Check It Out: Picking a winner for beginners

This past year, I had the privilege of being a member of the 2013 (Theodore Seuss) Geisel Award Selection Committee. As stated by the American Library Assn. (ALA) website: "The Geisel Award is given annually to the author(s) and illustrator(s) of the most distinguished American book for beginning readers published in English in the United States during the preceding year."

Under the direction of the Assn. for Library Services to Children (ALSC), I joined the committee and, beginning in January 2012, started reviewing titles published and in consideration for the award. Publishers, authors, agents and many others associated with children's books suggested titles for the committees' consideration.

Now, what makes a good beginning reader book? Children just starting to read have to learn all the nuances of reading that adult readers take for granted. In a good beginning reader the typeface will be large and easy to follow. There will be plenty of white space around text, which means lines are not too close together and background illustrations are not in the way of the text, and the amount of text per page is limited.

Young readers need a chance to feel successful after reading a sentence or two. Any illustrations in the book will describe the actions taking place. Children can decode the meaning of the text by looking at the pictures. Words and phrases may be repeated, to help reinforce the new words being used. New words are added slowly, giving the child time to comprehend and grasp the new vocabulary.

This is all a lot to keep in mind. Dr. Seuss, aka Theodore Seuss Geisel, for whom this beginning reader award is named, was the master of using these rules and creating good books for beginning readers. Take a look at some of his perennial favorites such as "Green Eggs and Ham" or "The Cat in the Hat." Notice how the text repeats and follows the criteria listed above. Even these examples are advanced books, and would be too difficult for very early beginning readers. The Geisel award is designed for children pre-K through second grade, in which there is a huge range of reader abilities. Authors whose books were chosen for the award had to keep this reading ability range in mind.

On top of all of this, the books need to have kid appeal! The plot must be clear, easy to follow and entertaining enough to keep new readers engaged. Nothing is more discouraging than trying to read something dull and uninteresting (and this applies to all readers, but especially to new readers who are already struggling to make heads or tails out of the letters and symbols as they "read").

My committee chose one medal winner and three honor titles this year. Each book was distinguished and fit the required criteria. The Geisel winner for 2013 is "Up, Tall and High!," written and illustrated by Ethan Long. This book is deceptively simple. Every word is precisely chosen and the simple cartoon-style illustrations give the reader hints to the words they are reading.

The honor books this year include "Let's Go for a Drive!" by Mo Willems; "Pete the Cat and His Four Groovy Buttons" by Eric Litwin, created and illustrated by James Dean; and "Rabbit & Robot: The Sleepover" by Cece Bell. All of these books are exceptional examples of what a beginning reader can be.

When looking for quality beginning reader books, check out the Geisel Award webpage. Be sure to look at this year's selections as well as award-winning and honor titles from previous years. Visit the Early Reader book collections at the Newport Beach Public Library and find your own new favorite beginning readers!

CHECK IT OUT is written by the staff of the Newport Beach Public Library. All titles may be reserved from home or office computers by accessing the catalog at For more information on the Central Library or any of the branches, please contact the Newport Beach Public Library at (949) 717-3800, option 2.

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