Monday, September 30, 2019

I Will Race You Through This Book! by Jonathan Fenske

Book cover with bunny running
Cover of I Will Race You
Through This Book!
by Jonathan Fenske
The race is on! Jonathan Fenske’s I Will Race You Through This Book! opens with a challenge from Book-It Bunny to see who can reach the end of the book first. But readers must beware of Book-It Bunny, because here is a bunny that will try every trick in the book to win the race—even distracting the hapless reader with reported sightings of flying cows.

Uncluttered illustrations and abundant negative space keep the focus entirely on the characters. Double page spreads are periodically broken up by panels, a framework that will be familiar to existing fans of Fenske’s work. Book-It Bunny’s challenges (and pleas for the reader to slow down and taunts when she briefly pulls ahead) unfold in crisp rhyme. The font is large and clear, with emphasis given to particular words through the use of color, size, and occasionally, texture. All of this adds up to a well-paced story with visual emphasis and rests in all the right places and an exciting text that propels the reader through to the end.

Bunny panting after running
Image from I Will Race You Through This Book!
Fenske excels at establishing character through a handful of facial expressions, and Book-It Bunny is no exception. She transitions from huge-grinned confidence to sweat-drenched doubt in a single page-turn as the reader overtakes her. She is loud and tricksy, and best of all, resilient. The end of the book—and the race—is certainly not enough to stop Book-It Bunny, because she’s already getting ready for the next round. It’s a double win for a young reader, who gets the confidence boost of beating the bunny, as well as insider knowledge of how the bunny is likely to fare in her next race against a snail, who shares a knowing look with the reader.

Bunny trying to keep up with reader
Image from I Will Race You Through This Book!
This title calls back to both the endearing fable of the tortoise and the hare as well as the rich history of metafictional children’s literature, while still standing strong on its own (speedy) legs. Like its predecessor The Monster At the End of This Book, I Will Race You Through This Book! is literally designed to make kids hurry to the end, even as the characters within beg the reader to slow down. (Although Book-It Bunny’s motives are not nearly as altruistic as Grover’s.) And as with Grover—not to mention the Pigeon—young readers will take particular delight in defying Book-It Bunny, building reading confidence with each turn of the page.

Crisp text, punchy illustrations, hilarious bunny antics, and a race to the finish: What more could you ask for out of a Geisel contender?!

Friday, September 27, 2019

Interview with 2019 Geisel Winner Corey R. Tabor

Today's exciting interview comes to us via Carol Edwards. Carol is a longtime librarian, book reviewer and ALSC member. Now retired, she keeps her chops honed in various ways, but the most fun is the Colorado Book Evaluation (CBE) Discussions. This is a group that meets quarterly and nominates for many of the major ALSC awards leading to a mock discussion where winners are selected. Her interest in the Geisel Award has been piqued by the astute comments and rich discussions of fellow members. Having sat with Corey at the 2019 Newbery Caldecott Legacy Banquet, the suggestion to do an interview with Corey, from Guessing Geisel co-host Amy Seto Forrester, seemed like a natural fit! 

Headshot of Corey R. Tabor. Courtesy of Corey R. Tabor. 
Lucky me, I got to interview 2019 Geisel winner Corey R. Tabor this summer. I had a million questions, but here are Corey’s answers to the most important ones. 

Carol: Where were you when you got the call from the committee that you’d won? Were you thinking you might win? 

Corey: I was doing the dishes when I got the call. I dried my hands and paused my podcast and pulled out my phone, and saw a number I didn’t recognize. Must be spam, I thought. So I put my phone away and resumed my scrubbing. But then I paused. I knew the ALA award announcements were the following morning (when all of us children’s book authors and illustrators keep our phones fully charged and close by—you never do know). I definitely wasn’t expecting to win anything, but I had recently discovered that Fox is Late had won the mock Geisel here on Guessing Geisel, so I knew it was a possibility. I pulled my phone back out and asked my wife, who was in the other room, to look up the number. “Philadelphia,” she called. “Why?” I’d never gotten a spam call from Philadelphia before. And there are definitely librarians [who work] in Philadelphia. Then my phone started ringing again. Same number. Suddenly I was light-headed and a little shaky. I don’t remember what Sarah Stippich, Chair of the Geisel Committee, said when I answered. I only remember saying “Wow,” and “Thank you,” a whole lot, and I remember hearing a bunch of cheering, giggling librarians. Later, when my editor called to congratulate me I had to double-check with her whether I’d won the award or an honor. I didn’t trust my memory of the call and I wasn’t entirely sure I hadn’t just imagined the whole thing. The next morning, because ALA Midwinter happened to be in Seattle, I rode my bike down to the convention center and sat in an enormous room with hundreds (thousands?) of raucous librarians as all the awards were announced. What an unbelievable experience! 

Carol: How did you become an early reader author illustrator? What led you to this format? 

Sketch of Fox with a giant jetpack. 
Courtesy of Corey R. Tabor. 

Corey: When HarperCollins decided to publish my first Fox book, Fox and the Jumping Contest, they asked if I had any other story ideas for Fox. I don’t remember whether I actually did at the time, but (pro tip) the answer to that question is always yes. (Panic can be a good story generator.) They told me they wanted another picture book and two early readers featuring Fox. I had never considered writing early readers, but when I thought about it I realized that many of my favorite books from childhood were early readers: Frog and Toad; Go, Dog. Go!; The Cat in the Hat; Amelia Bedelia; the Berenstain Bears. I was pretty sure I knew how to write a picture book, and an early reader couldn’t be so different, right? A year or two later when it came time to write the early readers I realized, to my dismay, that I still didn’t know how to write an early reader (I do this thing where I always assume future Corey will be smarter and more capable than I am). But I wasn’t going to let that stop me. I sat down and wrote something called Fox and the Everything Machine. I sent it to my editor and anxiously waited for a response. But instead of notes on the story she sent me a box of early readers. Her message was clear. So I went to the library and checked out all the early readers I could carry and I spent a few months studying them, absorbing them, trying to figure out how they work. 

Then I sat down again and wrote Fox the Tiger. Some stories take me months of agonizing to work out, but Fox the Tiger arrived pretty much whole. Sometimes there’s nothing more creatively freeing and inspiring than a set of strict rules. I’ve really grown to enjoy the early reader format and I hope to keep making them. (I’m working on my third and fourth Fox early readers right now!) 

Carol: When creating a book what comes first? Some artists get text and go from there. Given you create both text and illustration where do you start? 

Corey: My stories usually come to me as just the tiniest flash of an idea, often an image (a fox with a jetpack, a fox painted with stripes to look like a tiger) and then I’ll mull the idea over until a story starts to form. I’ll sit down and try to write and sketch out the entire story on a single sheet of paper. This stage is always ridiculously rough and would be pretty unintelligible to anyone else, but I’ve found that it’s best if I do it as quickly as possible, and don’t second-guess myself too much. Then I go back to the beginning and sketch everything out full-sized, adding details and visual gags and refining the text. The text and images are pretty inextricably linked—I rarely come up with the one without the other, and they absolutely rely on each other to tell the story. Fox is Late, for example, would be pretty nonsensical without the images: “Fox does this trick, Fox does that trick. Go, Fox! Go! Fox goes over. Fox goes under. Go, Fox! Go!”  

Story ideas for Fox is a Tiger. Courtesy of Corey R. Tabor.

Carol: Why fox? I love fox, but how did you settle on writing and drawing fox? And not an armadillo or a cat or any other creature?

Corey: It was an accident, really. It was around Christmas several years ago and I had recently made a pre-New Year’s resolution to start drawing in my sketchbook more (I’m still pretty bad about this), so I was sitting on the couch sketching the ornaments on our tree. One of the ornaments was this handmade, pine-coney, wooden fox my wife had given me. My sketch didn’t look much like the ornament, but the character I’d drawn really spoke to me—he seemed eager to jump right off the page and into a picture book. I drew the fox over and over, from different angles, in different poses, and then, I don’t remember why, I gave him a jetpack. That fox with a jetpack inspired me to write Fox and the Jumping Contest which ended up launching my whole career. 

Carol: Has winning the Geisel changed your life in any way? Big or small? 

Corey: Thanks to the Geisel my publisher flew me out to Washington DC for the ALA annual conference to accept the award. I got to meet and speak to hundreds of wonderful librarians, and I even got to meet some of my all-time favorite picture book heroes. The greatest thing about winning the award though is that it lets me keep doing my favorite thing: making children’s books! I’m very grateful for that. 

Photograph of Corey R. Tabor working in his studio. Courtesy of Corey R. Tabor. 

We are grateful too. Corey Tabor’s upcoming book, Snail Crossing is coming out in February 2020. I, for one, can’t wait.

Wednesday, September 25, 2019

Beginning Reader Survey Responses

Many thanks to the 22 readers who responded to our survey on labeling and shelving books for beginning readers! Here's what we learned:

Question 1: What do you call beginning reader books in your library?
We suggested several possible responses to this question, and also had a comment field available for libraries that use other terms – a good thing, too! Of the provided answers, most said that they call these books Beginning Readers (6), Easy Readers (5), or just Readers (4). A couple use the term Early Readers, and one selected Beginner Books. Of the write-in responses, two use the term Levels or Level Books, one uses Juvenile Starters, one uses Primers, and one uses Early Chapter Books.

Question 2: How do you shelve your beginning reader books?
On this question, the vast majority of respondents (15) indicated that they shelve their beginning reader books alphabetically by author, while considerably fewer (5) indicated that they group books by level and then alphabetize. One respondent uses bins to separate books by level, and one shelves books by topic or neighborhood. A couple of write-in comments indicated special treatment to keep popular series or movie and TV tie-in books together, and a couple cited special treatment for nonfiction readers (either shelving them with the other nonfiction books, or shelving them within the reader section, but by topic).

Question 3: How do you handle leveling your readers?
The majority of respondents (10) said that they do not indicate any kind of level anywhere on the book, beyond what the publisher provides. However, almost as many (9) print the level on the spine label or use a color-coding system on the spine to indicate level. A couple write the level inside the book, and one respondent indicated that they write the level or use some system to indicate it on the outside of the book, somewhere on the front or back cover.

Within our small sample size, we can say that the typical collection of these books is called Beginning/Early Readers (or just Readers), is shelved alphabetically by author, and either has no indication of level, or has the level or a color-coding system to indicate level on the spine label. What about you? Didn't get a chance to respond to our survey? Or maybe you did, but you think you've found the perfect way to handle these books? Tell us all about it in the comments!

Monday, September 23, 2019

What Kids Say - September 2019

I’m happy to say that our popular What Kids Say monthly series is back for its second year! 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). Many thanks to Jamie Chowning, DaNae Leu, Samantha Marino, and Amma Romero, for all their hard work sharing, observing, and collecting feedback from the kids in their lives.This month over 50 kids in K-2nd grade participated nationwide. Most read just one or two titles. Without further ado, let’s see what kids are saying about this month’s titles! 

King & Kayla and the Case of Found Fred 
by Dori Hillestad Butler, 
illustrated by Nancy Meyers 
book cover
King & Kayla and the Case of Found Fred by Dori Hillestad Butler, illustrated by Nancy Meyers 
This kid-doggy sleuthing duo are back for their fifth adventure. As DaNae Leu wrote in her review earlier this month, “This is the type of format that I see my second-stage readers return to over and over.” 26 kids read this title, and nearly all of them said they would read it again. 100% of them said they’d read a sequel. One child said, “If they made about 23 more, I would read all 23.” 

As might be expected, the canine characters were a hit with many kids. Readers liked that Fred is found and reunited with his owner, but the story element beloved by the most kids was the moment when “King jumped in the wuter [sic]”. Several kids found King’s enthusiasm for everything funny, “He always says that everything is his favorite!” One grown-up contributor pointed to King’s inner monologue as hitting just the right doggy tone, “so exactly what I would imagine a dog wanting to say.” In general, the humor of the book stood out to many readers, as well as grown-up contributors, “As my child’s tastes start to run more toward Avengers and gross-out humor, it was lovely to take some time to sit down together with something a little more prosocial, but still funny.” 

Most kids reading this book were in 2nd grade and were able to successfully read most words. However, several kids cited “detective” as a challenging word, a point further driven home by the fact that they spelled it, “detectiv”, “ditectivs”, “detis”, and “dtective.” Another tough word was “collar.” 

Two King & Kayla titles have garnered Geisel honors (2019, 2018). Will this be the one to take home the top prize? 

We are (Not) Friends by Anna Kang, 
illustrated by Christopher Weyant
book cover
We are (Not) Friends by Anna Kang, illustrated by Christopher Weyant 
The third companion book to the Geisel Award winning You Are (Not) Small (2015), this title about the emotional dynamics of friendship was read by 24 kids with the majority in 2nd grade. In her review of this title, Robbin Friedman writes, “this story of friendship, kindness, and hurt feelings will resonate with most beginning readers, who may also be beginners at cultivating relationships and reacting to other people’s emotions.” 

As with King & Kayla, the humor of the story was notable for many kids. When asked what they liked, quite a few kids shared specific moments, such as “Wen thy played spis [sic]” and “When the new friend wanted to build jeep [sic].” Another child encompassed all those moments by saying, “It had a good emajennashen [sic].” Some kids liked that there was a bit of a moral to the story, “I liked that it tot you that you can be frens with evry one [sic].” But other kids mentioned they didn’t like when the friends weren’t getting along. One child simply wrote, “Thar is to mach drama [sic]”. 

“Duet” and “Scarier” were called out as difficult words. Some kids needed help sounding out words between 1-5 times. Most kids found the story easy to follow, but there were a couple who found it confusing. Regardless, most kids said they would read it again, along with a sequel. 

The Book Hog by Greg Pizzoli
book cover 
The Book Hog by Greg Pizzoli 
Pizzoli is no stranger to the Geisel (The Watermelon Seed took home the medal in 2014 and Good Night Owl was named an honor book in 2017). The Book Hog follows the literacy development of a book-loving pig. In her post from last month, co-host Misti Tidman pointed to the large font and uncluttered backgrounds as strong supportive elements. 

24 kids, mostly 2nd graders, read this title. Several kids mentioned they liked the character’s love of books, “I liked that he liked books, but he cood not read [sic].” Another reader said they liked that the Book Hog “had a sickrit; a big sekrit [sic].” And a third reader gleefully enjoyed the bathroom scene, “the paret were he was in the betheroom [sic].” 

A few kids said the book was easy to read, but not interesting, however, for the most part kids said they’d read it again and would love a sequel. Some difficult words for readers included “several” and “could.” 

Will The Book Hog be Pizzoli’s third brush with the Geisel? We shall 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.

Friday, September 20, 2019

Hello, I’m Here! poem by Helen Frost, photographs by Rick Lieder

Image of Ann Schwab. 
Courtesy of Ann Schwab. 
Ann Schwab is a Senior Librarian with Denver Public Library where she manages the Central Children’s Library. She currently leads the library’s Grade Level Reading project team and is excited to explore new ways to support children in K – 3rd grade (and the adults in their lives!) as they learn to read. 

“The committee shall consider all forms of writing-- 
fiction, non-fiction, and poetry.” 
Will a book of verse have a chance of winning 
precious gold in 2020? 

Hello, I'm Here! by Helen Frost, photographs by Rick Lieder book cover

Yes, this could indeed be the year poetry breaks through the Geisel glass ceiling! Poet Helen Frost and photographer Rick Lieder are back with their fifth celebration of the natural world, Hello, I’m Here! This latest offering immerses the reader in the marshy habitat and life of a newly hatched sandhill crane. 

Photograph of an adult and newly hatched sandhill crane from Hello, I'm Here! by Helen Frost, photographs by Rick Lieder

The action kicks off as the young chick hatches and learns to stand and walk. The chick soon explores its surroundings with its brother. Together they flap wings and venture towards the water, but are warned of the threat of snapping turtles by a protective parent. After a meal of bug and snail, the adventure winds down as the tiny protagonist returns home: “We’ve been busy-- / Time for a rest! / Mama’s strong wings / make a soft, warm nest.” 

Photographs of two baby sandhill cranes being protected by their parent from Hello, I'm Here! by Helen Frost, photographs by Rick Lieder

Frost’s quatrains, one on each page spread, are composed of mostly one or two syllable words. The rhyming verses, combined with the large, sans serif font and ample leading support the beginning reader experience. Lieder’s crisp, large photographs clearly “demonstrate the story being told” and serve as a motivator to keep readers engaged with the plot and turning pages. 

There are a few aspects of the book that may challenge a new reader. There is very little repetition and new words are introduced on almost every spread. There are also a few pages where the black text is set on a dark green background making it a bit difficult to read. 

Overall, Hello, I’m Here is a strong contender. The pairing of Frost’s narrative verse with Lieder’s intimate photographs distinguishes it from other titles giving poetry a chance for Geisel gold.

Thursday, September 19, 2019

April Pulley Sayre Titles

Guest blogger Danielle Jones
Danielle Jones
Today's guest poster is Danielle Jones, 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.

April Pulley Sayre is the author of over 50 books for young readers, with most books focusing on the natural world. Ever prolific and always poetic, this year she has several books that can be considered for the Geisel.

cover image of Like a Lizard
Like A Lizard
Like a Lizard, illustrated by Stephanie Laberis, connects young readers to the behaviors and characteristics of the wide array of squamate reptiles. With poetic cadence, she asks readers, "Can you run like a lizard? Sun like a lizard? Bob your head like a lizard? One, two!" Laberis' illustrations show a unique lizard demonstrating the said action with its species name in small print. Incredibly engaging, packed with information, and with main text that is both accessible and fun, this unfortunately might make a tough sell as an early reader. Species names get lost in the illustrations, even for more experienced readers, and though aesthetically pleasing, the swirling text would become cumbersome for an emergent reader. Although ideal as a read-aloud for its target audience, it would be better shared together with younger readers.

Cover image of Did You Burp
Did You Burp?
Did You Burp? How to Ask Questions...Or Not!, illustrated by Leeza Hernandez, looks at asking questions from a variety of angles. Whether they come from curiosity, need of clarification, or trying to get to know someone, this book serves as a guide and inspiration for when and how to ask questions. This is another title that is brilliant in how it conveys a heady topic to a young audience. Even more so than Like a Lizard, this could be a hard stretch to serve as an early reader. It is full of rich language but many complicated words. Also, the layout, fonts, and speech bubble lettering would be a challenge for an emerging reader to navigate.

Sayre is as much a notable photographer as she is a poet, and has created several books combining the two that are both full of the wonder of the natural world and informational. This year's Bloom Boom! textually is the most accessible to early readers. There is great repetition of the phrase "Bloom, boom!" and unique, but easy to sound out, rhyming words such as "Petals curve. Insects swerve," that are reinforced with both the curving text and the accompanying photos.

Cover image of Bloom Boom
Bloom Boom
I have had the opportunity to use Bloom Boom! in a storytime setting to great success. Children wanted to pour over the pictures, but were also equally excited to turn the page to see what was next, hitting that Geisel criteria of a "page-turning dynamic." An informational book has never won the Geisel and it is rare to see one win an honor, the only times being Wolfsnail: A Backyard Predator by Sarah C. Campbell in 2009 and Vulture View by Sayre in 2008. Could Bloom Boom! break the over-a-decade-long dry spell?

Tuesday, September 17, 2019

CaldeGeisel 2020!

Cover of Good Boy
by Sergio Ruzzier
Happy Tuesday, everyone! We're super excited to have gotten another invitation from the folks over at Calling Caldecott to discuss a title with crossover Geiesel/Caldecott appeal. This year we discuss the merits of Good Boy by Sergio Ruzzier. Check out the post on Calling Caldecott, then let us know what you think! 

Monday, September 16, 2019

Holiday House Summer Titles

Ashley Waring is a Children's Librarian at the Reading Public Library (MA). She loves informational books, because learning something new is awesome!

Our band of canine friends are up to more fun adventures! If you know any kiddos who enjoyed tagging along with this crew in the previous Meisel books See Me Dig and See Me Run, you can confidently hand them this new title. See Me Play has been marked by Holiday House as a Guided Level C book. There is plenty of word and phrase repetition here, supported by humorous cartoon illustrations. Each double-page spread features one sentence; Meisel’s ability to tell such an engaging and amusing story with limited words is impressive.

Over the course of the book, we follow a fun-loving band of dogs as they chase a ball across land, air, and water. When a lion eats the ball, are our heroes defeated? Of course not! The final spread shows them looking up at a person holding a stick with the text, “I see a stick.” This open ending entices emerging readers to imagine what adventures await. I would not be surprised if the Geisel committee is taking a close look at this book. It is a very successful beginning reader, and meets many of the award’s criteria. Regardless, it is a wonderful addition to the Holiday House “I Like to Read” series and an excellent book for brand-new readers at your library.

Another summer “I Like to Read” title is Ethan Long’s Horse and Buggy Paint It Out! This new book follows the two title characters originally introduced in Horse and Buggy Dance, Dance, Dance! The illustrations feature Horse and Buggy against bright, plain backgrounds, which create half- and full-page panels. This may confuse some early readers, who will need to learn in what order to read the panels. As Anna Taylor noted in her review of Dance, Dance, Dance!, this book could serve as an introduction to the graphic novel format.

The story follows creative and free-spirited Horse as they attempt to paint a mural. We see them with buckets of paint and a brush. Their more organized friend Buggy offers to help Horse make a plan in order to better accomplish the goal of painting a mural. Horse initially refuses, but after some mishaps, they finally ask Buggy for help.

This title has been marked by Holiday House as Guided Level G; it features less phrase repetition, as well as more complicated words like “neither” and “finally.” The word “mural” is repeated throughout the book, but the reader does not see a mural until the final spread. I think it’s unfortunate that the reader does not get any clues from the pictures to help decipher this potentially new vocabulary word. Another concern is the use of the onomatopoeic word “HMPH.” It may be challenging for an early reader to decipher this bunch of consonants, although Horse’s disdainful expression and the plot do give clues to what the word may be.

If you have a reader who enjoyed Horse and Buggy’s first book, they may like this one as well. It could also be a good fit for fans of Mo Willems’s "Elephant and Piggie" books who are looking for an early introduction to the graphic novel format.

Friday, September 13, 2019

The Little Guys by Vera Brosgol

Cover of The Little Guys
by Vera Brosgol 
Vera Brosgol’s The Little Guys opens upon a woodland panorama with bears, a trotting fox, and a snoozing owl, and a nod to "the strongest guys in the whole forest". But it's not who you think! We zoom in to discover that the strongest guys are, in fact, the littlest: a band of acorn-esque creatures with courage in spades. And together, they can get everything they need.

At first, we can’t help but appreciate the Little Guys’ independence: They can cross the deep water, even where they can't see the bottom; they don't fear the dark forest; they can find enough food for all of them. It's a piece of cake! But gradually the reader begins to notice what the Little Guys don’t see: Their actions are upsetting the other denizens of the forest, who are tumbled out of their homes as the Little Guys tip logs and shake branches. Before long, the Little Guys graduate from self-sufficiency to outright aggression, beating up the biggest animal they can find (a hapless bear just bringing a fish home to the cub) and taking everything for themselves. Nothing stops the Little Guys! Until, of course, something does, and suddenly the Little Guys find themselves in need of a little help from a few big friends.

image from
As a picture book, the quality of both story and illustrations is top notch. As a Geisel contender, The Little Guys isn’t perfect, but it has a lot going for it. The vocabulary is fairly simple, and the repetition of certain chunks of text—”We are the Little Guys” and “Yes, we are small. But there are a lot of us”—is certainly beneficial to a reader looking to build confidence. Some illustrations clearly add context for the text, particularly as they lift logs and climb trees. However, some parts of the text don’t have any help from the illustrations, such as “Easy peasy” and “A piece of cake for the Little Guys”. There are a few spreads where busy backgrounds may require an extra second to locate the text on the page, but for the most part, the text stands out against the background, making it easier for early readers to decipher. This is especially true as the text itself grows larger with each page turn, mirroring the Little Guys’ collective ego.

image from
The kid appeal of this one also seems high, both for content and aesthetic. The Little Guys are cute, there’s no doubt about it! And the illustrations leave plenty of space for young readers to visually decode the consequences of the Little Guys’ actions that go unremarked upon in the text. This results in a simple text with rich layers of meaning, ideal for a beginning reader. One particularly dramatic page turn results in a 90° rotation of the book, visually marking the high point for the Little Guys and making the book itself more engaging.

All in all, though The Little Guys may not be the best fit for a young reader’s first solo read, it fills a space between those who are just starting to learn to read and those who are ready for the slightly longer, chaptered beginning readers. Will it stand out as the strongest Geisel contender this year? What do you think?

Wednesday, September 11, 2019

Geisel - Reconciling the Man, the Award, and the Legacy

Today's post was co-written by Robbin Friedman and Danielle Jones. Robbin 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. Danielle 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. 

You all know the story. Theodor Seuss Geisel, writing under the goofy pen-name Dr. Seuss, produced nearly 60 children’s books, one unbeloved adult book, and hundreds of cartoons during his decades-long career in publishing. After several successful books, his publisher challenged him to write an early reader primer that would offer entertainment and a limited vocabulary. The 1957 publication of The Cat in the Hat has been seen as revolutionizing early readers with the possibility that they could be engaging while supporting early literacy. 

The Geisel Award—funded through an endowment from the San Diego Foundation’s Dr. Seuss Fund—was first presented in 2006 and is administered by the Association for Library Service to Children (ALSC) to be given annually “to the most distinguished American book for beginning readers.” Concentrating on the factors that made the Seuss’ Beginning Readers so popular for generations learning to read, the criteria emphasize the ways a book fosters engagement and motivates readers. 

Recently, ALSC has been reevaluating the organization’s prestigious awards' namesakes. Responding to growing concerns that racist content in the namesakes’ books doesn’t align with ALSC’s mission, an Awards Program Review Task Force was created. Notably, they found the Laura Ingalls Wilder Award to have an “inconsistency between Wilder’s legacy and ALSC’s core values.” In 2018, after research, a survey of the division’s membership, and a recommendation from the task force, the ALSC board voted to rename it the Children’s Literature Legacy Award. The task force continued to collect information on additional award names, including the Newbery, Caldecott, Sibert, and, yes, the Geisel. 

For these awards, the concern remains: Do the messages conveyed by the work of honoree-in-name align with ALSC’s mission and goals? Do award books “demonstrate integrity and respect for all children’s lives and experiences?” How do we apply these questions to Seuss? 

Many have begun to debate Dr. Seuss’s prominence in the field of children’s literature. Advocates point to Geisel’s long history of racist tropes in children’s books and political cartoons. Scholars including Philip Nel, Katie Ishizuka, and Ramon Stephens have written extensively about white supremacist images and ideas in Dr. Seuss’s work, including the anti-black minstrel background of the Cat in the Hat and anti-Asian depictions appearing over decades. 

Does our society’s continued reverence of his work perpetuate racist ideas among the youngest readers? Do these images and tropes exclude some readers from his buoyant universe and take space from positive, inclusive representations? Celebrations like the National Education Association’s Read Across America Day (held on March 2, Geisel’s birthday), have de-emphasized his importance in their mission, focusing instead on diversity. 

Others argue Seuss holds a special position among writers of beginning readers for his ability to pair entertainment with early literacy, and some assert that intergenerational love for his work carries its own weight and value. As with the Wilder debate, some proponents caution against historical revisionism, arguing we must live with our history and teach the context. Geisel Honoree Grace Lin contends that Dr. Seuss evolved in his thinking and his later work reflects attempts to make amends for earlier bigotry. Lin celebrates the artist’s growth as a human being, as demonstrated in later beloved books, and proudly stands by the award with his name and image. 

So, Guessing Geisel community, what does the medal mean to you? How do you think we should honor our most distinguished books for beginning readers? 

As a reminder, Guessing Geisel is in no way affiliated with nor reflective of the views of this year’s Real Committee for the Theodor Seuss Geisel Award, whose selections will be announced at the ALA Midwinter Meeting Youth Media Awards. Opinions stated here do not reflect the attitudes or opinions of ALSC, SLJ, Booklist, or any other institutions with which the authors are affiliated. Our thoughts on eligibility or the strength of a contender are entirely speculation.

Monday, September 9, 2019

King & Kayla and the Case of Found Fred by Dori Hillestad Butler, Illustrated by Nancy Meyers

Photo of DaNae Leu, courtesy of DaNae Leu
DaNae Leu is an elementary school librarian at a K-6 school in Kaysville, UT. For the past few years she has conducted a Mock Geisel for her first and second grades and is impressed with their passion for evaluating the books created just for them. 

The Edgar Award winning early chapter book series, The Buddy Files has long been a favorite with my students. Years ago, its first title, The Case of the Lost Boy was placed on our Battle of the Books list. But before Buddy was Buddy, he went by King and before he Lost a Boy, he lived with a girl named Kayla. King & Kayla and the Case of Found Fred is the fifth installment of this early-reader chapter book series, already honored twice by Geisel (The Missing Dog Treats, honor title, 2018 & The Case of the Lost Tooth, honor title 2019). As a prequal to the meatier Buddy Files, the King & Kayla installments lose none of their ability to sketch out a mystery, drop down the clues, toss in a few red herrings, and bound toward a satisfying reveal, tails waving high all around. 

King & Kayla and the Case of Found Fred 
by Dori Hillestad Butler, illustrated 
by Nancy Meyers bookcover
That detective duo, Kayla and King are on vacation at Grandma’s lake house. As usual, golden retriever King is thrilled to be there, but then again, King is supremely thrilled about most everything. While the two are out rollicking in the sunshine they come across a small, white dog, Fred, who seems to have lost his way. Between a mix of human deduction and canine ingenuity, Fred is ultimately reunited with his family. 

This book deftly straddles the difference between human and dog understanding, while keeping the reader fully briefed on all sides. Butler is clever in her delivery of how King shares his insights with Kayla and Grandma, she puts quotation marks around his dialogue but immediately lets the reader know the humans have not understood a word. 
Image of King the dog jumping on Grandma's lap from 
King & Kayla and the Case of Found Friend 
by Dori Hillestad Butler, illustrated by Nancy Meyers
Also, there are times when the dogs’ view of the world is skewed from humans. This often allows the reader to be smug about knowing more than the characters and is frequently used humorously. 
Image of Fred the dog telling King the dog about the scary fireworks from King & Kayla and the Case of Found Friend by Dori Hillestad Butler, illustrated by Nancy Meyers
King is a force of optimism in the world. Not only does his peppy personality show through in Butler’s dialogue but is perfectly calibrated in Nancy Meyers’s expressive illustrations. The illustrations do double duty both in decoding new vocabulary and giving clues to the mystery at hand. 
Image of dogs, King and Fred, leaving paw prints on lost and found dog posters from 
King & Kayla and the Case of Found Friend by Dori Hillestad Butler, illustrated by Nancy Meyers

The Case of Found Fred is a perfectly calibrated early-reader chapter book. It meets emerging readers right at their level of understanding and allows them to feel just a little bit smarter than the characters. Over the summer I had a rising second grader read and evaluate it. She claimed there was nothing she didn’t like about it and the only word to give her pause was ‘Ditective’. This is the type of format that I see my second-stage readers return to over and over. Once they master the most rudimentary picture books, they seem to find comfort in revisiting comfortable characters. 

King & Kayla have taken home two Geisel Honors, will Found Fred be the one to grab the gold? I, for one, wouldn’t be at all surprised.

Friday, September 6, 2019

Can You See Me? by Bob Staake

Can You See Me? 
by Bob Staake 
book cover
A fair skinned, blonde child and a dark skinned, brown haired child observe the shenanigans of a dinosaur-esque creature as it cavorts around town changing colors and patterns to blend into the surroundings. The rhyming text zips along as the creature turns blue to swim in a pool with a kangaroo, white to hide in the curve of a cloud, and so on until it catches a red balloon and it’s off to the moon. “But I’ll return soon” it shouts as it floats away. 

There’s much to appreciate in this book that’s reminiscent of Robert Lopshire’s Put Me in the Zoo (but without the bizarre ambition of a marvelous creature begging to be locked up in the zoo). The stellar attributes are the rhyming text paired with helpful visual context clues. For instance, in this spread the creature is hiding in a tree with text that reads, “Can you find me / in this tree? / I’m leafy green / and hard to see.” 

Image of creature hiding in a circular tree while two children look on from Can You See Me? by Bob Staake

Many of the sections also give readers a chance to work on letter sounds and blends, such as this spread that repeats the “ink” suffix. “Now I’m pink. / Now I am / as black as ink!” 

Image of a pink creature hiding against an exterior building wall and a black creature hiding in the asphalt of a road from Can You See Me? by Bob Staake

The text is mostly written in first person, from the animal’s perspective, although twice the children chime in a chorus, “We can see you / hiding there! / We can see you / ANYwhere!” 

Image of a yellow creature hiding inside a grocery store from Can You See Me? by Bob Staake

On the other hand, there are a few elements that might throw off new readers. Although rhyming lines can help readers predict words,in this case the scheme creates line breaks in illogical and potentially unhelpful places. New readers may also find the sophisticated punctuation (ellipses, dashes, and parentheticals) unfamiliar and challenging. There’s also the vocabulary; there’s a lot of it! The clues in the illustrations are thoughtful, yet the number of unfamiliar words (“checkered”, “wheat”, “daredevil pilot”) and the lack of word repetition may frustrate new readers. 

Image of a purple creature flying in an airplane and a blue creature holding a red balloon from Can You See Me? by Bob Staake

All in all, this title has a lot of cover appeal, as well as a supportive rhyme scheme and visual context clues. However, there are a few weaker elements that may well keep this Seuss-alike title from garnering a Geisel nod from the Real Committee.