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Check It Out: Picking a winner for beginners

August 27, 2013|By Heather Hart | By Heather Hart

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.

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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.

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