The American Library Association Youth Media Awards have once again come and gone. When I was in graduate school my professors weren’t overly fond of the awards (Newberry, Caldecott, Geisel, etc.) because of the politics involved in the selection process. I look at the books selected as examples of quality books that deserve recognition for their artistic and teaching value. I’m sure the winners of the award are always debatable, but I sincerely doubt that one can argue the quality of the books nominated. This year’s Theodore Seuss Geisel (Dr. Seuss) Award was awarded to Charlie & Mouse, written by Laurel Snyder, illustrated by Emily Hughes.
When I pick up a picture book, I first look at the illustrations to see if the cast of characters is diverse. Not all picture books need to be, especially if there are no human characters. But for modern audiences we must pay particular attention to the characters who are a part of the story. Hughe’s drawings feature a wide range of characters and allusions to people from many walks of life. That diversity creates a rich, warm environment for the story to unfold.
The Geisel Medal is awarded to an early reading book, a tome whose focus is early language development and early reading skills. Snyder’s words tell a bright and funny story with a tight narrative that early readers can easily follow. In fact, this is one of the few early readers I have ever seen that is organized by what may be described as chapters. The table of contents lists four distinct sections: Lumps, The Party, Rocks, and Bedtime Banana. Although the author doesn’t state directly, I assumed while I was reading that the events of the book took place in a single day.
We are introduced to Charlie and Mouse, two brothers who share a bed. The interaction is adorable and the rough art style has a kiddie edge to it, lots of pencil squiggles and smudges. Charlie and Mouse are excited that today is the neighborhood party!
The entire family prepares to go to the party. We get to interact with Mom and Dad just a bit, but the real delight is the kids. As Charlie and Mouse take their wagon along for the ride, they pick up the kids in the neighborhood along the way. The kids are various races and ethnicities. I have to admit I missed an important feature of the illustrations the first two times I read the book. Charlie and Mouse are dressed in a combination of boys’ and girls’ costumes. I thought this was a nice touch, subtle yet important for many kids to see in a picture book.
Charlie and Mouse want to get some money but they aren’t sure how. They decide to sell rocks. In the end, though, they end up earning money by removing rocks from the neighbors’ yards. The interaction with the adults and the kids is realistic and innocent. In this section one set of neighbors is a name sex couple. Few kids will pick up on any political or social comment on the choice of neighbors. We simply see them and recognize that they are a part of the neighborhood.
At the end of the day Charlie and Mouse convince Mom that they need a bedtime story, a bedtime song, and a bedtime banana! The loving tone of both pictures and words touched my heart. The lightheartedness was also quite humorous.
I loved this book! When I read it to my daughter, age 4, she laughed out loud. She was confused, though, that the title referenced a mouse when there wasn’t one in the story. I explained that the name Mouse was probably a nickname. When I read it to my classes, the kids laughed out loud and grinned at the innocence of Charlie and his brother. Each class in grades K-2 was enthralled with the book.
I don’t recommend this book as a beginning reader. There is too much text for a truly beginning reader to decode. However, once readers have become comfortable with decoding and can handle multiple sentences per page, this book is an ideal choice. Highest recommendation!
If you’d like to purchase this book, please consider clicking the following Amazon Affiliate link: Charlie & Mouse by Laurel Snyder.