Reviews of the 2021 Geisel Award Winners

Winner

See the Cat: Three Stories About a Dog
by David LaRochelle; illus. by Mike Wohnoutka
Primary    Candlewick    64 pp.    g
9/20    978-1-53620-427-8    $8.99

In three brief stories, this beginning reader inventively supports both traditional and visual literacies. The first chapter, “The Cat,” opens with the sentence “See the cat” on an otherwise blank left-hand page. On the right-hand page, a dog responds, declaring, “I am not a cat. I am a dog.” The text on the left pages continues to expand and embellish the description, and the dog reacts with increased frustration (“I am NOT blue and I am NOT a cat”). There is more to the tale, however, and humor ramps up as surprises occur. The gutter effectively separates the dog’s words (shown in speech balloons) from the words of the narrator (always set on blank pages). In one scene in the second story, “The Snake,” the dog reaches back over to the previous page, pencil in hand, to modify the sentence “The mad snake is going to bite the dog.” None of the secondary characters speaks (including a large, purple, buck-toothed hippo whose not-funny role is as a threat to “sit on the dog”). Short sentences carry a steady rhythm, with word repetition scaffolding language acquisition and offering clever callbacks. Gouache illustrations in subdued hues enliven and support the narrative. This entertaining exploration of words, images, and how they function together to tell a story will be popular with fans of Mo Willems. ELISA GALL

From the September/October 2020 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

 

Honor Books

What About Worms!? [Elephant & Piggie Like Reading!]
by Ryan T. Higgins; illus. by the author; with additional illustrations by Mo Willems
Primary    Hyperion    64 pp.    g
5/20    978-1-368-04573-5    $9.99

Tiger is BIG. Tiger is BRAVE. Tiger is afraid of nothing...“except worms.” Tiger, a plush Calvin and Hobbes-ian animal with no taste for subtlety, tells us just what makes these creatures so terrifying: “Worms are slimy. Worms like to wiggle. And you cannot tell their tops from their bottoms!” Tiger is momentarily distracted from its fear by, successively, pretty flowers, an apple, and a book, but the remembered possibility of worms at every turn (“Flowers grow in dirt…Worms love dirt…”) sends Tiger screaming. In an entertaining twist, some tiger-fearing worms get over their own apprehensions to help with Tiger’s phobia: “Let’s give that nice tiger a worm hug!” Tiger’s overblown reactions make for hilarious page-turns in Higgins’s high-action illustrations. Early readers will find support in the repetitive text and relish the many exclamations and sound effects (“CRRR-UNCH!”). Framed by two spreads of groan-inducing puns from Willems’s Elephant and Piggie, Higgins’s easy reader is funny from top to bottom. GRACE MCKINNEY

From the May/June 2020 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

 

Where’s Baby?
by Anne Hunter; illus. by the author
Preschool, Primary    Tundra    40 pp.
1/20    978-0-7352-6498-4    $17.99
e-book ed.  978-0-7352-6499-1    $10.99

“Have you seen Baby, Mama Fox?” Mama Fox feels certain Baby is “somewhere,” and so Papa Fox begins the search, like a game of hide-and-seek. “Ba-by! Are you indoors? Maybe Baby went out.” Fine lines and crosshatching done with ballpoint pen and colored pencil accentuate patterns and detail while small pops of orange in the pale settings allow readers — unlike Papa — to keep up with Baby. Baby follows behind Papa throughout, with the little fox’s entertaining expressions anticipating potential tension as Papa bumbles into amusing or even precarious situations. Papa sticks his head in an old log and finds an annoyed skunk instead of Baby. Papa dips his head in the water and finds an ominous sharp-toothed fish rather than Baby (the animals’ refrain: “I am not your baby”). By the end, Mama kindly suggests Papa try looking behind him. Savvy readers will have noted that Mama Fox and Baby exchanged a wave before this adventure commenced and that everyone was one up on Papa Fox all along. Baby’s final question — “Hi Papa! Can we do that again?” — calls for repeated readings and, fittingly, the endpapers suggest that keeping up with Baby will be a recurring challenge. JULIE ROACH

From the March/April 2020 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

 

Ty’s Travels: Zip, Zoom!
by Kelly Starling Lyons; illus. by Nina Mata
Primary    Harper/HarperCollins    32 pp.    g
9/20     978-0-06-295110-6    $16.99
Paper ed.  978-0-06-295109-0    $4.99

REVIEW TO COME

 

 

 

 

 

The Bear in My Family
by Maya Tatsukawa; illus. by the author
Preschool, Primary    Dial    32 pp.    g
3/20    978-0-525-55582-7    $17.99
e-book ed.  978-0-525-55583-4    $10.99

A child asserts that there is a bear in his family, and indeed the illustrations show a little boy sharing space with a large gray creature. “Scary, right?” The bear is loud, bossy, and messy. Though the grownups don’t see it, we do, as the bear roars the protagonist awake, hogs the chips, and effortlessly picks the boy up and dangles him upside down. Viewers may catch on early that the “bear” is in fact an older sibling. A clever family photo shows Mom holding a newborn (whose blanket matches the main character’s sweater) and Dad with a cub on his shoulders; the text reads, “For some reason, my parents think the bear is family.” One day, after being sent outside to play, the boy is sitting dejectedly on a swing. When some bullies arrive, he experiences the upside of having a bear (and big sister) in his corner. The digitally created art “with handmade textures” is spare, with rounded edges and subdued hues that defuse the anger and de-claw the danger. Younger sibs everywhere should relate to our protagonist’s point of view — and to his eventual realization: if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em. ELISSA GERSHOWITZ

From the May/June 2020 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

 

For more, click on the tag ALA Midwinter 2021.

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