Friday, July 31, 2009


Raised by nature lovers during the late 19th century, the drive to become a naturalist came early to William Beebe, who taught himself taxidermy as a child, had articles published and was hired by the director of the New York Zoological Park before he was out of college. He believed, as he wrote in his journal, "to be a naturalist is better than to be a king." During his world travels in search of specimens, he decided the methods of nature study were outdated, and so pioneered the study of ecology and wildlife in its natural habitat. While helmet diving in the Galapagos, he was inspired to devote the rest of his career to studying the magical and abundant undersea world, and so designed the Bathysphere, to go, truly, where no man had gone before.

Travel! Danger! Adventure! Invention! Renown! Who could have imagined what was in store for this little boy, mounting bugs in his room, or counting the migrating birds? The move from "passion to profession" is documented here, poised to motivate other young people in their pursuits. Though the cover suggests an undersea theme, the book, in fact, feels broader, though the drama of the descent into the deepest parts of the ocean cannot be denied. Acrylic, gouache and India ink illustrations also have a depth, heavy and thick on the page, and well-matched to the bubble of brackish water or the humid overlay of jungle canopy. A very nice read-aloud, it can be enriched with Steve Jenkins' latest, DOWN, DOWN, DOWN: A JOURNEY TO THE BOTTOM OF THE SEA (Houghton Mifflin), which progressively takes us deeper and deeper into the ocean and introduces us to the strange, almost alien life forms living there and that Beebe might have encountered, and/or the oldie but goodie MOTHER TO TIGERS by George Ella Lyon, illustrated by Peter Catalanotto (Atheneum), an amazing picture book biography about the first woman zookeeper at the Bronx Zoo. The book feels very complete with a note from the author (and labeled diagram of the Bathysphere), a glossary and bibliography, and a collection of quotes, my favorite among them:
"When you look for things...year after year, and train your senses to concentrate, then sooner or later very special things happen within sight or hearing."
These are the kind of wise words that open the chapter to a child's own real life adventures. (7 and up)

Also of interest:
Another wet and wild biography!
THE MERMAID QUEEN by Shana Corey, illustrated by Edwin Fotheringham (Scholastic) Subtitled "The Spectacular True Story Of Annette Kellerman, Who Swam Her Way To Fame, Fortune & Swimsuit History," we meet the unlikely heroine Annette Kellerman, a little Australian girl who longs to create artistry like the dancers in attendance at her parents' music school but is thwarted by the braces on her legs. In an effort to help her grow stronger, her father taught her to swim, and boy, could she swim, not only winning races but inventing dives and the art form of water ballet. During a time when girl athletes were an anomaly, she determined she would have to go over the top to make people pay attention, and so she attempted to swim the English Channel, caused a coup at the London Bath Club when she was about to swim showing bare legs (gasp!), and finally ended up in court after a beachfront arrest in which she went swimming in her then-racy racing suit.
"Your honor," Annette told the judge. "Swimming is the most wonderful and healthy exercise. Why, every child in America should be taught to swim."
The crowd gasped.
Then Annette asked the judge how women could possibly be expected to swim in bathing suits that felt like lead chains?!
Everyone waited to see what would happen.
A fashion-forward feminist way ahead of her time, Kellerman was successful in parting the waters for women. Author Shana Corey is no stranger to topics of girl power and barrier-busting through history (YOU FORGOT YOUR SKIRT, AMELIA BLOOMER, illustrated by Chesley McLaren [Scholastic] and one of my all-time favorites, PLAYERS IN PIGTAILS, ingeniously illustrated by Rebecca Gibbon [Scholastic]). The artist, too, has visited the theme before in his recent award-winning foray WHAT TO DO ABOUT ALICE by Barbara Kerley (Scholastic), and employs similar technique here, with over-sized pages, whirling-swirling color and design, and diverse, kinetic layouts that do crazy inventive things with perspective to keep the eye moving. Dubbed "the perfect woman," Kellerman's life story pairs nicely with Megan McCarthy's tribute to Charles Atlas, the "perfect man" (STRONG MAN [Knopf]). She was a household name a hundred years ago, and thanks to the lovely treatment in this title, like Aphrodite rising from the sea on the half-shell, so Kellerman rises again. (6 and up)

On a personal note:
Pizza party at PlanetEsme! Chicago style deep-dish, anyone?

Thanks to everyone for being patient with my posting. July has been an incredibly busy month! It started with two big library conferences in Chicago, which meant mandatory and marvelous celebrations at the PlanetEsme Bookroom. We were off with a bang with a pizza party for friends at the Association of Jewish Libraries (blogged about very generously by Heidi Estrin at the Book of Life) and then later in the week we celebrated the ebullient author/librarian Toni Buzzeo with a brunch at the start of the American Library Association (ALA) conference (blogged about with mucho gusto by Elizabeth Bird at her School Library Journal blog, who also posted a video of our moments of remembrance dedicated to children's book legend Coleen Salley). It was wonderful to see old friends (like Matthew Cordell, with his upcoming gem TROUBLE GUM...I knew you when, brother-man!...and poetess Bobbi Katz, whose THE MONSTEROLOGIST: A MEMOIR IN RHYME is this Halloween's middle-grade must-have) and make some new ones (like Tony Fucile, author of LET'S DO NOTHING, a very imaginative cure for summer whaddayawannado blues, and April Halprin Wayland, author of NEW YEAR AT THE PIER, a sweetheart who might very well be my new "BFF" if she didn't live all the way in California). I can't list everybody I saw and met and loved here because it might create text as long as a Harry Potter sequel, but please know it was a pleasure and honor and a genuine delight.

In direct opposition to the idea of "let's do nothing," straightaway from the conferences I started in on pursuing my higher education full-time in a rigorous academic program which launches its participants into the cerebral fray via something called "boot camp," to which I said, "boot camp, ha-ha-ha, how cute!" Well, it turns out, it is NOT AT ALL cute, and involved brutal seventeen-hour days (might have been shorter for brighter people than I) and extensive reading about federal depositories and archiving, and activities that required using words like "disintermediation" in conversation. In fact, the only cute part was my adorable and sunny roommate; it was like getting to share a bathroom with Anne of Green Gables. Also on the bright side: the other students were dazzlingly brilliant and kind at every turn, and the reputation of the professors offers the promise of the transformational. And I did begrudgingly learn an awful lot about disintermediation. Ask me over cupcakes sometime.

The result of this commitment/opportunity and the necessary Rocky-Balboa-like retraining of my brain for schoolwork, as well as some upcoming on-line extravaganzas surrounding the reissue of EDUCATING ESME, is that I have to cut back on speaking engagements and the salon will only be open publicly for special events, one of which will be a launch party for Esther Hershenhorn's S IS FOR STORY: A WRITER'S ALPHABET (Sleeping Bear Press), an incredible back-to-school boon of a book for both teachers and children, followed by an open mike for kids (I know many of you have been asking; the last one was a blast, wasn't it?). Details to come...if you're in the Chicago area, please make sure you're on my mailing list (esmeATripcoDOTcom) so you receive invitations and alerts, or continue to follow this blog. Thanks again!

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Friday, July 03, 2009


THE GENIE SCHEME by Kimberly K. Jones (McElderbery)
The genie knit her brow. "So why do you call yourself poor?" She gestured around the room. "You have a nice place to live, warm clothes, food. Where's the poor part?"

"Well, I'd like to order out for pizza whenever I want to. Everybody else does. Do you know that I've never been to Disney World?" Janna continued, unaware of the odd look that crossed the genie's face. "I don't even have an iPod, and we don't get cable."

"How do you ever survive?"
No blanket wishes ("Make everybody nice to me"). No wishes to create emotions in yourself...or others. And no cash gifts in excess of twelve thousand dollars (darn that IRS). Apart from these minor limitations, when a bag lady who turns out to be a genie is poised to return a small kindness, the sky's the limit for a little girl grousing at the Goodwill over having to buy a used coat. Though the number of wishes are limitless, the magic "wattage" isn't. Impulsive Jenna quickly learns the dangers of frittering away what's been given to the world of magic, and in her ordinary life as well. Witty, natural repartee is a face-paced pleasure, and the modern backdrop will be readily recognizable to readers. A straightforward message seems more timely than heavy-handed; we wish that the spoiled Jenna who starts the book would be different at the end, and that wish gets granted, too. The theme of appreciation and the idea that what we get might take away from others is high-calorie food for thought, and fodder for great book club discussion. Fans of the strong realistic fiction style of Claudia Mills, the fantasy arc of Bill Brittain's THE WISH GIVER, the resonant moral code underlying Robert D. San Souci's THE TALKING EGGS and Hunky Dory's snarky streak in DIARY OF A FAIRY GODMOTHER will find that poof! The wish for a new favorite author has been granted. (11 and up)

Also of interest:
More novels to make your summer reading wishes come true.

WISHWORKS INC. by Stephanie Tolan (Arthur Levine/Scholastic)
As the new kid in town, with parents who have split up and a bully on the prowl, Max is naturally a boy with lots of wishes and dreams...the perfect customer for the store we all dream of, one that grants our fondest desires. In a world with no guarantees, how reassuring to come across a store that offers just that! This story has some comfortable, well-worn motifs (the tough kid with the red buzz cut a la A Christmas Story, boy-gets dog-boy-loses-dog, one wish left to make things right), simple yet sensitively shared, with special appeal to boys and easy enough for new chapter book readers in second and third grade to approach independently with success. What would you wish for in such a store? I have a feeling this award-winning author will plan for more customers to ring that bell over the door. (7 and up)

HOW TO DITCH YOUR FAIRY by Justine Larbalestier (Bloomsbury) All right, a little more young adult than our usual fare here (and if I could get my prude on, why publishers insist on showing adolescent girls' midriffs suggestively on covers I do not know, I'm sure its appealing on some level but does Gloria Steinem have to die a thousand deaths to satisfy marketing?). Still, the pull into the story is strong; who could resist the concept of a personal fairy, kind of like Philip Pullman's daemons, only flightier? The hitch is you don't get to choose; maybe you'll be lucky enough to be paired wit an All-the-Boys-Like-You fairy, or a fairy that can help you find all the deals when you shop, one who can help you score on a team or pass a test, or even a fairy who impersonates you so you can loll about in bed with a good book? Or maybe you'll be like Charlie, stuck with a parking fairy when she doesn't even drive. If your personal good luck charm isn't bringing you the luck you need, perhaps it's time to pair up with someone whose fairy can help you fare better...but maybe it takes more than that to make and keep a friend. Gender-emancipated roles and active, sporty kids make this book fresh and appealing, and the buzzy imagination and humor don't hurt, either. (12 and up)

A FINDER'S MAGIC by Philippa Pearce, illustrated by Helen Craig (Candlewick)
Old Miss Gammer thought. "I could start the story: 'Once Upon a Time..."
"No, no! That makes it sound like a fairy story, but everything really did happen. Here. Today."
"So perhaps I should just begin: 'There was a boy...'"
"That's it. And at the very end of your story can be my picture of the cream tea party---or the boy and his dog together again."
Old Miss Gammer said, "I think the writer should have the last word, or words."
Miss Mousy said, "Oh?" Then, "What are these last special words?"
"Only two," said Miss Gammer.
Ohh, nice, nice, nice, here's an author who knows what she's doing, who tastes her sentences on her own tongue before she serves them to others, like a fine chef who delivers a delicious read-aloud dish. A magical finder leads Till on a quest to find his lost dog, encountering different characters on the quest as one would come across new friends on a meandering stroll. A charming, old-fashioned pace to the story is reminiscent of the great Eleanor Farjeon's style in ELSIE PIDDOCK SKIPS IN HER SLEEP, or even Kate DiCamillo's TALE OF DESPEREAUX, in those shadowy moments when someone is just learning about the world, and hoping it is good. This last book written by the beloved British author was written for her grandsons, and it is such a special pleasure to have a gentle story with a male protagonist; this book is indeed a find. (7 and up)

Though not a novel, it's worth noting the release of pun-master Margie Palatini's GONE WITH THE WAND, illustrated by Brian Ajhar (Orchard Books), perhaps the author's best work to date. When it seems that fairy godmother Bernice Sparklestein is burned out ("Frankly, it looked like she didn't have enough bippidy left in her to salacadoo one more pumpkin"), a tooth fairy steps in with some career counseling, facilitating a comeback that requires more than the simple wave of a wand. Whew! Well, after all, what are friends for? Wacky, caricatured illustrations are the most fun since Helen Lester and Lynn Munsinger's THE WIZARD, THE FAIRY AND THE MAGIC CHICKEN, and that's a lot of fun. (5 and up)

And wait, wait! That reminds me of an oldie but marvelous-ie: MOLLY AND THE MAGIC WISHBONE by Barbara McClintock (Farrar, Straus and Giroux) When Mama is in bed with a bad cold, helpful Molly goes out to buy fish for the family's dinner, and ends up meeting her fairy godmother who advises her to save the bone she finds in her portion and use it for one magic wish of her choice. Her brothers and sisters have many exciting suggestions which are elegantly illustrated on a double-page spread, but Molly yields not to temptation. In the days that follow many occasions arise that warrant a good wish, but Molly prudently solves the problems in other ways. What makes Molly finally use her wish? Barbara McClintock deserves more recognition as an illustrator, exercising a cross between the mastery, imagination and elegance of John Tenniel (Alice's Adventures in Wonderland) and the sweetness and strong characterization of Ernest Shepard (Wind in the Willows). The story is loosely based on the Charles Dickens' story "The Magic Fishbone," which is cleverly alluded to in the cover illustration depicting Dickens' "Fresh Fish" shop. If I had that wishbone, I'd wish this book was back in print, or that we read aloud such perfect stories so much that they'd never go out. It's available used in the meantime. (6 and up)

On a personal note:
Have you seen this wonderful post from gifted author and beautiful lady Laini Taylor about where fairies live? Just look at this picture from the Ann Arbor Public Library, on the folk and fairy tale shelf. Oh, come on!!! So great!!!!!!!

Also check out the cute little fairy doors from Red Shoes. Note to self: improve real estate in the PlanetEsme Bookroom to welcome the little people. (And this time, I don't mean the children.)

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


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