Mocking the Geisel | Guessing Geisel

Thinking about hosting a Mock Geisel program in your school or library? The "Guessing Geisel" bloggers offer tips and examples of successful ways to "mock" the award with students.
Maybe you’ve done a mock Caldecott in the past and are looking to change things up, or maybe you thought about doing one but were concerned that your youngest students wouldn’t be able to fully participate in the discussion. Or maybe you’re a mock award neophyte, intrigued by the idea of doing something different. In any case, why not consider hosting a mock Geisel this year?


When you tell someone in your community that you plan to do a mock book award program, they might look at you and say, “You’re going to make fun of it?” Not at all! A mock Geisel is when a group of people who are not on the committee select their own favorite from the eligible books of the year. Often, the organizer provides a short list, and the structure of the discussion and voting can vary from one place to another, depending on how closely the group is able to follow the award procedures. The goal of a mock Geisel is not to predict the winners (though it’s always exciting when one or more of your group’s favorites are recognized by the real committee) but to educate the participants about the award, the selection process, and some of the year’s excellent books.


A week before the official YMAs (ALA’s Youth Media Awards highly anticipated press conference), Miriam Rose, Children’s Services Librarian at the Allen County Public Library in Fort Wayne (IN) hosts a two-hour program called “The Best Early Reader BOOK of the Year!” A dozen or so short-listed books, selected from starred reviews and previous Geisel winners’ new books, are put out on a table along with a one-page handout on award terms and criteria. Each participant is given a ballot showing full-color book covers, making it easy for even the youngest child to vote. Many teachers and parents ask if they can keep a ballot so they can share the quality books with their beginning readers. Participants are invited to write their names and phone numbers on the ballot to be entered in a drawing for one of a dozen beginning reader titles. Books by previous Geisel winners are displayed for checkout. Miriam reports that the program is very successful, with more than 70 participants last year. She says, “While there are no formal discussions, this mock election gives us plenty of opportunities to talk to our customers about early readers and their importance.”


Mock Geisel programs are a proven success in first-grade classrooms. School librarians who have held mocks report an increased passion for reading, as well as high reading test scores. Here we’ll look at two examples: one coordinated by Stacey Rattner, school librarian at Castleton Elementary School (NY), and another organized by Elisa Gall, Director of Library Services, and librarian Luke Sutton at the Latin School of Chicago (IL). In both cases, librarians and/or teacher-librarians work directly with teachers to incorporate the mock Geisel into the class curriculum. At Castleton Elementary, Rattner picks a short list of 25 titles. At the beginning of the year, books are read aloud to the class and elements such as character, setting, problem, and favorite illustration are discussed. As reading skills improve, kids are able to independently read many of the titles during biweekly visits to the school library’s Geisel Corner. For each book read, students fill out a two-sided score sheet (see photo below). These reviews are glued into a shared notebook for other readers to explore. At the Latin School, the school librarians pick the short-listed titles and introduce the award criteria using questions on which to reflect. (For example, "Is it a page-turner? Does it have helpful illustrations? Do we notice word repetition?") During each library visit coordinated between the teachers and the teacher-librarians, the children read each of the books and discuss whether it is "Geisel-worthy" using the criteria questions as their guide. geisel-sheet geisel-sheet-2 Geisel score sheet used by first graders at Castleton Elementary. Photo courtesy of Stacey Rattner. Although readings and discussions look similar at both schools, the voting process differs. Rattner's first graders debate the titles live. Each student is assigned a title, with time for thought and preparation. A bracket system is used, so some students debate multiple times. Students then vote for their top three titles. At the Latin School of Chicago, students are given one glass pebble and they vote by placing their pebbles into cups that have images of the book covers glued to them. The voting results determine if mock honor books will be awarded, and how many. voting-cups

The voting cups used at the Latin School of Chicago. Photo courtesy of Elisa Gall.

Both schools hold a special celebration on the day of the official YMAs. At Castleton Elementary, all the grades (each one participating in a different mock award) meet in the school auditorium. The students, many dressed up for the occasion, eat cake and cheer as the results are announced. Then they cheer some more when the real YMAs are live streamed. In Chicago, Gall and Sutton's pre-K to fourth grade students gather at an assembly modeled after the YMAs. The mock results are announced, and then students watch the real YMAs and record video reflections about their own process, the mock Geisel winner for first grade, and the official Geisel winner. Each school has also created ways to extend the mocks to engage students. For instance, a "mock Geisel" sticker gets placed on copies of the children's awardees in the school library at the Latin School, while Rattner has had Skype visits with current and past Geisel chairs and Geisel-winning authors and illustrators and held parent nights for kids to show off their reading. skype-visit

Geisel winner Christopher Weyant Skypes with Castleton Elementary first graders. Photo courtesy of Stacey Rattner.


Caroline Ward, Coordinator of Youth Services at the Ferguson Library (CT), shared her experience as chair of the first Geisel Award Committee in 2004. She chose to hold a mock Geisel with second graders because they were already fairly confident readers who could easily read the contenders. Ward knew that the learning-to-read process was fresh in their minds, and she valued that insight. Collaborating with a school media specialist (who also worked at the public library), she was able to find a second grade teacher who was open to and excited about the idea. In early December, Ward brought 20 books to the classroom. She notes, “To keep the confidentially of the process, I didn't emphasize to the kids that these were top contenders—just books published this year that might be considered.” During the first meeting, they discussed, from their experience, what elements make a successful beginning reader. They reviewed the award criteria, posting them on the walls to refer to throughout the process. Ward observed that the children’s criteria and the award criteria were very similar. Over the next month, the second graders read all the books and held mini discussions. Ward's second visit was in early January for voting, which was a simple majority ruling. The morning of the official YMAs, the kids listened live in their media center. In February, they took a special field trip to the library, complete with booktalks and gift books to thank the students for their hard work. Ward fondly remembers this mock Geisel and the fascinating thoughts students shared about the books that informed her perspective on the award. It turned out to be very helpful, as Caroline was then tasked with writing the first Geisel Award manual.


Mock Geisel programs give participants a chance to learn more about the Geisel Award: what it is, how the winner and honor books are selected, and what criteria are used. It also offers them a chance to hone their skills in critical thinking, reading comprehension, and discussion. Each year, the Geisel Committee has the opportunity to honor only the very best of the books published, but there are often many more excellent titles. Holding a mock Geisel allows participants the chance to discover more of these high-quality books, which they can then champion whether or not their favorites align with those of the real committee. Learning about more potential contenders leads to more satisfying, thoughtfully designed books to share with beginning readers and the adults who work with them.


Wondering where to start in compiling a short list? For other mock programs, starred reviews are a great indicator of what books might be worth your consideration. But few reviews focus on the specific points found in the Geisel criteria. Picture books, in particular, are often most appropriately reviewed with an emphasis on the artwork and the expectation that an adult will be reading aloud the text. So what can we look for when compiling a short list? We can keep an eye on new books by previous winners, such as Good Night Owl by Greg Pizzoli and The Thank You Book by Mo Willems. Check out easy reader series and imprints for new entries, like Go, Otto, Go! by David Milgrim or Big Cat by Ethan Long. Look for new easy reader titles from authors who have been successful in other children’s literature arenas, like Tomie dePaola (When Andy Met Sandy) or Salina Yoon (Duck, Duck, Porcupine!). Start conversations about what’s exciting to new readers and the adults who work with them, whether it is the launch of the “An Elephant and Piggie Like Reading” series or the return of last year’s bewigged pig in two new entries to Emma Virján’s “Pig in a Wig” series. As for spotting those elusive picture books, enlist the help of those working on mock Caldecott or other notable lists to call out any titles they encounter that might meet both criteria, like last year’s Waiting by Kevin Henkes. As with other mock awards, think about including representative samples for the variety of formats, subjects, and reading levels that can fall within the award criteria—books with short chapters and without, both books from levelled series and picture books, books for the very earliest readers and for those who are growing more confident. Consider the variety of subjects and protagonists and both fiction and nonfiction, rhyme and prose. Are you ready to dive in? The beginning of the school year is a great time to get started, since you have plenty of time to gather the books and drum up excitement before the announcement of the real 2017 Geisel winner in January. Remember, your program doesn’t have to look exactly like the ones described above. If you’re doing a mock Geisel, or if you’ve done one in the past, we’d love to hear about it over on the "Guessing Geisel" blog.  

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