Emerging Reader Round-Up: or simply a skull?
Today’s round-up is a tough category with not many suggestions, which makes me sad to be honest. Easy readers and early chapter books are a tough sell for Newbery glory, though they reach such an important demographic: people learning to read! In an earlier post someone mentioned if Frog and Toad set the bar too high and I wonder if it’s true. But too be honest, I’m not sure if I’ve had an easy reader lately that I thought deserved everything. Maybe this is the year for. THE SKULL? People call it a long shot, but you never know.
The Bulletin for the Center for Children’s Books actually had a special award The Gryphon that honored these types of titles, but the award was discontinued in 2021. And there’s the ALSC Geisel award 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.
On our list this year, we have only two contenders: THE SKULL by Jon Klassen that could be a chapter book, a picture book, an easy reader– is the quality in the uncertainty. This title has three suggestions and FOUR nominations so far.
And the other Heavy Medal contender is HENRY LIKE ALWAYS with two suggestions and no nominations. This story about a young student who is used to routine and doesn’t like when things are different, may seem slow but is also very relatable, has consistent plot development, predictable but solid delineation of characters, strong themes of adjusting to change… is the problem with these books that they are too predictable?
THE SKULL is anything but predictable though. Yes, it’s a retelling of a Tyrolean Folktale, where a young girl and a lonely skull save each other. In the original version the skull is transformed into a lady in White which supposedly Klassen didn’t like.
Klassen develops all the elements of a spooky story, with a very very strongly developed setting of an abandoned house in a deep, dark, forest- with fireplaces and stairs, and balconies.
The theme is also that of friendship and being there for one another. As Otilla told the Skull not to worry she would take care of the body herself. And she did.
I did struggle with the holes in this story. Why did Otilla run away? Is anyone going to come looking for her? Maybe it’s unnecessary that we know these details but still…
Steven mentioned at some point that maybe this is a Caldecott contender. I think the argument can be made that the book depends on the illustrations too much. I read this out loud on Zoom without showing illustrations, and my coworker said it “lost the spook factor.”
THE SKULL is definitely the top contender in this category and I would love to hear more about it and any other titles? Any?
I was trying to argue that EVERGREEN by Matthew Cordell qualified in this category… but I’m pretty sure it’s solidly in picture book. Especially when I looked at my consortiums catalog and it was ONLY classified as a picture book. Are there any other titles we’re missing this year? A new MARISOL RAINEY came out this year, but it’s the third book in the series, with not a ton of love- ONLY ONLY MARISOL RAINEY.
Our next Wednesday Round-Up is picture books on the 18th, which I’m excited to talk about. To see our past posts: nonfiction, graphic novels, and poetry, look here.
Filed under: Book Discussion
About Emily Mroczek-Bayci
Emily Mroczek (Bayci) is a freelance children’s librarian in the Chicago suburbs. She served on the 2019 Newbery committee. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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