CaldeGeisel 2020

Last year the Guessing Geisel co-host team was thrilled to make a visit to Calling Caldecott to discuss the crossover appeal of Emily Tetri’s Tiger vs. Nightmare. Although the title didn’t quite snag a crossover win, it did take home a Geisel Honor. Not too shabby!

This year we’re once again looking at a title with crossover appeal: Good Boy by Sergio Ruzzier. Ruzzier’s Fox + Chick: The Party and Other Stories was also named a Geisel Honor title last year, so it’s no surprise that Ruzzier’s current titles are getting Geisel buzz. Ruzzier has never been honored by a Caldecott committee, but who knows? Maybe this is the year!

Good Boy follows a fair-skinned, blond boy and his similarly yellow, fluffy dog from morning to night. (Observant readers might notice that the boy’s one slipping-down sock is reminiscent of Christopher Robin's in the Walt Disney version of Winnie-the-Pooh.) The passage of time is mirrored in the endpapers, which transition from sunrise orange at the opening to dusky blue at the end.

The story begins with the familiar, single-word commands one might expect a boy to give his dog — ”Sit," “Stay,” and “Shake” — and then moves into the unexpected. At the command “Cook,” the dog whips up something colorful involving a can of dog food (though from the boy’s facial expression as he eats, the meal is not entirely palatable); at “Serve,” the dog cheerfully carries dinner to the table. From there, things veer even more deeply into the realm of the imaginative. As the relationship between the two characters gains nuance, the dog becomes more human in behavior and even appearance. He transitions from quadruped to biped and even develops opposable thumbs — thank goodness, because he needs them to stir dinner with a spoon!

But the real adventure begins when the pair ventures outside their little cottage, with the simple command “Come.” They pedal their whimsical velocipede through the quiet, surreal countryside. The setting is signature Ruzzier: a surrealist scene filled with green ocean waves, bizarre ball-like blue flowers, and undulating cliffs dotted with craggy rocks.

At this point, the spoken commands begin to feel more like narration, as dog and boy perform the actions together: “Fix” (repairing a scuppered sailboat); “Sail” (zipping across the aforementioned green waves to an isolated, tiny island); and “Build” (assembling a rocket ship from parts found on the island). The rocket ship takes them to another planet, where they snap selfies with zany, yet friendly, aliens. Finally, the friends return home to “Wash,” “Brush,” “Read,” and fall asleep, cuddled in bed together.

The illustrations work on both a Caldecott and Geisel level. Ink and watercolor illustrations make clever use of negative space, a bonus in terms of Geisel criteria, as it helps the reader focus on the text. The retro furniture and surreal color scheme, full of watercolor washes, evoke a kind of vintage dream, enticing readers to stop and appreciate the details. In fact, many of the details function as visual context clues to help readers as they encounter new words. This is especially well done in the home scenes in the morning and evening. The two exceptions to this clarity are the illustrations that accompany “Speak” and “Serve,” which could prove a little tricky for new readers. The increasing level of imagination in each scene certainly adds a page-turning quality, and what better way to achieve kid appeal than with a fluffy, friendly (and remarkably handy) dog.  

This quirky yet quiet story of a boy and his dog is sure to run off with readers’ imaginations and hearts this year. Will it also run off with a double award? We can’t wait to find out!

Amy Seto Forrester, Kahla Gubanich, Misti Tidman

Although they work in libraries separated by many miles, Amy Seto Forrester (Children's Librarian at the Denver Public Library in Colorado), Kahla Gubanich (Children's Services Supervisor, Frederick County Public Library, Brunswick, Maryland), and Misti Tidman (Collection Development Librarian for Youth Materials at the Mansfield/Richland County Public Library in Ohio) share a passion for the Geisel Award, and two of them served together on the 2016 Geisel Award Committee. They co-host Guessing Geisel, a mock blog created as a platform to spark conversations to expand the 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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ALLISON GROVER KHOURY What an excellent and fun (!) first posting. Thanks to all of you. Interesting perspectives I had not considered when looking at the book. I look forward to checking out your blog and learning more about the Geisel.

Posted : Sep 18, 2019 11:57


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