Friday, June 19, 2009


ME WITH YOU by Kristy Dempsey, illustrated by Christopher Denise (Philomel)
Oh, the pleasure of being able to truly be yourself around the people you love! That's what's celebrated in this picture in verse, in which a little bear girl plays within the warm circle drawn by her guardian. The slipcover suggests the big bear is "grandfather," but there is nothing in the text that explicitly says so, allowing the sentiment to be extended to father, kind uncle or friend, making it usable in Father's Day and other family storytime programs that include children who may not have traditional fathers in the picture. There is never a moment's doubt of the love felt by the bigger bruin, his heart clearly as broad as his muscles. Denise's artwork makes this book a stand-out in the world of lovey-dovey parent-child odes; beautiful computer enhanced paintings with a caramel palette play expertly with shade and light and mood. The balance of big and little and the exchange of vulnerabilities between them brings to mind Gabrielle Vincent's exquisitely tender Ernest and Celestine series (tragically out of print in the U.S.); like the series, this book that celebrates the strong, protective, loving and compassionate presence of the best men in our lives, so share this with the big bear in yours. Hurray for men who read aloud! (3 and up)

Still from the animated Ernest and Celestine.

Also of interest:

More papas and mamas!
WHEN I GROW UP by Leonid Gore (Scholastic) What is a raindrop when he grows up? Part of the fastest river. What about the green sprout? The tallest tree the world has ever seen. The little chick becomes the loudest rooster, and the shadow grows to be the gentlest night. What will the little boy become? His wish is movingly depicted in his own artwork on the next-to-last page, with great effect. This lyrical book stands up under repeat readings, and speaks to the real ways children are inspired by the examples around them, both in nature and in people (speaking of, the cover seems to have elements of inspiration from Ilse Margret Vogel's cover from Barbara Shook Hazen's ANIMAL DADDIES AND MY DADDY, an out-of-print Golden Book). Simple, bright acrylic illustrations are accented with die-cuts, which aren't necessary but they sure are fun. (3 and up)

MAMA SAYS: A BOOK OF LOVE FOR MOTHERS AND SONS by Rob D. Walker, ilustrated by Leo and Diane Dillon (Blue Sky/Scholastic)

Mama says
Help others
And be the best you can
I listened to what mama said
And now I am a man.

Well, the dynamic Dillon duo has done it again, creating a breathtaking work of book-making that is truly universal in theme. Each page is advice written in verse being given by a loving mother to her son ("Mama says"), written in English and then another language (Amharic, Arabic, Cherokee, Danish, Hindi, Hebrew, Inuktitut, Japanese, Korean, Quechua and Russian), with round-framed ornamentation above the text and facing a full-color illustrated plate of a mother and son from the part of the world suggested by the language. With every turn of the page, readers see that all mothers want the same things for their boys: to learn, to share, to be peaceful, to be honest, to have faith and respect, to keep trying. This book promotes global empathy and a moral imagination for what we share in common. In the same vein as their illustrated rendering of Ecclesiastes, TO EVERY THING THERE IS A SEASON, they employ a silky style both inimitable and unrivaled, any one of the pages a well-orchestrated visual delight worthy of a golden frame. Special attention was given to regional details in the textiles; look at those gorgeous patterns on the clothes! Also like TO EVERY THING THERE IS A SEASON, this book has a gift quality about it, and whether children will delight in this as much as grown-ups remains to be seen; the idea of a book full of parent's advice understandably has limited appeal to some children, but the spellbinding illustrations should certainly help...or get 'em while they're young and still listening with both ears. (5 and up)

And speaking of listening! I don't know how to upload audio to Blogger, but please scroll down to "Count Your Blessings" at Pat Fullerton's Tribute to Gordon MacRae site for another Father's Day treat!

On a personal note
It's gardening time, have you planted your zinnias yet? They are my favorite flower, like little fireworks exploding against a green sky. They also share the name of a little girl I know who is one of my favorite writers! Here's a picture of the "State Fair" variety from my space in the community garden last year. They are easy to plant either in a plot or pot, and bloom again after cutting. I would encourage everyone to plant a few seeds this summer, not only because they are so cheerful but because you can plant them in remembrance of young booklover Zoe Falkenberg and her sister Dana, who perished in the events of 9/11. "The zinnias can...serve as a reminder that each of us must create a world where all families can live out their lives in safety and joy." Please visit Zoe's Zinnias for more details.

Also, from one Esme to another, I wish to express my grief at the news of the untimely and unfathomable passing of Esme Kenney. Hers was a poem that was too short but none the less lovely.
But try not to be sad. That is not our job. Our job is to 1. be doubly happy to make up for all those children who didn't get to live and be happy, 2. Be grateful for family, and 3. Remember how bad people can be as a reminder of how good we have to try to be. Just try. Really, really try. P.S. It's hard.

- from Vive la Paris
Links are provided for informational use. Don't forget to support your local bookseller.
More Esmé stuff at

Sunday, June 14, 2009


FALLING DOWN THE PAGE: A BOOK OF LIST POEMS edited by Georgia Heard (Roaring Brook)

Tap your toes on the tabletop,
listen for the right rhythm
then dance a poem
across the page.

- From "Things To Do If You Are a Pencil" by Elaine Magliaro

There are so many poems that dance their way down (if not across) these pages in this collection of list-making verse that is both succinct and sublime. Avis Harley offers a multilingual list of "Ways to Greet a Friend," while J. Patrick Lewis's "What is Earth?" is so lovely, it will catch your heart in your throat like a butterfly in a net. David Harrison's "Chorus for Four Frogs" invites many readers to lend a poetic voice at once, and Rebecca Kai Dotlich's "On the Menu for a School Day" warrants a full's a poem worthy of dedication of a whole school wall. This anthologist checked every box on her to-do list; not since Kenneth Koch's WISHES, LIES AND DREAMS has there been such an inspiring set of writing springboards, or more accessible models of beautiful descriptive and figurative language. By the last vertical page, besides having more new favorite poems than they can list, children will have pieces of what it takes to make something pleasing and all their own, just like in Eileen Spinelli's poem "Creativity": "Perhaps you have:/a shard of plate/a hinge from someone's/garden gate/a scrap of quilt/or rusty screw.../then you can be/an artist too." (7 and up)

Also of interest:
It's summer(ish). Gather ye poetry rosebuds while ye may.

THE CUCKOO'S HAIKU AND OTHER BIRDING POEMS by Michael J. Rosen, illustrated by Stan Fellows (Candlewick) As a city girl, I remember learning names of plants and animals via "Golden" books my parents would bring home for me, which had perforated full-color stamps you would lick and place on the corresponding pages, and then, lo and behold, you would have a scrapbook of sorts, full of all sorts of interesting wildlife that you may not see every day but could come to recognize by reviewing the realistic artwork. This book reminded me of that, only with words as wonderful as the pictures. Part poetry collection, part naturalist's guide, this book will take you birding with new eyes, looking at cardinals "paired like red quotation marks," see blue notes inked on a musical staff of telephone wires, observe finches stacked like coins at a feeder, or miraculously view
blooming apple tree
round and white as one peeled fruit
crow-seeds at its core
Gorgeous and graceful watercolors with dynamic page placement add a whole other facet of accomplishment to an already distinctive title. Arranged by season and with informative endnotes, this book is built as completely as a nest in summer. Like a bird with a new call, you may find yourself at the end of this book singing, "How?" "How?" By caring about creating a fine, smart book for children, that's how. Wow. (7 and up)

CITY I LOVE by Lee Bennett Hopkins, illustrated by Marcellus Hall (Abrams) Listen to the plea of a mother pigeon to rumbling roar of traffic below the eaves, stand shoulder-to-shoulder with the myriad of interesting strangers in a subway car, this big city trip in a book takes readers across the continents. We have here a seasoned poet in fine form, and sleek brushwork illustrations add to this title's savvy. (5 and up)

Other links of interest to children's booklovers:
- One author really knows how to throw a cyber-launch! Cynthia Liu has her intermediate fiction debut with PARIS PAN TAKES THE DARE, and is using the occasion to host a fabulous auction, contest and giveaway, proceeds of which will go to the good cause of funding reading fun at a school that could use a hand in Oklahoma. "Take the dare, show you care!"
- Who says dreams don't come true? Fairy and folk tales from around the globe spring to life from the sand in the eye-popping World Sand Sculpture Festival. Looky looky! And while you're on the site, check out the book-reading robot. Well. Getting great books into the hands of great children still comes first, but then, I guess it's on to the robots! A librarian's work is never done.
- Hope you have some wiggle room in your summer plans, because a new museum dedicated to the work of Hergé has just opened up in Brussels! Graphic novel lovers rejoice, and visit vicariously!
- Christmas (or Hanukkah or Kwanzaa) in June is even better than Christmas (or Hanukkah or Kwanzaa) in July! Sign a petition to influence the U.S. Postal Service to create a stamp to commemorate Ezra Jack Keats' THE SNOWY DAY! Thanks to Kathy Larkin for sharing.

On a personal note:
Hooray for my son Russell, for turning fourteen, for graduating eighth grade and surviving all the horrible tests, for going off to overnight camp for the first time, and for watching Fiddler on the Roof with me, even though it was over three hours. What a guy.

Also wish to give kudos to Burley Elementary School for a fine graduation ceremony. The tradition of singing "Let There Be Peace on Earth, And Let It Begin With Me" was truly moving. The fact that my son was able to attend this marvelous public school was a blessing in the life of my family. Anyone who thinks Chicago schools don't work needs to meet Ms. Kent and Ms. Cunat, two of the most dedicated, loving and well-spoken school leaders I have ever met. With a great literature-based curriculum and teachers who always gave 110% to exemplify best practices, we could not have asked for more and only wish we had found it sooner. Thanks again, Burley Friends!

Links are provided for informational use. Don't forget to support your local bookseller.
More Esmé stuff at

Wednesday, June 03, 2009


JOE AND SPARKY GET NEW WHEELS by Jamie Michalak, illustrated by Frank Remkiewicz (Candlewick)

"I won!" Joe shouted. I won the the big prize! There it is at the end of the road."
"Giraffes do not win big prizes."
"Some do," said Joe.

"Safety first!" suggests slowpoke turtle Sparky, and a word to the wise is sufficient; one would do well to look both ways while Giraffe Joe is on the loose in his misbegotten yellow convertible. When the giraffe sports a Carmen Miranda-like chapeau a lady has left on the seat, the duo manages to flummox the zoo gatekeeper and off they go on several errands ("What do we do here?" Sparky said. "Find big sales! Shop till you drop!" said the voice. "That sounds dangerous," Sparky whispered). Whether gathering a surfboard, basketball, earmuffs, sports socks, candy and a "sale"sign at the "Tall Mall," ordering bugs at the Tasty Burger drive-thru, taking a bath in the car wash or tsk-tsking the poor driving skills of those in a rollercoaster car, every mile of this wild trip goes over the limit with energy and good humor. The illustrator (of FROGGY GETS DRESSED fame) utilizes a palette throughout the book that appears rendered from a juicy fruit bowl, well-matched to Joe's millinery. Though very different in temperment, these two friends find common ground in the affection they feel for each other, and readily join the ranks of Arnold Lobel's FROG AND TOAD. Read-aloud ready and separated into short, easy-to-decode episodes, emergent readers will surely look forward to more adventures down the road. (5 and up)

Also of interest:
Other new dynamic duos in which opposites attract.
POODLE AND HOUND by Kathryn Lasky, illustrated by Mitch Vane (Charlesbridge) If man's best friend is his dog, imagine the faithfulness of one dog to another! In the same vein as James Howe's popular HOUNDSLEY AND CATINA series, we have a free spirit colliding with a more straightforward personality. Especially charming is the third story in the collection, "The Garden," in which a little collaboration allows for room for both practical vegetables and pretty flowers. Loose lines and watercolors underscore this book's relaxed, chummy feel. (5 and up)

HURRY UP AND SLOW DOWN by Layn Marlow (Holiday House)
When Tortoise sleeps late in the morning, he is roused by "Hurry up and wake up!" from a fast, furry friend. When Tortoise takes his time over lunch and chews "each leaf at least eleventy times," he hears "hurry up and eat up!" When he plays a game and put things away just so, it's "hurry up and clean up." But what about when Tortoise reads a storybook?

The second page...and the third are over in a flash. The fourth flies by in the wink of an eye, and Tortoise goes on to the fifth. He is just about to turn the page again when Hare cries..."Hurry up and slow down! We need to take our time, Tortoise. We need to look at the pictures!"

Fans of Sam McBratney and Anita Jeram's bestselling GUESS HOW MUCH I LOVE YOU will appreciate the beautifully balanced text and warm earth-tones of the illustrations, and this book deserves equal success, being a snuggly homage to the enthusiasm...and pacing...of the youngest picture book lover. Read with or without Tortoise's requisite chamomile tea, and be prepared to slow down and share more than once. (3 and up)

Shop with Esme
Okay, I know we're all broke, but some of the stuff at Fred Flare has sent me digging into the sofa cushions for spare change. Can't we all give peace a chance, or at least a piece of cake a chance using their provocative cake mold? And doesn't every cupcake-loving diva need to sport a sprinkle ring as a secret sign to alert other frosting-lovers in the sisterhood? You can wear it to a tea party where you serve beverages from pudding mugs and cookies from the handy-dandy melamine plates (think of the thousands of dollars you'll save on paper doilies; why, you can practically put your child through college)! They even have packing tape sporting the same patchwork pattern as David McKee's beloved ELMER. And if all this empties your pocket, don't worry, at least you'll still be left with a cute and clever toast wallet until you bring home some more bread.
Links are provided for informational use. Don't forget to support your local bookseller.
More Esmé stuff at


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