Friday, August 23, 2019

Charlie and Mouse Even Better by Laurel Snyder, illustrated by Emily Hughes

Taylor WorleyOur guest blogger today is Taylor Worley. Taylor (she/her) is a Youth Librarian at Springfield Public Library in Oregon. When she isn’t reading, she can be found drinking tea while stuck in a video game, making something with yarn, or exploring. She has two dogs, Olivander (Oliver) and Gregorovitch (Gregory). You can find her on Instagram or Goodreads @thatonelibrarian.

Charlie and Mouse are back for round three! These two adorable kids leapt onto the early reader scene in 2017 with their debut, Charlie and Mouse. Author Laurel Snyder and illustrator Emily Hughes took home the Geisel Award for that first book in 2018. Since then, readers got to know Charlie and Mouse more in Charlie and Mouse and Grumpy and now in Charlie and Mouse Even Better. Even Better is eligible for the 2020 Geisel Award, but does the third outing stand up to the legacy of the first? 

Cover image: Charlie and Mouse Even Better
Even Better is divided into four short chapters: making pancakes with Mom, gift shopping with Dad, birthday party prep and disaster, and operation “distract mom”/successful birthday celebration. This format, accompanied by Hughes’ distinct illustrations, is consistent throughout the series and is a large part of what makes the titles successful for beginning readers. The chapters are not numbered; they are simply headings that provide a key for the plot’s shifting focus. The text stays tight and straightforward with wide margins and ample line spacing. The illustrations are the epitome of sweet, with bright colors and feathery lines. Commendation must be given to Hughes for her ability to express a vast array of emotions through eyebrows alone!

With the history of the series, there is no denying that Charlie and Mouse are a great resource for beginning readers. The question here, however, is if Even Better reaches that benchmark of “distinguished” above all other beginning reader titles this year. When reading Even Better to a variety of willing participants, one thing particularly caught my attention. My youngest listeners - those entering Kindergarten in fall 2019 - very much enjoyed this title as a read-aloud. They engaged with the pictures, asked questions, and wanted to continue through each page until the end. However, an even slightly older audience quickly lost interest in this title. When surveying families, those with incoming first and second graders unanimously said, “No, my child wouldn’t be drawn to this book.” So, where is the disconnect? 

Interior image from Charlie and Mouse Even Better: Mom making pancake dragons
Charlie and Mouse are young characters, and the cover of Even Better looks, in my sample audiences’ words, “babyish”. The text, however, is more challenging. The disconnect, I believe, is in the presentation of this particular title versus its intended audience. The intended audience is just a touch older than the audience that is enjoying this title as a read-aloud. Consequently, this book struggles to find the sweet spot of “motivating independent reading” while maintaining the “page-turning dynamic.” This doesn’t mean it is a bad book by any stretch, but it does undermine the book’s ability to take home a Geisel for being the “most distinguished” beginning reader title this year.

The TLDR is that Charlie and Mouse Even Better is another warm, fuzzy, and lovely entry in the Charlie and Mouse series. It is a good resource for some, but perhaps not all, beginning readers. It should absolutely be in your libraries, but I would be surprised if it walked away with the gold this year.

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