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CaldeGeisel 2018

We here at Calling Caldecott thought it would be fun to have a visit today from the three librarians who run the show over at Guessing Geisel, the blog that celebrates beginning readers and annually runs a mock vote for the Geisel Award (just as we will soon have a mock Caldecott vote here).

Amy, Amanda, and Misti talk today about 2017 picture books that could be Caldecott/Geisel crossovers, or what they are calling the CaldeGeisel. —JD

Over at Guessing Geisel, we’re always excited to see a title that has Caldecott/Geisel crossover potential. Why? Because our beginning readers deserve the best — the best texts, the best illustrations, the best full package. How else can we welcome them to a love of reading?

Beginning-reader illustration at its best is like poetry. Because the artist is selective, every element takes on more weight. As in poetry, where every word is carefully chosen, so too every element of the illustrations must support and encourage the reader. The artist must ruthlessly edit, and the result is that details that might be missed in more involved illustrations are given a chance to shine.

Several potential crossover titles have been covered here on Calling Caldecott this year. Now, written and illustrated by 2007 Geisel Honor recipient Antoinette Portis, was described by Martha as having a “lushness, a solid reality.” Martha acknowledged several strengths that relate directly to Geisel criteria. “White space,” she wrote, “is used generously, and effectively.” And “if you are looking for background detail, don’t.” These observations speak to the uncluttered background required to support beginning readers who are learning to track a line of text. For Geisel considerations, illustrations must “demonstrate the story being told,” and it is clear from Martha’s thoughts on the book that this is accomplished, even when the concept is abstract, as with “the spiraling brushstroke lines of the girl’s song.” The repetition of the text creates a recognizable pattern to build confidence in a new reader, building to the satisfying conclusion. Guessing Geisel guest blogger Elisa Gall pointed out in this December post that time passes with each page-turn, “as shown through changing colors, a red-orange fall leaf, and a missing tooth—proof that the protagonist is growing.” This subtle, yet striking, development of a theme (in this case, the concept of “now”) through pictures fits the Caldecott criteria quite well.

Now also speaks to the effectiveness of what I’ll call quiet books for beginning readers. The Geisel criteria demand that the subject matter “be intriguing enough to motivate the child to read” and that the plot advance to create a “page-turning” dynamic. But this does not mean that a book must be filled with trucks, dinosaurs, fairies, and dogs (although these subjects can, of course, be quite successful). Now in particular is “respectful and of interest to children,” placing its focusing entirely on the mindfulness and focus children often bring to their experiences.

Speaking of quiet books, Kevin Henkes has prior CaldeGeisel success with 2015’s Waiting, which took an honor in both awards. Might Egg also receive recognition from both committees? In her post here on Calling Caldecott, Julie wrote that it “seems just right for emerging readers.” She’s spot-on. Much about Egg does seem to fit the criteria, starting with the “graphic novel for preschoolers” format, which lets a reader know how to proceed through the spare text. The illustrations and repetition in the text work together to convey subtle humor. Egg stands out for having one of the most friendly emerging-reader fonts — stick-and-ball lowercase as, instead of problematic lowercase as with the curly bit on the top. It also manages to tell a rich and unexpected story, using just 15 unique words. Robbin Friedman, guest blogger for Guessing Geisel, reported here back in October that the word peck is used an astounding 63 times to great effect. Such spare text allows the “excellence of pictorial interpretation of story,” a Caldecott criterion, to shine.

Wry humor abounds in Triangle by Mac Barnett and Jon Klassen. Klassen has a Geisel Honor for I Want My Hat Back, as well as Caldecott gold and two Caldecott honors. Mac Barnett was the author of Klassen’s Caldecott Honor title Extra Yarn and has written a beginning reader series debuting in 2018. Could Triangle bring them both Caldecott and Geisel recognition? The text is laid out predictably and contains repetition of the shape vocabulary, and the illustrations are in Klassen’s typically uncluttered style. The illustrations work with the text to carry the story, moving it forward as if across a screen, complete with close-ups and consistency of direction, as the titular character moves rightward toward the land of squares and then retreats stage-left, back to his home. As Liesel Schmidt, guest blogger for Guessing Geisel, observed back in September, this is a well-designed and sophisticated story that “asks readers [to] form their own opinions,” an element that ties in beautifully with the Caldecott criteria of displaying “respect for children’s understandings, abilities, and appreciations.”

There is no question that Klassen, Henkes, and Portis are talented illustrators with an understanding of that deceptively difficult simplicity that best serves emergent readers. Will any of these three titles catch the eye of more than one committee?

About Amy Seto Forrester, Amanda Foulk, and Misti Tidman

Although they work in libraries separated by many miles, Amy Seto Forrester (Children's Librarian at the Denver Public Library, Denver, Colorado.), Amanda Foulk (K-12 Specialist at Sacramento Public Library, Sacramento, California), and Misti Tidman (Collection Development Librarian for Youth Materials at the Mansfield/Richland County (Ohio) Public Library) served together on the 2016 Geisel Award Committee. They created Guessing Geisel as a platform to spark conversations that would expand understanding of the award criteria, provide assistance to those planning Mock Geisels across the country, and celebrate good books for beginning readers.

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