November 23, 2017

The Advocate's Toolbox

The Contenders | Guessing Geisel

As ALA Midwinter and the Youth Media Awards (YMAs) draw nearer, we find ourselves in a race to read all the things in an effort not to miss the best, the brightest, the possibly award-winning titles of the year. If you’re doing the same, check out the following list of our top contenders. Keep your eyes on the Guessing Geisel blog for explorations of these and more titles as we hurtle toward January 23rd!

Travis Jonker went on record last year describing the Geisel Award as the hardest award to predict. He is not wrong. Part of the equation for a Geisel winner is the successful reading experience of a beginning reader. As adults, we can look at these books and appreciate the simple artwork and carefully controlled vocabulary and make our best guesses, but until we’ve put these books into the hands of a first or second grader, we cannot truly know what might rise to the top.

This uncertainty can be one of the great things about being on the Geisel Award committee—it means there’s less pressure! When the 2016 Geisel Award Winner was announced (Don’t Throw It to Mo! by David A. Adler, illustrated by Sam Ricks) we knew the crowd would cheer, but not many in the crowd were rooting for a favorite contender the way they did for the Newbery, Caldecott, or Printz. When the award or honor goes to an easy reader rather than a picture book, the reaction can more often be characterized as a pleasant surprise.

Thanks to the work of librarians, educators, and book lovers who are spreading the word, the Geisel committee won’t be able to count on that surprise factor for long. We know of at least one student who dressed up as a Pig in a Wig to watch last year’s announcement. Will there be more readers this year eagerly anticipating the announcement of the Geisel Award, just like we do (and why, oh why must it be announced nearly at the end)? Will you be among that growing and enthusiastic group?

Now that we’ve pointed out how hard it is to predict the Geisel Award, we’re going out on a limb with some of our favorite contenders. We do not know what the real committee will be considering, of course (and at this point even they do not know what their winner will be), but we’ll be rooting for these titles in January.

The Contenders

rabbitRabbit & Robot and Ribbit by Cece Bell
Full of fun wordplay and repetition, this hilarious book with an eye-catching cover focuses on the universal difficulty of sharing your bestie with a new friend. Rabbit makes a surprise visit to Robot, only to discover Robot’s new frog friend Ribbit is already there. The strong story and loveable characters are supported by the clear layout of text and illustrations and ample white space.

 

 

upUp by Joe Cepeda
A very windy day brings about a fabulous airborne adventure in this book for the newest of beginning readers. Sight words combine into simple sentences of no more than four words. The text pops against the white space, so cleverly designed into the swirling chaos of the digital illustrations. For such a simple story, the page-turning dynamic is impressive!

 

 

not-catYou Are NOT a Cat by Sharon G. Flake, illustrated by Anna Raff
A silly duck drives an increasingly indignant cat wild by insisting it’s a cat. The duck admits it may not have the earmarks of a cat, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be a cat! The all-dialogue text is printed in a simple, legible font inside large speech bubbles. Soft colors and lightly textured backgrounds create plenty of white space. There are some definite parallels to Gerald and Piggie’s I Am A Frog adventure.

 

growingWe Are Growing by Laurie Keller and Mo Willems
In this melodramatic story, several shoots of grass (and one surprise dandelion) grow and ponder their existence and the things that make them special. Elephant and Piggie chime in with a few giggle-inducing introductory and closing remarks. Using Willems’ signature color-coded speech bubbles, short, declarative sentences, and strong, plot-driven word repetition, this new series is clearly intentionally designed for beginning readers.

 

 

chuckWhat’s Up, Chuck? by Leo Landry
Chuck Wood is an artistically talented woodchuck, certain his wood carving will win the Best in the Forest art competition until Scooter Possum, a gifted abstract painter, arrives. Engaging from the get-go, Chuck and Scooter are a duo in the tradition of best friends Frog and Toad. The easy-to-read text features wonderful repetition and witty wordplay, including several knee-slapping knock-knock jokes. The pencil and watercolor illustrations provide insight into character relationships and break up the text into smaller, friendlier sections.

otto

Go, Otto, Go! by David Milgrim
Resourceful robot Otto builds a rocket so he can visit his family in outer space. Very short sentences made up of sight words, a very large font size, and colorful illustrations with clear visual context clues make this a strong contender. If the committee is looking at reading success for the very newest of new readers, then it seems likely this book will rocket to the top of the contender list.

 

 

owlGood Night, Owl by Greg Pizzoli
An irritable owl goes to great lengths to discover what is making the squeaking sound that is keeping him awake. After demolishing his entire house, he discovers the mouse that the reader has been aware of all along. The text is clear and legible, easy for beginning readers to follow. Pizzoli’s humorous illustrations provide plenty of support for the text, and the plot of the story will keep young readers engaged and turning pages until it reaches its conclusion.

 

catThey All Saw a Cat by Brendan Wenzel
We know what you’re thinking: that’s not a beginning reader! That’s what we thought too, but then a friend urged us to take a closer look (Thanks, Susan!). There are many strong elements in this picture book that explores the many perspectives of animals who all saw a cat. There’s rhythmic word repetition, clear design cues for new words, and fantastic illustrations with easy-to-pick-out visual context clues. This title definitely has the potential for a Geisel-Caldecott overlap!

thank-youThe Thank You Book by Mo Willems
In their final volume, Piggie is determined to thank everyone who has contributed to the success of the series, but Gerald is concerned that someone might be left out. Is it possible to remember to thank everyone? The challenge for the Geisel committee here is that they can only consider this book on its own merits, without taking into consideration the many Geisel wins that this plucky pair has garnered in the past. Still, with its deliberate text placement, bountiful white space, and page-turning dynamic, there are plenty of positive elements that make this book a contender in its own right.

 

duck-duck

Duck, Duck, Porcupine by Selina Yoon
With a starred review from SLJ and a plucky trio, Duck, Duck, Porcupine joins the list as boldly as the outlines on its digital illustrations. With three brief chapters—a formula that has had Geisel success recently with 2016 honor book A Pig, A Fox, and a Box—Yoon’s friendly story has just the right amount of humor and repeated vocabulary to spell success for a beginning reader.

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