow” and “brain.” 

“I appreciated the goofy play on the social niceties that kids this age are learning,” said one of our grown up contributors. Perhaps the real committee will appreciate that too? Only a few more months until the YMAs when we’ll find out! 

See Me Play by Paul Meisel
See Me Play by Paul Meisel 
28 kids in 1st and 2nd grade read Meisel’s fourth canine-driven adventure. As Ashley Waring writes in her round up of summer Holiday House titles, “Meisel’s ability to tell such an engaging and amusing story with limited words is impressive.” 

As the book with the lowest level of text complexity on this month's list, it’s no surprise that several kids commented on how easy it was to read. One kid, who didn’t need any help with the text, proudly wrote, “I din it mess up [sic].” Although most kids didn’t need help decoding any words at all, “fast”, “wants”, “drops”, and “ball” proved a bit of a challenge for some. 

Dogs, as always, are rich with kid appeal, as noted by several kids in their comments, “I lac the dogs [sic].” And the fact that the dogs don’t get the ball at the end of the story was cited by several kids as their favorite part. One child wrote, “I like wene the bird stels the ball” [sic]. Another wrote, “I like the caritr [character]. I like the ilistrashin [illustration]. I like it all.” Nearly all the kids said the book was enjoyable with only a few saying they wouldn’t read a sequel. 

Meisel took home Geisel honors for I See a Cat (2018) and See Me Run (2012). Will See Me Play snag another honor or even the medal? 

Motor Mouse by Cynthia Rylant, 
illustrated by Arthur Howard
 book cover
Motor Mouse by Cynthia Rylant, illus. by Arthur Howard 
Rylant and Howard are no strangers to the Geisel, having won the very first medal in 2006 for Henry and Mudge and the Great Grandpas, along with an honor in 2015 for Mr. Putter & Tabby Turn the Page. Let’s see what our 48 readers, mostly 1st graders and a few 2nd graders, thought of Motor Mouse

The kids had a lot to say about the characters and the food (are we sensing a theme this month?): 
  • I lik it when they tride pie [sic]. 
  • I like wen he makes the cake [sic]. 
  • Telly standing on his head. 
  • I liked the last page with the friends. 
  • I liked when they learned how to share. 

About 25% of the kids needed help 1-10 times while reading this book. The large vocabulary also proved a bit daunting for some with the following words called out as difficult to sound out: 
  • Cabbie 
  • Valentino 
  • Trimmed 
  • Well 
  • Way 
  • Tune 
  • Thought 
  • Deliveries 
  • Invited 
  • Shouted 
  • South 
  • Beside 
  • Arrived 
  • Waking 
  • Point 
  • Nearby 
  • Sign 
  • Handkerchief 
Along with a large vocabulary, this title didn’t seem to have the same kid appeal as other titles on this list with 15 kids saying they either didn’t enjoy the book or wouldn’t read a sequel or both. How will this year’s Rylant and Howard collaboration fare with the real committee? We’ll just have to wait and see! 

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 the titles we blog about via the comments.

Monday, November 18, 2019

Croc and Ally: Fun, Fun, Fun! by Derek Anderson

Headshot of Tanya Prax.
Courtesy of Tanya Prax.
Tanya Prax is a Youth Services Librarian with Arapahoe Libraries in Colorado and has been with the library for 2.5 years. She is from Minnesota and is a lover of the lakes, mountains, sports, and adventures. Her favorite thing about working in libraries is opening people up to the possibilities that libraries can provide. 

Croc and Ally: Fun, Fun, Fun! 
by Derek Anderson book cover. 
Author and illustrator, Derek Anderson, has written a “fun fun fun” early reader called Croc and Ally: Fun, Fun, Fun! This book is one of two in the series and the title sets you up for an enjoyable reading experience right away. Three short stories introduce us to Croc and Ally, two wildly different best friends who always have a problem that needs solving or an adventure to go on. In the first story, A Dry Day for Croc, Ally REALLY wants to go swimming, but Croc does not want to get wet. Ally gets all his swimming gear on, jumps in the water, and invites Croc in. Although Croc still refuses, Ally manages to get him wet with his splashing. In the second story, The New Hat, Ally thinks that Croc needs a new hat since he has had his current one for a long time. They go to the store together to try on a variety of hats, but, in the end, it is not Croc that ends up buying a new hat. In the third story, One Big Bug, Ally finds a spider under his chair. Neither Croc nor Ally like bugs so they must call for back up- Ally's mother! 

Croc and Ally trying on four different hats in front of a mirror from Croc and Ally: Fun, Fun, Fun! by Derek Anderson. 
This book is targeted towards more confident readers who have already cut their teeth on lower level texts. I think every reader will identify either with Croc, who is always a little less sure than his friend, or Ally, who is a little more on the adventurous side. Each story has a plot that flows and is easy to understand. The illustrations are colorful and fun. They do a great job of catching the expressions on Croc and Ally’s faces. The reader can tell when Ally is having fun and when Croc is unsure about something. The illustrations also do a great job of telling the story without needing to read the words. Each story is full of humor and will make the reader giggle. 

Ally's mother helps a spider find his way home from Croc and Ally: Fun, Fun, Fun! by Derek Anderson
Some pages have more text than others but there is a good balance and the text is always easy to see. There are also many repeating words throughout each short story. I think that having short stories, or chapters, sets readers up for a successful reading experience as it gives them confidence and makes it seem as if they are reading a longer or “older kids” book.This book series would be great for fans of Elephant and Piggie, Monkey and Cake, or Arnold and Louise

Ally swimming and Croc refusing to from Croc and Ally: Fun, Fun, Fun! by Derek Anderson
All in all, Croc and Ally: Fun, Fun, Fun! has Geisel Award potential with its colorful illustrations and funny and straightforward stories.

Editor's Note: It has come to our attention that Croc and Ally: Fun, Fun, Fun! has a 2018 publication date, so it is unfortunately ineligible for the Geisel Award. However, we hope you've still found this post helpful. 

Friday, November 15, 2019

The Pigeon HAS to Go to School! and Who is the Mystery Reader? by Mo Willems

Today's guest contributor, Benji Martin, 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.

I used to jokingly refer to the Geisel award as the “Elephant and Piggie Award”. It seemed to me that Mo Willems was bringing the award home every year for his latest E & P installment. In my head, Mo Willems was basically a Geisel award factory, pumping them out whenever he felt like it.

I imagined Mo and Trixie sitting down at breakfast and talking about what the day was going to look like. Trixie would be bringing her Knuffle Bunny in to school for show-and-tell or something like that, and Mo would say, “Well, I haven’t won a major award in a while, and there’s some space left in my display case, so I think I’m going to sit down and write another 'Elephant and Piggie' book.”

I looked it up and saw that he had only actually won the gold medal two times, in 2008 and 2009. He received a Geisel honor in 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014 and 2015, and is, by far, the author and illustrator recognized by the Geisel committee most often. He’s the only person to win the gold medal twice, and no one else has been awarded more than two honors.

All of that Geisel love was for Elephant and Piggie, though. Knuffle Bunny and the Pigeon have gotten some Caldecott recognition, but nothing Geisel-wise. So, what about the newest Pigeon book, The Pigeon HAS to Go to School? Will this be the year that the Geisel committee ends Mo’s five year Geisel drought?

The Pigeon HAS to Go to School!

Cover of The Pigeon HAS to Go to
by Mo Willems
Let me just tell you, I love a good back-to-school book. I am a school librarian, and the summer is long. I come in to the school year a little rusty, and out of practice when it comes to planning my class story times. It’s all good, though. The story times on the first week of school practically create themselves. I can read Rocking in my School Shoes, We Don’t Eat Our Classmates or School’s First Day of School while I get back into the groove of things. The Pigeon HAS to Go to School! Is another fun one to add to my back-to-school arsenal.

Most of my students already know the Pigeon well, and in this particular book, I think they enjoy sharing the anxieties of a new school year with a familiar character. The Pigeon is very nervous about starting school for the first time. He freaks out a bunch, as the Pigeon will do, and then changes his mind completely when he realizes that a bus will be taking him to school, which is a fun inside joke for those who have read the first Pigeon book.

Image from The Pigeon HAS to Go to School! by Mo Willems

Is it Geisel award material, though? It’s a good book, but is it distinguished? I think it is a great addition to the Pigeon series, but does it do anything new or different? Is it individually distinct?

Unfortunately, for me, this book doesn’t really tell a new story. I’ve seen the “anxious character starting school” book pretty often. It doesn’t really stand out among other back-to-school books, and it isn’t the best Pigeon book Mo has written, either. If I was sitting on the Geisel award committee this year, it would be very hard for me to say that The Pigeon HAS to Go to School! is one of the most distinguished beginning readers of 2019. I will be reading it to my students every August, probably for the rest of my career, and I think it’s a wonderful book, but when I stop and think about what “distinguished” really means to me, this one doesn’t quite hit the mark.

Who is the Mystery Reader?

Cover of Who is the Mystery
 by Mo Willems
The Pigeon HAS to Go to School! isn’t Mo’s only chance for a Geisel this year, though! Who is the Mystery Reader? is the second book in Mo’s "Unlimited Squirrels" series, and definitely fits in that beginning reader category, at least for most of the book.

I can’t help but think of Elephant and Piggie when I read these "Unlimited Squirrels" books. They have the same dialog-driven format, with lots of white space. Although, I do sometimes feel like the large number of characters takes away from some of the simplicity that made the "Elephant and Piggie" books so genius. Gerald and Piggie are very different, and their voices are so distinct. I don’t feel that way about the squirrels. I have trouble telling them apart sometimes.

In the first section of the book, the main story, the language is pretty simple and perfect for a pre-k through 2nd grade reader. The words that might offer the child a challenge like “mystery” appear often enough to ensure knowledge retention.

The story is unique and, to me, very distinguished. The idea of the mystery super reader is original, and the squirrels teaching each other to sound out the words is appropriate for kids who are learning to read. I think kids will love that they know what the stop sign says before the squirrels figure it out. 

I think if the book stopped there, after the first section, it would have been a very short beginning reader, but it might have been on the Geisel committee’s radar. After that, though, I feel like Mo tries to do too much.

Image from Who is the Mystery Reader? by Mo Willems

At one point, the squirrels bring in this big text book called the Book of Wonders, and they learn about the earliest types of writing like cuneiform and hieroglyphs. While this is all interesting, and something I would have loved as a child, I feel like the language in the book, which was so accessible to the child learning to read before, takes a drastic turn and becomes much more difficult. I feel like this part will be frustrating for the kid who has been working their way through the book. A new reader will either ignore this part completely, or will, hopefully, find an adult to help. For me, that one small section of the book probably takes it out of Geisel award contention.

Will Mo Willem’s five year drought end in 2020? My guess is probably not. I think that Who is the Mystery Reader? has a better chance than The Pigeon HAS to Go to School!, but in the end, neither really scream ‘GEISEL AWARD WINNER!!!” at me like some of Mo’s other books have in the past.