Wednesday, November 08, 2006


Hello all! Today I hope you will indulge me in a personal note, because I have big news to share: I am leaving tomorrow for Tokyo, Japan! SAHARA SPECIAL was a recent nominee for the Sakura Medal, a wonderful honor, and it will be an even greater honor to speak with children and meet with parents and educators at a number of International Schools in and around this exciting city. During the coming weeks, I will not be blogging because I do not travel with my computer, and also, because I will be too busy eating sushi, trying to get on the right Shinkansen and hopefully picking up some of the fabuloso fashion style of the Japanese teenagers. Though I would love to put you all in my suitcase and take you along, given recent airport security measures I don't think we could pull it off. So instead, I'll catch you all up on the adventure when I get back, and in the meantime you can travel vicariously by checking out these three Japanese-influenced picture books:

CAT AND MOUSE by Jiwon Oh (HarperCollins)
Cat and mouse are roomates and best friends…until mischievious monkey drops down and offers cat, of all things, a cookbook. Suddenly, Cat's goombah is looking especially gourmet. Cat can't stop envisioning the different delicious ways he might be prepared, and a slightly gruesome double-page spread suggests mouse in a variety of poses, including taco, potsticker, and even in an ice cream cone. The illustrations clearly have a Japanese aesthetic, with a setting of pagodas, mountains and cherry blossoms, and cat takes a decidedly Eastern tack to tackle his snack attack: he climbs a mountain and meditates on his contemplated misdeed till he goes a bit kooky and is rescued by her forgiving friend. The humor in this book is definitely dark, but the dramatic "Tom and Jerry" quality of the plot with a twist is sure to turn on kids who need to turn off Cartoon Network . The graphically sumptuous computer-generated artwork is so crisp and smooth, you will probably find yourself running your hands over the pages. Ultimately, this quirky book is very refreshing, with many elements that are completely original and will catch you off guard. Though not as "cutesy" as it may seem at first glance, the ending sums up what the dedication of this book suggests: "for friendship." (5 and up)

TASTY BABY BELLY BUTTONS by Judy Sierra, illustrated by Meilo So (Knopf) Moms and Dads all know how delicious baby belly buttons are. Unfortunately, the terrible Onis have also discovered this scrumptious delicacy, and steal all the babies away! Uriko-hime, or "melon princess," is born inside a watermelon (notice her pink and black kimono!) and grows up to rescue the toddlers in trouble. Featuring a strong female lead, this Japanese folktale-adventure is paced just right for a lively storytime with lots of good chanting (like the Onis' "Belly buttons/Belly buttons/Tasty Baby Belly Buttons!"). Serve butterscotch candies or some other small round treat at the end and call them belly buttons! Or, crack open a watermelon and see what's inside (probably seeds, but you never know)! (5 and up)

KAMISHIBAI MAN by Ed Young (Houghton Mifflin)
Kamishibai, or "paper theater," is an art form popularized during an economic depression in Japan during the 1930's. The kamishibai storyteller would be surrounded by children, eager to hear his tales and see the hand-painted illustrations, and buy the candies from his cart. But with the advent of the television, the unique form of street performance loses its audience. What's an old kamishibai man to do? This touching story chronicles what happens when an artist once celebrated ventures out into a modern, urban world, filled with traffic and television, for a final performance. Will he find his audience once more? Sophisticated ideas of aging and cultural change make this ideal for discussion with older children, and young artists may also enjoy trying to create their own kamishibai. Warning: you may need two copies of this book, because you'll want to cut out the pictures and frame them. (7 and up)

Other personal news:
An audio interview about my new book, VIVE LA PARIS, can be heard at the Book of Life website, at You don't have to be Jewish to enjoy! This is a podcast that I listen to regularly, full of great bookloving information and real voices behind the books we love, so I was delighted to be asked to be interviewed by Heidi Estrin, who earlier in the season wrote the following review for the Association of Jewish Libraries:

Paris is a black fifth-grade girl with a large, loving family, a creative schoolteacher, and a funny-and-wise elderly Jewish piano teacher. While the protagonist of the book is not Jewish, this is a book that Jewish readers should take time for. A mix of lyrical prose and real “kid-speak” reveals Paris’s inner thoughts on family, on getting along with others, and on the girl who bullies Paris’s peace-loving brother. Paris’s piano teacher gives her the yellow star she has kept since the Holocaust, and Paris, in ignorance, wears it to school believing it is a gang badge. As a consequence, she is assigned to learn about World War II and temporarily loses her own faith in humankind. Her struggle with the burden of knowledge, and her steps back toward embracing life, are handled with sensitivity and even joy. This is a beautifully-written and universal story that goes beyond “never forget” and shows a girl coming into her own as a mensch to help heal the world. This book belongs in Jewish libraries, Christian libraries, Muslim libraries, and every other kind of library serving youth.

Well, I think this is about the best review I could ever hope for, and I must extend my deepest thanks to Ms. Estrin for her most generous remarks...I only wish every author who puts a best effort forward could enjoy such amazing kindness as I was privileged to receive here. In my latest novel, I was indeed very interested in trying to write a secular book about what it means to be your brother’s keeper, and how hard is it, really, to love your enemy. In that vein, I would also love to introduce you to author Jean Marzollo. Originally of I SPY series fame, she went on to teach herself illustration, coming up with a lovely, free-flowing line, a computer-meets-Chagall-like style and using her new talent to create highly accessible retellings of Old Testament stories such as DAVID AND GOLIATH, DANIEL IN THE LIONS' DEN, JONAH AND THE WHALE (AND THE WORM),MIRIAM AND HER BROTHER MOSES, and RUTH AND NAOMI. Whatever your faith, you will appreciate the storytelling style just right for introducing these tales to the very young, stories that are alluded to throughout literature and life, with lively running commentary delivered in the lower margins by creatures great and small. Together, they make a wonderful holiday gift, and a wonderful collection

Speaking of holiday gifts, while I am away, please check in the Blog-a-Day archives where hundreds of recommendations are posted, and more will be waiting for you right here, in time for holiday shopping after Thanksgiving. (You will be reading Laurie Halse Anderson's eye-opening THANK YOU, SARAH: THE WOMAN WHO SAVED THANKSGIVING and Lisa Wheeler's hilarious TURK AND RUNT around Turkey Day, won't you?) For now, though, sayonara!

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


Heidi Rabinowitz said...

Hi, Heidi Estrin here, from The Book of Life podcast. As you can tell, I loved Vive La Paris, and was very happy to include it in my podcast. Esme's interview is so interesting, because she is such a natural storyteller even when she's just casually chatting!

Since we are talking about gift-giving suggestions, I'd like to let everyone know that the Association of Jewish Libraries has just published a recommended reading-and-shopping list of Hanukkah books for kids. Just so happens that the list includes Esme's book Hanukkah Shmanukkah, too. You can find the list online at

Anonymous said...

Have a patent leather go-go boots and pink striped hair great time! We'll be wanting book, fashion and zeitgeist tips upon your return.

N.B. TSA may require you to limit zeitgeist to three oz. in a ziplock.


Anonymous said...

Have a fantastic time in Japan! I'm so psyched for you! And that review from Heidi is the loveliest review I've ever read. Congratulations! You deserve it!

Anonymous said...

I've only recently discovered your website and blog spot although I've been an Esme fan since first seeing you LONG ago on Book TV when you first came out with "Educating Esme". Imagine my surprise when searching for reviews of my own book "Spread Your Wings and Fly" that YOU had recommended it as an activity paired with "Sahara Special" (A real potato of a book I might add).
Thanks for the mention and I will definately recommend ALL of your books at an upcoming workshop on literacy that I am presenting.
Dear, dear Esme YOU ARE AN INSPIRATION to this fellow author.
Looking forward to reports on your Japan adventure. Hope you get/got some beautiful origami paper for you and yours. CONGRATULATIONS!!!! YOU GO GIRL!!!!
Love and hugs,
Mary Chloe Schoolcraft Saunders
Author of "Spread Your Wings and Fly An Origami Fold and Tell"

bethany said...

I just found this blog and I am going to recommend to everyone I know! I am a sixth grade teacher and a reading specialist and I LOVE LOVE LOVE the book Educating Esme-it made me want to be a better teacher, a more creative teacher. So thank you!! I am soo excited to read through all of your recommendations. You are an inspiration!
Beth Vermillion


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