Thursday, January 14, 2010


This page-a-day book feels like getting to peek at the genius scribblings on napkins or the secret "stuff drawers" from the desks of two brilliant authors (and husband/wife team), with a little goodie to pull out for every day of the year. Highly conceptual, each page contains the date (without a year named), a quote taken from children's literature, a brief reflection on the quote and a sort of junior "self help" suggestion for the reader's improvement or affirmation. Each page is decorated with a cheerful, doodly line drawing, adding to the personal feel of a journal.

That it is in part a book of quotes taken from children's books already qualifies this as a gem ("When you're exploring, the best this is that you don't know what's coming next. That's the most frightening this, too," from Gloria Whelan's Where the Berries Should Grow; "Nine times out of ten, talking is a way of avoiding things," from Patricia Wrede's Dealing with Dragons; "It's a funny thing about parents. You think you know them pretty well and then one day they let something slip and you see them in a brand-new light" from Orwell's Luck by Richard Jennings), some of the quotes don't pack a punch out of context. "I would like a drink of water, Esther. I am thirsty," from Virginia Sorenson's Plain Girl or "'She started it,' Jack said," from The Rudest Alien on Earth by Jane Leslie Conly, for instance, are not chosen for the purpose of standing alone, but rather as a springboard device as a "thought for the day" format. An example: using the quote from John H. Ritter The Boy Who Saved Baseball, "Tom had hoped today would be as ordinary as possible," the authors riff on the perils of the word "boring" and concludes: "Today may be ordinary, but that doesn't mean it has to be boring, not if I find the extraordinary within it. And anyway, who am I to blame the day? Is it the day that's boring--or me?"

Though such a project runs the risk at times of being pedantic, it offers is a chance for children to be contemplative, and provides advice and positive direction during a prickly tweenage time when the voice of parents begins to mush into a Charlie-Brown's-Mother-like "mwah-wha-wha-wha." As a mentor text, children can follow the format themselves, writing a thought of the day using a favorite line of a children's book as a point of conversation and inspiration. Best of all, readers will love recognizing some of their favorite authors and books inside these pages, and are bound to discover some new titles to explore. This is a very personal book that will likewise peak to each young person in a very personal way. And on that personal note, I was very flattered to discover that a quote from one of my books was included! Which one? Read it and see! (9 and up)

Also of interest:
2010, we've only just begun! Here's another book in which the calendar format holds treasure.
This beautiful book is a list of birth dates, each day of the year followed by the name of a famous and accomplished person and a quote from that person. April 28, Harper Lee: "Before I live with other folks I've got to live with myself. The one thing that doesn't abide majority rule is a person's conscience." April 29, Duke Ellington: "A problem is a chance to do your best." February 24, Steve Jobs: "Innovation distinguishes between a leader and a follower." July 3, Franz Kafka: "A book should serve as the ax for the frozen sea within us." And today, January 14, L.L. Cool J: "I think when you move past the fear and go after your dreams wholeheartedly, you become free. Know what I'm saying? Move past the fear." With such a breadth of personalities represented, naturally, some will be more to an individual's taste than others, and some quips are more geared for young adults,. Even though the claim of "greatest" quotes may be subjective, with so much food for thought, an equally broad audience is likely to find something to either munch on or discuss. A gold foil cover, striking woodblock portraits and pages framed in subtle patterns are all gorgeous and well-designed. Brief biographical notes are included in the back of the book. What a wonderful opportunity to hear the voices of luminaries throughout history, encouraging and enlightening us today! A beautiful gift for special occasions and rites of passage, it's also a helpful resource for teachers looking for something snazzy to put on the board in the morning. (10 and up)

Speaking of teachers (and I mean homeschoolers, too!), I hope everyone has their most recent possible copy of THE TEACHER'S CALENDAR: THE DAY-BY-DAY ALMANAC OF HISTORIC EVENTS, HOLIDAYS, FAMOUS BIRTHDAYS AND MORE! Otherwise, how will you know when it's National Pig Day? When Mo Willems' birthday falls? When the Boston Tea party happened? When the next big comet will pass near the earth? This treasure trove of fun facts throughout the year makes every day a reason for celebration.

On a personal note: Haiti
Cric? Crac!
It's a call and response. Cric? The storyteller is asking, do you want to hear a story?
say the listeners. Yes, now!

But what a sad story, the saddest in all the world, comes now from a land of sublime story sharers. Though it seems so small to say in the face of such catastrophe, heartfelt condolences and wishes for healing to Haiti, the Haitian-American community, the peace workers of all nationalities who live and lived there, and to all who have suffered such untold losses through friends and family over these past few days. I also send my special prayers to the families of the Haitian children I taught in the Chicago Public Schools. I am so sorry this has happened.

Though children in our country are now are seeing so many images of distress and hearing much about the Haiti's poverty, this is an opportunity to share and embrace with them the richness of the culture and the beauty of the people, inside and out. My favorite collection of Haitian folktales is by far THE MAGIC ORANGE TREE by Diane Wolkstein (Schocken), a collection of exciting (and sometimes scary) short stories often with a fairy tale feel, meant for retelling. Images of the island come to life in the picture book joy ride to market in TAP-TAP by Karen Lynn Williams, illustrated by Catherine Stock (Clarion), and by the same author is CIRCLES OF HOPE illustrated by Linda Saport (Eerdmans), a story with simple and affecting illustrations centering on the Haitian tradition of planting a fruit tree when a child is born. PLEASE, MALESE by Emily MacDonald, illustrated by Emily Lisker (Farrar, Starus and Giroux) is a neighborly trickster tale that features tropical touches and many clever twists; it is sadly out of print, but available used and in libraries. Also check out SÉLAVI, THAT IS LIFE: A HAITIAN STORY OF HOPE by Youme Landowne (Cinco Puntos Press), a sad but hopeful story of homeless children's involvement in the creation of a local radio station by and for children. This is a pretty rough read for sensitive young people, but with notes by the well-regarded, award-winning author Edwidge Danticat, it offers some historical knowledge about the sociopolitical situation in Haiti that may be a special boon as background knowledge to educators. Speaking of non-fiction, OPEN THE DOOR TO LIBERTY!: A BIOGRAPHY OF TOUSSAINT L'OUVERTURE by Anne Rockwell (Houghton Mifflin) is an outstanding biography for children 9 and up about the revolutionary leader who helped bring slaves on the island to freedom and form the nation we now know as Haiti; the elegant paintings throughout by R. Gregory Christie are nothing short of magnifique.

All of these stories celebrate resiliency, creative problem-solving, family and community, and through these themes, there is the promise of the country's rebirth. So even in the face of tragedy:

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melanie hope greenberg said...

Don't forget about my book, "Aunt Lilly's Laundromat" Dutton 1995. About a Haitian woman who acclimates to life in Brooklyn but does not forget her childhood home and culture.

Esme Raji Codell said...

Thanks for sharing, Melanie! I was not acquainted with that title, and I'm glad to know about it.

silly eagle books said...

Thanks for the Haiti book suggestions. I'm going to see if I can find any of them at our library.

Anonymous said...

Me and my three friends in our book club just finished, Sahara Special. We wanted to know, did Sahara really have special needs or were the teachers underestimating her? Was this book based on your first year as a teacher or did you make it up?

-Burley Students

Esme Raji Codell said...

Hello, wonderful Burley readers! I taught for several years and while SAHARA SPECIAL is not based on my first year, many of the students I met and experiences I had over time influenced the writing of that book. In my mind, Sahara needed some extra support, as everybody does at different times in our lives. Whether Sahara had "special needs" the way schools think of it is really up to each reader to decide (what do YOU think?). If I were Sahara's teacher, I don't think I would have thought of her as a child who would benefit from being identified that way, though if she really didn't do her work for such a long time I would have had to investigate the reasons.


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