Friday, January 14, 2011

Gone Reading

On Monday, January 10, Bink and Gollie by Kate DiCamillo and Alison McGhee, illustrated by Tony Fucile, won the 2011 Theodor Seuss Geisel Award for beginning readers. This was the sixth Geisel Medal awarded.

We’ve reflected on the Newbery and Caldecott criteria in the past, now let’s look at beginning readers and the goals of the Geisel (aka Dr. Seuss) Award: “The Theodor Seuss Geisel Award recognizes the author(s) and illustrator(s) of a book for beginning readers who, through their literary and artistic achievements, demonstrate creativity and imagination to engage children in reading.”

In the case of Bink and Gollie, the heroines themselves demonstrate creativity and imagination to engage children in reading. Gollie hikes “high in the pure air of the Andes Mountains” without ever leaving her house in the treetops. Bink in some ways plays the role of the beginning reader, as when Gollie leaves a note on her door while on her adventure that states: “To whom it may concern: I am on a journey….” And Bink says, “I’m baffled. Am I ‘whom’?” When Bink goes away and comes back, she finds another note: “Bink, I implore you, do not knock.” Bink wonders, “What does implore mean?” as she knock knock knocks at Gollie’s door. Young readers can figure out the general meaning from the context, but the words may well prompt children to pause and puzzle out their meaning, and then adopt the words for themselves.

The three brief stories, told mostly through dialogue, keep readers captivated. Fucile’s illustrations (which garnered a New York Times Best Illustrated Book citation) ramp up the humor. Take Gollie’s trip to the Andes, for instance. Inside, Gollie’s house is transformed into snow-capped mountains, while outside, Bink stands on the same familiar landing and knocks at the door where she always comes to call. In another episode, Bink buys a goldfish, and Fucile depicts Bink holding up Fred’s fish bowl in the movie theater so he can see, too. In my other favorite moments: when Bink goes to buy her “outrageous” socks, only her eyes and spiky hair clear the store’s counter; Bink and Gollie “compromise” by meeting on the stairway halfway between their two homes for pancakes (the striped sock that Bink forfeits in the deal serves as Gollie's wind sock--a fun pun--and later winds up on the summit of Gollie’s Andes Mountains).

Bink and Gollie stretch the vocabulary beyond the limits of your usual beginning reader (think Cat in the Hat, Frog and Toad, George and Martha). But the challenging words, couched in humor, are ones children will want to collect and try on for size in similar contexts. We may raise a generation of readers who say, “With whom am I speaking?” or “Don’t take my bike, I implore you.” Just when you thought text messages were butchering the language, here come Bink and Gollie to make the case for eloquence and cleverness!

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