Wednesday, October 27, 2010


Dark Emperor and Other Poems of the NightTHE DARK EMPEROR & OTHER POEMS OF THE NIGHT by Joyce Sidman, illustrated by Rick Allen (Houghton Mifflin)
To all of you who crawl and creep,
Who buzz and chirp and hoot and peep,
Who wake at dusk and throw off sleep;
Welcome to the night.

To you who make the forest sing,
Who dip and dodge on silent wing,
Who flutter, hover, clasp and cling:
Welcome to the night!...

Welcome, indeed, to page after page of the most striking hand-painted relief prints since the work of Christopher Wormell, decorated by pristine poetry (sigh to the ardency of the “Love Poem of the Primrose Moth,” mind the “Night Spider’s Advice” [ Do your work, then / sit back and see / what falls into your lap. / Eat your triumphs, / eat your mistakes…”] and amble along in jocular step with “I Am a Baby Porcupette”). From the loamy mushroom rot and curl of a forest underfoot to the swirl and swipe of bat’s wings, croak of toads and crawl of efts, the book parlays back and forth between mysterious midnight spell a scientific explanation. While the somewhat bright azure background color conveys a mood that is not always shadowy enough for the subject, the full moon traverses the sky on every page and peeks out from between tree trunks, boughs and webs to remind us, this is night. These poems are the right size for a child’s imagination, with succinct and elegant scientific explanations in the right-side columns anda nifty glossary to help young readers tackle words like “stridulation,” “spinnerets” and “wane."  Even after the closing of the book, the content spreads in the spirit like the lightening sky of day. A small epic to mood and beauty. (7 and up)

Also of interest:
SHADOW by Suzy Lee (Chronicle) Well, well, well, here’s one little girl who is NOT afraid of the dark. Turning on a naked lightbulb in a storage area, the ladder, vacuum, hose and various whatnots are transformed into wordless wonderland scenes that pull the character and the reader into a drama that grows more exciting with every turned page. Starting with Rorschach-like illustrations, reality rests on one side and a parallel, playful tropical/folkloric hybrid universe on the other, unified by the seam of the book. The imaginative world soon consumes both sides of the page as the girl defeats the small but nefarious wolf to a point of enough contrition that he is invited into a fantasy shindig. Dreams must be deferred when mother’s call of “Dinner’s ready!” cuts through the action like a scissors, perhaps a loose reference to the reassuring spell-breaking of Max’s mother’s soup in Sendak’s WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE. The room is left in disarray and darkness, but does that mean the party is really over? Like the little girl in the story, the artist does everything possible with what she’s got: her limited palette of black and a spreading cloud of yellow, her simple stencils, her pencil, the very space on the page used with new energy and inventiveness. Stylistically, it is reminiscent of Marie Hall Ets’ vintage IN THE FOREST, but its fresh mastery of the form makes it a must-have for picture book lovers of all ages and if the illustrator were not residing in Singapore, this would be a Caldecott contender, beyond the shadow of a doubt. (4 and up)

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Sunday, October 24, 2010


Napi funda un pueblo/Napi Makes a VillageNAPI MAKES A VILLAGE/NAPI FUNDA UN PUEBLO by Antonio Ramirez, illustrated by Domi (Groundwood/Libros Tigrillo) Drawing from the author's own childhood memories, we have the story of a Mazateca girl (from Oaxaca, Mexico) whose family and village is relocated into the jungle so the government can build a dam. There, the community works struggles to tame the wild landscape so they may continue to live and farm there, all under the watchful eye of a stoic jaguar in a tree. When Napi's father is injured in an accident with a workhorse, the jaguar comes to Napi in a dream, soothing her and advising her on what such a little girl might do to help facilitate his healing. Even in the midst of great adversity unique to the geography and circumstance, the universal love of family and the challenges of a big move stays focal in this story. Oversized and especially bright, the simple, folkloric watercolor illustrations have an extreme vibrancy and vim, seeming to bleed into unexpected rainbows and pools in the heat of the jungle's canopy. Children will appreciate the engaging drama of this real conflict combined with the magic of a dream, and the hopeful ending that underscores the resiliency of both the child and the group that works together. Created by two activists for Mexico's native peoples, the story never strays from genuine feeling while never resorting to the didactic; rather, it is an extremely personal story treated with great beauty, sure to build an empathetic bridge across miles of experience for many American children. Alternating Spanish and English text make this an extra marvelous pick for bilingual collections. (7 and up)

Also of interest:
Rain SchoolRAIN SCHOOL by James Rumford (Houghton Mifflin)
Thomas arrives at the schoolyard, but there are no classrooms. There are no desks.
It doesn't matter.
There is a teacher.
"We will build our school," she says. "This is the first lesson."
And so the children learn to make mud bricks and desks, construct a roof of grass and saplings, and bring in chairs of wood. And inside, amidst the warm smells of fields ready for planting, the children learn and learn and learn. When the big rains come, nine months later, the winds tear at the grass roof, and the walls slump back into sod. "It doesn't matter. The letters have been learned and the knowledge taken away by the children." Come September, the children will be back...and ready to build again. This is a lovely story of renewal and resilience, by an author who has already earned so much admiration for his contribution to readable and fascinating multicultural literature (SEQUOYAH:THE CHEROKKEE MAN WHO GAVE HIS PEOPLE WRITING; TRAVELING MAN: THE JOURNEY OF ABN BATTUTA; SILENT MUSIC:  A STORY OF BAGHDAD for a few "for instances"), but I think this latest book has a special grace in its unfettered, more minimal telling, and the loose artist's hand lent to lively figures against a clay-colored backdrop. But even though this style seems new, Rumford never loses the thread of the theme that weaves through so many of his books: language and learning is often hard won, a joy worth whatever journey allows us to arrive. And what child wouldn't like to build his or her very own school! (6 and up)

Anna HibiscusSpeaking of Africa, I also want to give you a heads-up about an especially charming new series:  ANNA HIBISCUS by Atinuke, illustrated by Lauren Tobia (Kane Miller).  Move over, Junie B., Judy Moody and Ramona, make room for your African cousin!  Rather than being told in the immediate first person as is the style here in the states, Anna's stories are told more omnisciently, broad enough to bring in the (albeit unspecific) setting of "Africa, beautiful Africa" and with a special read-aloud flair brought to the table by the author's professional storytelling background.   Anna lives in a bustling houshold with her African father, Canadian mother and a bevy of cousins, aunts, uncles and elders.  In this first volume, Anna goes on vacation, meets with an auntie who has moved to the exotic United States (and hopefully hasn't lost all sense of tradition), creates a problem when she tries to sell oranges like the girls on a neighboring street, and dreams of snow under the African sun...a wish that may surprisingly get granted.  This book is straight-up potato chips in that by chapter two it was clear just one wouldn't be nearly enough, and luckily, readers can chomp right into the sequel, HOORAY FOR ANNA HIBISCUS! which ups the mischief ante.  Black and white spot illustrations combine a sensitive line with lots of personality, kind of like an African-influenced Tricia Tusa.  These stories are definitely fresh, and full of the vulnerabilities, mischief and unique situations that make a series worthy of a following.  Keep 'em coming, Atinuke!  (5 and up)

On a personal note:
Thank you for your patience between postings.  I am happy to report that as of September I have started a new job at a Chicago Public School (undisclosed) as a school librarian for kindergarten through eighth grade, and I needed time to focus on finding my footing there.  It is just about the loveliest and sweetest public school in all of the city, in a fine old building with lots of happy ghosts, and I am so grateful for the opportunity to work with such fine people, both big and little!  Now that I am settled in a bit, I look forward to sharing more books both here and there.  Happy fall, all! 

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


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