Friday, October 23, 2009


BOO TO YOU! by Lois Ehlert (Beach Lane)
A raccoon or a squirrel might bite a veggie,
But a cat loves meat, and that makes us edgy.

The mice are planning an autumnal celebration, but guess who they didn't invite? Their nemesis will have to crash that party, but at his peril, as these mice are prepared to scare! Busy collage illustrations camouflage the turquoise torn-paper mice, but nothing can hide the pumpkin seed teeth of the cat against a midnight black background. One part spooky and two parts seasonal, visuals are this story's strength, and the last page sports a double page spread of harvest fruits, vegetables and fauna all labeled and ready for pre-school pointing and naming. This book does a good job of bringing outdoor elements into the cozy confines of the binding; Lois Ehlert's style always makes use of the interesting, variant quality of opening an artist's drawer, or this time, maybe going out into her fall garden amidst the pods and gourds and pumpkins. (4 and up)

Also of interest:
Halloween's coming, and little ones like a good scare, but not a big one. So here's another book that gently goes bump in the night.

DARK NIGHT by Dorothée de Monfried (Random House) If it's not one thing, it's another! As Felix hides in a hollow of a tree, he sees animals of increasing potential animosity warm themselves at the campfire: a wolf, a tiger, even a crocodile! But in that hollow is a doorknob that leads to a safe burrow, where Felix finds a friend who is just tricky enough to get him safely home again. The story is told with a page-turning immediacy that begs the question "what happens next!" while bold black-line and bright color illustrations play up the wild animal sizes and accent a story that speaks perfectly to a child's imagination...the kind that can think up scary things, and can also make them disappear.

For another pick with a similar theme and eye-popping scheme, pair with Ed Emberley's classic GO AWAY, BIG GREEN MONSTER! (or try his daughter Rebecca Emberley's newer offering, THERE WAS AN OLD MONSTER). Throw in Jan Pienkowski's LITTLE MONSTERS, and wah-lah, you've got an early childhood storytime that's more treat than trick. (4 and up)

Many more PlanetEsme Halloween picture book picks here and here!

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Thursday, October 22, 2009


THE MONSTEROLOGIST: A MEMOIR IN RHYME "ghostwritten" by Bobbi Katz, illustrated by Adam McCauley (Sterling)

Greasy green lizards
And raw chicken gizzards,
Spell-binding spells
cast by spell-casting wizards.
Dead mice and head lice
and flapping bat wings--
these are a few of my favorite things!

Yes, even Rogers and Hammerstein takes a Halloween hit in this erudite collection of rememberances by one who has spent his life chasing the most famous of creeps. This poem is a good representation of the work because it underscores the poet's distinct lyrical quality, with a wit, sophistication and confident meter that hearkens to the days of Tin Pan Alley, though in this context, perhaps more like Daigon Alley.

Years ago when I was young,
I found it hard to say
what I would be when I grew up
and had a job someday.
Perhaps when people ask you
what you are going to be,
You'll choose a fine degree like mine--
In monsterology!

Fifty pages of fond and funny reminiscences of the fictional escapades and chance meetings between "the monsterologist" and a bevy of beasts are played up with eclectic collage, lively layouts and frenetic fonts, a style that is sure to entice fans of Lane Smith of Stinky Cheese Man fame. This collection with a vinyl burgundy cover embossed in gold has some literary heft, hosting an interview with the Loch Ness Monster, musings on the Golem and Grendel, a wink to a cyclops and a nod to other ghastly Greek monster icons (Just one look at Medusa/Could turn you to stone./When she says, "let's talk,"/Play it safe. Use the phone). And what collection would be complete without a few words about the ghosts of Elvis Presley and Louis Armstrong? Expect the unexpected! This book about being a monsterologist made it fun to be a readiologist...and the lucky kid who gets this will have the best of both of those worlds. (9 and up)

One more "ologist" worth mentioning is R.L. La Fevers' novel, FLIGHT OF THE PHOENIX: NATHAN FLUDD, BEASTOLOGIST, BOOK I (illustrated by Kelly Murphy, published by Houghton Mifflin), the first in a series about a gentle boy taking care of the mythical beasts who come to depend upon him. Using some familiar devices (parents disappeared, child left to fend for self amidst unsympathetic adults a la Lemony Snicket), Nate is taken under the wing of his distant cousin, the last "beastologist." When this guardian needs rescuing amidst an expedition, Nate is left to discover his own expertise and independence. This book rises above the fray thanks to succinct, elegant writing, high adventure, likeable talking creatures and the fact that a very dear little boy rises to the occasion, even after years of admonishments ("You need a little more time to grow up," his father had said. "When you're old enough to travel well and your sense of adventure has developed, we'll send for you then"). Decorated with fetching sketchy ink illustrations and a nice size for children who enjoyed the Spiderwick series, this strong start promises many hours of enjoyable fantasy perfect for armchair curl-ups, and just in time for the chilly days of fall. (7 and up)

Also of interest:
Something old (classics below), something new (above), something borrowed (how about a library book!), and Seems we're ready for Halloween. Here is more frightfully good seasonal poetry; print up your favorites in a freaky font and toss 'em in bags along with the lollipops.

The delightfully irreverent Rex (THE DIRTY COWBOY) has written a book so funny, it's scary. Bring your best monster face, it will will be weeping with laughter from these poems, whether it's "The Creature of the Black Lagoon Doesn't Wait an Hour Before Swimming," "An Open Letter from Wolfman's Best Friend" ("Dear Wolfman,/I wanted to make some things clear./ I know we've been roomates for nearly a year,/and I probably should have said something before,/ but could you please try/not to scratch the front door?"), "The Invisible Man Gets a Haircut" (would you look at the barber's expression?) "Count Dracula Doesn't Know He's Been Walking Around All Night With Spinach in his Teeth," "The Phantom of the Opera Can't Get 'The Girl from Ipanema' Out of His Head," shall I go on? How about listening to an oversensitive Bigfoot's lament, getting the skinny on a Witch-Watcher's Club, and of course, what collection of hoorors would complete without a visit to the dentist? Children will not like this book, they will love it, and the poems are only surpassed by the artwork, distinctive, distinguished, and utterly limber in style, ranging from painterly to comic-bookish. A mix of Shel Silverstein, Art Speigelman, Colin McNaughton, and something wholly original and inspired, this holiday book really put Rex's talent on the map, even if the map happens to be of Transylvania. It liiiiives! (7 and up)

by Linda Ashman, illustrated by David Small (Simon and Schuster)
"Guaranteed--some day, some place--/You'll meet a monster face to face./Don't destroy a great vacation--/Arm yourself with information!/With this handy monster guide,/You can take these beasts in stride./Save yourself the stress and stife!/Save your spirit! Save your life!" So begins the voyage via hot air balloon to thirteen countries, each page luckily illustrated by a Caldecott artist in top form and unluckily plagued by lengendary creatures such as the nefarious Russian Domovik, the terrible Japanese Tengu, or the not-so-hot Hotots of Armenia. Anyone who reads this book is likely to learn something new in this international monster who's who, and the frontspiece is an attractive world map to help you locate the monsters (and steer clear of them). Let each child in a classroom make up their own monster description using the format in the book, and bind them together for your own homemade Essential Monster Guide! Also worth noting: this Caldecott-winning artist is currently in contention for the National Book Award for his illustrated memoir for adults, STITCHES, which is scary in its own grown-up way. (8 and up)

THE ROBOTS ARE COMING by Andy Rash (Scholastic)
Speaking of grown-ups getting scared, some teachers cringed at this politically incorrect collection of poetry, but one class made the teacher read this book three times in a row. Verse about voodoo, coffee-drinking robots, hypnotists, clones and the loch ness monster are just a few of the motley crew that grace the pages of this outlandish collection. My favorite is "Werewolf": The moon comes out/and the werewolf shouts,/"TIME TO BE A WOLF/AND ROAM THE FOREST!"/ The moon is gone/and the werewolf yawns,/"Time to be a man/and see the florist."/the victim lies/in the bed and sighs,/"I'll never go out/on another full moon."/ The bouquet has/a card that says,/ "Sorry I attacked you./ Get well soon." The artwork is bold and modern with plenty of artsy green-and orange. The last poem in the book, "Good Night," is reassuring in it's own creepy way. While perhaps not for the faint of heart or more parochial collections, this snazzy bit of subversive fun reaches its intended audience on the Halloween shelf. (8 and up)

Links are provided for informational use. Don't forget to support your local bookseller.
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Friday, October 09, 2009


THE YELLOW TUTU by Kirsten Bramsen, illustrated by Carin Bramsen (Random House)
Too-too adorable. While that should probably be the summation line of a review, the degree of darlingness of this book dictates that adjectives go first. When Margo receives a lovely yellow tutu for her birthday, she decrees that the garment is better suited for wearing on her head, and is shocked and wounded when her circle shirks her fashion-forward thinking. Luckily, by putting her true self out there, she is able to locate an equally true friend, who appreciates a little creative couture. The illustrations are the stand-out, a dream-come-true hybrid of the hyper-stylized 1940's elegance of Golden Book illustrator Corrine Malvern meshed with the cheek-pinching whimsy of a Kewpie Doll, creating a retro feel but refreshingly without the retro homogenization; Margo's comrades are multicultural. How Bramsen so effectively manages to capture the textural frou-frou of the tulle is miraculous, as is the silvery glint of tears in the eyes of Margo when her feelings are hurt. The pastel palette is as delicious as frosting on a cupcake; the last scene of Margo and Pearl having a tea party in a rose garden with tutus on their heads (and looking quite a bit like roses themselves) has a vibrancy and verve akin to the beautiful book WHEN THE SUN ROSE by Barbara Helen Berger (Putnam). Margo's highs and lows are honest and recognizable, as is her invested enthusiasm for dress-up (as any grown-up who has ever tried to play stylist to a little girl who has insisted on donning a princess costume to school can attest). Any little girly-girl deserves this book in her library. Oh, dear. Since I started out with adorable, now what else can I say? How about this: tutu not included. (5 and up)

Also of interest:
More fodder for playtime.
THE DOLL SHOP DOWNSTAIRS by Yona Zeldis McDonough, illustrated by Heather Maione (Viking)
Anna lives with her parents and two sisters over her parents' doll hospital, where her father carefully makes repairs of valuable bisque and china poppets (while Anna and her sisters get to play with them in the meantime). When the first World War breaks out and repair parts can no longer be ordered from Germany, the family is in dire straits until little Anna comes up with a creative solution: why don't we make our own dolls and sell them? This sweet, old-fashioned story is paced like old-fashioned penny candy, very nice if you don't mind savoring slowly. McDonough gets a lot right in terms of family dynamics, as middle-child Anna works hard to find her place in the family; the pleasure of finally having her little sister look up to her or having an older sister like an idea is palpable. Anna's problem-solving throughout the story is genuinely inventive and surprising, whether she is determining what kind of doll her father should make, how to stop her sister's tantrum in the new FAO Schwartz toy store, or how to "communicate" with the doll she has come to love after her owner has retrieved her from the repair shop. The historical and cultural context of the book is atmospheric and very much in the style of Sydney Taylor's classic ALL-OF-A-KIND FAMILY, and cheery black-line spot illustrations add to the story's charm and ambiance. (7 and up) A very helpful author's note at the end of the book explains how the story is loosely based and largely inspired by the childhood of Beatrice Alexander, who went on to create the legendary and highly collectible Madame Alexander dolls, and young readers can find out more about her by enjoying Krystyna Boray Goddu's excellent collection of short biographical essays, DOLLMAKERS AND THEIR STORIES: WOMEN WHO CHANGED THE WORLD OF PLAY (Holt). Also, doll and toy lovers will want to seek out Clyde Robert Bulla's THE TOY HOUSE DOLLS, the dramatic story of a family who starts a library of toys (gosh, I wish I could read it aloud to you right now!), and M.B. Goffstein's endearing GOLDIE THE DOLLMAKER, an unassuming little picture book which embraces a love of beautiful things with both arms.

The Jane Addams Hull House doll club, 1931.
Photograph by Wallace Kirkland.

More doll books here and toy books here. What was your favorite toy growing up?

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

Wednesday, October 07, 2009


REDWOODS by Jason Chin (Roaring Brook)
In this effective melding of picture book format and nonfiction content, a redwood forest sprouts from a book that a boy finds in a subway station. A Thanks to a fertile imagination, the facts carry him off into the world of the tallest living things on the planet, rising over three hundred feet in the air. Through the perils of a forest fire, encounters with things that creep and leap and soar (follow the little flying squirrel from page to page!) and a majestic climb into the crown of the Titan tree, the boy comes to appreciate the survival of this giant and its role in nature...just in time for another reader to find the book on the park bench. Underscored by vertically oriented book design and elegant watercolors, the visual juxtaposition of the natural world against the boy's own urban dwelling (seeing a redwood tower six stories taller than the Statue of Liberty, for instance) will inspire an interest and appreciation in readers far removed from the sensory delights of the real forest. The book's fanciful dimension is never overpowering, keeping its roots in factual information, and an afterword about "redwoods in danger" and an inspiring note from the author will have children dreaming of a real visit long after the book visit has ended. Redwoods are also often known as a sequoia trees, so you may want to pair this title with James Rumford's biography of the tree's equally majestic human namesake: SEQUOYAH: THE CHEROKEE MAN WHO GAVE HIS PEOPLE WRITING. (7 and up)

Also of interest:
Here's a couple new nature-loving books to help prepare children for their century!

A sustainable world "meets the needs of the present, without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs." - "Our Common Future," World Commission on Environment and Development
How did the country of Bali go from being the best rice producer in Indonesia to the worst? This title documents the country's unique temple-based system of water irrigation, linked "like beads on a necklace," and the associated rituals of gathering, sharing and ecological balance that made it work for over a thousand years. In a terrible attempt to fix what wasn't broken, a government-imposed "Green Revolution" took the farmers down a slippery slope with genetically engineered crops and environmentally dangerous pesticides, interrupting not only the routine of nature but communities as well, and inciting an uphill but partially successful battle by scientists to preserve both nature and culture. By following the affects of the agricultural decisions of a boy and girl in a village, the story becomes more pertinent to young readers . Straightforwardly told and with pockets of tension, the story is accented with largely idyllic Balinese scenes in a photojournalistic style reminscent of George Ancona. The vocabulary is challenging and specific to the topic, but words like subak, aerate, Jero Gde and weir are neatly defined in the glossary and pronunciation guide in the back. This book is wonderful literature tie-in for learning about the water cycle, and affords a chance to gain a greater sense of connection and gratitude about where both our food and our water come from. Don't forget to follow up by playing the "Free Rice Game," in which the UN donates a ten grains of rice to help end hunger for every correct quiz answer! (8 and up)

BIG BEAR HUG by Nicholas Oldland (Kids Can Press)
Talk about a tree-hugger! This bear loves to embrace every living thing he comes in contact with (look at that poor, surprised, bug-eyed beaver in the bruin's clutches!), but when the bear meets an axe-wielding tree-cutter, the claws come out. Trying to stay true to his nature, can bear think of another way to solve the problem? Plain, cheerful matte paintings with a muddy palette seem very au naturel and befit this simple but powerful tale. With the same conservationist theme as Paul Geraghty's shamefully out-of-print rainforest read-aloud STOP THAT NOISE!, this laugh-out-loud story goes to show that love will always find a way...and that's a message that always bears repeating. (4 and up)

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

Sunday, October 04, 2009


S IS FOR STORY by Esther Hershenhorn, illustrated by Zachary Pullen (Sleeping Bear Press)

Y is for Your Story,
yours to live and grow,
of all you do,
and where you've been
and where you hope to go.

Well, I have stopped regular hours of the PlanetEsme Bookroom while I pursue my Master's in library science, but I HAD to open it up again today at 2:00 p.m. to celebrate the release of this book with a visit by the legendary author herself, famous not only for her own award-winning work but for her support of and influence upon the writing of other authors, and an open mike for kids (e-mail me for an invite, or be my Facebook friend for Bookroom updates). Opposite each short alphabet poem is a thoughtful and often inspiring description in praise of prose's process, whether its a short history of the alphabet, the value of journaling, the ride that is revision or what is it about voice that makes writing unique. The text is also peppered with writer's tips and inspiring quotes by authors such as Kate DiCamillo, Jacqueline Woodson, Lois Lowry and Richard Peck, all warranting many reference revisits. This writer's alphabet, fittingly, has dotted it's i's and crossed it's t's in terms of breadth of content. Broad, caricatured paintings are great for sharing with a group. B is for Boon to teachers. (8 and up)

In honor of the spirit of S IS FOR STORY, here are five fabulous new books about the connection between readers and the books they love.

THE PLOT CHICKENS by Mary Jane and Herm Auch (Holiday House) Even though there is a chicken on the cover of this book, it's the bravest depiction of the writing process I've ever encountered in children's literature. After several successful trips to the library, Henrietta Hen declares, "Reading books is so much fun. Writing books must be eggshilarating." Zany computer-generated illustrations give a light touch to some real and pragmatic writing hints for beginners ("Rule Three: Give your main character a problem"; "Rule Seven: Make your story come alive by using all five senses"), but what really sets this book apart is the realistic treatment of not only writing a book, but the aftermath of sharing it....or trying to share it. After receiving a blunt rejection from a publisher ("Don't quit your day job," signed "Hunter Fox, Editor"), in a forward-thinking, proactive move, she self-publishes, inspiring a lovely couple of double-page spreads showing the four-color printing process. When the enthused librarian suggests she send her book of for review at the "Corn Book,"she gets reamed by a review. "'I'm going to keep writing,' Henrietta said, but her feelings were hurt." How Henrietta finally finds her audience is rewarding without being romanticized. This book never loses sight of the real people (or chickens) behind the books we read, while giving great insight into the process of being publishedm making it a must-read for aspiring authors, young and old. I don't care what the Corn Book would say, this is one fresh egg. (7 and up)

A BOOK by Mordicai Gerstein (Roaring Brook)
Did you know that when you close a book, the characters are sleeping inside, and when you open a book, you wake them up? Crack the binding a rouse the clever little family in this book. "I know we live in a book, but what is our story?" queries the daughter. Daddy insists it's the story of a lovingfather who is a hardworking circus clown, while Mom corrects him; "actually it's the story of a devoted mother who is a fearless fire fighter." Her brother thinks it's about a boy who grows up to be an astronaut, and the pets have plot lines all their own as well. But ultimately, this is the story of a girl looking for her story, and traveling across pages through genres like fairy tales, mysteries, science fiction, historical fiction and more, before the surprise epiphany at the end, revealing what the girl's story really is about. Charming, funny, exciting and complete, this book really demonstrates what a book can be---and can do. The overhead perspective (such as the girl looking up as if observing a tall skyscraper, observing the reader with surprise) makes this book come to life, having the effect of a miniature world unfolding right in our laps. Though I usually hate when the same authors win awards over and over again, Mr. Gerstein is the exception to that rule. His book design and imagination are just too wonderful not to celebrate, at the Caldecott Awards and in the classroom. (6 and up)

LIBRARY MOUSE by Daniel Kirk (Abrams)
A mouse makes his home behind the reference books, and reads everything he can get his paws on, until he makes the natural leap: he decides he wants to write a book himself. He puts his handiwork on display and garners a following, which is lots of fun until people start requesting a chance to meet this talented author. What is he to do? He sets out a Kleenex box with a banner that says "MEET THE AUTHOR," and when the children look inside, they see a mirror. (I know you're going to set this up, aren't you?) This book celebrates the natural progression from reader to writer with a punch. Also check out the follow-up, LIBRARY MOUSE: A FRIEND'S TALE, about book collaboration. (7 and up)

THE BOOK THAT EATS PEOPLE by John Perry, illustrated by Mark Fearing (Tricycle)
One day in Little Rock, Arkansas, Sammy Ruskin forgot to wash his hands after lunch, and the book tasted peanut butter on his fingers.
a warning as much as a story, this self-referencing story explains how dangerous it is, with a subtle undercurrent of admonishment over bad book care. Angular, heavily stylized multi-media illustrations, sometimes like a comic book and other times a collage, effectively make us want to play the "Jaws" theme with every turned page. Look at those shifty eyes! Oddly convincing, here's a book with some teeth to it; be warned, it's not for sharing with children so young that they might actually believe that a book could eat someone. But if they do, counter with a tooth for a tooth: Oliver Jeffers' INCREDIBLE BOOK EATING BOY. (7 and up)

HAVE I GOT A BOOK FOR YOU by Mélanie Watt (Kids Can Press) Step right up! Tell ya what I'm gonna do! "Say GOOD-BYE to boring books! You know the ones I'm talking about...storybooks that put you to sellep! Schoolbooks that add up to ZERO fun! Cookbooks that leave a bad taste in your mouth! And the dictionary--a book so boring words can't describe it!" Sit through Al Foxword's subversive sales pitch for reading this book: satisfied customers, free bookmark (if you act now), and two, two, TWO books for the price of one (the second making a very nice hat, hassle-free door stopper or decorative coaster). Now, just imagine what you can do with 742 books? You still haven't bought it? That's what you think. Hilarious and high-energy, when you're not using the book as a door stopper, it also makes a great segueway into conversations about how books are marketed, or an introduction to "book commercial" book reports. Have I sold you on this yet? (7 and up)

Also of interest:
Howzabout a short bibliography for young lexicon lovers?
L IS FOR LOLLYGAG: QUIRKY WORDS FOR A CLEVER TONGUE by Molly Glover (Chronicle) An elegant abecedarian volume that will leave readers with a vocabulary almost ready to take on William F. Buckley, or maybe William F. Buckley when he was a kid). (9 and up)
THE WORD SNOOP by Ursula Dubosarsky, illustrated by Tohby Riddle (Dial) a tour of the English language by an enthusiast, writing letters directly to the reader and inviting them to share in anagrams, palidromes, texting tricks, and even un petit peu de Pig Latin (or should I say etit-pay eu-pay?) (8 and up)
WOE IS I JR: THE YOUNGER GRAMMARPHOBE'S GUIDE TO BETTER ENGLISH IN PLAIN ENGLISH by Patricia T. O'Conner (Putnam) Gosh, wwho needs a stodgy old grammar book? This puts language in contexts children can understand and enjoy...what child wouldn't prefer to learn plurals by comparing "tarantula" to "tarantulas?" I think I might need some new multiple copy sets. (9 and up)
CRAZY LIKE A FOX by Loreen Leedy (Holiday House) A simile story that reads like a dream. (7 and up)
PUNCTUATION TAKES A VACATION by Robin Pulver (Holiday House) An oldie but goodie, and my favorite of all of the author's many wonderful books about words and school. (7 and up)
TOO YOUNG FOR YIDDISH by Richard Michelson, illustrated by Neil Waldman (Charlesbridge) A fascinating inter-generational narrative which at its heart is about how to keep a language --- and the spirit of a people --- alive. This book reads from back to front, in honor of the way books in Yiddish are read. (8 and up)
TWENTY-ODD DUCKS: WHY, EVERY PUNCTUCATION MARK COUNTS! by Lynne Truss, illustrated by Bonnie Timmons (Putnam), companion to THE GIRL'S LIKE SPAGHETTI: WHY, YOU CAN'T MANAGE WITHOUT APOSTROPHES! Pictures speak a thousand words (or at least correct a few hundred ) in a laugh-out-loud book duo that really knows how to bring home a point. (both 8 and up)

Happy reading (and writing), everyone!

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


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