Friday, June 30, 2006


NOW AND BEN by Gene Baretta (Henry Holt)
If you are a kid, which would you rather read: a dry list of Ben Franklin’s inventions, or examples illustrated a la Mad Magazine of how his ideas continue to rock in the modern world? The many innovations and improvements made by Ben Franklin during the Revolutionary period still resonate or are in use today, as demonstrated in this lively and thoughtful book that is sure to inspire appreciation and maybe just a little bit of invention. Libraries! Hospitals! Post offices! Daylight savings time! Electricity! The glass armonica! (Okay, you can’t win 'em all.) With a very clever structure, this title offers history in a meaningful way that children will remember long after the covers close. (7 and up)

The copy reads, "Franklin never patented his creations because he believed people should have the freedom to modify and improve them…that’s why most of his inventions are still important today." I wonder what he might have thought of all of the copyright restrictions and intellectual property rights we have today? I know I have experienced this myself, wanting to share the credited artistic work of others, in music or writing, but not able to afford it. I could not let the words “it’s the same old song but a different feeling since you’ve been gone” play from a radio in one of my stories without paying top dollar, or share the music of Mary Martin on a podcast to a generation who may not have ever heard her before. It does seem like a surefire way to be lost to the ages.

Just another way Ben was ahead of his time, I guess.

Also of interest:
JOHN, PAUL, GEORGE & BEN by Lane Smith (Hyperion) (Irreverent childhood escapades of the colonial fab four are presented in a revolutionary mix of fact and funny.) (6 and up)

On a personal note
Have a glorious fourth! Book-a-Day is taking a long holiday weekend, check back on the 5th for more reading recommendations.

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

Thursday, June 29, 2006


OLIVIA FORMS A BAND by Ian Falconer (Atheneum)
Okay, I generally prefer to let you know about books that you might not know about otherwise, and heaven knows this latest book by Ian Falconer is bound to be face-out at every superstore. But if you don't know Olivia, you must, and if you do know Olivia, you'll want to know that the latest is out.

In this installment of the porcine princess, she pouts because her family is not in tune with the obvious necessity of a marching band at a picnic, so she improvises her own one-pig-show using clankers and honkers from around the house. The story arc is incidental, kind of like spending a mellow day with Olivia's family (or as mellow as a day can be with Olivia starring in it), though there are some strikingly funny moments , such as when Olivia decides to try on her mother's lipstick. I have to admit, a lot of this book's appeal was the breathtaking family firework spread that actually will illicit a gutteral groan of admiration. Combine with Jennifer Armstrong's WAN HU IS IN THE STARS (HarperCollins), good ol' Eric Carle's VERY LONELY FIREFLY (Philomel), some illegal fireworks from just across the Indiana border (pardon, local joke), and you've got yourself one pyrotechnical storytime for the Glorious Fourth! Wooooo-hooooo! (4 and up)

Also of interest:
Let's get the rock stars out of the way:
LILLY'S BIG DAY by Kevin Henkes (Greenwillow)
Lilly would be the perfect flower girl at her teacher Mr. Slinger's wedding, but he has the audacity to give this choice role to his niece. Perhaps there is still some expertise that Lilly can lend to the occasion? This title is an even smoother read-aloud than the classic LILLY'S PURPLE PLASTIC PURSE, and continues to have a finger on the pulse of little mice...and little girls. A must-give gift for junior participants in any summer wedding. You can also make use of loose petals by hosting a storytime where every kid gets to be a flower girl or ring-bearer. (5 and up)

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

Wednesday, June 28, 2006


A few months before Hurricane Katrina, I visited a Catholic school in New Orleans in which the director allowed two middle-grade girls to take me on a private "tour." They promptly escorted me to the most spooky and isolated stairwell and proceeded to tell me, in low and measured tones, a gory ghost story of a girl who disappeared on her way back from the bathroom and whose spirit waits for all who return to class without a pass in order to drag them under the stage in the auditorium. I only wish I could find those girls again so I could recommend to them GILDA JOYCE: THE LADIES OF THE LAKE by Jennifer Allison (Sleuth/Dutton), sequel to GILDA JOYCE: PSYCHIC INVESTIGATOR (a School Library Journal Best Book of the Year). In this latest installment, our classy, sassy and clairvoyant heroine is reticent to attend a fancy-pants private school, but when she discovers that the school is haunted by a former student, she steps up to the task of uncovering the truth behind the presumed passing and goes head-to-head with the mean girls behind the scenes. One little girl claimed this was the "best book I've ever read in my entire ten years," can you beat that kind of plug? This is just one of several new titles in the exciting new "Sleuth" imprint from Penguin (the word "imprint" suggests a subdivision of a major publishing house). I have been very impressed by the quality and wit of this line. Here are a couple more novels that solve the mystery of what to read next! (All are for ages 10 and up)

What I really like about HANNAH WEST IN THE BELLTOWN TOWERS by Linda Johns (Sleuth/Puffin) is that even if you aren't a big mystery fan, the situation and characterization will hold you in a grip. Hannah West, adopted from China as a baby, is now a twelve-year old living la vida artist with her struggling single mom who keeps them off the streets by house-sitting in a swanky Seattle apartment building. Maybe Hannah's unconventional backstory is what gives her the ability to look at the world in new ways, making her an extraordinarily gifted--and likable--sleuth. The disappearance of paintings before an auction is the context of this very fine art caper, and though perhaps it lacks the heady precociousness of Blue Balliet's popular CHASING VERMEER, for many intermediate readers it will be a good deal easier to follow and a nice preface to the genre.

THE RAVEN LEAGUE by Alex Simmons and Bill McCay (Sleuth/Razorbill) takes us back to Victorian England to find an age-old problem: kids being left out of clubs. This time, though, the exclusive club blackballing Archie Wiggins and his buds is the notorius Baker Street Irregulars, the team of ragamuffins that helps none other than Sherlock Holmes. Not only do the misfits solve the mystery of the missing detective, but through friendship, cooperation and cunning, they are able to form a league of their own. Short and sophisticated, this clever little tome adds a tasteful dose of historical fiction, and will find a lot of fans and friends among young mystery readers.

If you have a favorite mystery, be sure to share it in the comments section!

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

Tuesday, June 27, 2006


19 GIRLS AND ME by Darcy Pattison, illustrated by Steven Salerno (Philomel)
John Hercules Po enters his kindergarten classroom to find that the demographic is a bit heavy on the estrogen. John's older brother fears that the population will "sissify" him, but luckily, his little brother is more liberated than that, and his classmates don't hesistate to join him on adventures across the Great Wall of China, down the Amazon, and of course, into outer space. By the time they build a go-cart that seats all twenty, even John's brother has to admit, these are more than nineteen girls...these are nineteen friends. With gender roles, labeling and backlash still prevalent , this celebration puts the idea of people first and is the freshest offering since Charlotte Zolotow's classic William's Doll. It will keep those old-school limitations in cheerful check! (4 and up)

This is a very interesting pairing of author and illustrator. Darcy Pattison recieved a lot of classroom kudos for her kiddie-Kerouac homage to the open road, THE JOURNEY OF OLIVER K. WOODMAN (Harcourt), and Steven Salerno's illustrations have a kind of retro "Tom Terrific" swirly-curly bouyancy, lines loose and tumbling and with a palette so fresh, it always looks like the paint just might still be wet. I also love his other recent offering, the bilingual romp BEBE GOES SHOPPING with Susan Middleton Elya (Harcourt), and his slick and seriously bubblicious rendering of Margaret Wise Brown's THE DIRTY LITTLE BOY (Marshall Cavendish) is one of my storytime favorites. His special touch speaks most 'specially to the preschool set.

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

Monday, June 26, 2006


Well, if I had been really good this weekend, I would have been working hard in my garden, but I seemed to prefer reading to weeding for the most part. So here is a season's worth of heirloom variety children's books that are sure to help children's love of reading grow and grow and grow! Forgive the oldies but goodies, but if it is a garden of reading, it's only natural to include perennials.

Start by reading THE TINY SEED by Eric Carle (Aladdin) (this one always chokes me up a little), THE EMPTY POT by Demi (Henry Holt) (surprise ending...and did you know Demi sometimes paints using a mouse's whisker for a brush?) and older kids will enjoy WESLANDIA by Paul Flesichman, illustrated by Kevin Hawkes (Candlewick) (Children are natural utopian visionaries, and agriculture is as good a place as any to start.)

Make garden hats by using corrugated "Bordette" bulletin board borders (sold at teacher supply stores). Wrap a length of the border around the child's head and staple to secure and form a "crown." Decorate the tops of green pipe cleaners with flowers and leaves designed out of tissue paper or construction paper, and then tuck them in the holes in the corrugation. Instant wearable garden!

Follow a reading of TWO OLD POTATOES AND ME by John Coy, illustrated by Carolyn Fisher (Knopf) with a game of Hot Potato: play music while children sit in a circle, passing a potato around.When the music stops, the one holding the potato is out, and the last person not holding the potato gets a prize. A British variation of the game is towrap a gift in many layers, and whoever holds the package gets to unwrap a layer. Whoever unwraps the last layer gets the prize! This method produces screaming fun, and nobody has to be "out." You can wrap a potato for this game, but books also make very good prizes!

Read your favorite version of Jack and the Beanstalk,(mine happens to be the version retold byAnn Keay Beneduce, illustrated by Gennady Spirin) and then pass out "Magic Beanstalk"seeds from Renee's Garden. These beans really do seem magical; when they grow, they form a lovely long vine with red flowers that reach up to the sky, and inside the pods are shocking purple/fuschia colored beans.

Make a garden meal! Children might actually eat their vegetables after reading about how they are grown (I said might). Gazpacho, green salad, salsa, crudité, watercress sandwiches, stuffed zucchini, veggie pizza, fruit pie, lemonade, or let the children produce their own inventions using produce! Be sure to have recipe cards available, in case children need to write their cooking secrets down. Some good recipes may be found in THE CHILDREN'S KITCHEN GARDEN by Georgeanne and Ethel Brennan (Tricycle) (sadly out of print but stil available used or in libraries) or Mollie Katzen's new step-by-step illustrated cookbook for children, SALAD PEOPLE (Tricycle). Read and eat the classic GROWING VEGETABLE SOUP by Lois Elhert (Harcourt), and with the leftovers, create your own crunchy characters using black-eyed peas and the models in HOW ARE YOU PEELING? FOODS WITH MOODS by Joost Elffers, Saxton Freyman (Scholastic). Be aware that within some circles of early childhood educators, there has been discussion about whether or not food should be used as a plaything or art supply when so many children around the world are hungry. This is a point worthy of consideration; food should always be treated with reverence and gratitude. Consider eating your art!

Make carrot bookmarks using orange and green construction paper, or use popsicle sticks and squares to make bookmarks that double as garden markers. Accompanying reading: MUNCHA MUNCHA MUNCHA by Candace Fleming, illustrated by G. Brian Karas (Atheneum) and THE CARROT SEED by Crockett Johnson (Harper, 60th anniversary edition!)

Read about MISS RUMPHIUS by Barbara Cooney (Penguin) who changes the world one lupine at a time, and then set out still lifes of blue and purple flowers in vases, along with temperas of blue, violet, green and white. Let the children paint away! Mixing salt into the paint also creates an interesting effect. Once the paintings are dry, you can cover them with clear contact paper to make them into placemats. Or, let the children paint on paper plates and punch holes in the top; string with ribbon so the paintings can be hung easily. Doesn't the world look beautiful?

Decorate envelopes and fill with wildflower seeds to create a "Secret Garden" mix, or create "Grow a Reader" mixes featuring seed packets that look like covers of favorite books (ALISON'S ZINNIA by Anita Lobel [Greenwillow], anyone?). For the full package, accompany with the odd and funny STORY OF FROG BELLY RAT BONE by Timothy Basil Ewing, who incidentally, is the illustrator of Kate DiCamillo's latest (Candlewick).

Decorate a small pot by using acrylics to paint a fun face on to it. Then fill with soil and grass seed. Soon the children will have long-haired friends. Take that, Chia Pet! You may want to recommend
TOP SECRET by John Reynolds Gardiner (Little Brown), an intermediate novel in which a boy's science fair experiment on photosynthesis goes terribly awry.

MUDPIES AND OTHER RECIPES: A COOKBOOK FOR DOLLS by Marjorie Winslow, illustrated by Erik Blegvad (Walker)
FAIRY WENT A-MARKETING by Rose Fyleman, illustrated by Jamichael Henterly (Penguin) (Goodness gracious, this book is pretty!)
FLORA'S SURPISE by Debi Gliori (Orchard) (Flora tries to grow a house by planting a brick)
COUNTING IN THE GARDEN by Kim Parker(Orchard) (So splashy and fresh as a bouquet)
SEEDFOLKS by Paul Fleischman (Johanna Colter) (Chapter book for older readers will bring out their community spirit. Sayyy! He also did a very nice picture book and fine read-aloud with Bagram Ibatoulline, THE ANIMAL HEDGE. Looks like we could spend many summer hours just reading what Fleischman has planted in our imaginations!)
ROOTS, SHOOTS, BUCKETS AND BOOTS: ACTIVITIES TO DO IN THE GARDEN by Sharon Lovejoy (Workman) (A handy guide for experienced gardeners or novices. It's not too late to start growing your sunflower house described in this book, a perfect summer reading hideaway!)

There are so many great books that relate to things that grow; many more are listed at, and you are of course welcome to post your own in the comments section!

And finally, I'm so excited to share this great idea by elementary librarian Jani Collins:

"After reading HARVEY POTTER'S BALLOON FARM by Jerdine Nolen, illustrated by Mark Buehner (Harper) I told the kids that I had found a "conjure stick" that really worked. It was my 10 inch mascot for the year, a green and white stripped book worm that was fabric and had a bendable wire inside his skinny little body. I had straightened him out (literally) and told the kids that he was a great conjure stick. Before going into their class I had blown just enough air into a balloon to make it stand up straight, tied it off, taped it to a broken popsicle stick and "planted" it into a small terra cotta pot full of dirt. I kept it hidden until the story was over, then told them about the conjure stick, that I had said eeee ya ya ya over it and 'boing' it had started to grow. They of course were skeptical. Before leaving I gave each of them a "seed" (un-blown un-blown a word?) and told them, all they had to do was find just the right conjure stick. Over the next couple of days I replaced the 'growing balloon' with new larger ones so as to make them think it was growing. We live in a very small farming community in needless to say...I was "sweetly scolded" for telling them they could grow balloons. One mom called and said her daughter (who has grown up to be one of the MOST imaginative, well read kids I've ever met) was driving her crazy. She was in the corner of the field with the balloon in the ground waving all different size sticks over it and screaming...eeee ya ya ya ya. hee hee hee ...I love it when a plan comes together!!! But the absolute best was Colby...a died in the wool doubter of the unbelievable kind. He has farming blood in every vein from every side of his life. BUT...he has a great mom that is creative. When she found the balloon in Colby's backpack, he said it was from a story that Mrs. Collins' read, and repeated most of the story (yeehaa Colby!). Mom talked him into planting it and waving a yard stick over it. Colby was doubtful. The potting soil was in the closet with the water heater. It was warm. They planted the "seed" and hung it over the edge of the pot. Then they left and went to town. Colby left the potted balloon in the garage. The garage was cold. Need I say more? Let science be your guide. When they came home....TAA DAA...the balloon was standing straight up and I had a full blooded balloon farmer believer on my hands. He couldn't WAIT to get to school to tell me and all hisfriends....'it's a miracle' I believe were his words. His balloon never got any bigger...but it didn't matter....for one moment in time....every possible dream he could ever dream would come holds barred!!!"

(P.S. from Esme: branches wrapped in ribbon, fabric, streamers and bells also make good conjure sticks! Thanks again, Jani, for such creative inspiration, and for making lasting magic in the lives of children.)

Also of interest:
A lot of people think that Miss Pointy, the teacher in SAHARA SPECIAL, is me (which she is, when Miss Pointy loses her temper). But the best qualities of the character were actually inspired by the remarkable Ms. Liza Airo (pictured, she's the one on the right). Not only is she my teaching inspiration, she is a gardening inspiration! She started a whole school literacy and gardening initiative, creating thematic plots for different grade levels, integrating children's literature every step of the way. Mr. McGregor's Garden included cabbage, lettuce, carrots, radishes, beets, turnips, cauliflower, onions; the Native-American influenced "three sisters" garden was home to squash, corn and beans; Shakespeare's garden was where plants referenced in A Midsummer Night's Dream and A Winter's Tale grew; and purples and blues and a miniature bridge delighted the eye in Monet's Garden. All of the children in the school helped with the gardens, and were introduced to accompanying literature. Of course, Dr. Seuss's LORAX watched over all this hard work (pictured above). Please note: Ms. Airo is also very handy with a table saw.

Last but not least:
Over the weekend Queen of England threw quite the 80th birthday bash , an enviable party featuring storybook characters and lovely finger sandwich picnic lunches! I'll have to remember that when I am queen!

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

Friday, June 23, 2006


EMILY'S BALLOON by Komako Sakai (Chronicle)
What could be more summery than a bright yellow balloon? And the little girl in this story really knows how to work it! She takes the balloon to the garden, plays house with it, plans to take it to dinner, but whoosh, the big wind tangles it in a tree limb. What's a toddler to do? Balloons are important toys for a lot of children, and the littlest in your lap will identify with the high drama and imagination at play in these pages. Sakai is
the winner of the Japanese Picture Book Prize, which I don't yet know much about, but it certainly sounds good, doesn't it? I do know that her unadorned, expressive line is reminiscent of the great Taro Yashima, which makes her a winner in my book. You may want to have yellow balloons available at your storytime. (3 and up)

On a personal note
Come on, people! Don't be shy! Send me your questions at esmeatripcodotcom, anything you've wanted to know about children's literature but were afraid to ask. I'll start answering them next week.

I need to congratulate MotherReader on her inspired reading promotion, the 48 Hour Book Challenge. She sent a lot of page-turning power out into the world with this initiative! Visit her post, where you will also find a sampling of wildly brilliant and dedicated children's book bloggers. The victor of MotherReader's challenge was Midwestern Lodestar, just take a gander at the incredible list, over three thousand pages! I bow to you! I was a bit out of the loop myself, being new to the blogosphere and trying not to lurk too much on other people's blogs as I develop my own, but I'm excited to join the fun of this reading marathon next year and hope all you new children's booklovers will get into training so you can, too!

Also, a special thanks to AnnieM at Annie's Books who participated in the Challenge and happened to post a very generous review of my memoir /journaling springboard for kids, SING A SONG OF TUNA FISH, which will be released in paperback in about a week.

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

Thursday, June 22, 2006


THE WILDEST BROTHER by Cornelia Funke, illustrated by Kerstin Meyer (Scholastic)
Ben has a wild imagination. He is also lionhearted and elephant-strong. He has to attack the monster (also known as the wardrobe) and save his big sister Anna. He has to battle the Moldy Green Ghosts (also known as toilet paper and towels) in the bathroom. Woe to the Slime-burping Monster, licking the pans in the kitchen! Fie on the foxes and wolves that await unsuspecting Anna in the garden! Pity the poor Burglar who must bound with the jump-rope until he learns to behave! When night falls, though, is there anything from which Anna might protect her fearless little brother? This book is a joyful testament on the all-too-rare topic of sibling affection, and maybe just a little bit about patience as well. The exuberant, hilarious cartoon illustrations are pitch-perfect for depicting this brother in his most meshuggie mode. As for Funke, she is popular for her heavyweight, textured fantasy novels like INKHEART, and it's nice to see her lighter side shine. (4 and up)

Also of interest:
If you like this book, you will also like MAX'S DRAGON SHIRT by Rosemary Wells (Penguin), an oldie-but-goodie in which brother and sister bunny have a debacle in a department store. (3 and up)

On a personal note
Had a wonderful time appearing at the Book Cellar, on an esteemed panel with Chicago talents Aaron Reynolds, Amy Krouse Rosenthal and Sean Callahan. Special thanks to all who attended and to Susie, our lovely hostess, who gave my son and husband super-sized pretzels!

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

Wednesday, June 21, 2006


LUCHA LIBRE: THE MAN IN THE SILVER MASK by Xavier Garza (Cinco Puntos)

With all of the hype that Jack Black's movie Nacho Libre is getting, I can't resist resurrecting this review!

Readers get a ringside seat alongside Carlitos, who has been taken to the Mexican professional wrestling match known as lucha libre. But where is Tio Vincente? He is missing all of the action: the entrance of the villainous rudos, and the heroic tecnicos who will battle them, all of the characters wearing colorful and dramatic masks and costumes. Best of all is Carlitos' hero, the mysterious Man in the Silver Mask, and it turns out that Tio Vincente might have been closer to the action than Carlitos could ever guess. Garcia does an impressive job of capturing the excitement of a sporting event, but even more so, there is a lot of affection and respect for this high drama of the wrestling match lucha libre, emblematic of the battle between good and evil and containing a history as colorful as the masks. The narrative is told in English on one page with the Spanish translation on the other. The life of Salvador Lutteroth Gonzalez, the book's inspiration, is shared briefly in an author's note at the end, and will have you believing in superheroes. Check out the photographs of real lucha libre stars on the endpapers! Even folks who are not fans of professional wrestling will be drawn into this mysterious world. Believe me, you will have a hard time wrestling this picture book out of the hands of an active little boy. (6 and up)

Also of interest:
SUPERHERO ABC by Bob McLeod (HarperCollins) A graphic artist behind Spiderman comic books shows his super powers with this brilliant, laugh-out-loud alphabet parody. (Astro-Man is Always Alert for an Alien Attack! He Avoids Aliens! He has Asthma! He's Awesome!" "Danger Man Does Daring Deeds Every Day! He's Dramatic! He Duels with Dragons! He Doesn't have a Dog!") Despite it's slightly snarky humor, it works as a concept book. Better yet, it had kids screaming with laughter as a read-aloud, and is just what the doctor ordered for those kids who collect comics, who like to draw their own superguys or invent their own "characters." Super creative! (6 and up)

On a personal note
If you have any formal questions about reading, literacy, book recommendations or children's literature, won't you please send them to me at esmeatripcodotcom with the subject heading "Dear PlanetEsme"? Your questions will be considered for an upcoming children's book advice column here at PlanetEsme Book-a-Day!

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

Tuesday, June 20, 2006


"Dear Miss Breed, How will I do it? Do what? Why, thank you, of course. For what? For the simply splendid books, naturally. Every single one is almost as dear as you are, but not quite."

After December 7, 1942, over 110,000 Nikkei (Americans of Japanese descent living on the West Coast) were identified as a "threat" to our nation and relocated to designated camps such as Santa Anita, also known as "San Japanita."
Miss Breed worked with the San Diego Public Library, and was mortified by the turn of events that made enemies out of citizens. She gave her young patrons self-addressed postcards so that she could keep tabs on their location, and continue to serve them as best as she could. Through letters, supplies and outspoken articles, she offered support to the children and families she served before the war, even sending books so that the children's love of reading could continue in these dire circumstances. The correspondence serves as a remarkable testament to this strange and heartbreaking chapter in American history. An astonishing, even overwhelming amount of research went into this book, including a number of strong images such as the "How to Spot a Jap" instructional cartoon, and an uncomplimentary editorial by Dr. Seuss that serve to illuminate the climate of the time. Though it may be a bit bulky for the average reader, it is sure to raise both the ire and the level of historical knowledge of any justice-seeking middle-schooler, and is an inspiring must-have for background knowledge of any educator.

No matter what position a reader may hold on the subject of war, the effects of xenophobia on the rights we hold dear is a subject worthwhile of discussion and contemplation, lest we be among those who don't know history and are doomed to repeat it. Quotes and reminiscences of the people who lived it are abundant, chilling and provocative. Here are just a few:

"I remembered feeling bad about being Japanese, of being even able to speak Japanese, of having Japanese parents. I felt ashamed because I loved my parents. I also loved America. I get goose bumps when I sing the Star Spangled Banner. I believed what our teacher s taught us about what a great country America is." (Amy Iwasaki Mass)

"...I became suddenly a 'squint-eyed yellow-bellied Jap' to my fourth grade schoolmates, who had formerly been my friends...Nobody in the Government made distinctions between the 'Japs' of the Japanese Imperial Army and me. I was one of the enemy, though ten years old, and placed in a concentration camp." (Robert Moteki)

"[My husband] was just eleven years old at the time...he had to give his dog away. No pets were allowed. They took the dog to its new home, in El Cajon, about twelve miles away. Months later, Joe had learned that the dog had walked all the way home. Finding the family had gone, the dog crawled under the porch and died." (Elizabeth Kikuchi Yamada)

"I was a 12 yera old boy at the time, and I guess that bike was my most prized posession! But I had to leave it behind. I still remember how hard it was to leave that bike of mine...there were two other bikes just lying on the ground with mine as the bus pulled away," (Its Endo)

"I could not take my own small library which was contained in a small apple box...However, Miss Breed became my personal library custodian. I put a lid on the box and she took care of it until I returned to San Diego!" (Tets Hirasaki)

Pictured: the real Miss Breed! What a sweetheart, what a spirit!

Also of interest:
GHOST GIRL by Delia Ray (Clarion) Historical fiction based on the true story of a life-changing relationship between an Appalachian girl and a teacher sent to her community by the Hoover administration. (10 and up) Delia Ray is a relatively new writer of unusual sensitivity who deftly handles conflicts between haves and have-nots; check out her latest book about a hearing child with evangelical deaf parents,
SINGING HANDS (11 and up).

DOWN CUT-SHIN CREEK: THE PACK HORSE LIBRARIANS OF KENTUCKY by Kathi Appelt (HarperCollins)Whooooaaa Nelly, these librarians knew how to use what they had to make reading magic happen, traversing hill and vale on horseback to get books into remote regions as part of Roosevelt's WPA program. These brave booklovers are my heroes, and after checking out this well-researched, exciting introduction to their work, they will be yours, too! (8 and up, and a must-have for all grown-ups in the field of reading and children's literature)

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

Monday, June 19, 2006


Illegal cheese hunters are trapping helpless creatures beneath the city, as part of a nefarious plot to build a giant monster and embody the spirit of general mischief and megalomania. It us up to our hero! Arthur! Sweet, banana-stealing Arthur! Who takes good care of his cantankerous granfather and finds himself stuck in the world above the ground! Not to fret; he makes fast friends with some very dear allies: boxtrolls, cabbageheads, and a gentle lawyer named Wilbury.

I have not been this excited about a book in a long time. Outstanding! Outstanding! Outstanding! Oustanding! Well, what makes this book so outstanding? In some ways, Alan Snow is kicking it Old Skool. I guess his style is going to end up being compared to Roald Dahl just because he is so irreverent and British, and because his book features the theme of child as hero, as do so many enduring works of children's literature. However, a more apt comparison may be to Tove Jansson, because his books have a greater undercurrent of kindness (grownups are not unilaterally villified), and because he has a fully inventive, imaginative world that is drawn not only in colorful, humorous language but in wildly generous illustration! There are over six hundred drawings in this book, at least one on every page!

But even above and beyond being able to make the comparison to legends of children's lit, the qualities that I am most excited about belong truly and uniquely to Alan Snow. One is the pure, unadulterated imagination that went into this book; the story is definitely wacky, but manages to keep a strong pace and narrative flow. Two is the joy. This volume is a whopper, 529 pages, and on every single page, there is an unmistakable delight in the writing; as if the author is every bit as excited to tell you what happens next as you are to find out, and every picture is just another thing that the author was happy to do so that you would know this world, enjoy this adventure, and root for this boy. Though the book is thick, the print is large and well-spaced, and the text has lots of relief via the illustration, which gives further visual cues to children who may just be finding their footing in chapter books. Alan Snow started as a picture book creator, which might explain why he is so adept in marrying the words to artwork, and the overall effect is very fresh, creating a reading experience suitable for a generation of kids that is so visually literate.

Besides soaring through this zany and original adventure, children are going to feel a sense of great accomplishment and reading confidence upon this book's completion. In so many ways, this is a perfect book for the intermediate-aged reader. Without sacrficing great storytelling, the writing has no pretensions or nose-up literary poo-di-doo, and likewise, there are no skills that need to be feigned or magnified in order for the average reader to enjoy this book (as opposed to another bestseller That Shall Not Be Named). It also rates as a marvelous read-aloud.

I don't mean to show off, but oooooo, ya'll are going to thank me for this one! Would you be so kind as to remember that you heard it here first? (8 and up)

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

Friday, June 16, 2006


Okay, here's the thing. My little boy is going into the sixth grade, and so far, every year of his schooling (excluding the year he was homeschooled) he had to do some sort of "Me" project: a poster about Me, an essay about Me, A big-box-o-Me. Don't get me wrong, I'm an awfully big fan of Him, and recognized it for the self-esteem boost it was probably intended. Still, I started to question the viability of the annual All-About-Me round-up. Personally, when I was a kid, I found the best way to find out about Me was to read about Somebody Else, and to recognize the bits and pieces of who I wanted to be.

So, in the usual spirit of borderline political incorrectness, I challenge us to a Somebody Else Summer. Just think: if you were to share just one children's book biography a week, by the end of the season your child will have been introduced to at least ten amazing figures in history: artists, politicians, athletes, scientists, peacemakers. So, culled from the PlanetEsme archives plus one new book-of-the-day, I offer you a baker's dozen to get you started, in the hopes that come fall, when a teacher asks, "does anyone have any heroes or any idea what they would like to be when they grow up?" Your child can raise a hand and shout, "ME!"

BOTTLE HOUSES: THE CREATIVE WORLD OF GRANDMA PRISBEY by Melissa Eskridge Slaymaker, illustrated by Julie Paschkis (Henry Holt)

Grandma Prisbey needed a place to keep her pencil collection, her doll collection, and herself! So she drove down to the dump to find materials for a house, and what she found was bottles of all shapes and sizes. Using these materials, she built a little spot of heaven, complete with wishing well, singing tree, and pyramid. Colorful and folksy illustrations accentuate this inspiring true story of a woman who was able to build a wonderful world using what was available to her, and photographs at the end will leave readers with eyes as big as bottle-bottoms. The spirit of independence shines through every page like colored glass, and the text is full of gems from Grandma Prisbey herself: "What some people throw away I believe I could wear to church," and "They call me an artist even though I can't draw a car that looks like one. But I guess there are different kinds of art." I guess so, Grandma…and this book qualifies! (6 and up)

The daughter of the man who intregrated Major League Baseball has given America a beautiful gift in the form of an annotated scrapbook. From his early days as a WWII soldier who was arrested for refusing to ride at the back of an army bus to his rise as a to his leadership as an community businessman, raising money for the Civil Rights Movement by sponsoring jazz concerts, this book has many surprising and always impressive details about this man who was a champion on and off the field. Sharon Robinson's conversational, unassuming tone takes on a family confidence, culminating in her own personal wish for a global society. This book will, as her father's life did, contribute to that goal. A home run of a biography. (9 and up)

STRANGE MR. SATIE by M.T. Anderson, illustrated by Petra Mathers (Viking)
I asked my husband, an artist, what he thought of this book, and he said, "If I had read this book as a kid, it would have changed the way I thought life could be." Composer Erik Satie did indeed put the en garde in the avante garde, hanging out with Picasso, tossing his girlfriend out of a window (luckily, she was a circus performer and landed safely), wearing seven identical grey velvet suits, playing jazz on typewriters, producing ballets that required live camels and cannons firing, and fathering the movement known as surrealism. This is a man who, instead of writing instructions in his music like fast, loud or slowly, gave directions like "from the end of the eyes" and "I want a hat of solid mahogany." I don't know if everyone would want Mr. Satie as a friend after reading this book, but he sure was a colorful character, and this comes through very clearly thanks to the affectionate and sympathetic treatment by both author and illustrator. This is a very accessible children's book about a complicated eccentric, in part because of the understated, imaginative artwork that arranges the chaos (look at the drawing of Satie's ideas playing out, quite literally, across stanzas of music) and gorgeous, succinct writing that reads like musical notes; the last page of this book may be the best I have ever read in children's biography. A book that deserves the rave reviews and acceptance that eluded Satie in his lifetime. (6 and up)

SHOLOM'S TREASURE: HOW SHOLOM ALEICHEM BECAME A WRITER by Erica Silverman, illustrated by Mordicai Gerstein (Farrar Straus Giroux)
Little Sholom's life is no picnic, shivering while he studies in the crowded, icy kheyder, abandoning plans of lucrative treasure-hunting when his best friend moves away, and the slings and arrows of a short-tempered, sharp-tongued stepmother are almost more than the unfortunate fellow can bear. Luckily, his ability to notice and imitate the idiosynchrocies of those around him is a source of laughter and light, and allows Sholom to stand out first in his home, and then for the whole wide world to see. This realistic and compelling story of the boyhood of the author of the short stories that would someday inspire Fiddler on the Roof does a dandy job of recreating the life and struggles of the shtetl, and Gerstein's busy frames further bring the vignettes into focus. Literary legacy aside, though, this biography successfully brings to life a very real little boy who likes to make people laugh and maybe gets into a little bit of trouble here and there. Know any little boys like that? (7 and up)

HARVESTING HOPE by Kathleen Krull, illustrated by Yuyi Morales (Harcourt)
On a ranch in the Arizona desert was a family thriving on eighty acres, until the great drought drove them all to migrant work. Though their crops may have withered, a seed was germinating in young Cesar Chavez. The indignities he experienced as a shy Spanish-speaking student and the grueling conditions are honestly portayed. Children will be stirred by these indignities, and their hearts equally swelled by the huelga, Chavez's peaceful movement against threatening overlords. His three-hundred mile march from Delano to Sacramento was the longest in U.S. history, and resulted in the first ever contract for farmworkers. This is an extremely powerful book that underscores the bravery and resolve it takes to engage in non-violent protest, and rightly puts Chavez on the same scaffolding as Martin Luther King as a champion of civil rights. The lush illustrations roll across double-pages horizontally set, thoughtfully designed as to emphasize distance: how far the people had to travel both spiritually and physically to achieve the goal. A page-turning read-aloud about an important chapter of Latino history, this is a welcome and well done contribution to the shelves of children's biography. Viva la Causa! (7 and up) Oh, and just look at Kathleen Krull visiting the PlanetEsme Bookroom to share another one of her must-reads,A WOMAN FOR PRESIDENT: THE STORY OF VICTORIA WOODHILL (Walker)! She has many outstanding biographies available, and may I say, what a cutie! Kathleen Krull for president!

by Linda Arms White, illustrated by Nancy Carpenter (Farrar Straus Giroux)

From an early age, independent and confident Esther McQuigg has been saying "I can do that." When her mother dies and the family is left to take care of one another, she says "I can do that." When she turns nineteen and it occurs to her to run her own millinery shop, she thinks, "I can do that." She can attend an abolitionist church, she can try to claim land in Illinois, she can raise her son Archy on her own, and she can move to the wild, wild western Wyoming territory. And finally, when it is time to vote in the first territorial elections, why, Esther takes out her trusty teapot and uses her influence to finagle a way she can do that, too. This picture book biography voices tells the true story of a spunky suffragette who became the first female judge, and the first woman in the United States to hold a political office, and the woman who influenced legislature that allowed women in her territory to be able to vote. Homey, wry colored-chalk illustrations are a perfect match to the text; the montage of women receiving the news of their hard-won right springs off of the page. This book is a jubilant celebration of what a can-do attitude can achieve. Tea-pot endpapers also serve as a timeline of the achievement of women's rights throughout the frontier territories. "There are still some countries where women's voices are not heard," the author's note points out. Can this be fixed? I have a feeling some little girl will read those words and think, "I can do that." (7 and up)

MACK MADE MOVIES by Don Brown (Roaring Brook)
The man who started out playing a horse's rear end rises to becoming a studio head in this true story of the turn of the century filmmaking legend Mack Sennett, who brought us Charlie Chaplin, W.C. Fields, the Keystone Cops and the very first pie in the face. Mack worked so hard that his hair turned white, and sometimes oversaw his slapstick crew from a bathtub in a tower in the middle of the movie lot. Understated sepia-toned watercolors capture the tone of a simpler time. With this tribute to a man who had "reel" faith in the funny, Brown has made yet another exceptional contribution to the shelves of children's biography. Be sure to follow with a showing of a silent movie like The Gold Rush (try to get one without narration and with piano accompaniment featuring Chaplin's score to get an authentic old-time feel).
On a personal note...
I consider Don Brown to be one of the most outstanding biographers for children around today. Like Kathleen Krull, he always picks intruiging people that you will be glad to know about, and every single one of his works reads aloud like butter. KID BLINK BEATS THE WORLD, ODD BOY OUT: YOUNG ALBERT EINSTEIN and FAR BEYOND THE GARDEN GATE: ALEXANDRA DAVID-NEEL'S JOURNEY TO LHASA are a few of my favorites, but there are many more. Honestly, even if you read nothing but Don Brown books for your Somebody Else Summer, you'd be in good shape. (7 and up)

Teddy Roosevelt is often remembered in history books as the wild "Rough Rider" of the Spanish-American War, and that is why this book is so necessary; this is one president that was so much more, the one that exclaimed "No one has ever enjoyed life more than I have." This book suggests that there may be some truth to that statement! In his lifetime, Roosevelt bravely busted trusts, introduced reforms to the meat-packing and railway industries, was outspoken about the equality of women, led the building of the Panama Canal and was an impressive preservationist introduced legislation that still protects our natural resources today. During a speech while seeking presidential election, he was shot, and with the bullet in his body insisted on speaking for an hour and a half before being taken to the hospital. Well into his fifties, he decided to take advantage of "my last chance to be a boy" and plunged into an adventure exploring the Brazilian River of Doubt, kept company by the likes of Vampire bats, pirhanas and flesh-eating ants. His efforts in cartography led the river to be renamed the Rio Roosevelt. Despite his well-earned reputation as a rather raunchy and hard-boiled figure, was the first president to receive a Nobel Peace Prize. Children will especially revel in his accomplishments as he rises from a shy, asthmatic boy to popular president and adventurer. Excerpts from letters, archival photographs, a timeline and bibliography including websites and videos round out this fully realized portrait of a real American hero. It is safe to say there has never been anyone before or since quite like Teddy Roosevelt, though this book will surely inspire admiration and emulation of some of his spirited qualities in readers. I can't help but imagine that if he came across this handsome tribute today, he'd think it was very bully indeed. (10 and up)

A LIBRARY FOR JUANA by Pat Mora, illustrated by Beatriz Vidal (Knopf)
This exquisite volume pays homage to the great poet of the seventeenth century and one of the greatest booklovers of all time. While children today still recite her poetry throughout the Spanish-speaking world and her face appears on Mexican currency, many North American girls will find a new and worthy heroine between these bindings. Juana Inéez is a child prodigy, her thirst for knowledge so great that she follows her sister to school when she is three years old and learns to read. So begins an unusual childhood for her time; though girls were not permitted at university, at ten years old she went to Mexico City where she was privately tutored, ultimately becoming a lady-in-waiting at the viceroy's palace and wowing the court and an assemblage of forty scholars. She ultimately left the palace and became a nun so that she could concentrate on her pursuit of knowledge and create one of the largest libraries in all of the Americas, and one glorious day, her own book of poetry would be added to those shelves. Children will be inspired by her cheerfulness and insistent spirit, and intruiged by how someone so long ago could have had such modern sensibilities. Nearly every page is graced with borders of delicate fruit and flowers, and the illustrations are crisp and elegant, painted using small brushes under a magnifying glass. A jewel of a book about a jewel of a woman. (6 and up)

MOTHER TO TIGERS by George Ella Lyon, illustrated by Peter Catalanotto
(Farrar Straus Giroux)
Helen Delaney Martini had three tigers, that is! When her husband, a zookeeper at the Bronx zoo brought home animals that needed special care, they thrived under Helen's loving touch. When the tigers grew up, she realized there would always be zoo babies who needed nurturing, and started the first zoo nursery! "Before Helen arrived, no tiger born at the zoo ever survived. She raised twenty seven." So the next time you visit the big cats in the zoo, just think, that they may be grandcubs of Helen's wards! This compelling picture book biography of the Bronx's zoo's first woman zookeeper will touch the heart of any animal lover, and is accented with dramatic illustrations in torn paper panels. (7 and up)

THE ADVENTUROUS CHEF ALEXIS SOYER by Ann Arnold (Farrar Straus Giroux)
Ze special tonight is ze culinary delight Alexis Soyer, ze king of ze kitchen, ze man who revolutionized what a kitchen can do for ze world, don't you see! Oh, you don't? Then you must read this picture book biography which follows Soyer from a rakish cooking school student to the celebrated chef of Europe's artistocracy, to the savior/foodie during the Irish potato famine and the Crimean War. Faithful to French fashion, there is a love story baked in, but what really carmelizes this book are all the interesting advances Soyer suggested, making him a notable inventor and humanitarian as well as a great chef. There are things in all of our kitchens that we can attribute to Soyer's innovations, read and find out what they are! Yes, the pen and ink with watercolor illustrations are yummy: detailed and delicate. The map of Soyer's dream kitchen is captivating to explore. This is a noble story of an epicurean life, and one that will inspire children who are destined to make unconventional contributions. (8 and up)

TRAVELING MAN: THE JOURNEY OF IBN BATTUTA, 1325-1354 by James Rumford (Houghton Mifflin)
Told in first person voice, here is the story of Ibn Battu, the great traveler of his age, covering over seventy five thousand miles. Yes, seventy-five thousand! Across Morocco, China, Russia, Tanzania, and all during a time when people still believe the world was flat. Sound daunting? Not to Battuta; he advised a child who said "I wish I could go where you went, see what you saw," that "You can...all you do is take the first step." I opened this book up to a double-page spread of a camel caravan trudging through the Hindu Killing Mountains, and it took my breath away as sure as a blast of cold air from their snowy peaks. Besides stunning illustrations, beautiful Arabic lettering (which the author learned by studying from a master calligrapher in Afghanistan) and ancient Arab maps, this book shows a gamut of one man's struggles, emotions, faith and imagination. And to top it off, the book is still accessible enough to share with the whole family or classroom. Besides meeting all the criteria for a four-star picture book, it also includes excellent maps and a glossary. Battu's treasures were his travels, and you will treasure this reading trip as well. (7 and up)

And didn't a promise you a new book a day? Here is Peter Sis's latest,
PLAY, MOZART, PLAY (Greenwillow), a portrait of the artist as a very young man, and as usual Sis's pictures are worth a thousand words; surreal and playful scenes of Mozart's imaginative life sparkle against the background of his oppressive and overseeing father, depicted as a shadow. Young Mozart's visions cheerfully overtake any hints of darkness, though; this is the strength of art, the strength of children, and the resonant strength of this book. (5 and up)

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


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